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Chris Fired By Amazon In 2020 Becomes Force Behind Company’s First Labor Union

Chris Fired By Amazon In 2020 Becomes Force Behind Company's First Labor Union

“He’s not smart, or articulate” were the words used to describe Chris Smalls, former warehouse worker, by a top Amazon Lawyer.

Chris Smalls led a walkout at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 to protest working conditions at the Staten Island, New York, warehouse where he worked and got fired the same day.

Memo that had those biting words was leaked just a few days after. But the words would stay with Chris Smalls. They became the catalyst that would drive him to lead one of the most dramatic and successful grassroots union drives in recent time.

“When I read the memo, that motivated me to start an organization,’ said Chris Smalls, celebrating the historic win of the Amazon Labor Union on Friday, making the warehouse Amazon’s first unionized workspace in the United States.

Friday’s victory would come almost two years to the day of his sacking.

At the time, Amazon said Smalls had violated quarantine and safety measures. But Smalls said he was sacked in retaliation for his activism. The New York attorney general followed with an investigation and initiated a suit against Amazon for the incident and even sought to get Smalls his job back from Amazon.

Smalls didn’t sit still after being sacked, and formed the Amazon Labor Union not long after after.

Smalls had no union background, nor did he rely on any established labor team for funding and organizing power.

Instead he gathered funds for the operation through GoFundMe. Smalls and his fellow founder Derrick Palmer –whi’s still working at the warehouse — reached out to other staff.

The bus stop used by workers became their gathering place. They’d wait there to talk to staff who were heading home from their shifts. They’d have a bonfire moving, with s’mores, and get people talking. They invited workers to cookouts.

“We had over 20 some barbecues, giving out food every week, every single day, whether it was chicken, pizza, pasta,” Smalls added. He even brought home-cooked from his aunt to some of these meetings.

They talked to workers about fighting for their rights, about the gruelling toll of the ob, how you’re on your feet, doing very repetitive, very physically demanding work, for many hours.About the breaks that are few and too short.

No one expected this scrappy grassroots campaign to spring up victorious against the behemoth company. Indeed, a first attempt failed. But Smalls persevered, finally meeting the 30% threshold necessary to hold a vote.

Mwanwhile, Amazon spent millions of dollarssssss on Labor consultants to fight the union campaign. Amazon held compulsory meetings with workers in the warehouse, urging them to vote NO.

Amazom even had Smalls and a couple other heads arrested for trespassing while they were delivering food and union materials to the warehouse parking places earlier this year.

Amazon’s argument to workers is that it is already a great place to work, with no union. It offers competitive salary pay, and great benefits such as heath care coverage for full time employees and full tuition for college.

But Smalls relentless finally bore fruit.

Almost 5,000 staff cast their ballots and the votes to form a union were won by a significant margin — more than 500 votes.

Amazon had wanted to take the union drive two years ago for a ride, when as part of its PR strategy the company said it would make Smalls “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”

And that’s exactly what occurred. Except today, Smalls has become the face of one of the most successful union drives in recent history.

And Amazon had suffered a public defeat.

“Amazon is not Amazon without the people,” Smalls said. “And we make Amazon what it is.”

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