Amnesty International Violated U.S. Labor Law, NLRB Judge Rules

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. arm of Amnesty International, the global human rights group, broke the law by threatening its own employees, a National Labor Relations Board judge has ruled.

Managers at Amnesty International USA violated the law that protects employees’ right to organize for improved working conditions, Administrative Law Judge Michael Rosas wrote in a decision issued Tuesday.

According to the ruling, last year a group of unpaid interns, with support from some of Amnesty’s unionized permanent employees, drafted a petition to their supervisor asking to be paid. “Amnesty International’s commitment to human rights should be proven from within first,” they wrote, according to the ruling.

In response, Amnesty’s executive director held meetings in which she made implied threats; told employees to make workplace complaints verbally before putting them in writing; equated their organizing with disloyalty; and asked staff to report co-workers’ activism to management.

All of those actions violated the National Labor Relations Act, the judge concluded.

Amnesty International USA said it disagreed with the ruling and will appeal. The group has acknowledged that its executive director “expressed disappointment” that employees hadn’t come to her before taking up a petition, according to the judgment, but described her response as a non-threatening “reinforcement of the organization’s open door policy.”

The NLRB can’t impose punitive damages for violations. Rosas ordered Amnesty to post notices in its office notifying employees of their rights, informing them the agency found that Amnesty broke the law and underscoring the group’s pledge to not “equate your protected concerted activity, including participating in group petitions about your terms and conditions of employment, with disloyalty.”

Following the petition, according to the Rosas, Amnesty International USA’s executive director told employees that the group had already planned to eventually start paying interns, and that because of their petition it would start doing so later that year.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.