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Labor actions

Fired Amazon Organizer Interview

https://www.randomlengthsnews.com/2020/05/05/chris-smalls-ny-amazon-organizer/

RL: Can you describe the working conditions before coronavirus pandemic and how they may have changed since?

CS: It is a production warehouse called JFK-8 with 5,000 workers. Parts moving all the time. The buildings are massive equal to 14 football fields. It’s like ten hours of calisthenics. Even after coronavirus hit there was no protection, no cleaning supplies, and a lot of employees were getting and coming in sick. Working conditions were very scary; Management did not take it seriously till 2nd -3rd week in March, when they finally decided to implement safety guidelines.

RL: What event or events or specific conditions made you decide to become an organizer of the job action?

CS: Safety has always been an issue. They hire senior citizens, young adults, and the work processes are not suitable for their physical physique which plays a part in injuries.  I was not an organizer prior. I was a low-level supervisor. What made me act on March 30 was a health and safety concern. There were no safety guidelines. Once I realized that we were working around people who tested positive…I decided to organize a walk-out.  There was no transparency between the company and its employees.

RL: How did you know that employees tested positive for coronavirus?

CS: There was absolutely no testing of workers in the plant. Very hard to get a test in NY.  A colleague who I did send home—a supervisor, tested positive. People would tell you if they tested positive. Company was aware that she tested positive and it was medically confirmed. Amazon did not quarantine people in her department, including me. I found out from her. I went to HR as soon as I got her text messages saying I was exposed. The building should have been closed.

RL: How did you decide what type of job action to do?

CS: I and others sent out emails to the NYC Health dept, CDC, and US state dept. That whole week I sat in the cafeteria –without pay, telling co-workers that they had been exposed. I walked into the general managers with 10 associates every day to raise our concerns.  They decided March 28- to quarantine me. They were just trying to silence me. That’s when I decided to mobilize a walkout on March 30. I created a private chat on social media of Amazon employees willing to help and participate. Everybody had assignments to make posters, notes to pass out;  we sent e-mails to media, and they finally published articles. Media started calling me.  We protested March 30, at 12:30 for 2 ours—in the parking lot, six feet apart. Then I was terminated.

RL: How did they inform you that you were terminated? 

CS: Told me over the phone.

RL: What has been the response of your coworkers and other warehouses to the actions?

CS: We started a revolution, more people are speaking out, there were more walk-outs at Amazon in Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, with nation-wide sick-outs and call-outs at Whole Foods, Instacart, Starbucks, Target, FedEx drivers joining us. I am receiving texts and phone calls from employees all over the world every day.

RL: Is there a campaign to get you rehired or are you focusing mainly on the May 1 action?

CS: I am focused on May Day. I heard there are groups fighting for my rehiring and I appreciate that…but I am taking my own legal action. My focus is on May 1 walkouts.

RL: I understand that on May 1, International workers day there will be job actions worldwide at Amazon warehouses. Can you tell us a bit more?

RL:  On May 1 all companies I mentioned will hold demonstrations, walk-outs, call-outs. People are not going to work—or if at work will walk-out at a certain time; demonstrate outside front of the buildings.  Consumers can support us by boycotting till they respond to our demands; what we are fighting for.

RL: On May 2, you will be speaking as part of an International Workers Day zoom panel with leaders of the National Nurses Union and other international unions calling for an end to the US blockade of Cuba and for US, Cuba and Canadian medical collaboration to fight the pandemic. 

CS: This pandemic is unprecedented. All the knowledge and help we can receive is important. I will try and be a catalyst. Me joining this fight is to protect people; thru knowledge and education to fight this pandemic. Cuba is doing a great thing…door to door service, testing; which is an excellent idea. I wish it was done here in the US. If I can spread the message of how much difference that is making.  It is our duty as humans to do that. We need door to door testing in NY and to make sure this country is better prepared for next time.

RL: What can we ask our readers primarily in Southern California to do to assist the organizing efforts at Amazon?

Solidarity with Amazon Strikers in Inglewood, May 1

CS:  Support us…we are trying to unionize, and for all employees to be protected…especially frontline employees. If you hear anything in your local community…support them. We should feel no intimidation in voicing our concerns thru social media nor should you.

RL: Is there a webpage, nationwide petition or job actions around the country on May 1 that they can join to support?

CS: Use social media to support our unionizing efforts and call on Amazon to protect all employees. This is a cry for help.

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