- bbc world of news
A labor union in one of the largest capitalist companies in the world.
Amazon, the e-commerce giant created by Jeff Bezoswas forced this Friday to recognize a union in the US for the first time.
The workers of a company warehouse in New York voted with 55% of the ballots in favor to join the association that seeks to promote the defense of their rights.
The group that promoted the initiative was led by former company employee little chriswho became famous protesting safety conditions at the retail giant during the pandemic.
Smalls’ victory marks a major defeat for Amazon, which has fought unionization at its warehouses for decades.
However, things seem to be changing in recent times.
In Alabama, where Amazon faced another similar campaign, unionization did not initially appear to pass, but a series of recently contested ballots could add a new union to the company.
Together, the two elections mark a milestone for activists, who have long questioned labor practices at Amazon, the country’s second-largest employer.
After the count, Smalls left the room tired but jubilant, opening a bottle of champagne that was handed to him by his supporters.
“We did whatever it took to connect with these workers,” he told the crowd, recounting a campaign that began with “two chairs, two tables and a tent” and was based on an online fundraiser.
“I hope everyone is paying attention now because a lot of people were doubting us,” he said.
In a statement, Amazon responded that I was disappointed with the result, assessing how to proceed and singled out regulators for improperly influencing the vote.
“We believe that having a direct relationship with the company is in the best interest of our employees. We are evaluating our options, including filing objections based on inappropriate and undue influence of the [Junta Nacional de Relaciones Laborales]”, the company said.
But who is Chris Smalls and how did he manage to put one of the most powerful companies in the world in check?
A stone in Amazon’s shoe
Born in New Jersey in the late 1980s, Chris Smalls has said he never imagined he would end up fighting to create the first Amazon union in the US.
He was working for the company when he organized a small protest outside one of the company’s department stores in New York two years ago.
But, he told the BBC, he had no intention of starting a fight with Amazon: he just wanted his team to be able to do their jobs safely.
“When the pandemic hit, the employees below me were getting sick. I realized something was wrong,” he recounts.
Amazon fired him, citing quarantine violations.
But his concerns caught the world’s attention, an early sign of a much larger labor battle brewing inside the company.
In the months that followed, as its business surged thanks to the pandemic, Amazon faced accusations around the world that it neglected the well-being of staff, something the company denied.
But Smalls became a character increasingly recognized for being very vocal against the company.
In a leaked 2020 memo, Amazon described Smalls as “neither smart nor eloquent” and argued that becoming “the face of the entire labor movement” would help undermine it.
Smalls, who worked at Amazon for more than four years, working his way up, said the memo caught him by surprise.
Some of his peers and local media called the document racist, though Amazon told reporters at the time that the author was unaware Smalls was black.
“My whole life changed in a minute,” says the now union leader and father of two.
“From there, I started trying to make them eat their words,” he adds.
For 11 months, the 33-year-old and his team waited outside his old workplace, the warehouse. jfk8 in Staten Island, to approach company staff on their way home and persuade them that they needed a union to fight for them in negotiations with Amazon.
Smalls and his team are seeking higher wages, longer breaks, more paid time off and covered medical leave, among other changes.
Voting on the question for union approval began on March 25, and more than 4,000 workers participated in the election.
Amazon will face another similar vote at a smaller warehouse in the same industrial park next month.
Organizers say nothing less than the future of the American worker is at stake.
“We need to disarm Amazon. We need these workers to organize,” Derrick Palmer, who helped Smalls organize his 2020 protest and was also disciplined (but not fired) by Amazon, which cited social distancing violations, told the BBC.
“We need (workers) to know that they have the power.”
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