Phoenix, AZ

"Hot labor summer" rolls into Phoenix as workers demonstrate solidarity with Amazon Labor Union

Jeremy Beren

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ALU President Chris Smalls speaking at Monday's press conference in downtown Phoenix.Jeremy Beren/NewsBreak

By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Phoenix) — Amazon Labor Union president Chris Smalls made himself heard, loud and clear, at the 2600 Tower's locked back entrance.

"We've got to walk out of these buildings. We shouldn't be working in 100-plus degrees — that's ridiculous. We've got to get (Amazon) workers to that point where they're militant enough to say 'we're not going to work until they get some proper AC in this building,'" Smalls said. "We're going to get involved. That's why we came here today. We want to make sure that we are connected with the community ... we're not stopping. This is just the beginning."

Smalls and other members of the new ALU held a press conference outside the 2600 Tower on Monday afternoon, the second in as many days. The ALU touched down in Phoenix ahead of an Amazon-prompted trial, during which the monopolistic trillion-dollar corporation will hope to overturn an historic union election that took place at a New York warehouse.

In the largest labor upset this century, more than 2,650 workers at the mammoth JFK8 fulfillment center on Staten Island voted April 1 to join the ALU. In the two months since the results were announced, Jeff Bezos's company has refused to acknowledge the union — which won the election by a 523-vote margin — and has filed 25 separate objections to stop Smalls and other organizers in their tracks.

In a press release announcing the event, ALU attorney Seth Goldstein dismissed Amazon's objections and direct challenges to the National Labor Relations Board as "racist, baseless, and absurd." The trial began Monday, and ALU members were barred from sitting in.

Smalls, who formerly worked at JFK8 and led a strike at the facility during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Amazon is still firing workers as retaliation for engaging in pro-union activities — which, if true, is a flagrant violation of United States labor law.

"They told us we were the closest thing to the Red Cross," Smalls told attendees. "Our job description said 'have a high school diploma (or a) GED and lift 50 pounds.' It did not say to work in the middle of a deadly pandemic. So you know what the hell we did? We walked out."

Smalls, a skilled orator, was the main attraction for many in attendance and has become a very public face in current and former Amazon employees' "war" to halt the company's "crime against workers." He led fellow ALU members in pro-union chants that served to punctuate his remarks and answers to questions.

Some ALU supporters on social media — and Smalls himself — have taken to citing Scripture when referencing the enormity of what the union is trying to do, quoting directly from Matthew 10:16 in the New Testament:

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves."

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Smalls greeting attendees and local union members prior to Monday's press conference.Jeremy Beren/NewsBreak

Local union members arrived early to show solidarity with the ALU, with representatives from UNITE HERE Local 11, the American Postal Workers Union Tucson Local 255, and the Arizona AFL-CIO making their way downtown. But building security and Phoenix Police Department Community Action Officers stopped union members and the press from entering 2600 Tower through the front doors — meaning the event took place outside, in the sweltering 100-degree heat.

"We are proud to be here with our brothers and sisters, our comrades ... the ones who continue amplifying their messages, their voices, their grievances. That's what we have to do," Smalls said. "We have to show the public, and tell the public, what's going on when it comes to Amazon — a trillion-dollar company that gets bailed out by our taxpaying dollars (and) gets no accountability."

No one seemed to mind the excessive heat, though. Where security and police fell short, demonstrators stepped up and lugged multiple water coolers to the back of the building.

And Smalls is used to these sorts of conditions, at any rate.

"Some of these warehouses have 16 miles of conveyor belts that run 24/7. Do you know how much heat that generates? The heat rises in these buildings, (and) if you're on the top floor, you're burning up by the end of the day," he said. "It's everywhere in the country. I can imagine what's going on in (Amazon's Arizona) warehouses. I probably wouldn't have lasted."

After his 2020 firing, Smalls got to work organizing. He has since emphasized that workers control the means of production at their workplace and have to realize their significance.

"We are the ones that make the money (for Amazon). We've got to understand our value and our work, and understand that these companies do not run unless we go to work," Smalls said. "If we have (no choice but) to withhold our labor, we need to do so."

When NewsBreak asked how consumers can make a difference and demonstrate their support for the ALU, Smalls said canceling a Prime subscription is a start, but only part of the formula.

"Write a letter, join a demonstration, donate to campaigns that are organizing (and) help them out. It takes a community effort," he said. "A lot of people are upset with what Amazon does, but they don't want to talk about it. We've got to push them there. We have to get them to that point."

One organizer at the press conference reached that point with her former employer several months ago.

"It's very nice to get together and relate, to try to bond over what we go through (and) see the next steps," Laila Dalton told NewsBreak. "Starbucks and Amazon can come together, and it won't just be us."

Dalton, a former shift supervisor at the Starbucks store on Scottsdale Road and Mayo Boulevard, told NewsBreak she was "shocked" when a district judge last Wednesday ruled against Starbucks partners seeking injunctive relief. Dalton sought reinstatement from the hearing, when she tried to swat aside Starbucks lawyers' accusations that she "bugged" her former store and "spied" on her managers.

But Dalton remains confident about the union fight against the company, its multibillionaire chief executive Howard Schultz, and its cabal of management-side attorneys. Her optimism has only grown since connecting with Smalls and hearing him speak.

"Gradually, we want to (grow this movement). We want unions for all," Dalton said. "We want corporations to back down and stop going out of their way to target and, in my opinion, abuse us and traumatize us because they don't want a union."

"It's inspiring to be around people who care just as much, who put just as much time in and have gone through everything — the ups and downs."

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Jeremy is a freelance journalist covering health, energy, labor, and local politics. Reach him at jeremy.beren@newsbreak.com.

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