It was the kind of fight that the Vegas oddsmakers would have set the chances of winning at something like a billion to one. One average worker in an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, would spent three hours a day traveling to work, then put in a grueling 8-hour shift. Once finished, he had to spend another three hours getting home. He decided to take on the corporate giant Amazon after seeing that his co-workers were coming down sick with COVID-19.
Of course the greedy corporation, which professed on one hand that they were concerned about their workers, was also making and seeing extraordinary profits thanks to so many customers being confined at home starting in March of 2020.
Brotha boy Chris Smalls tried to get his superiors to address the issue, to no avail. As one of the so-called “essential workers,” he organized a walkout and strike. An absolute no-no in the world of Amazon. He was subsequently fired, using some of the BS reasons the company is well known for. Their “multimillion-dollar, brilliant legal team” decided to make Smalls the focus of their ire because he, as they stated in a company memo, is “not smart or articulate.”
Can you say wrong decision? Smalls didn’t take his squashing without fighting back. For one thing, he was well known and liked throughout the entire facility. Plus for the majority of the workers, he looked and talked just like them. This was not a stranger from out of town showing up to tell them to join the union. This was someone who knew exactly what the job entails, and the frustration and aggravation of trying to do a good job in an atmosphere where every movement is tracked because Amazon’s philosophy is that people are lazy and thus can’t be trusted.
So for the past two years, he has stood out in front of the giant fulfillment facility, the equivalent of 14 football fields in length, talking to current workers, cooking and handing out food, and advocating for them to join a union. He had been one of them and he knew intimately what was happening inside. Those essential workers knew that the stuff they were packing were not essential items to help people too scared to venture out because of COVID-19, but rather the miscellaneous non-essential goodies that people sit and order in the middle of the night. The vote was taken last month and over 50% of those who voted decided to go with a union. Brotha boy had succeeded where many others with deeper pockets had failed.
But the success is not Smalls’ alone. Major kudos also go to those workers who stood with Smalls and voted to join the Amazon Labor Union. They beat the odds. And we can expect there will be other Amazon facilities, including many in the Chicago area, that will soon join in and also want to become a part of the union.
But against Amazon, this victory symbolizes just one of the many battles and not the winning of the war!
Arlene Jones writes a weekly column for the Austin Weekly News, a Growing Community Media publication.