By Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN Business
A National Labor Relations Board judge is expected to review a complaint Wednesday that Amazon last year illegally fired two corporate employees who had been vocal critics of the company.
An administrative law judge is scheduled to hear the charges, which were filed with the NLRB in October by a local branch of the United Food and Commercial Workers union in Washington State.
The complaint alleges that Amazon violated federal labor law by firing two employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, who had organized workers around climate action and warehouse conditions during the pandemic. The NLRB in April found merit to Cunningham and Costa’s charges, leading to a trial before an administrative law judge.
Here’s what you need to know about the case.
Who are the former Amazon employees?
Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa were both user experience designers at Amazon and founding members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a group of corporate employees that came together to advocate on climate issues.
The former employees helped organize Amazon workers in 2019 to stage a walkout in protest of Amazon’s climate change response and also spoke out about Amazon’s warehouse worker conditions.
What are the workers alleging against Amazon?
The workers charge that Amazon violated their rights to self-organize, form or assist unions, and bargain collectively under the National Labor Relations Act.
The complaint says they were fired in April of 2020 after they “engaged in a variety of protected, concerted activities” with other employees in support of Amazon’s warehouse workers in the United States. Amazon, the complaint alleges, fired the workers because of those activities and to discourage other workers from doing so.
Amazon on Tuesday defended its termination of the workers.
“We support every employee’s rights to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies,” an Amazon spokesperson said in email. “We terminated these employees not for speaking about working conditions or safety, but for repeatedly violating internal policies.” The company said the workers violated its policies on external communications and solicitation.
When do we expect a ruling?
The virtual hearing before the administrative law judge is expected to last several days and can include witness testimony.
Even after the hearing ends, an administrative law judge rarely issues a ruling right away, Mark Gaston Pearce, executive director of the Workers’ Rights Institute at the Georgetown University Law Center and former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, said in an email.
Both sides are given the opportunity to submit briefs after the hearing for the judge to evaluate, and a decision could take as long as six months to issue, he said.
Once the judge makes a decision, either side can appeal to the full, five-member National Labor Relations Board that makes the final determination as to whether Amazon violated the law.
So the judge’s decision is, essentially, “tantamount to a recommendation to the board,” he said.
Have other employees alleged Amazon violated labor law?
Cunningham and Costa’s is the latest claim of Amazon worker retaliation that the federal agency has found merit in.
In November, the NLRB issued a complaint against Amazon for the illegal termination of a Pennsylvania warehouse worker.
According to an analysis of NLRB data by NBC News, there were at least 37 retaliation charges filed to the agency against Amazon across 20 cities from February of 2020 until March of this year.
-—CNN Business’ Sara O’Brien contributed to this article.
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