As the president of the Amazon Labor Union celebrated victory for unionizing a Staten Island warehouse, he tore into Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for backing out at the last minute from attending a pro-labor rally and slow-walking her support for the movement.
‘Any message for AOC specifically?’ news outlet Status Coup asked Chris Smalls, the organizer behind the successful unionization of the first Amazon warehouse in the country. ‘Hell no, I’m not giving her no… she don’t deserve this moment,’ he said.
Amazon has for decades deployed aggressive tactics to bust unionization efforts, and with very little funding, the effort by Smalls and his team to unionize was a longshot. But with the political and economic winds in their favor – a tight labor market and a pro-union National Labor Relations board under President Biden, employees at the fulfillment center known as JFK 8 voted in support of the Amazon Labor Union.
ALU President Chris Smallstore into Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for backing out at the last minute from attending a pro-labor rally and slow-walking her support for the movement
Amazon Labor Union (ALU) organizer Christian Smalls speaks to the media as ALU members celebrate official victory after hearing results regarding the vote to unionize, outside the NLRB offices in Brooklyn, New York City, U.S., April 1
Last summer, Smalls said he went down to Washington, D.C. when Squad members were sleeping on the Capitol steps to protest the end of the eviction pause. He was trying to court their attendance at a pro-union rally at the Staten Island warehouse in August.
Smalls said he personally invited New York progressives like AOC and Mondaire Jones. ‘They were positive when I met them in person,’ he said on the Krystal Kyle & Friends Podcast. ‘I met Cori Bush on the steps. I brought them ALU shirts. We tried to convince them to come up there. AOC was like ‘yeah, take my information.’
Smalls said he had three meetings with members of her staff. ‘Leading up to the rally everything was good up until the last second. They were like ‘yeah, they can’t make it.’ I was like wow.’
‘They didn’t give me a real reason besides there is a security threat for AOC and I’m like, I was just sleeping on the steps with her in DC, she had no security there. Had maybe one person there. It didn’t make sense because they said they canceled all her in person meetings for the rest of the month then she at the Met Gala.’
Last Thursday when the unionizing vote was announced, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted muscle-flexing emojis in support, drawing criticism from Krystal Ball, co-host of the Krystal Kyle and Friends and Breaking Points podcasts, and progressive journalist Jordan Chariton.
‘These are your constituents and you couldn’t be bothered to show up until they’re on the cusp of victory,’ Ball wrote on Twitter.
‘The warehouse isn’t in my district and maybe you should look at a map before claiming so. One scheduling conflict aside, we have requested oversight investigations into Amazon, met with Amazon workers in the Woodside warehouses, and more. Hope you do more due diligence next time,’ Ocasio-Cortez shot back.
Smalls fired back at the congresswoman: ‘Smh @AOC that’s terrible workers from your district definitely commute to Staten Island I know them personally maybe you should do your do diligence.’
Chariton jumped in: ‘I was told by workers that your folks told them at last minute it was a security issue–not a scheduling conflict. Whether ur district or not, you would think a NY Congressman could’ve tweeted support–particularly in final weeks–for one of the most important union drives in U.S.’
JFK8 in Staten Island is the first Amazon warehouse ever to successfully unionize
‘Security was an issue as well. 2021 included a lot of high level threats on my life, which limited what activities I was able to do, especially those outside. The combination of that + when we are able to get resources/time to secure them creates scheduling + logistical conflicts,’ Ocasio-Cortez said.
‘With respect, there’s no security concerns with sending out support to @amazonlabor trying to win the first unionized Amazon to 13 million followers. Your voice and organizing power makes a difference,’ said Chariton.
‘No security concerns at the met gala,’ Ball added with a puzzled emoji.
Smalls said that he had also been blown off by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. ‘I was talking with Bernie’s people as well, they’re like ‘oh, were going to bring you to Congress to testify, it never happened.’
The JFK8 Amazon facility voted 2,654 to 2,131 in favor of unionizing. The number of employees eligible to participate in the vote was 8,325, the NLRB said at the conclusion of the count.’
The center is now poised to become the first and only Amazon warehouse among the 110 in the states to unionize.
The company employs roughly 1.3 million workers across the country, and is on pace to surpass Walmart as the largest private employer in the U.S. within a year or two.
A victory for organized labor at the second-largest U.S. private employer is a historic first for the retailing behemoth in the United States and a milestone for labor advocates, who for years have considered Amazon’s labor practices a threat to workers.
Smalls was a manager at the Staten Island facility until he was fired in 2020 for breaking social distancing rules by attending a walkout he helped organize over unsafe working conditions at the height of the pandemic.
Amazon launched Smalls into the spotlight after its chief counsel accidentally sent an email to more than 1,000 people describing Smalls as ‘not smart, or articulate,’ and recommended making him ‘the face’ of efforts to organize workers.
‘Amazon wanted to make me the face of the whole unionizing efforts against them,’ Smalls wrote in a tweet on Friday.’Welp there you go!’
Smalls along with his friend from the warehouse Derrick Palmer spent the past 11 months spreading awareness of their unionization efforts, bringing homemade baked ziti, empanadas and West African rice dishes to the bus stop outside the warehouse to appeal to workers, many of them from different backgrounds.
They had no affiliation with any national labor organization and while they spent around $120,000 on their efforts, Amazon spent about $4.3 million on anti-union consultants last year across the nation, the New York Times reported.
The successful unionization vote comes on the heels of a string of Starbucks stores that have voted to organize too.
On Friday the House Oversight panel, led by Reps. Carolyn Maloney, N.Y., Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush, Mo. opened a federal probe into Amazon’s labor practices. They wrote a letter to Amazon requesting documents on the company’s labor policies and procedures, especially during extreme weather events. A tornado last year killed six workers in Edwardsville, Illinois and workers in the aftermath said that they had been told by supervisors they would be fired if they left their shifts early to find shelter.