The new Sundance documentary “Union” puts a spotlight on the extreme anti-union tactics employed by Amazon as it tries to quash a historic labor organizing effort at its Staten Island warehouse.
Directed by Brett Story and Stephen Maing, the film chronicles the struggle of the grassroots Amazon Labor Union (ALU) as it attempts to unionize the JFK8 Amazon facility. ALU president Chris Smalls joined the directors to talk to TheWrap executive editor Adam Chitwood, where they discussed Amazon’s aggressive efforts to undermine the union drive.
“It shows how Amazon and the NYPD work together,” Smalls said at TheWrap’s Sundance Portrait and Interview Studio presented by NFP, referring to his on-camera arrest captured in the film. “It shows how policing is used to create fear and doubt, and not just to unionize. When you’re going up against corporations, someone being arrested that’s leading a movement will create fear for other people to step up. So that was the purpose of Amazon calling the police on me.”
Director Stephen Maing called it “utterly shocking to watch it play out,” but said it illustrates the vast resources Amazon is willing to leverage to block the organizing effort.
“Amazon is a company that has no qualms about spending over $4 million on an anti-union campaign,” Maing added. “And then on top of that, using the NYPD, you know, as an extension of the force that they were going to, you know, try and compel the ALU to submit under.”
Despite Amazon’s aggressive tactics, the ALU defied the odds by becoming the first Amazon facility in the U.S. to vote to unionize The ALU is also recognized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). However, Smalls says the company still refuses to come to the bargaining table nearly a year later.
“Amazon is still refusing to negotiate,” Smalls said. “Because of the slow process of the NLRB in this country, we’re waiting for a bargain order still. And once we get that bargain order, we’re ready to negotiate Day 1.”
The filmmakers say they were drawn to document this struggle because of its implications for the future of labor in America. Only 6% of private sector workers currently belong to a union.
“It was very obvious from the beginning that this was an opportunity to document a struggle that was not just about this one company, it’s about the future of work, it’s about the future of labor organizing,” co-director Story said.
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