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Christian Smalls created the Amazon Labor Union. Now he wants a contract

Smalls shifted the power at Amazon when his Staten Island warehouse unionized. And he’s just getting started.

Christian Smalls created the Amazon Labor Union. Now he wants a contract
[Illustration: Bijou Karman]

This story is part of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2022. Explore the full list of innovators who broke through this year—and had an impact on the world around us.

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Christian Smalls was just trying to do the right thing by his coworkers when, in March 2020, he led a walkout at a Staten Island Amazon warehouse in a protest against COVID safety conditions. A little more than two years later, he had created the first-ever union of Amazon employees, discussed labor organizing in the Oval Office with President Biden, and testified at a Senate hearing about Amazon’s labor law violations, emerging as a force impelling the labor movement forward both within Amazon and beyond.

Terminated after the walkout, he raised money to start a worker-led union, spent days posted up at the bus stop outside the fulfillment center to catch employees during shift changes, and held barbecues, bonfires, and music events to build relationships with them. Crucially, he didn’t turn to an established labor group for funding power and organizing assistance; instead, he created an independent union. Unlike at the failed Amazon union drive in Bessemer, Alabama (which was organized by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union), he wanted Amazon workers to be the face of the effort, both inside and outside the facility. “Even though we didn’t have the experience [of] being in a union, we had the experience of being in Amazon,” he says. By the time the 8,300 workers at his former Staten Island warehouse were unionized, in April 2022, Smalls had been contacted by other warehouses across the country (and by workers at other companies).

Smalls is now focused on organizing other Amazon outposts and delivering a contract to workers. Negotiations haven’t yet begun, and Smalls is not hopeful the company will come to the table voluntarily. “That’s why we want to get as many buildings under our umbrella at once, so that Amazon can’t avoid us,” he says. He has no doubt that his and his teams’ organizing efforts will get them there.

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