Christian Smalls a former Amazon employee, was the brain behind Amazon’s first union in Staten Island, New York. After his epic win, he has sparked a movement on similar lines at other Amazon warehouses. More than 50 Amazon warehouse employees have contacted the organizers of last week’s historic vote to form Amazon’s first-ever union, expressing interest in forming their own unions.
Smalls and his co-organizer Derrick Palmers succeeded where many others had failed, winning a staff-wide vote to establish the union by 2,654 to 2,131, surprising labor activists and spectators. The union is a first for Amazon, the country’s second-largest employer, which pushed hard to avoid the outcome.
Smalls spearheaded a walkout at a Staten Island warehouse over pandemic working conditions in March 2020, and the corporation started a multimillion-dollar campaign to put an end to their efforts. He was dismissed from his Amazon warehouse job on Staten Island at the start of the pandemic in 2020, the same day he led a strike against unsafe working conditions.
On social media, his firing provoked significant indignation, especially from politicians like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Smalls and Palmer mobilized Amazon workers over the next two years with a series of bonfires, barbecues, and other small rallies near the warehouse. The campaign was mostly funded by GoFundMe donations.
Smalls went on to form the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), a collection of current and former Amazon workers who wanted to join a union. Smalls and Palmer will work together to lead a union that represents 8,300 workers at the same warehouse.
In an interaction with NPR on Twitter Spaces, Palmer and Smalls spoke about their underdog journey and the response from workers all over the country. Reading some of the emails he had received, Smalls expressed that about 50 buildings had approached him, not only from the US but also from other parts of the globe.
One lady said, “You guys lit a fire under me” and expressed her wish to unionize her building. A worker termed the union’s victory as “a watershed moment.” Several others, who have been similarly motivated, asked for advice on starting a union.
Smalls also said that the world was noticing them and workers were now paying attention. He feels that workers need to realize their value and can form a body that can collectively bargain with their employers.
On April 25, a second Amazon facility will vote on its own union. Smalls and other organizers have begun the process of negotiating a contract with Amazon management, and have demanded that Amazon refrain from hiring or terminating employees while talks are ongoing. They also stated that they were in talks with other groups of Amazon warehouse workers across the country, as well as employees from other businesses, about forming their own unions.