Officers from the New York City Police Department arrested two Amazon warehouse workers along with Christian Smalls, a former Amazon assistant manager who was fired after fighting for unionization in 2020 over unsafe working conditions during the covid-19 outbreak. The arrests took place outside Amazon’s largest New York City warehouse on Feb. 23.
Video footage obtained by Motherboard shows the three arrests with police handcuffing the three organizers who were wearing red shirts that said “Amazon Labor Union.” Employees can be heard asking the police why they were arresting their colleagues.
An officer is heard answering “trespassing.”
Smalls was charged with trespassing, obstructing governmental administration, and resisting arrest. Two current Amazon employees, Jason Anthony and Brett Daniels, were also charged with obstructing governmental administration, The Hill reported.
Amazon Labor Union is an independent union that was formed in 2021 and is gearing up for a union election at the Staten Island Amazon facility known as JFK8. The election will take place in person at the warehouse in late March, Vice reported. Amazon has been fighting against being unionized.
Amazon admitted to alerting the police to the protest.
Amazon representatives came outside when the protest started, according to two workers who witnessed the arrests. The reps told workers they were calling the police because Smalls was no longer employed by Amazon.
“We were just giving out free grilled chicken and pasta to all the workers in the break room,” said Derrick Palmer, an Amazon Labor Union organizer and employee who witnessed the arrests. “The [arrests came] right after they were done. The general manager came out and said they were calling the cops.”
Kelly Nantel, a spokesperson for Amazon, said that Amazon called the police on Smalls for trespassing, and not the other two workers.
“Mr. Smalls — who is not employed by Amazon — has repeatedly trespassed despite multiple warnings,” she said. “Today, when police officers asked Mr. Smalls to leave, he instead chose to escalate the situation and the police made their own decision on how to respond.”
The incident set off discussion among Twitter users who wanted to talk about police unions — among the most powerful unions in the country. Of the reported 800,000 sworn officers in the U.S. as of 2017, an estimated 75-to-80 percent belong to a union.
“Bet those cops belong to a union,” tweeted Mccloser of the officers arresting Amazon protesters for trying to form a union.
“It’s almost laughable that union workers, that are entirely dependent on their union, are arresting union organizers for trying to unionize,” tweeted Stinkie (@thestinkie).
“This is a friendly reminder that the Fraternal Order of Police is NOT an AFL-CIO union and should NOT be supported,” tweeted Greg Brannan (@gbrannan217).
“Front line soldiers of class warfare,” tweeted militant hippy (@militanthippy1).
Others pointed out the rights of peaceful protests.
“1st amendment freedom to assemble unless we don’t like it,” tweeted Arlo is boosted (@Ofdinosanddais1).
Yet others pointed out the police were doing a job.
“Not taking sides, but everyone really should read the article. Points out that the trespasser is not an employee, has been warned for this previously, and refused the police order to leave. The two employees were arrested for interfering with police. Not smart,” tweeted David Osborne (@DavidOs93875734).
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In March 2021, Smalls, then a New York Amazon facility assistant manager, called for workers to walk out and protest over unsafe working conditions in light of the covid-19 pandemic.
Leaked notes from an internal meeting of Amazon leadership obtained by Vice News reveal that company executives talked about a plan to smear Smalls. In the notes, they called Smalls “not smart or articulate” — part of a PR strategy to make Smalls “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.” Notes from the meeting, which included CEO Jeff Bezos, were forwarded widely in the company.
This is at least the second time the NYPD has arrested union organizers at the New York City Amazon warehouse. In November 2021, one organizer was arrested after officers asked organizers to remove a tent they were using near the warehouse.
In May and June 2021, Amazon workers filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB found that Amazon had violated the law by surveilling workers organizing a union at the facility, confiscating union literature in break rooms, firing union organizers, and calling the leaders of the union, who were Black, “thugs.”
Photo: Chris Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union joins supporters as they march and chant at the Amazon distribution center in the Staten Island borough of New York, Oct. 25, 2021, after earlier delivering “Authorization of Representation” forms to the National Labor Relations Board in New York. Union organizers have delivered more than 2,000 signatures to federal labor officials in a bid to unionize workers at Amazon’s Staten Island distribution center. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)