The recent success of employees at Amazons’s New York fulfillment centre in forming a union might be the best example of David defeating Goliath since the biblical incident. The union, spearheaded by Christian Smalls, a former Amazon employee and now president of the union, is the first Amazon union in American history.
Smalls spent a year working with his friend Derrick Palmer, who is still employed in the warehouse, and a small band of colleagues. The odds against them were overwhelming. They organized without help from a national organization, raising their entire budget of $120,000 through GoFundMe. Their headquarters was the bus stop outside the warehouse. They built bonfires to warm colleagues waiting to go home, and even brought food, including home-cooked soul food provided by Mr. Smalls’ aunt. They used Spanish-speaking organizers to reach Hispanic workers and made TikTok videos to reach workers across the city.
Amazon, by contrast, spent $4.3-million on anti-union consultants. In response to the union effort, it formed a reaction team involving 10 departments, including its Global Intelligence Program, a security group staffed by many military veterans. It monitored organizers’ social media, showered workers with text messages and blanketed the warehouse with signs saying “Vote NO” or claiming, falsely, the union leaders were outsiders. It often held more than 20 mandatory anti-union meetings with workers a day. And, of course, they fired Smalls.
Why, one wonders, do workers who are only trying to introduce democracy into their workplace face such overwhelming odds. Why does the company have all the leverage? Shouldn’t a country that includes freedom of assembly in its constitution make it easy to assemble a union? Where is the constitution when it’s needed?
In any case, the success at the New York facility is no small (no pun intended) victory. Amazon is the second-largest private employer in the country, and New York is the country’s most important consumer market.
Another election, also brought by the new Amazon Labor Union, at a neighbouring Staten Island facility, is scheduled for later this month. David ain’t done yet.