Chris Smalls showed up at the U.S. Senate in Washington on Thursday wearing a Yankees ballcap and a jacket that said “Eat the Rich” on the back. His ensuing testimony to the Senate Budget Committee stayed true to form.
Speaking as a witness invited by committee chair Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Amazon Labor Union leader pilloried the world’s largest online retailer as a union-buster and explained in detail to senators what workers face during a labor organizing campaign.
Smalls began his testimony by taking aim at Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), the committee’s ranking Republican. Graham had said in his opening remarks that Sanders’ hearing would unfairly malign Amazon as a “piece-of-crap company.” He warned against implementing Sanders’ proposal to bar companies that have violated labor law from receiving federal contracts.
“First of all, I want to address Mr. Graham,” Smalls said. “It sounds like you were talking about more of the companies and the businesses in your speech, but you forgot that the people are the ones who make these companies operate.”
Smalls went on, “I think it’s in your best interest to realize it’s not a left or a right thing… It’s a worker’s thing. It’s a worker’s issue. And we’re the ones that are suffering in the corporations that you’re talking about.”
Smalls and his fellow organizers from Staten Island, New York, recently made headlines around the country when they won a historic union election at Amazon’s JFK8 fulfillment center there, creating the first unionized Amazon facility in the U.S.
“The corporations have the control. They break the law, they get away with it. They know that already.”
– Chris Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union
At Sanders’ invitation, Smalls delivered a four-minute speech explaining how difficult it was to win that organizing campaign. He accused Amazon of breaking the law repeatedly during the union effort. The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board has found merit in some of the Amazon Labor Union’s allegations against the company.
“The corporations have the control,” Smalls said. “They break the law, they get away with it. They know that already. They know that breaking the law during the election campaigns won’t be resolved during the election campaigns.”
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As HuffPost previously reported, the company spent roughly $4.3 million on anti-union consultants last year, according to disclosure filings. Consultants and managers held group meetings and one-on-one conversations with workers, urging them to vote against the union.
“They come into the facility. They isolate workers every single day,” Smalls said. “They question them, pretty much gaslighting them, acting like they’re working to improve the conditions, but really they are just polling to see who’s pro-union and who’s not. They report that information back to management. They have captive audiences every single day.”
Smalls told the senators to imagine being a new hire at Amazon: “Your second day you don’t even know your job assignment, and the first thing they do is march you into an anti-union propaganda class.”
Smalls urged the senators to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a sweeping proposal to overhaul labor law to make it easier for workers to form unions. The bill has passed the Democratic-controlled House but hasn’t garnered enough support in the Senate, facing opposition from Republicans and some centrist Democrats.
Teamsters President Sean O’Brien also testified to the budget committee on Thursday. He argued that a company like Amazon should not receive federal contracts, noting that the retailer was found to have illegally interfered in a union election in Alabama last year. Labor board officials ordered a do-over election.
“We have the ability to completely stop companies that break labor law from receiving federal contracts, so why are we not doing it?” O’Brien asked. “We already know Amazon is a habitual law-breaker.”
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