Amazon’s Anti-Union Consultant Broke The Law, Judge Rules
A judge at the National Labor Relations Board issued a decision Monday in a case where workers accused Amazon of illegally suppressing a union campaign in Staten Island, New York ― finding that the online retail giant violated the law on three occasions as it tried to persuade workers not to unionize during 2021 and 2022.
But the judge also recommended dismissing the majority of the charges that the labor board’s general counsel brought against the company.
“I have not found many unfair labor practices and the ones I did find were not entirely obvious or clear cut,” Benjamin Green, the administrative law judge, wrote.
Mary Kate Paradis, an Amazon spokesperson, said the company was “glad” to see the decision.
“The facts continue to show that the teams in our buildings work hard to do the right thing, and that most of the claims pushed by outside groups with an agenda are without merit,” Paradis said in a statement.
One of the few violations Green did find was committed by a consultant named Katie Lev, whom Amazon hired to help defeat efforts by the Amazon Labor Union to organize two warehouses. The union won its election at the JFK8 facility last April, marking a historic labor victory, but lost the vote at the LDJ5 facility in May.
Disclosure forms show Amazon paid Lev’s firm $371,000 for work during 2021.
Such consultants ― known in the labor world as “persuaders” ― hold meetings with workers where they deliver anti-union talking points and make unionizing sound like a bad idea. They also coach the employer’s managers on what to say and guide the overall strategy against the union. In their pitches to prospective clients, they often say they will help make sure the company doesn’t do anything illegal. But they can run afoul of the law themselves in the speeches they give as agents of the employer.
Lev is listed as an attorney at the law firm O’Hagan Meyer. She also has her own consulting firm, Lev Labor. “Union Issues or questions?” her site asks. “Lev is All You Need!” Lev didn’t respond to emails or a phone call seeking comment.
Persuaders often cost around $3,200 a day, or 20 times what many Amazon warehouse workers make in eight hours. Disclosure forms show Amazon paid Lev’s firm $371,000 for work during 2021. The company spent more than $4 million total on a number of consultants that year. (Amazon may have paid Lev additional money in 2022, but those details won’t need to be disclosed until the end of next month.)
The Amazon Labor Union accused Lev of breaking the law during a group meeting by telling workers that if they unionized, they would lose out on raises while bargaining a contract. The labor board’s general counsel agreed, pursuing a charge against Amazon for Lev’s comments, and now Green, too, has made the same determination.
The Amazon Labor Union lost an election at the LDJ5 facility in Staten Island, New York, last year.
According to a transcript of the meeting cited in the decision, Lev told workers at LDJ5 that it could easily take more than a year for them to get a contract if they decided to unionize. She told them to look at the workers over at JFK8, who had already voted for the union and would now be missing out on improvements to pay or benefits.
“So over at JFK8, a year goes by and other places have gotten increases, and other changes and improvements have been made at other buildings, but JFK8, they’re in a collective bargaining process, that’s frozen,” Lev said.
Green found that Lev had crossed a line.
“Threats that the pay of unionized employees would be frozen in place during lengthy negotiations while nonunion employees receive regular increases and improvements is a violation of [the law],” he wrote.
Green also ruled that Amazon violated the law by using its no-solicitation policy selectively against a union supporter in the warehouse. The worker had posted on an internal message board encouraging other workers to sign a petition to get Juneteenth as a paid holiday at Amazon. Management removed the post on the grounds that the worker was soliciting.
Unfair labor practices do not come with stiff penalties. Green recommended that Amazon be ordered to stop committing unfair labor practices, and to hang notices in the warehouses assuring workers of their rights.
The labor board’s general counsel asked that Amazon’s “captive audience” meetings, run by managers and consultants like Lev, be deemed illegal on the grounds that they are inherently coercive. But Green declined to rule on that question. The decision may be appealed to the five-member board in Washington for review. (The board currently has four members and one vacant seat.)
During her meeting with workers, Lev maintained that she was not trying to scare anyone out of unionizing.
“I’ve never said anything that’s fear mongering,” Lev said, according to the transcript. “This is just a fact. If this frightens you, then you should vote ‘no,’ if it doesn’t frighten you, then you could vote ‘yes.’... You can decide whether you want to roll the dice.”
Lev previously served as a member of the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board, a Massachusetts state agency that adjudicates disputes involving public-sector unions. Unions had asked former Gov. Charlie Baker (R) to remove Lev from the board due to her consulting work.
In 2016, HuffPost reported on a union campaign at the news site Law360, where management had retained Lev to encourage workers not to unionize. In an audio recording provided to HuffPost, Lev told workers she was neutral in her work for the state but not in her consulting.
“Make no mistake about it,” Lev said. “I am biased. I am not neutral.”