Amazon union leader hits back at Lindsey Graham in Senate hearing: ‘You should listen’

‘You forgot that the people are the ones who make these companies operate’

Amazon union leader addresses Lindsey Graham in labour hearing

Amazon Labor Union president Christian Smalls, addressing a panel in the Senate Budget Committee on union-busting among large corporations, responded to Senator Lindsey Graham’s opening remarks accusing committee chair Bernie Sanders of using the committee to advance his political agenda.

“This committee is taking a very dangerous turn under your leadership,” the Republican senator said.

“Senator Graham, you forgot that the people are the ones who make these companies operate,” Mr Smalls said from the panel on 5 May. “If we’re not protected, the process for holding these companies accountable is not working for us – that’s the reason why we’re here today.”

He stressed that federal protections for union organising are “not a left thing or a right thing” or a “Democrat or Republican thing” but a “worker’s issue.”

“We’re the ones suffering,” added Mr Smalls, wearing a red, black and yellow jacket with the words “Eat the rich” on the front. “That’s the reason why I think I was invited here today. You should listen because we represent your constituents as well.”

Amazon workers at the JFK8 warehouse facility in Staten Island, New York won a union election on 1 April, the first successful US union election within the world’s largest online retailer. A majority of workers at the LDJ5 facility next door voted against unionising, according to preliminary results on 2 May.

The labor union represents 8,300 workers at the JFK8 facility, following a months-long union campaign against the company’s alleged anti-union efforts, including so-called “captive audience” meetings encouraging workers to reject the union and attempts to undermine Mr Smalls and other union leaders, who have filed several complaints with the National Labor Relations Board over federal labor law violations.

“The notion that people united in this democracy will unite against tyranny is the oldest American ideal,” Mr Smalls said on Thursday. “Our victory in Staten Island was lauded as newsworthy and inspirational for hundreds of thousands of workers.”

The union has demanded that Amazon recognise the victory and agree to a collective bargaining agreement between the company and the union, “but Amazon is refusing to do so,” Mr Smalls said.

“To me it sounds like the corporations have the control, and they control whatever they want,” he added.

Later, Senator Graham challenged Mr Smalls on whether he has relied on the existing legal process to issue complaints against Amazon over alleged labor violations.

Mr Smalls replied by saying that the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a complaint on his behalf after he was fired from Amazon, adding that the existing process is “not working”.

“That’s your opinion,” Senator Graham replied.

“That’s a fact,” Mr Smalls said.

Senator Bernie Sanders joined Amazon Labor Union president Christian Smalls and union organisers and supporters at a rally outside Amazon’s Staten Island facility on 24 April.

Senator Sanders – who has routinely sparred with Amazon and its founder Jeff Bezos over the company’s massive federal contracts and tax obligations – has pressured the White House to cut the company’s government contracts until it agrees to cease what he called “illegal anti-union activity” alleged by workers pushing for union recognition.

“Should federal taxpayer dollars go to companies that violate labor law and illegally prevent workers from exercising their right to organize a union?” the senator asked on Thursday.

On Wednesday night, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected a motion from Senator Sanders to push House legislators to ensure that semiconductor manufacturing companies that receive federal aid are prohibited from blocking their employees from union efforts.

That motion failed by a vote of 6-87.

Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to meet with Mr Smalls and other union leaders on Thursday

The Independent has requested comment from Amazon.

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