David Vs Goliath: How Two Community College Dropouts Beat Amazon’s $4.3 Million Dollar Consultants


“President of Amazon Labor Union Christian Smalls addressed reporters Friday, as, in a momentous victory for organized labor, workers at Amazon’s massive warehouse on Staten Island voted by a wide margin to form a union, according to released results.DESEAN MCCLINTON-HOLLAND/NYT” https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/04/01/business/amazon-workers-staten-island-vote-unionize-landmark-win-labor/

Catherine Ryan ’24

 “He’s not smart, or articulate.” 

 This is how Amazon’s top lawyer described Christian Smalls, an Amazon employee who was concerned about safety conditions at a fulfillment center in New York during the pandemic and staged a walkout in protest. Although only a handful of employees attended the walkout in 2020, those stinging words got back to Smalls and motivated him to step up his campaign against Amazon’s working conditions. Smalls recalls, “When I read that memo, that motivated me to start an organization.”

 Amazon immediately fired Smalls for participating in the walkout and suddenly, he found himself with time on his hands. With his colleague Derrick Palmer, also an Amazon worker, Smalls sought to create the Amazon Labor Union. They had no experience with unions or how to form one, but they began reaching out to employees to share their message – they were worried about COVID-19 and did not think that Amazon was sharing information about employees that were testing positive. Instead, the focus was on working round the clock to deliver orders as the city locked down. 

 Originally from New Jersey, both men, age 31, had left community college without graduating. They had received good evaluations at Amazon and had their eye on advancing up the company’s ladder. Now they were approaching employees at bus stops, and gathering around outdoor fire pits with food to share in an effort to connect. 

 Many of those employees were skeptical, as well as happy to make $18 an hour and receive health care. Others were just too tired to care. Still, Smalls and Palmer raised $120,000 on GoFundMe to help get the word out and get thousands of signatures required to have a vote on whether workers supported a union. For the people they could not reach in person, they made TikTok videos. Smalls remembers, “We started this with nothing, with two tables, two chairs and a tent.” They had their work cut out for them because in April of 2021, workers at an Amazon distribution facility in Alabama rejected a proposal to create a union by a 2-to-1 margin. Currently, only 10.3 percent of workers in the United States are represented by unions. 

 Meanwhile, after firing Smalls, Amazon spent more than $4.3 million on consultants to fight back against his efforts. Unions have the potential to kill Amazon’s business model, which relies on laborers working very quickly to fulfill the huge number of orders it processes every day, so no expense was spared. The company hired consultants and lobbied workers to vote “no” on the union. At one presentation, the company doubted Small’s abilities, saying, “The Amazon Labor Union has never negotiated a contract,” and “has no experience managing this massive amount of money” that would be collected through dues. Amazon continued to position itself as the “Earth’s best employer” and said it would listen to employees and improve conditions. That didn’t stop the company from having Smalls arrested when he came on site to pass out union flyers. 

 Ultimately, Amazon workers voted by a wide margin to form a union on April 1, 2022. 2,654 employees voted in favor of the Amazon Labor Union while 2,131 voted against. Kathleen Lejuez, 41, a nine-year employee, was not a fan of unions. She voted in favor of a union at the Amazon Staten Island facility to make a point about the connection that has been lost with workers. “The humanity at Amazon is gone,” she said. 

 This was the first successful union at Amazon. Smalls tweeted, “Amazon wanted to make me the face of the whole unionizing efforts against them. Well there you go!”


Works Cited: 


Hsu, Andrea and Alina Selyukh. “He was fired by Amazon 2 years ago. Now he’s the force behind the company’s 1st union.” NPR. 2 April 2022.  https://www.npr.org/2022/04/02/1090353185/amazon-union-chris-smalls-organizer-staten-island 


Kantor, Jodi and Karen Weise. “How Two Best Friends Beat Amazon.” The New York Times. 2 April 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/02/business/amazon-union-christian-smalls.html?smid=url-share