On May 4, 2022, Amazon fired Amazon Labor Union (ALU) organizer Mat Cusick, who worked at DYY6, the company’s delivery station in its Staten Island, New York, complex. Below is an interview Cusick gave to World-Outlook reporter Mark Satinoff on May 12.
Three days after Cusick’s dismissal, the company fired ALU organizer Tristan “Lion” Dutchin, who worked at JFK8, Amazon’s giant fulfillment center in Staten Island, where the ALU won a historic union representation vote on April 1. World-Outlook published on May 12 a statement by Dutchin on his firing (see, Tristan Dutchin: ‘An Attack Against All Workers’)
As Cusick explains, the ALU is in the process of launching a public campaign to press for the reinstatement of the fired workers. The links to sign up on the ALU’s mailing list and to sign the ALU’s petition demanding union recognition at JFK8 are provided at the end of this interview.
Q: When did Amazon fire you and what reason did management give for the dismissal?
I received my official termination letter by email on May 4 at 8:33 pm, stating that “the date of your voluntary resignation due to job abandonment with Amazon.com Services LLC is May 3, 2022.” My employee account had been locked several days prior, and I had been talking on the phone with many Amazon HR agents about whether or not I was in fact terminated, why I was in this position, and how to reverse it when I was finally notified of my “voluntary resignation.”
I was on an approved COVID care leave which I had been told was approved until at least April 29. I had also been assured, on the phone and in writing, that the leave could be extended further. Internally, Amazon seems to have set the end date of my leave to April 26 and then fired me by using the three-day discrepancy as a pretext. It is possible that internal termination proceedings began on April 29, the date that was to be my last day of approved leave, but which their internal system flagged as the third consecutive day of unexcused absence.
Q: What is the real reason behind your firing in your opinion?
Due to the infamously broken nature of Amazon’s leave system, it is honestly difficult to know if my firing was the result of human malice or automated system failure. This is especially true as Amazon continues to make radical curtailments to its leave policy in a stated effort to “safely adjust to our pre-COVID policies,” in the midst of a new pandemic surge of the most virulent variant yet, just as we officially surpass 1,000,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States. That being said, if chronically broken HR systems are an effective cover for terminating employees in retaliation, then this becomes a truly perverse incentive to maintain broken systems.
Moreover, after calling and contesting my involuntary “voluntary resignation,” I was assured by several HR agents that my case would be escalated to real human beings who would have access to all information and make a determination about whether or not to reverse my termination. My presumption was that if those humans did not reverse this obvious injustice, then it would be because they knew my identity as an organizer and decided not to allow me to return to work. Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel, former flak for ICE and Massachusetts prisons, gave the game away when she publicly commented to the Associated Press on my case a few days ago while acknowledging that “we normally wouldn’t discuss personnel issues.” While I continue to wait seven business days for the results of a “Termination Review Department” proceeding, her public statement proves that at the highest levels of the corporate headquarters in Seattle, they know exactly who I am and have already decided my fate with that knowledge firmly in mind.
Q: Do you think Amazon singled you out to pre-empt any union organizing drive at DYY6?
The context certainly suggests that pre-empting the organizing drive at DYY6 is a central focus of Amazon management. Just prior to the LDJ5 election, managers scheduled and notified workers about a series of “All Hands” meetings scheduled at DYY6 and DYX2 — incidentally, the two buildings in the Staten Island complex where the ALU has not yet organized the workers to petition for an election. Shortly thereafter, they canceled those meetings, either because they won the second election and felt they no longer needed to invest so many resources into union busting, or because they were concerned about our intentions to counter-program their meetings. I am the only organizer in the ALU organizing committee who worked in DYY6, so removing me from the workplace must have been a strategic goal for the union busters.
Q: What are the prospects of starting such a campaign at DYY6 now that you are no longer on the job?
Chris Smalls and Gerald Bryson successfully organized an 8,000-worker union at JFK8, starting an entire year after they were fired by Amazon in retaliation for organizing to protect workers from Amazon’s criminally negligent pandemic safety protocols. But they also had Derrick Palmer, Jordan Flowers, Jason Anthony, Brett Daniels, Connor Spence, and others still inside the building. We do not yet have the same kind of team inside DYY6 that we have inside JFK8, but we do have some workers in the building who are eager to start organizing, and we will continue to develop that team on the inside while we support them with our very talented team on the outside. DYY6 is much smaller than JFK8 — much smaller even than LDJ5 — so the internal organizing team does not need to be as large to be effective.
Q: What is the strategy of the ALU to fight for union recognition at JFK8 after the loss of the LDJ5 vote and the recent firings of ALU organizers?
The LDJ5 election outcome and Amazon’s retaliatory firings do not particularly affect our JFK8 union recognition strategy. We are putting pressure on Amazon on every front that we can, internally and externally. We are continuing to organize and build the union on the inside of JFK8, with meetings, lunches, trainings, and preparations for the elections of shop stewards, bargaining committee members, and other positions. We are circulating a worker petition for recognition, as well as organizing inside workplace actions and outside workplace rallies. And we are fighting Amazon’s stall tactics in hearings with the NLRB.
Externally, we also have a recognition petition campaign, and we are building a coalition of allies to help organize and amplify the message that Amazon must recognize the ALU, through actions, social media, flyers, news stories, and other public channels. We have four interlocking demands for Amazon: 1) Recognize the ALU; 2) Reinstate all worker organizers fired in retaliation; 3) End all unjust terminations and the policies that generate them, and 4) End all union busting.
Additionally, we are working with Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, to try to put pressure on Congress to cancel federal contracts and subsidies to Amazon if the company does not stop union busting and recognize the ALU, in accordance with federal law. ALU President Chris Smalls met with President Joe Biden to put pressure on him and his administration to fulfill his campaign pledge to cut federal funding to union busters, and to call on him to put maximum pressure on Amazon to recognize the ALU, including through the use of his Executive Order authority. We’re meeting with large institutional investors in Amazon to pressure the company to recognize the ALU in shareholder meetings. We will be pursuing every avenue that might force Amazon to take this seriously.
Q: What is the ALU doing now to try to get your job back?
The same coalition that is organizing for ALU recognition is also promoting the cause of our reinstatement. We are additionally pursuing Unfair Labor Practice charges against Amazon for both terminations, and requesting 10(j) injunctions to get us both reinstated, pending the resolution of the charges.
Q: What can people do to help your (and ALU’s) campaign to reverse your firing?
Supporters can bring their friends and colleagues out to our rally on Friday, May 27, details coming soon. They can share the posts about our firings on social media to build more awareness. We will soon launch a petition to reinstate fired workers and stop unjust firings, which they can sign and share. They can post on Amazon’s own social media about the unjust firings and demand reinstatement. I encourage anyone who is interested in supporting us to get creative and suggest ideas to us about how to move this forward as well.
ALU petition demanding Amazon recognize the union at JFK8: https://www.change.org/p/recognize-alu?utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=custom_url&recruited_by_id=b532b860-c631-11ec-a128-415f436c6403
ALU mailing list sign-up: https://www.amazonlaborunion.org/rally/
Categories: Labor Movement / Trade Unions