An incident in a Staten Island Amazon warehouse has made national news after an unknown number of workers staged a walkout. The walkout was in protest of what workers said were dangerous conditions inside the warehouse that could put employees at risk of harm.
It didn’t take long before Amazon responded to the strike: They fired the worker who organized it, allegedly because he violated a stay-at-home directive that he’d already been given for his safety and the safety of others.
Is this kind of action by Amazon legal? Maybe. It will probably take more investigation (and litigation) to sort out the circumstances peculiar to that case.
What is clear, however, is the rights of workers to join in an organized protest, or work strike, when they believe that working conditions are unfair. Legal strikes are protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and employers are generally forbidden from firing employees just for striking.
That doesn’t mean, however, that every worker can strike — nor that strikes are permissible for any reason. Workers who have agreed to a no-strike clause in their contracts, for example, can be terminated for participating in a strike. Striking workers are also forbidden from damaging company property, behaving violently or blocking access to the workplace by replacement workers, nonstriking employees and customers.
Both employees and employers are sometimes uncertain about their legal rights and obligations when a labor dispute boils over. When workers start to organize, it’s not wise for either side of the fence to behave rashly. Experienced representation can help both sides achieve peaceful, pragmatic solutions to their labor law problems.