Amazon Labor Union (ALU) President Christian Smalls sharply rebuked U.S. senators for protecting Amazon from criticisms about its illegal labor practices at a Senate Budget Committee hearing led by Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) on Thursday.
After Sanders delivered his opening speech, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) went on a tirade about how he thinks the independent Senator’s stances on the issues of Amazon illegally union busting and support of the labor movement in general are too politicized — even though Republicans dubiously claim to be the party of the working class. Graham said that it’s “very dangerous” that Sanders and the committee have determined Amazon to be, in Graham’s own words, “a piece of crap company.”
The hearing was held for lawmakers to examine whether companies that violate federal labor laws, often openly, should be allowed to contract with the federal government.
When Smalls began his testimony, he directly addressed Graham’s remarks.
“First of all, I want to address Mr. Graham. It sounds like you were talking about more of the companies and the businesses in your speech, but you forgot that the people are the ones who make these companies operate,” Smalls said. “And when we’re not protected, and when the process for holding these companies accountable is not working for us — that’s the reason why we’re here today.”
Smalls went on to say that it’s not “a Democrat or Republican thing. It’s a workers thing.” He reminded Graham that he is also supposed to represent the interest of workers who may be abused by companies in his state.
Later in the hearing, Graham said that it’s unfair for the $1.2 trillion company to discuss their illegal conduct when there’s a legal system to file complaints about unfair labor practices — though labor experts generally acknowledge that the system’s lax punishments for breaking labor laws fail to deter union busting.
Graham asked Smalls if he had filed legal complaints against the company. “You had a process where somebody could advocate for your interest,” Graham said.
“There is a process that’s not working,” Smalls replied.
“Well that’s your opinion,” Graham quipped.
“That’s a fact,” Smalls said.
Workers and union organizers faced abusive conditions from Amazon as ALU was organizing two New York City warehouses in Staten Island, Smalls continued, facing traumatizing intimidation and coercion tactics as part of the company’s multimillion dollar union-busting campaign. At one point, Smalls and other organizers were arrested while handing out food to workers after Amazon called the police on the group.
Though Amazon faces charges of illegal union busting from the National Labor Relations Board, lax labor laws allow the company to get away with vast amounts of union busting moves, illegal or not, while facing little consequence. Sanders has asked President Joe Biden to cancel Amazon’s contracts with the federal government until the company stops union busting, but there’s no word from Biden yet on the request.
“We want to feel that the government is allowing us to use our constitutional rights to organize,” Smalls said. “The notion that people united in this democracy will outmatch tyranny is the oldest American ideal.” And though workers won the union at the JFK8 Amazon warehouse, Amazon is still refusing to meet at the bargaining table with the workers, despite the legal obligation to do so.
“To me, it just sounds like the corporations have the control, and they control whatever they want. They break the law, they get away with it — they know that already, that breaking the law during these election campaigns won’t be resolved during the election campaigns. So they purposely continue to break the law,” Smalls said, saying that the union had filed 40 unfair labor practices during the campaign. But despite the fact that many of these charges had merit, he said, the victims of these charges have still not gotten relief.
Smalls called for Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would make it easier for workers to form a union.