A former member of staff at Amazon has slammed the company’s labor practices and has told senators he was fired for organizing a demonstration.
Chris Smalls spoke to legislators about the company’s labor record at a Senate hearing on Thursday, May 5
The hearing was convened by Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders as part of his drive for the White House to cease awarding federal contracts to firms like Amazon that are accused of engaging in unfair labor practices.
In his opening remarks, Sanders criticized Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos for opposing unionization at the firm. Bezos was invited to the hearing but did not attend.
Smalls is president of the Amazon Labor Union, a grassroots organization led by present and former company employees.
Despite Amazon’s high-level opposition, workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island voted in favor of the company’s first U.S. union last month.
The ALU was unable to repeat its success earlier this week, however, when workers at a second Staten Island warehouse rejected unionization.
Smalls said Amazon violates labor laws “with impunity” and, consequently, should be barred from being awarded government contracts.
Smalls said in his testimony: “We cannot allow Amazon or any other employer to receive taxpayer money if they engage in illegal union-busting behavior and deny workers’ rights,”.
“We cannot provide federal contracts to these employers. We cannot allow them to receive taxpayer subsidies from our state and local governments.”
Representatives from Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Senate Budget Committee ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the hearing topic “radical” and criticized Sanders for singling out Amazon.
Graham said: “This is an effort to get an outcome you want, using the United States Senate as your vehicle, this is very dangerous.
“You can have oversight hearings all you like, but you’ve determined Amazon is a piece of crap company.
That’s your political bias.”
Smalls said he was fired as a result of holding a demonstration in the early weeks of the coronavirus epidemic to demand stricter safety precautions.
His firing sparked a considerable outcry, prompting New York Attorney General Letitia James to file a lawsuit demanding that Amazon rehire Smalls.
Smalls said the process for holding companies accountable “isn’t working,” and Graham replied that that was Smalls’ opinion. “That’s a fact,” Smalls retorted.
President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh met with Smalls and other organizers, including a group seeking to represent Starbucks workers, at the White House, Thursday, May 5 afternoon.
Biden “stopped by the discussion and thanked the worker organizers for their leadership in organizing unions, the inspiration they offer to workers across the country who may want to organize, and their contributions to the worker organizing momentum that is growing across the country,” according to a White House readout of the meeting.