/  04.03.2022

A 33-year-old former rapper wound up delivering Amazon one of its toughest blows as warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York, voted to unionize this week.

New Jersey native Christian Smalls is the president of Amazon’s first labor union

Smalls, according to Reuters, started speaking out about poor safety conditions at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 when he was still an Amazon employee. 

The outlet states Smalls called for the company to close its JFK8 Staten Island warehouse, and helped lead a walkout for his colleagues.

He was fired shortly after as the e-commerce giant claimed he violated social distancing rules and attended the protest while he was supposed to be in quarantine. 

Shortly after, New York Attorney General Letitia James looked into Smalls’ firing and later filed a lawsuit against Amazon for failing to protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When leaked notes revealed Amazon’s General Counsel David Zapolsky called Smalls “not smart or articulate” and was comfortable with the press pitting him against the company, Smalls received the extra motivation he needed to rally employees towards the historic moment. 

The general counsel’s attack was motivation to fight harder, Smalls said in an interview a day before the vote on Thursday (March 31).

On Friday (April 1), as JFK8 warehouse workers cast 2,654 votes — nearly  55% — in favor of the union, Smalls was seen celebrating with a bottle of champagne. “I hope that everybody’s paying attention now because a lot of people doubted us.”

“It’s the way we organized,” he said outside the National Labor Relations Board office. “The way I spent every single day talking to workers, rain or shine.”

It was a historic moment for Smalls, who was arrested in February after he was allegedly caught trespassing to deliver food to employees.

After Staten Island employees voted to unionize, Amazon released a statement, via its site saying: “We’re disappointed with the outcome of the election in Staten Island because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees. 

“We’re evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the NLRB that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce) witnessed in this election.” 

 

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