Christian Smalls, the leader of the first union to successfully organize at Amazon in the United States, had a message for those in power on Thursday, delivering some of it with the writing on his jacket and more with his testimony in front of to the Senate Budget Committee.
Smalls is the head of the Amazon Workers Union, which won victory last month at an Amazon storage facility in Staten Island, New York. He was invited by Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Budget Committee, to testify about anti-union tactics and what workers allegedly faced during their unionization efforts at the tech giant.
Wearing a red, yellow and black jacket with “Eat the Rich” printed on the front and back, Smalls peered out from under his New York Yankees baseball cap as he told committee members what tactics Amazon was employing. .
“They enter the premises. They isolate workers every day,” Smalls said. “They question them, they practically criticize them, acting as if they are working to improve conditions, but really they are just polling to see who is for the union and who is not. They report that information to management. They have captive audiences every day.”
Smalls was fired by Amazon in 2020 for leading a workers’ strike after he wanted the company to do more to protect warehouse workers in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The corporations are in control,” he said Thursday. “They break the law, they get away with it. They know that breaking the law during election campaigns will not be resolved during election campaigns. So they deliberately continue to break the law.”
Smalls was in Washington, DC, to push for Senate passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a proposal to reform labor law to make it easier for workers to form unions.
In his own comments, Sanders took issue with Amazon’s high turnover of warehouse workers and injury rates, its efforts to take down union organizing and billionaire founder Jeff Bezos.
“Given all your wealth, how much do you need?” Sanders asked Bezos, who was not present. “Why are you doing everything in your power, including breaking the law, to deny Amazon workers the right to join a union so they can bargain for better wages, better working conditions and better benefits? How much do you need?”
Smalls directed some scathing words at Sen. Lindsey Graham in his opening remarks. Graham is the ranking Republican member on the Budget Committee.
“You forgot that people are what make these companies operate,” Smalls said. “And if we’re not protected and if the process to hold these companies accountable doesn’t work for us, then … that’s why we’re here today.”
Smalls told Graham that this is not a question of left or right, Democrat or Republican. “It’s a worker thing,” he said.
At the White House, Smalls met with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the Oval Office along with other union representatives.
Biden tweeted that Smalls and others are “inspiring a movement of workers across the country.” Smalls tweeted that the president said Smalls “got him into trouble.” He may have been referring to the president’s comments to union leaders after the victory against Amazon, in which Biden said, “Amazon, here we come.”