As Amazon (AMZN) put the finishing touches on Prime Day 2021 on Tuesday, one former warehouse worker pointed to the kind of stress the massive sale puts on employees who package and sort the millions of products consumers purchase during the shopping extravaganza.
Christian Smalls, the founder of The Congress of Essential Workers and former worker at Amazon’s massive Staten Island warehouse, the only fulfillment center in New York City, says that even on normal days the pace of work can be punishing.
“I used to tell my new hires, as a supervisor, ‘If you have a gym membership, you might want to cancel it’,” Smalls told Yahoo Finance Live. “It’s 10, 11, 12 hours of calisthenics. You’re working 40, 50, 60 hours a week. It takes a toll on your body.”
Smalls, who last year led a walkout at the facility to protest Amazon’s treatment of workers and purported lack of disclosures regarding coronavirus infections at warehouses, said he would regularly walk 30 to 60 miles a day during shifts.
“I tell people ‘You’ve got to eat good at night, take a shower, get some sleep, rinse and repeat.’ Because that’s what you’re doing working at Amazon,” he said.
Smalls hasn’t worked for Amazon since the March 2020 walkout. He says he was fired by the company in retaliation for leading the effort. Amazon, however, has repeatedly claimed Smalls was fired after several warnings because he violated social-distancing guidelines.
Days after reports that Amazon fired Smalls in March of last year, Vice News reported on a leaked memo from a meeting with Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos discussing Smalls’ efforts to organize workers. During that meeting, Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky attempted to smear Smalls as “not smart, or articulate.”
Smalls is now leading unionization efforts for Amazon workers at NYC-area facilities, and calling on the company to go beyond its $15 minimum wage and provide a living wage for its workers.
“That’s exactly what we’re fighting for when it comes to unionizing,” Smalls explained. “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 that increase.”
Smalls looks like he will soon gain a powerful ally in the push to unionize Amazon. Vice reported on Tuesday the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is preparing to launch a massive unionization effort at the e-commerce giant.
The last major unionization effort at an Amazon facility was at the company’s Bessemer, Alabama, fulfillment center. That drive saw Amazon defeat the effort, which would have seen workers join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, with 1,798 votes cast against the union and 738 cast in favor of it.
As for Smalls, he’s hoping workers eventually succeed in their unionization efforts and gain a semblance of job security.
“The number one thing I would like to discuss with [Bezos] is job security,” Smalls said. “Making sure that workers don’t just get hired and fired and used at the company’s disposal. We want job security.”
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