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Amazon fired him. Now, he’s helping Staten Island workers unionize.

Christian Smalls's Amazon Labor Union says it has already collected several hundred signatures in support.

Amazon fired him. Now, he’s helping Staten Island workers unionize.

Christian Smalls has spent the last several days organizing outside of Amazon's JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island.

Photo: Amazon Labor Union

Christian Smalls has been sitting outside of Amazon's Staten Island warehouse every day for the past week. He's working to get as many workers as possible to sign union cards with the Amazon Labor Union and plans to present these cards to Amazon as early as June, Smalls told Protocol.

Smalls and Amazon have a complicated history. The company fired him from his warehouse managerial position last March after he organized a protest against unsafe working conditions at the facility. Since then, Smalls has sued Amazon and founded The Congress of Essential Workers, a nonprofit organization focused on helping workers achieve better working conditions. The Congress, in turn, has created its own union, the Amazon Labor Union.

Amazon Labor Union is unaffiliated with any major union, unlike the recent Bessemer, Alabama unionization drive for Amazon warehouse workers with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. By forming a new, independent union, Smalls hopes to be able to have a fresh start.

"We have nothing to compare ourselves to," Smalls said. "That puts us at an advantage. Workers can't say we already tried it and failed. When talking to workers, we can say this is us creating this together as workers of Amazon. We're all in this together."

Amazon Labor Union originally intended to focus on JFK8, the fulfillment center in Staten Island, "but Amazon just seems to keep popping up buildings everywhere," Smalls said.

So in addition to JFK8, Amazon Labor Union is seeking to unionize workers as three other locations nearby: two delivery stations (DYX2 and DYY6) and a sorting station (LDJ5).

The union estimates JFK8 has about 5,000 employees and has about a couple hundred employees at the other buildings. Already, Smalls said several hundred workers have signed union cards.

But it's going to be an uphill battle. Amazon has already begun sending messages to workers and posting signs in the JFK8 warehouse advocating against unions. In one message, Amazon told workers "you give up the right to speak for yourself" if you sign a union authorization card. Amazon also displayed anti-union messaging on the TVs in the JFK8 warehouse.


A TV at the JFK8 warehouse.Photo: Amazon Labor Union

"And from what we heard today, managers are already talking to workers in small groups, pretty much lying to them," Smalls said. "It's like, 'Oh, sign if you want to, but don't sign, because Amazon's better."

Amazon reportedly engaged in similar behavior during the Bessemer union drive. RWDSU has since alleged Amazon interfered with the union drive and has asked the National Labor Relations Board to overturn the election results.

Protocol has reached out to Amazon but has yet to hear back.

Fighting the good fight

Smalls does not get paid for this type of work. He's relying on money from a GoFundMe campaign that one of his supporters set up for him last year, as well as unemployment benefits.

"I'm out here fighting the good fight," Smalls said. "And, you know, I'm OK for right now, but it's not sustainable. I don't get paid for media appearances. Everybody assumes people make all this money off of these things but no, everything I'm putting out is free. And I just think that the story and the struggle is more important than any time of money. Hopefully, I'll receive mine with the legal battle, but yeah, I'm just going to hold it out until then."

For the drive itself, Smalls is currently funding all of its operations out of pocket. But the union has its own fundraising page that is seeking to raise $5,000 to help cover the cost of things such as pamphlets, web-hosting costs and to help support any workers who may be fired during the union drive.

If this union drive proves to be successful, Smalls envisions Amazon Labor Union representing warehouse workers across the nation. Smalls said he's spoken with workers all over the country during the last year who are hoping to unionize at other Amazon facilities.

"If we're successful here, we'll be spreading like wildfire."

Protocol | China

China’s edtech crackdown isn’t what you think. Here’s why.

It's part of an attempt to fix education inequality and address a looming demographic crisis.

In the past decade, China's private tutoring market has expanded rapidly as it's been digitized and bolstered by capital.

Photo: Getty Images

Beijing's strike against the private tutoring and ed tech industry has rattled the market and led observers to try to answer one big question: What is Beijing trying to achieve?

Sweeping policy guidelines issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on July 24 and the State Council now mandate that existing private tutoring companies register as nonprofit organizations. Extracurricular tutoring companies will be banned from going public. Online tutoring agencies will be subject to regulatory approval.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. She has spent six years covering China from inside and outside its borders. Previously, she was a fellow at Asia Society's ChinaFile and a Beijing-based producer for CNN. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. Shen Lu is a founding member of Chinese Storytellers, a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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It’s soul-destroying and it uses DRM, therefore Peloton is tech

"I mean, the pedals go around if you turn off all the tech, but Peloton isn't selling a pedaling product."

Is this tech? Or is it just a bike with a screen?

Image: Peloton and Protocol

One of the breakout hits from the pandemic, besides Taylor Swift's "Folklore," has been Peloton. With upwards of 5.4 million members as of March and nearly $1.3 billion in revenue that quarter, a lot of people are turning in their gym memberships for a bike or a treadmill and a slick-looking app.

But here at Protocol, it's that slick-looking app, plus all the tech that goes into it, that matters. And that's where things got really heated during our chat this week. Is Peloton tech? Or is it just a bike with a giant tablet on it? Can all bikes be tech with a little elbow grease?

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

Protocol | Workplace

In Silicon Valley, it’s February 2020 all over again

"We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."

Tech companies are handling the delta variant in differing ways.

Photo: alvarez/Getty Images

It's still 2021, right? Because frankly, it's starting to feel like March 2020 all over again.

Google, Apple, Uber and Lyft have now all told employees they won't have to come back to the office before October as COVID-19 case counts continue to tick back up. Facebook, Google and Uber are now requiring workers to get vaccinated before coming to the office, and Twitter — also requiring vaccines — went so far as to shut down its reopened offices on Wednesday, and put future office reopenings on hold.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | China

Livestreaming ecommerce next battleground for China’s nationalists

Vendors for Nike and even Chinese brands were harassed for not donating enough to Henan.

Nationalists were trolling in the comment sections of livestream sessions selling products by Li-Ning, Adidas and other brands.

Collage: Weibo, Bilibili

The No. 1 rule of sales: Don't praise your competitor's product. Rule No. 2: When you are put to a loyalty test by nationalist trolls, forget the first rule.

While China continues to respond to the catastrophic flooding that has killed 99 and displaced 1.4 million people in the central province of Henan, a large group of trolls was busy doing something else: harassing ordinary sportswear sellers on China's livestream ecommerce platforms. Why? Because they determined that the brands being sold had donated too little, or too late, to the people impacted by floods.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
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