Christian Smalls, founder of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), speaks during a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee in Washington, DC, USA, Thursday, May 5, 2022. The hearing is titled “Taxpayer Dollars Should Go to Companies That violate labor laws? “
Eric Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Chris Smalls, an ex Amazon worker and leader of an emerging trade union, on Thursday he challenged lawmakers about the tech giant’s job situation in a hearing in the Senate.
The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Bernie Sanders called the hearing as part of its thrust that the White House stop offering federal contracts to companies like Amazon accused of unfair labor practices. Sanders called Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos, who was invited to the hearing but did not attend, in his opening remarks for discouraging unionization in the company.
Smalls is president of the Amazon Labor Union, a grassroots organization led by current and former employees of the company. Last month, workers from an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island voted in support of the company’s first US uniondespite a high-level opposition campaign by Amazon. ALU was unable to replicate its success earlier this week, however, when workers from a second Staten Island warehouse rejected the union.
Smalls said Amazon violates “impunity” labor laws and, as a result, should be prevented from obtaining government contracts.
“We cannot allow Amazon or any other employer to receive taxpayers ‘money if they engage in illegal union-breaking behavior and deny workers’ rights,” Smalls said in his testimony. “We cannot provide federal contracts to these employers. We cannot allow them to receive taxpayer subsidies from our state and local governments.”
Amazon reps did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member, Senator Lindsey Graham, RSC, called the hearing topic “radical” and criticized Sanders for spotting Amazon.
“This is an effort to achieve the desired result, using the US Senate as a vehicle,” Graham said. “This is very dangerous. You can have surveillance hearings as much as you want, but you have established that Amazon is a shit company. This is your political bias.”
Smalls returned fire on Graham, saying, “It looks like you are talking about more companies and companies in your speech, but you have forgotten that the people are the ones who operate these companies and that we are not protected.”
Later, Graham asked Smalls if he had filed a complaint against Amazon. Little ones was fired by Amazon in 2020 after the company claimed it violated social distancing rules. Smalls claimed he was fired in retaliation for staging a protest in the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic ask for stronger security measures. His dismissal sparked widespread indignation, including one complaint by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who tried to force Amazon to take on Smalls.
Smalls said the process of holding companies accountable “doesn’t work” and Graham said that was Smalls’ opinion.
“That’s a fact,” Smalls retorted.
At the hearing, Smalls was joined by Teamsters general president Sean O’Brien, among other speakers. The Teamsters announced last year a renewed push to organize the structures of Amazon and beyond he targeted the company’s expansion efforts across the country.
On Thursday, the White House will host Smalls and other organizers, including a group trying to organize Starbucks workers, in a meeting to discuss “their extraordinary efforts to organize unions in their workplaces.” a White House official told Reuters.