The New York City Police Department arrested two Amazon warehouse worker organizers and Christian Smalls, the leader of an ongoing unionization campaign, outside Amazon’s largest New York City warehouse on Wednesday.
Motherboard obtained footage of the three arrests, during which the police handcuffed the three organizers who were wearing red bright shirts emblazoned with "Amazon Labor Union," the name of the union that workers at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island are trying to organize under. In the video, employees can be heard demanding answers from the police about why they were arresting their colleagues.
“He was stopping someone from arresting someone who was trespassing,” a uniformed NYPD officer says. The officer is also heard saying "trespassing" elsewhere in the video when asked why they were being arrested. Motherboard contacted the NYPD but they could not confirm the arrests nor provide police reports at the time.
According to two workers who witnessed the arrests, Amazon representatives came outside and told workers they were calling the police because Smalls, a former Amazon warehouse employee and the leader of the union drive, was trespassing while helping the union deliver lunch to workers during their break.
“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, said. “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.”
In the video, one of the arrested workers and his colleagues plead with the police not to arrest him, saying “you violated my mental health rights” and referring to his “disability.”
Smalls is a former Amazon employee who was fired in March 2020 after leading a protest outside the facility for increased health and safety protections. Amazon executives smeared Smalls in an internal memo obtained by VICE News, calling him "not smart or articulate."
This is at least the second time the NYPD has arrested union organizers at the New York City Amazon warehouse. Insider reported that in November, one organizer was handcuffed and held in a cell for two hours after officers asked organizers to remove a tent they were using near the warehouse.
Amazon Labor Union is an independent union that was formed last year and is gearing up for a union election at the facility, also known as JFK8. The election will take place in-person at the warehouse in late March. Previously, Motherboard reported that Amazon held a mandatory anti-union meeting at the facility last week and threatened workers that they could have their wages dropped to the minimum wage if they elect to unionize. Amazon has also been found by the National Labor Relations Board to have violated the law by surveilling workers’ union organizing at the facility, confiscating union literature in break rooms, firing union organizers, and calling the leaders of the union, who are Black, “thugs.”