Leaked documents: Amazon to ban ‘slave’, ‘living wage’ and ‘injustice’

There are two ways to ensure your employees have happy internal focus groups. The first is obvious: Make your workplace a fair and happy place, where employees naturally speak positively about their working conditions.

The second is to block negative or pro-union words in employee chat. Say something negative and your message doesn’t go up.

Amazon workers in Staten Island just won a union voteeven after Amazon spent $4.3 million on union busting consultants in 2021. Amazon, naturally, wants to prevent another organizing effort. This is not the right way to do it. Here’s why.

NLRA Protects Concerted Efforts

“The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prohibits employers from punishing employees for speaking out about their terms of employment (i.e. associate at Wickens Herzer Panza.” This Amazon policy, if accurately described , not only crosses that line, but incinerates it with a union busting torch.”

Prevent employees from using the words arson, fired, compensation, raise, bullying, harassment, I don’t care, rude, it’s disturbing, stupid, and many others are likely to trigger a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) investigation, according to employment law attorney and human resources consultant Kate Bischoff.

This is something that would be easy for the NLRB to prove. Banning swear words or sexually explicit terms would be rational in a chat app to prevent harassment, but banning the word harassment? This can make employees feel like they can’t talk about harassment.

You want employees to talk about the harassment

Yes, you want your employees to be positive, but they need a positive work environment if they want to. Sexual, racial, religious, national origin, or pregnancy (among other things) harassment is illegal. If an employee feels harassed, you want to know about it.

Sometimes employees complain, but wouldn’t you like to investigate and stop minor issues before they turn into major issues? Employees who bring someone’s attention to a single incident where they felt “uncomfortable” can prevent an emboldened harasser from escalating their bad behavior. A company can’t shrug its shoulders and say, “We didn’t know, so we didn’t act” after stopping employees from using the word harass.

If you think you can control employee speech by controlling an app, you should check out the internet

If you tell employees this will only be positive — and on the face of it, Amazon doesn’t expect conversations about “pay raises” to be positive — they’ll remove their discussion from the company’s app. . On the company app, you can monitor and troubleshoot issues. When employees bring it to Reddit, you don’t know who’s saying what.

Suppressed speech doesn’t mean people stop having those feelings and ideas: they take them somewhere else. Prohibiting speech indicates that management does not believe people are happy. Is this the message you want to send?

Amazon denies its wordlist is as long as The Intercept claims

The app is still in the planning stages, but Amazon spokeswoman Barbara M. Agrait said the list, which includes prison, grievance, diversity, ethics, rate, representation, vaccine, accessibility, and many others, do not represent the actual list. “If it launches at any point,” she told Inc., “most of the words you call are not expected to be filtered out.”

Of course it is possible. If the documents obtained by The Intercept were simply recordings of a brainstorming session, and Amazon never took that seriously, then that makes a whole lot more sense.

However, it demonstrates that Amazon management needs a refresher on employee rights. Some of these words should never come to mind when talking about employee speech restrictions.

The best way to fight negative employee talk is to be a better employer

I’ve worked for large corporations where we had thousands of employees working on a factory or retail floors. We never had a problem with employees using bottles instead of toilets because employees could run to the bathroom when they needed to.

We have never had to prohibit employees from using the word rest room.

If you’re worried about employees using the term “living wage” or talking about “wage increases,” then pay your employees market rates. They can talk all day, but that won’t be a problem if they get paid fairly.

Amazon doesn’t have the best reputation. It doesn’t help.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

Michael A. Bynum