By Ron Ruggiero, President, SEIU Local 105
Something amazing happened last week. It came to light from a leaked memo that Amazon executives held a strategy meeting on how to stop their employees from organizing a union.
They decided that their best plan was to shine the spotlight on Chris Smalls, an employee doing some organizing, and make him the story. And, then smear him. Smalls is Black. Rightly so, Amazon has been decried as racist and anti-union for their actions against Smalls.
But, there’s a larger story here that no one is talking about.
Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the entire world, was in attendance at this meeting along with other senior executives of Amazon.
Do you think Jeff Bezos has ever, in his life, sat in an entire meeting dedicated to talking about one front-line Amazon employee? Yeah, me neither.
So, what can working people learn from this? This shows the enormous power that organizing collectively has.
I mean, really think about it. The richest man in the world, worth more than $100,000,000,000 was involved in a strategy meeting on how to take down Chris Smalls who makes what, maybe $35,000? This gets even more clear. Jeff Bezos makes almost $9 million an hour. Even if the meeting was only one hour, it means Jeff Bezos spent $9 million of his time to be involved directly in how to stop Chris Smalls.
Why would Jeff Bezos do this? He was afraid of Chris Smalls.
I’ll say that again because working people are not used to hearing that bosses can be afraid of them. Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the entire freakin’ world is afraid of Chris Smalls, his employee. How can I possibly say this? Well, the meeting was entirely about how to stop Chris Smalls. Bosses only do that when they are afraid of what that worker is doing.
How do I know this?
I’ve spent my entire working life helping workers organize. One of the biggest challenges is helping workers understand that they have power. That when we organize collectively, we can build power. We can shift the power dynamics at work. For example, working people spend a lot of time worrying about what their boss will do to them. Will the boss yell at me today? Will I get written up? Am I going to get laid off? You get the idea.
But when workers organize together, the boss starts worrying about what their workers will do to them. Will they confront me directly at work in my office? Will they start wearing buttons at work? Will they go on strike?
Just last year, we were involved in a potential strike. The CEO, of an $80 billion company, was sending out repeated emails out to hundreds of thousands of employees to try and stop them. Several were sent out late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. He was writing them himself. He was scared of what his employees were gonna do.
But this Jeff Bezos and Chris Smalls thing is next level because Amazon is so much bigger and Bezos is the richest man in the world.
But, to be fair, Jeff Bezos wasn’t really afraid of just Smalls. He was afraid of what he and his co-workers were doing. He was scared that they were coming together and organizing. And, it didn’t even take much organizing to get Bezos nervous.
The strike that Chris Smalls was involved in organizing had between 15 (what Amazon claimed) and 60 (what the union claimed) workers who went on strike. This was at an Amazon warehouse that employs 5,000 workers. In some ways, that doesn’t sound like a big deal. Sixty out of five thousand going on strike? That won’t affect their operations.
So, what was Bezos, and Amazon, really afraid of?
That the courage of Smalls and the sixty would spread. Dozens striking could become hundreds. Hundreds could become thousands. Thousands could become most of Amazon’s workers going on strike. Then, workers would have real power at Amazon.
That’s the lesson for workers here. Chris Smalls made Jeff Bezos worried about what he and his co-workers were going to do. And, you have the exact same power at your workplace if there are changes that need to happen. Learn this. Remember this. Pass it on to your friends, family, and co-workers.
Then, don’t let any boss or politician or million-dollar pundit on TV ever make you forget it; because they try every single day.