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Former Amazon worker, Chris Smalls once led a walkout at the start of the pandemic in 2020 to protest working conditions at the Staten Island, N.Y., warehouse where he worked. He was later fired the same day.
Two years later, he is celebrating a historic victory with his Amazon Labor Union on Friday, now Amazon’s first unionized workplace in the U.S.
When he was terminated as a warehouse worker, Amazon said Smalls had violated quarantine and safety measures. But Smalls has maintained he was fired in retaliation for his activism.
The New York attorney general followed with an investigation and sued Amazon for the incident and even sought to get Smalls his job back.
Chris Smalls had no activism or union experience.
According to the BBC, he established the Amazon Labor Union last year, calling for higher pay, stronger medical benefits, anti-discrimination policies, and better leave among other changes.
Racism is Prime for Amazon lawyers.
Per NPR, a leaked memo from a top Amazon lawyer described Smalls, “He’s not smart, or articulate.”
The same fitted caps, doorags, shades, lingo, swagger, and culture of Smalls isn’t likely shared with any Amazon lawyers who underneath their white hood comfortably claim that a man persuading a mass group of people is somehow still inarticulate.
Amazon had wanted to belittle the union drive two years ago, when as part of its PR strategy the company said it would make Smalls “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.” Undeterred by their racist remarks, the leaked memo became the fuel that would drive Smalls to eventual victory.
The victory gives his group the right to negotiate a contract with Amazon for the roughly 8,000 workers at the Staten Island warehouse. His team is also behind a second union campaign at a smaller warehouse in the same industrial park, which is scheduled for a vote later this month.
Never underestimate the power of a good cookout.
The bus stop used by Amazon workers became the kickback spot for employees coming to and leaving work inside the warehouse.
“We had over 20 some barbecues, giving out food every single week, every single day, whether it was pizza, chicken, pasta,” Smalls said. He even brought home-cooked plates from his auntie to some of the functions.
Amazon had Smalls and other organizers arrested for trespassing while they were delivering food and union materials to the warehouse parking lot earlier last year but his message had already resonated with the workers.
Chris Smalls makes history for the benefit of others.
On Friday, workers at the New York warehouse voted 55% in favor of joining the Amazon Labor Union. Smalls emerged from the vote count and popped open a bottle of champagne he was handed by supporters.
“We did whatever it took to connect with these workers,” he told the crowd, recounting an against-the-odds campaign that started with “two tables, two chairs and a tent” and relied on an online fundraiser for money.
“I hope that everybody’s paying attention now because a lot of people doubted us.”