A little more than a month after leading workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island to a historic vote to form the Amazon Labor Union, union president Christian Smalls testified before the Senate Budget Committee on Thursday to talk about Amazon’s anti-union tactics, describing a culture of fear that pervaded the warehouse as workers attempted to unionize.
When Smalls planned a walkout in the early days of the pandemic to protest safety conditions at the warehouse, Amazon formed a reaction team with an “incident commander” and fired him for attending the walkout. Smalls and another warehouse employee, Derrick Palmer, responded by organizing a union through a grassroots campaign; Amazon spent millions on anti-union consultants. At the Senate hearing, which focused broadly on companies that have allegedly violated labor laws, Smalls talked about the fact that when he organized outside the warehouse, and brought food to the employee break room, he and other organizers were arrested.
“The type of things that Amazon do, breaking the law, intimidation, these are real things that traumatize workers in this country,” Smalls told the committee. “Thousands of workers across this country are in the process of organizing. . . . We want to feel that we have protections. We want to feel that the government is allowing us to use our constitutional rights to organize.”
After the historic vote to form the union, Amazon refused to recognize it, filing a legal complaint to the National Labor Relations Board in an attempt to overturn the results. The company argued that the union had intimidated workers, which an attorney for the union called “patently absurd.” (Amazon, on the other hand, is facing 59 unfair labor cases at the National Labor Relations Board, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said as the hearing began, and is being sued by the NRLB to reinstate a worker who was fired for organizing.)
Smalls shared the example of Daequan Smith, another worker who was fired for organizing. “He’s still out of a job,” he said. “He’s living in a shelter right now. We raised money through Go Fund Me.”
He also responded directly to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who argued in an introduction that corporations were being “demonized” by the committee. “You forgot that the people are the ones who make these companies operate,” Smalls told Graham. “We’re not protected. The process for when we hold these companies accountable is not working for us.”