Amazon Labor Union President Christian Smalls had a busy Thursday.
After testifying at a Senate Budget Committee hearing titled “Should Taxpayer Dollars Go to Companies that Violate Labor Laws?,” which focused on Amazon.com Inc.
Smalls went to the White House, met President Joe Biden and took part in a discussion with Vice President Kamala Harris, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and other worker organizers.
“Just met the President lol he said I got him in trouble,” Smalls tweeted afterward.
Biden tweeted the following: “Today, I met with grassroots worker organizers to thank them for their leadership in organizing unions. From the Amazon Labor Union to IATSE at Titmouse Productions, these folks are inspiring a movement of workers across the country to fight for the pay and benefits they deserve.”
The White House said in a news release that also among those who attended its roundtable discussion Thursday were worker representatives from Starbucks Corp.
and REI, two other big companies where unionization efforts are underway.
Smalls’ earlier testimony before the Senate committee had already made headlines. At the hearing, which was streamed live, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and the committee’s chairman, that Sanders’ “bias” had determined that “Amazon is a piece-of-crap company.”
Smalls briefly veered from his prepared opening statement to address Graham.
“It’s not a left or right thing,” Smalls said. “It’s not a Democrat or Republican thing. It’s a workers thing. We’re the ones who are suffering in the businesses you’re talking about. You should listen because we represent your constituents as well. The people are the ones who make these corporations go, not the other way around.”
After leading the first Amazon warehouse to unionize in New York’s Staten Island last month, Smalls and the ALU are coming off a loss this week at another Staten Island warehouse they tried to organize. But the spotlight on Smalls is keeping the attention on his and other workers’ cause.
Amazon is facing numerous and continuing allegations of anti-union actions, including lawsuits by the National Labor Relations Board, as Sanders noted during the hiring. That includes Amazon’s firing of Smalls in 2020, which the company has maintained was because he violated COVID-19 pandemic quarantine rules.
When Sanders asked Smalls to describe how Amazon discourages unionization, the the former Amazon worker said the company employs “union busters” to “pretty much gaslight” workers. Smalls said those people “act like they’re trying to improve conditions. But really they’re polling to see who’s pro-union and they report to management.”
Other Amazon tactics include “classrooms of 50 to 60 workers” where “anti-union propaganda is drilled into their heads for nearly an hour, four days a week,” Smalls said.
Amazon has not returned a request for comment on the hearing and on Smalls’ statements.
Teamsters President Sean O’Brien also testified at the hearing.
“It is wrong for our government to be giving taxpayer dollars in the form
of federal contracts to companies like Amazon,” O’Brien said in his prepared testimony. “There is no excuse to reward employers who repeatedly, knowingly and purposefully violate federal labor laws; drive down wages and standards across the supply chain, including in core Teamster industries; and create dangerous working environments.”
Among those who disagreed with the notion that Amazon should be banned from government contracts over its labor issues was Rachel Greszler, a senior research fellow for the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Economic Freedom.
“The federal contracting process is not an appropriate or effective way to address the apparent concerns,” she said. “It would do far more harm to taxpayers and strip Americans of vital services including healthcare and national security than it would to penalize the targeted companies.”