Former Amazon employee on warehouse culture for workers

Christian Smalls, Former Amazon worker & Founder of The Congress of Essential Workers, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss working conditions and wages for employees at Amazon facilities.

Video transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: It's the second day of Amazon's 48-hour sale known as Prime Day. The sale rakes in huge profits for Amazon, but puts a lot of stress on warehouse workers. Our next guest led a strike against the company and joins us now. We want to welcome Christian Smalls, former Amazon worker who was a leader of that Staten Island strike and founder of the Congress of Essential Workers.

Welcome, Christian. So as I just mentioned, really, Amazon brings in a lot of money on Prime Day, which is, actually, technically two days. Curious to know, with some of those profits, what do you think they should be doing to help some of those workers, those employees, particularly ones that are in those warehouses, that are now working a lot of long hours to make sure that folks can get all of their goods that they've been purchasing over these last two days?

CHRISTIAN SMALLS: Well, absolutely. I mean, when we're talking about Prime Day and the millions of dollars that they're about to rake in for these next two days, you know, we're always talking about pay, having a decent wage for workers. And that's exactly what we're going to be fighting for them when it comes to unionizing. We want to absolutely increase the wage, to have a decent living wage for all workers all across the country, not just here in New York, but everywhere. They deserve to have an increase.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Christian, for people who are not really familiar with your story, you no longer work at Amazon. Can you share with us what happened? Why did you leave the company? And what was your personal experience like working in an Amazon distribution center?

CHRISTIAN SMALLS: Yes, well, I'll start with what it was like to work there. I used to tell my new hires as a supervisor, if you have a gym membership, you might want to cancel it. It's 10, 11, 12 hours of calisthenics. You're working 40, 50, 60 hours a week. It takes a toll on your body. These buildings are massive, a million square feet.

JFK, for example, 14 NFL football fields. I literally walk the state of Rhode Island every day-- no exaggeration there-- 30 to 60 miles a day. You're exhausted. That's just what it is. You know, I tell people, you've got to eat your food. At night, take a shower, and get some sleep. And rinse and repeat because that's what you're going to be doing while you're working at Amazon.

And the reason why I was terminated last year is because I've seen, when the virus came into play, that the company failed to protect its workers, failed to provide us with PPE. So I spoke up about it. I was one of the only assistant managers at my facility that really took a stance against the company. And I did a walkout on March 30th. And two hours after that walkout, I was terminated by the company.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now, Christian, you're not the only one who's been taking a stance against Amazon. We see a lot of members of Congress doing the same thing on both sides of the aisle. They've targeted Amazon for a series of antitrust legislations. Some folks really calling for Amazon in some form or way to be broken up. What's your response to some of those bills that are being directed right now at the company? And do you support a movement to essentially break up Amazon?

CHRISTIAN SMALLS: Yeah, I support it. Amazon has way too much power. It controls the market. We all know that. This is not something new. I support the Pro Act. I believe that, you know, that should be passed so that it can help our efforts when it comes to unionizing. The companies shouldn't be allowed to spend millions of dollars to stop the collective bargaining of the workers. We should have some type of legislator that protect the workers, protect their rights to organize. And I believe the Pro Act can definitely do that.

And we definitely want to hold our elected officials accountable, starting with Biden. Biden has the power right now to put in an executive order. And hopefully, our efforts here in New York and efforts that's going to start all across the country, I believe also with the Teamsters and other unions that are fighting against Amazon right now are trying to organize against Amazon. They all need to be pushing for the same thing to make sure that our elected officials definitely put in some bills that protect the workers to help us organize.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: So Amazon paying its workers now $15 an hour, offering benefits. What more do you want to see them do? What would you like to see? If you had to pick one big change, Christian, that they were going to do across the board at all their distribution centers, and you had Jeff Bezos in a room alone with you, what would you tell them?

CHRISTIAN SMALLS: Well, job security is number one. We already know they're going to use they pay better than their competitors spin all the time. It's not enough, especially with the cost of living. And we was talking about inflation earlier. It's not enough, but we can also negotiate for more. But I also want to have job security.

Amazon, as you've seen, some people may have seen in "The New York Times" that just was reported, their turnover rate is at 150%. So for every 10 people they're hiring, they're firing 15. They're not really securing jobs. And there's no growth, no career growth for entry level workers. So the number one thing that he needs to-- I would like to discuss with him is job security, making sure that workers don't just get hired and fired and used at the company's disposal. We want job security.

KRISTIN MYERS: And just a quick note for everyone, Christian did mention his support of the Pro Act. So I just want to share that is, of course, protecting the right to organize acts that would essentially prevent companies from discouraging its employees from unionizing. Christian Smalls, former Amazon worker who had led that Staten Island strike and founder of the Congress of Essential Workers, thanks so much for joining us today.