Union organizer Christian Smalls speaks following the stunning April 1 vote for unionizing Amazon's Staten Island warehouse in New York. Photo by Andrea Renault / AFP via Getty Images.

Welp There You Go: Workers Led By Fired Regular Bro Bust Open Bezos' Evil Empire

In one of the sweetest, baddest "beating-the-odds David vs Goliath" labor victories ever, Amazon workers in New York won the historic right to unionize in part thanks to the leadership of bling-wearing, neck-tattooed, working-class black man Christian Smalls, whose truly grassroots revolt beat back a $4 million smear campaign in a union battle nobody thought could be won. Already seeing a ripple effect - he's heard from workers at 50 more Amazon gulags - Small touts "the power people have when they come together." Cohorts concur: "Hell yeah, my dude. Let's goooo."

Marking one of the sweetest, biggest, baddest "beating-the-odds David vs Goliath" labor victories ever, Amazon workers in Staten Island, New York just won the unprecedented right to unionize in large part thanks to the leadership of truth-telling, bling-wearing, neck-tattooed, working-class black dude and fired Amazon worker Christian Smalls, whose historic, truly grassroots revolt beat back a $4 million smear campaign in a union fight nobody thought could be won - and he did it with little money, no experience, a make-it-up-as-you-go playbook, and without support from any national union. Labor experts heralded the stunning win in "about as uphill a battle as it gets" against America's second largest, possibly most evil corporation: "No union victory is bigger than the first win (at) Amazon, which many union leaders regard as an existential threat to labor standards across the economy." Also, "The first Amazon union (is) a big fucking deal." Even better: The assault against Bezos' imperial barricades was led by the improbably heroic Smalls, a 33-year-old, New-Jersey-born bro and former rapper who'd worked at Walmart, Target and Home Depot to support his three kids before starting at Amazon's JFK8 warehouse in 2015. In four years he worked his way up to a supervisor job; when COVID began, he was training other workers when he saw them getting sick, "realized something was wrong," and decided to fight back.

Smalls organized a walk-out and rally outside the building to protest unsafe working conditions. He carried a sign that read, "Our Health Is Just As Essential"; others carried signs saying "Bezos Billions: Stolen From Workers." They had a searing point: During pandemic lockdowns and deaths, Jeff Bezos, the world's richest person, saw Amazon shares soar 87%, adding about $86 billion to a fortune that now exceeds $200 billion. His workers, meanwhile, labor in Gulag-like conditions, making about $16 an hour in too-long, high-pressure shifts that reportedly, famously require them to piss in bottles to save time. Over 5,000 people work at the allegedly especially egregious Staten Island warehouse, which is so hard to get to - ferry, multiple buses - many have a 90-minute commute made more hazardous during COVID. Still, Amazon fired Smalls the same day as the rally, claiming he violated social-distancing rules; New York A.G. Letitia James has charged Amazon with illegally firing "an employee who bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues." Unemployed, Smalls formed the Amazon Labor Union with his friend Derrick Palmer, who still works there, and several fellow workers. For the next 11 months, Smalls and a rotating group of organizers daily staked out a spot just across from the warehouse - a bus stop that 80% of workers use to come or go - to convince them they needed a union.

They held barbecues, raised money through GoFundMe, gave out free pizza, chicken, weed (legal) and literature about unions - needed, Smalls said, because "the working class is disconnected - they work 10, 11, 12 hours a day, go home to their families, eat, wash, rinse, repeat. So we have to educate." Many of those he saw used to work under him, "so it was a kind of reunion." He argued they deserved higher pay, longer breaks, medical leave, more paid time off. He noted they were a heavily black workforce paid poorly for hard work and managed by white people who worked less than they did. He recalled how he applied to be a manager 49 times, never got the job, and could never figure out why when he put in the work, lamenting "a system designed to stop black and brown people from moving up." He was the only organizer not still working at JFK8 in a virtually worker-led effort, which felt vital: "We know the ins and outs, the language, the issues - you need to understand their pain and what they're going through." For the same reason, they made a strategic choice not to seek help from outside organizers; having watched the failed effort in Alabama where union busters called black organizers BLM thugs, "We just decided Amazon workers need to organize other Amazon workers. We knew we had to have an unorthodox approach. Amazon's been around 28 years - established unions had 28 years to try. We did it in 11 months."

Before they did, though, Amazon arrested Smalls for trespassing while delivering food and launched a pricey smear campaign against him. In memos leaked by VICE News, the company decided to make Smalls the face of the union effort, belittling him as "not smart or articulate," charging "his conduct was immoral, unacceptable, and arguably illegal," and only then moving on to "the usual talking points about worker safety." The memo "fueled" Smalls, who tried to "make them eat those words" using principles he'd learned from them: "Have a backbone" and "See it, own it, fix it." Palmer, too, says Amazon "motivated us. Everything they tried to do to silence (us), it worked against them." Daily, Small talked to workers. "Amazon doesn't become Amazon without the people - we make Amazon what it is," he told them. "We, as the working class, got to realize our value. If we don't go to work, these CEOs don't make their money." At first, "We're talking four people, two tables, two chairs in a tent. We're saying we'll sign people up for this union and see where it goes." Eventually, they got the needed 1,700 people, 30% of workers, to request an NLRB vote. On April 1, succeeding where many had failed, they won on a 2,654 to 2,131 vote to establish a union. "We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space," he says, "because while he was up there we were signing up more people. We worked hard, had fun and made history."

The company is "evaluating our options" and considering filing objections to "undue influence by the NLRB." They've also said they found the election result "disappointing" - a word that prompts a small smile from Smalls. Declaring, "This is day one for the Amazon Labor Union," he and other organizers are beginning negotiations on a contract. In one of the most expensive places in the country to live, they'll seek a $30 an hour wage. His eminently sensible reply when asked if Amazon products would cost more: "Absolutely not. This company has more than enough money - we all know that. It's a trillion-dollar company. They can take the over $4 million they spent on union busting and pay everyone $30 and still have more money than anyone else." Meanwhile, a ripple effect has already begun: Smalls has heard from employees at over 50 other Amazon sites seeking advice on organizing and telling him, in the words of one, "You guys lit a fire under me." And "if I can lead us to victory over Amazon, what's stopping anybody in this country from organizing their workplace?" he asks. "Nothing." "The revolution is here," he declares. "Amazon wanted to make me the face of the whole unionizing effort. Welp there you go...This is a fine example of the power people have when they come together." Many others are likewise celebrating a rare moment to "bring da ruckus": "Amazing, sir...Hell yeah, my dude...Let's gooooo."

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