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Amazon Labor Union Pres. on ‘milestone’ in unionization efforts

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Christian Smalls, President of the Amazon Labor Union, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss NY Amazon workers’ unionization efforts.

Video Transcript

KARINA MITCHELL: Welcome back. In the latest quest for unionization, about 2,000 Amazon workers in New York City across four warehouses on Staten Island filed a petition yesterday to form a union. Christian Smalls is a former employee at one of those Amazon warehouses who led the strike and is the president of the Amazon Labor Union. Big day for you yesterday, sir. Thank you for being with us today. I want to first start by if you could please give us a timeline. You say you were fired. Why and when were you fired, and how did that lead you to sort of take the steps to start this union effort?

CHRISTIAN SMALLS: Yes, absolutely. Thank you for having me. I was fired last year-- well, a year and a half ago, more than a year and a half ago, March 30th, after leading the walkout when I protested against the COVID-19 safety concerns that-- surrounding Amazon. We didn't have any PPE at the time, no cleaning supplies. I was told by an upper management not to tell the employees in my department that somebody tested positive weeks prior. And I took my stance with the company then. And I led a walkout that ultimately resulted in my termination.

What led me to this point was, actually, when that leaked memo came out, you know, when David Zapolsky, one of Jeff Bezos's top general counsel for Amazon, said, you know, I'm not smart or articulate, and, ironically, to make me the face of the whole unionizing efforts. So I said, hmm, that's a good idea. But since then, I traveled the country protesting.

And up until the point where the Alabama facility tried to unionize, I said after the results, I think we should try here in New York. New York is a home base for me. And I came back here six months ago as a volunteer. And I sat outside the building, not really knowing where this was going to take us. But we tried something different, and the work is galvanized behind it. And here we are. Yesterday, we was able to file for our election. So it's a milestone. And it's great to feel great about it and be a part of this.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: So, Christian, we've talked before, and congratulations on that milestone yesterday. Talk to me about why you're taking that route of trying to form an independent union, because we saw attempts to unionize by teaming up with established union shops, like what we saw in Bessemer, Alabama, didn't work out because voters there, workers there, voted against unionizing. Why choose to do this independently?

CHRISTIAN SMALLS: Right, that's always the question I get asked. And I ask people the same thing, you know, why not? You know, Amazon's been around for 27 years. You know, if it was that easy, that simple, an established union could have got it done already. So why not try an independent worker-led union? We know the ins and outs of the company.

Myself, I've been a part of that company for almost 4 and 1/2 years. I opened up three major buildings in the tri-state area. My lead organizers as well, the same thing. They've been around for years. They're seasoned Amazon workers. They know the ins and outs of the company better than a third party or an established union that has to come in and kind of learn different things, learn the terminology, learn how to relate to Amazon workers because we have a different lifestyle.

You know, we worked 12 hours a day. Our commutes are 2 and 1/2 hours each way. Our grievances are different from any other industry because Amazon, as you know, is ran completely off of metrics. And the things that we go through is just different. So I figured why not workers organizing themselves this time, workers being in the driver's seat? And I believe this is the best way to get it done. And it's been working for us. And I think that we'll be successful.

KARINA MITCHELL: And let me ask you, have you had more interest from other Amazon workers around the country to help them go the same route and unionize in the same way?

CHRISTIAN SMALLS: Of course, absolutely. You know, ever since I was fired, I had, you know, Amazon workers reaching out to me from all over the world, not just here in the States. But now that we started these efforts with unionizing here in Staten Island, I definitely received several messages from Amazon workers across the nation. And they're watching, they're paying attention.

And I actually started sending out literature to educate them on how we did it already. And I don't want to share too much details about it, but I can guarantee that if we're successful here in New York, it will definitely be other facilities across the nation that will do the same thing.

KARINA MITCHELL: All right, well--

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I want to talk-- oh, yeah.

KARINA MITCHELL: Go ahead.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: No, go right ahead. We're out of time, apparently. I'm sorry. We'll have to get you back here again, Christian.

CHRISTIAN SMALLS: Absolutely, any time. Any time.

KARINA MITCHELL: There is so much more to talk about, but thank you, and again, congratulations on the milestone achievement yesterday. Christian Smalls, former Amazon worker and leading the Staten Island petition. Thank you so much for your time.