Amazon union president knocks Biden: ‘No cavalry coming’ for American workers

The leader of Amazon’s sole successful unionization effort said on Monday that American workers can’t rely on the Democratic Party to secure better pay and conditions.

“We’ve seen over the last few years, the uprise and the resurgence of labor, which is great,” Amazon Labor Union (ALU) head Christian Smalls said at a taping of the “Touré Show” at SXSW, the Austin technology and culture festival.

“But when we think about the federal laws that haven’t been touched since the 1930s, since the Great Depression — it doesn’t add up,” Smalls said.

The union leader delivered his remarks the week after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos reclaimed his title from Elon Musk as the world’s richest man.

Smalls rocketed to national prominence in April 2021, when the union effort he helped lead organized a Staten Island Amazon warehouse — where he charged bosses had attempted to cover up COVID-19 cases.

Back then, Smalls said, “New York City was the epicenter of the world, people were dying every 15 minutes. My mom works at Mount Sinai [Hospital], she was calling me every night, because I’m an essential worker [at Amazon] — and she’s at the hospital, walking out into tractor trailers full of dead bodies.”

“And we’re going to work for the richest man in the world with no mask with no PPE,” he said.

The push to expand the ALU has been slow going. So far, the facility Smalls helped organize is the only one to do so.

Last year, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accused Amazon of illegal union-busting at its Bessemer, Ala., warehouse — a charge which followed the board’s 2021 finding that Amazon had illegally interfered in a unionization vote at that facility, which caused it to force the company to hold new elections.

In February, Amazon sued the NLRB, arguing that the agency was unconstitutional and deprived the company of its First Amendment rights, according to The Associated Press.

In that legal push against the agency, Amazon united with Trader Joe’s and SpaceX, the AP reported.

Seth Goldstein, an attorney who represents both the ALU and the labor group Trader Joe’s United, told the AP that the companies’ actions’ were  “very frightening.”

“Since they can’t defeat successful union organizing, they now want to just destroy the whole process,” he said.

Amazon has disputed every aspect of Smalls’s account. A company representative told The Hill that Smalls “was terminated for putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of his employment.”

The company told The Hill that “both the NLRB and the ALU improperly influenced the outcome [at the unionized warehouse and] we don’t believe it represents what the majority of our team wants.”

In the case of the NLRB complaint, they characterized the allegations as “things like holding informational meetings with our employees that have been legal for over 70 years” and announced their intent to defend that perspective in court.

Some Staten Island employees have blamed Smalls’s leadership for the unionization movement’s failure to grow. In late 2022, several members of the ALU’s executive board stepped down in protest over what they portrayed as Smalls’ disorganized and authoritarian leadership style.

The ALU inner circle, dissident members wrote in a July lawsuit, “refuse to hold membership meetings, they have unilaterally ‘amended’ the constitution to keep themselves in power indefinitely, they have threatened their opponents, most of whom made up the core group which won the Amazon election in the first place, and, most importantly, they refuse all efforts to have a fair, democratic, election.”

The ALU called the allegations “frivolous” in a counter-filing. Smalls didn’t address those allegations directly on Monday, but criticized media portrayals of the union push within Amazon.

“We live in a time when people see things on a surface level and be like, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s a sellout.’ So once again, I just have to continue to let the work speak for itself.”

He added that “it only takes one article to cancel a black man in this country. And they put out several me. And it hasn’t worked yet.”

Smalls also said that for all President Biden’s image as a union advocate, he felt the president had let Amazon workers down.

He pointed to Biden’s signature on a bill blocking railroad workers from striking in late 2022, on the the eve of the railroad disaster that dumped a million pounds of vinyl chloride outside of East Palestine, Ohio.

“I met Joe Biden,” Smalls said, referring to the 2022 meeting where the president referred to him as “my kind of trouble.”

Smalls was less enthusiastic. “I met [Biden], I met a lot of these politicians that we thought would be looking out for the working class. And y’all — there ain’t no cavalry coming. I met with Joe Biden for an hour, and I don’t remember the conversation — it was that bad. When I left the White House, I felt empty.”

Six months after that meeting, Amazon secured an $8 billion loan from the federal government. “And that just told me right there that, once again, if we don’t organize, nothing’s going to be given to us. Nobody’s going to be held accountable,” Smalls said.

“So it’s a must. It’s our duty. Because we’re at a point of no return. We have to organize ourselves. Because no amount of money in the world can stop the power of people when we come together.”

Updated at 9:50 p.m.

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