By Shirin Ghaffary
A year ago, Chris Smalls couldn’t get politicians to return his calls.
But on a muggy morning in late April, two of the biggest names in politics — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) — were making a special trip to Staten Island, New York to visit with the 33-year-old former Amazon warehouse process assistant, father-of-three, and leader of a resurgent labor movement sweeping the country.
Smalls and his former colleagues, organizing under the banner of the newly formed Amazon Labor Union, or ALU, surprised the world in early April by doing what many thought was impossible: leading the first successful US union campaign at Amazon, a tech giant that has long viewed worker organizing as an existential threat to its business, and done virtually everything in its enormous power to stop it.
“I want you to know that what you did is extraordinary,” said Sen. Sanders, who along with AOC, was having a closed-door strategic meeting with the core ALU organizing team. The politicians were there to discuss the union’s plans for expansion a day before its second vote at a Staten Island warehouse called LDJ5.