Bernie Sanders: Amazon Labor Union victory has launched a national movement
At left: Chris Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, center, with other members of ALU marching at the Amazon JFK8 distribution center in Staten Island, Oct. 25, 2021. At right: Sen. Bernie Sanders. A la izquierda: Chris Smalls, presidente de Amazon Labor Union, centro, con otros miembros de ALU marchando en el centro de distribución de Amazon JFK8 en Staten Island, el 25 de octubre de 2021. A la derecha: el senador Bernie Sanders. | AP fotos

On an organizing call Monday night with leaders of the Amazon Labor Union, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., said he believes the grassroots group’s historic election victory in Staten Island earlier this month has empowered workers across the nation to collectively face down their corporate employers and fight for better conditions.

“All across this country, people are saying, ‘Whoa! If these guys at Amazon can take on that company, we can do it as well,'” said Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee. “What we’re looking at, I think, is a national, sweeping movement.”

In the days since the independent union’s victory—which Amazon is attempting to overturn with a slew of formal objections—workers at more than 100 of the retail giant’s facilities across the United States have contacted the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) about organizing their workplaces, a nightmare scenario for management.

ALU’s landmark win also came amid a wave of union victories at Starbucks locations nationwide. After Starbucks workers in Buffalo, N.Y., voted to unionize in December, employees at more than a dozen of the company’s shops scored election victories in the weeks that followed—momentum that Starbucks executives are actively trying to blunt.

“People are sick and tired of corporate greed,” Sanders said during Monday’s call, which featured ALU president Chris Smalls, chair Angelika Maldonado, and Workers Committee member Michelle Valentin Nieves.

“I know that I have colleagues in the Congress who feel the same as I do,” the Vermont senator added. “Our demand now is that [Amazon’s billionaire executive chairman Jeff] Bezos and Amazon sit down and start negotiating a contract. Our demand is that they stop spending millions trying to prevent workers from exercising their constitutional right to form a union.”

In an attempt to galvanize additional union drives, the call directed viewers to a website that aims to connect employees with organizers and provide them with key information and resources.

But Smalls, who was fired by Amazon in 2020 after he organized a walkout at JFK8 over the company’s inadequate pandemic safety protocols, emphasized that face-to-face conversations are essential to help workers “really understand what unions provide.”

“Find somebody that’s in a union and have a conversation with them,” Smalls suggested to workers. “And not just one conversation, it takes several conversations…. At the end, you’ll probably make the decision to want to join one.”

Maldonado, a current employee at Amazon’s JFK8 facility in Staten Island, similarly stressed the importance of in-person interaction and education in laying the groundwork for unionization.

“No matter where you work,” said Maldonado, “you deserve to have certain rights that other workers in other companies do.”

The organizing call came as ALU is gearing up for a second union election in Staten Island on April 25, when voting is set to begin at Amazon’s 1,500-worker LDJ5 warehouse.

As The City reported Monday, ALU’s demands “remain the same at LDJ5: a $30-an-hour minimum wage, better working conditions, including two paid 30-minute breaks and an hour-long paid lunch break, better medical leave, additional paid time off, and eliminating productivity rates that require workers to pick a certain number of items an hour.”

Common Dreams

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Jake Johnson
Jake Johnson

Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams, a source of breaking news and opinion for the progressive community.