Christian Smalls, former Amazon employee and founder of the Essential Workers Congress, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the working conditions and wages of employees at Amazon facilities.
KRISTIN MYERS: This is the second day of Amazon’s 48-hour sale known as Prime Day. The sale brings in huge profits for Amazon, but puts a lot of stress on warehouse workers. Our next guest went on strike against the company and is joining us now. We welcome Christian Smalls, a former Amazon worker who led this Staten Island strike and founder of the Essential Workers Congress.
Welcome, Christian. So, as I just mentioned, really, Amazon is making a lot of money on Prime Day, which is actually technically two days. Curious to know, with some of these profits, what do you think they should do to help some of these workers, these employees, especially those who are in these warehouses, who are now working long hours to make sure that the can people get all the products they bought in the last couple of days?
LITTLE CHRISTIANS: Well, absolutely. I mean, when we talk about Prime Day and the millions of dollars they’re set to raise for the next couple of days, you know, we always talk about wages, having a living wage for the workers. And that is exactly why we are going to fight for them when it comes to organizing. We absolutely want to raise the wage, to have a living wage for all workers across the country, not just here in New York, but everywhere. They deserve a raise.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Christian, for people who don’t really know your story, you don’t work at Amazon anymore. Can you share with us what happened? Why did you leave the company? And what has been your personal experience working in an Amazon fulfillment center?
LITTLE CHRISTIANS: Yeah, well, I’ll start with what it was like to work there. I used to tell my new hires as a supervisor that if you have a gym membership you might want to cancel it. It’s 10, 11, 12 hours of Swedish gymnastics. You work 40, 50, 60 hours a week. It takes a toll on your body. These buildings are massive, a million square feet.
JFK, for example, 14 NFL football fields. I literally walk the state of Rhode Island every day – no exaggeration – 30 to 60 miles a day. You are exhausted. It’s just what it is. You know, I tell people, you have to eat your food. At night, take a shower and get some sleep. And rinse and repeat because that’s what you’re going to be doing while working at Amazon.
And the reason I got fired last year is because I saw, when the virus kicked in, that the company didn’t protect its workers, didn’t provide us with PPE. So I talked about it. I was one of the only assistant directors in my establishment to really take a stand against the company. And I did a walkout on March 30. And two hours after this walkout, I was fired by the company.
KRISTIN MYERS: Now, Christian, you are not the only one who has taken a stand against Amazon. We see a lot of members of Congress doing the same thing on both sides of the aisle. They have targeted Amazon for a series of antitrust laws. Some people are really calling for the separation of Amazon in one way or another. What is your response to some of these bills that are currently being addressed to the company? And do you support a movement aimed primarily at dismantling Amazon?
LITTLE CHRISTIANS: Yes, I support him. Amazon has too much power. He controls the market. We all know that. It is not something new. I support the Pro Act. I think, you know, it should be passed so that it can help our organizing efforts. Businesses should not be allowed to spend millions of dollars to stop workers’ collective bargaining. We should have some kind of legislator who protects workers, protects their rights to organize. And I believe the Pro Act can certainly do it.
And we absolutely want to empower our elected officials, starting with Biden. Biden currently has the power to enact an executive order. And I hope that our efforts here in New York and the efforts that are going to start across the country, I also believe with the Teamsters and other unions that are fighting Amazon right now are trying to organize against Amazon. They all need to push for the same thing to make sure our elected officials definitely put in place workers’ protective bills to help us organize.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: So Amazon now pays its employees $ 15 an hour, providing benefits. What more do you want to see them do? What would you like to see? If you had to pick one big change, Christian, that they were going to make across the board in all of their distribution centers, and you had Jeff Bezos in a room alone with you, what would you say to them?
LITTLE CHRISTIANS: Well, job security is number one. We already know they are going to use, they pay better than their competition running all the time. It is not enough, especially with the cost of living. And we were talking about inflation earlier. It is not enough, but we can also negotiate for more. But I also want to have job security.
Amazon, as you have seen, some people may have seen in “The New York Times” just reported, their turnover rate is 150%. So for every 10 people they hire, they lay off 15. They can’t really find jobs. And there is no growth, no career growth for entry level workers. So the first thing he needs … I would like to discuss with him is job security, ensuring that workers are not just hired and fired and made available to the job. ‘business. We want job security.
KRISTIN MYERS: And just a quick note to everyone, Christian mentioned his support for the Pro Act. So I just want to share that this is, of course, protecting the right to organize acts that would essentially prevent companies from discouraging their employees from unionizing. Christian Smalls, former Amazon worker who led this Staten Island strike and founder of the Essential Workers Congress, thank you very much for joining us today.