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How Christian Smalls and Derrick Palmer Beat Amazon

The company’s crackdown on a worker protest in New York backfired and led to a historic labor victory.

Derrick Palmer, in pink, and Christian Smalls, right, celebrated after workers voted to unionize an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island. The two friends spearheaded the push for the union.Credit…DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York Times
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Jodi Kantor and

In the first dark days of the pandemic, as an Amazon worker named Christian Smalls planned a small, panicked walkout over safety conditions at the retailer’s only fulfillment center in New York City, the company quietly mobilized.

Amazon formed a reaction team involving 10 departments, including its Global Intelligence Program, a security group staffed by many military veterans. The company named an “incident commander” and relied on a “Protest Response Playbook” and “Labor Activity Playbook” to ward off “business disruptions,” according to newly released court documents.

In the end, there were more executives — including 11 vice presidents — who were alerted about the protest than workers who attended it. Amazon’s chief counsel, describing Mr. Smalls as “not smart, or articulate,” in an email mistakenly sent to more than 1,000 people, recommended making him “the face” of efforts to organize workers. The company fired Mr. Smalls, saying he had violated quarantine rules by attending the walkout.

In dismissing and smearing him, the company relied on the hardball tactics that had driven its dominance of the market. But on Friday, he won the first successful unionization effort at any Amazon warehouse in the United States, one of the most significant labor victories in a generation. The company’s response to his tiny initial protest may haunt it for years to come.
Mr. Smalls and his best friend from the warehouse, Derrick Palmer, had set their sights on unionizing after he was forced out. Along with a growing band of colleagues — and no affiliation with a national labor organization — the two men spent the past 11 months going up against Amazon, whose 1.1 million workers in the United States make it the country’s second-largest private employer.

At the bus stop outside the warehouse, a site on Staten Island known as JFK8, they built bonfires to warm colleagues waiting before dawn to go home. They made TikTok videos to reach workers across the city. Mr. Palmer brought homemade baked ziti to the site; others toted empanadas and West African rice dishes to appeal to immigrant workers. They set up signs saying “Free Weed and Food.”

The union spent $120,000 overall, raised through GoFundMe, according to Mr. Smalls. “We started this with nothing, with two tables, two chairs and a tent,” he recalled. Amazon spent more than $4.3 million just on anti-union consultants nationwide last year, according to federal filings.

The unionization vote reflects an era of rising worker power. In recent months, a string of Starbucks stores have voted to organize as well. But JFK8, with 8,000 workers, is one of Amazon’s signature warehouses, its most important pipeline to its most important market.
Amazon has fought unionization for years, considering it a dire threat to its business model. Its ability to speed packages to consumers is built on a vast chain of manual labor that is monitored down to the second. No one knows what will happen if the newly organized workers try to change that model or disrupt operations — or if their union is replicated among the more than 1,000 Amazon fulfillment centers and other facilities across the country.

For all their David-versus-Goliath disadvantages, the Staten Island organizers had the cultural moment on their side. They were buoyed by a tightened labor market, a reckoning over what employers owe their workers and a National Labor Relations Board emboldened under President Biden, which made a key decision in their favor. The homegrown, low-budget push by their independent Amazon Labor Union outperformed traditional labor organizers who failed at unionizing Amazon from the outside, most recently in Bessemer, Ala.

“I think it’s going to shake up the labor movement and flip the orthodoxy on its head,” said Justine Medina, a box packer and union organizer at JFK8 who had waited with an exuberant crowd in Brooklyn to hear the vote results.

The future of American unionizing efforts “can’t be about people coming in from the outside with an organizing plan that people have to follow,” said Sara Nelson, head of the flight attendants’ union, in an interview. “It has to come from within the workplace.”

Now, both the nascent JFK8 union and Amazon face pressing questions. The union, with no traditional infrastructure, experience or leadership, is likely to face a legal battle over the vote and challenging contract negotiations. The company, which did not respond to a request for comment for this article, will have to decide whether to reconsider some of its tactics and address the underlying labor dissatisfaction that handed it such a sweeping defeat.

“Amazon wanted to make me the face of the whole unionizing efforts against them,” Mr. Smalls wrote in a tweet on Friday, appearing undaunted by the task ahead. “Welp there you go!”

When Amazon opened the sprawling JFK8 site in 2018, the company was both drawn to and wary of New York, America’s most important consumer market. The established Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union announced a bold goal: to turn JFK8 into the first organized Amazon warehouse in the country.

Soon Amazon withdrew from its highly touted plan to open a second headquarters in the city, as a backlash grew over public subsidies it would receive and its history of opposing unions. But the talk of organizing JFK8 went nowhere. In labor circles, many believed that Amazon’s turnover was too high, and its tactics too combative, for a union to succeed.

When the first coronavirus cases were confirmed at JFK8 in March 2020, Mr. Palmer and Mr. Smalls confronted managers with safety concerns. Employees were increasingly worried about rising infection rates and felt that Amazon was not notifying them about cases in a timely manner, managers documented in newly released court records.

But Amazon refused to pause operations, saying it had taken “extreme measures” to keep workers safe. The pandemic had turned JFK8 into a lifeline for the city, where 24/7 shifts and a fleet of trucks delivered supplies as it went into lockdown.

As Amazon moved to fire Mr. Smalls that March, two human resource employees at JFK8 doubted the wisdom of his dismissal. “Come on,” one messaged. Mr. Smalls was outside, peaceful and social-distancing, she wrote. His firing, she predicted, would be “perceived as retaliation.” But the termination proceeded.

After the firing, the chief counsel’s smear against Mr. Smalls — a full apology came only later — and the dismissal of another protester, the two friends resolved to take action. Mr. Smalls was outspoken, Mr. Palmer deliberate. They were both Black men from New Jersey and the same age (31 then, 33 now). Both had dropped out of community college, prided themselves on high scores on Amazon’s performance metrics and once hoped to rise within the company.
Now they made new plans. Mr. Palmer would keep working at JFK8, the better to change it from inside.

In early 2021, they took a road trip to another Amazon warehouse. When workers held a union drive in Bessemer, Ala., Mr. Palmer and Mr. Smalls wanted to witness it. But they found organizers from the retail union — the one that had previously declared an interest in JFK8 — less than welcoming to them and thought the professionals seemed like outsiders who had descended on the community.

By April, workers in Bessemer had rejected the union by more than a 2-to-1 margin. Mr. Palmer and Mr. Smalls declared their intention to organize JFK8, but few took them seriously. Why should they win when better-funded, more experienced operatives had been beaten?
As they set about their first task — gathering thousands of worker signatures to trigger a unionization vote — cracks in Amazon’s employment model were evident.

JFK8 had offered jobs to workers laid off by other industries during the pandemic. But a New York Times investigation last June revealed that the warehouse was burning through employees, firing others because of communication and technology errors and mistakenly depriving workers of benefits.

Black associates at JFK8 were almost 50 percent more likely to be fired than their white peers, according to an internal document. Even before the pandemic upended work, Amazon warehouses had an astonishing annual turnover rate of 150 percent.

As Mr. Palmer and Mr. Smalls approached workers at the bus stop, Amazon’s tone toward its employees kept shifting. Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder, was handing over the role of chief executive to Andy Jassy, and the company raised wages and added the goal of being “Earth’s best employer” to its guiding principles. It pledged to listen to complaints and improve working conditions.

At other times, it was contentious. In a widely publicized Twitter exchange about the Bessemer organizing, Amazon sounded so dismissive about workers who could not take bathroom breaks and had to urinate in bottles that it had to apologize.

In May at JFK8, an anti-union consultant called the mostly Black labor organizers “thugs,” according to a complaint filed against Amazon by the N.L.R.B. The retailer denied the episode.
And in November, the labor agency said Amazon had showed “flagrant disregard” for the law and threw out the results of the Bessemer warehouse vote, ordering another.

That fall, after months of gathering support, the New York union organizers delivered more than 2,000 signatures to the labor board, but they were rejected for not meeting the minimum required to hold an election. Mr. Smalls said Amazon had submitted payroll data to the board indicating that the company believed half the people who had signed cards no longer worked at the warehouse.

“After all those months of hard work, it seemed like the momentum was gone,” Mr. Palmer recalled in an interview. Between working his shifts and organizing at JFK8 on his time off, he had spent barely a day away from the warehouse for months. Some of the employees he approached were skeptical of unions or dues, or just grateful for Amazon’s health care and pay, which starts above $18 an hour at JFK8. Others seemed too exhausted and wary to even engage.

To press onward, the union leaders posted the TikTok videos, made outdoor s’mores and sang along to hip-hop and Marvin Gaye. When workers faced family crises, the budding union prayed. One fired employee became homeless, and the group set up a fund-raising campaign.
Their near-constant presence at the warehouse helped. “The more comfortable they get with us, that’s when they start opening up to us,” Mr. Palmer said of other workers.

Some union sympathizers took jobs at JFK8 specifically to help the organizing effort, according to Ms. Medina, who was among them.

Amazon countered with the full force of its anti-union apparatus. It monitored organizers’ social media, court filings show, pelted workers with text messages and blanketed the warehouse with signs saying “Vote NO” or claiming the union leaders were outsiders. The company often held more than 20 mandatory meetings with workers a day, The Times reported last month, in which managers and consultants cast doubt on the effort.

“The Amazon Labor Union has never negotiated a contract,” one presentation said. Dues would be expensive, it continued, and the union “has no experience managing this massive amount of money.”

Andro Perez, 35, works at a smaller Amazon warehouse near JFK8, where another union vote is scheduled this month. He’s leaning toward voting yes, he said, because Amazon’s mandatory meetings mostly criticized unions. He would rather his employer address the question: “What could you do better?”

The organizers at JFK8 fought back, filing dozens of complaints with the N.L.R.B. claiming that Amazon violated workers’ rights to organize. Amazon has denied their allegations, but the labor board found many to be credible and pursued them in administrative court.

By Christmas, the organizers scored a major legal win. Amazon agreed to a nationwide settlement, among the largest in the agency’s history, that said workers could stay in the buildings to organize when they were off the clock.

With that, the organizers moved their potlucks indoors, giving them more access and legitimacy. Mr. Smalls’s aunt provided home-cooked soul food: macaroni and cheese, candied yams, collard greens and baked chicken.

“What you do is you create a community that Amazon never really had for workers,” said Seth Goldstein, a lawyer who represented the organizers free of charge.

One day this February, Mr. Smalls was bringing lunch to the break room when Amazon called the police, saying he had trespassed. He and two current employees were arrested. The response may have backfired: The union’s videos of the episode on TikTok have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

Kathleen Lejuez, 41, employed by Amazon for nine years, said she was not a “union fan” but voted for the organizing effort to send a message to a company that she felt had lost its connection to workers. “The humanity at Amazon is gone,” she said in an interview.

In the weeks before the count, Amazon, which has consistently said its workers are best served by a direct relationship with the company, laid the groundwork for potential challenges to the election — arguing in legal filings that the labor board had abandoned “the neutrality of their office” in favor of the union.

On Friday morning inside the agency’s offices in Brooklyn, Mr. Smalls, in siren-red streetwear, sat next to Amazon’s lawyer to review each ballot. His knee jittered as each vote was presented.

The votes were tallied — 2,654 for the union, 2,131 against. With a comfortable margin secured, Mr. Palmer, Mr. Smalls and other representatives emerged into the spring light, screamed with joy and clasped one another in a tight circle.

A few miles away, at JFK8, workers were stealthily monitoring the results in between packing and stowing boxes. There was no formal announcement. Instead, a shout rose up from somewhere on the floor: “We did it! We won!”

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Mayor Adams Announces First Annual Asian American Pacific

New York City Mayor Eric Adams today announced that the first annual Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Cultural and Heritage Parade in New York City will be held on May 15, 2022. The parade comes as New Yorkers celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, as well as New York City’s being home to the second-largest Asian American and Pacific Islander population in the United States. AAPI Heritage Month pays tribute to the generations of Asian American and Pacific Islanders who have enriched New York’s history for generations.

“Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebrates New Yorkers who contribute to the rich culture that makes New York the greatest city in the world,” said Mayor Adams. “As we work to combat a spike in hate crimes, it is important to support and uplift our AAPI brothers and sisters. We are proud to announce the New York City’s first annual Asian American and Pacific Islander Cultural and Heritage Parade and pay tribute to the generations of New Yorkers from the Asian and Pacific diaspora.”

“Now more than ever, it is important to support New Yorkers in the AAPI community and reflect on the rich Asian American and Pacific Islander history,” said Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit Commissioner Fred Kreizman. “The Adams administration is proud to announce the first-ever Asian American and Pacific Islanders Cultural and Heritage Parade. Together, we will recognize the important contributions of AAPI New Yorkers of the past and celebrate the ones to come in the future.”

“We at Better Chinatown USA are extremely excited about organizing this historic first Asian Pacific American Cultural and Heritage Parade in Midtown,” said Steven Tin, director, Better Chinatown USA. “We are very thankful to Mayor Adams’ office, especially CAU Commissioner Kreizman, Special Events Office & NYPD, for this great opportunity to showcase the exciting Asian Pacific American Cultural Heritage to the American mainstream and our younger generation.”

The inaugural parade will take place on 6th Avenue, proceeding north from West 44th Street to West 55th Street. The parade will begin at 10:45 AM.

“We are thankful to Mayor Eric Adams, CAU Commissioner Fred Kreizman, Winnie Greco, NYPD, and the City Hall staff all working together quickly and made this parade a reality,” said Robin Mui, event co-chair, Asian American and Pacific Islander Cultural and Heritage Parade. “This is the right time to unite the Asian to fight Asian Hate Crimes and remind them to register to vote and be counted.”

“This parade signifies a historical moment where Asian, South Asian & Pacific Islander Americans all come together at the heart of our diverse city to celebrate cultures and traditions while amplifying our voice in unity,” said Dr. Bindu Babu, event co-chair, Asian American and Pacific Islander Cultural and Heritage Parade.

“In these pandemic times and with Anti-Asian intolerance, division, and hatred on the rise, it is so important for all of us to come together to celebrate our collective humanity — in a rare historic parade — as it is about time that we march together with each other to show our solidarity,” said Wellington Z. Chen, executive director, Chinatown BID/Partnership.

“When I first came to New York City, working as a peddler in Manhattan, I remember being amazed at the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and the Columbus Day Parade. I never dreamed I would one day lead Korean New Yorkers down sixth avenue for the first Asian Pacific American Heritage Parade,” said John Park, founder, Korean American Community Empowerment Council. “I thank Mayor Adams for finally giving Asian New Yorkers the celebration we deserve!”.

“Victory Music & Dance Company Inc., of Brownsville, Brooklyn, is delighted to be participating in the first annual Asian American Pacific Islander Cultural and Heritage Parade,” said Nicole Williams, founder and executive director, Victory Music & Dance Company Inc. “Our youth are excited about the opportunity to unite the community through music and dance!”.

 

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Which MiLB Signings Have Best Shot at Impacting Yankees in 2023? – Sports Illustrated

The Yankees have made a few splashes this offseason. They’ve also made a few under the radar moves that could help them this coming season.

When the Yankees signed Marwin Gonzalez to a minor league deal last March, not much was expected of the veteran utility man.

Gonzalez ultimately provided little offensively in his lone season with New York, slashing a mere .185/.255/.321. But the former Astros champion parlayed his minors deal into an Opening Day roster spot and spent the entire season in the Bronx. And while his bat was well past its prime, Gonzalez added versatility, playing every position except catcher and center field over 85 games. He even pitched at one point.

All this is to say that MiLB signings can impact the big league club. The Yankees have made several more this offseason, and a few currently have paths to potentially helping New York in 2023.

While none of the Yankees’ new minor league signings come with the résumé Gonzalez did, here are a few that have a shot at making a difference – if only a small one – this coming season.

Willie Calhoun
The Yankees’ biggest remaining hole is in left field, but external options are limited at this point in the offseason. Internal choices include Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Cabrera, Estevan Florial and now, Calhoun. A lefty hitter, Calhoun was once a top-100 prospect in the Rangers’ system and had success in 2019, when he hit 21 homers over 83 games. Calhoun has dealt with injuries and has appeared in just 126 games since then, but he’s only 28 and could get a chance to compete if the Yankees don’t make a significant addition in left field.

Danish was an Indy ball pitcher as recently as 2020, but the righty threw in a career-high 32 games for the Red Sox in 2022. Those outings didn’t go particularly well for the 28-year-old – he recorded a 5.13 ERA – but Danish’s curveball/sinker-heavy repertoire and above average ground ball rate (47.2%) could help him earn some more appearances out of New York’s bullpen.

Wilmer Difo
An eight-year veteran, Difo has major league experience at every position except catcher and first base. And with Gonzalez taking his versatility to Japan, the Yankees are down a super-utility man. However, Cabrera is the best candidate for such a role – if he doesn’t spend most of his time in left – and Isiah Kiner-Falefa could also offer infield flexibility if he loses the starting shortstop job to prospects Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe. Difo, 30, may have to spend some time in the minors before an opportunity opens up.

 

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The ultimate guide to Inman Connect New York 2023

No matter what you’ll remember or forget to bring, Inman Connect New York 2023 is poised to be an unforgettable experience for the 2,000 attendees, 175 speakers and 50 vendors who will fill the Hilton New York Midtown hotel from Jan. 24 to 26.

There’s plenty to see, learn and do during your time in New York City, and we’re here to help you have the ultimate experience whether it’s your first or tenth time at ICNY. Use the guide below to expertly navigate conference sessions, learning labs and vendor areas and even plan time for fun in Manhattan.

Welcome to ICNY! You bravely navigated airport security lines and layovers, survived the rollercoaster of taking a taxi from LaGuardia, JFK or Newark into Manhattan, met the Inman crew at Monday night’s Welcome Happy Hour, and now you’re ready to dive into the first day of the conference.

Get started: If you’re an early riser, head down to Sutton Hall (second floor) and the Grand Ballroom (third floor) at 8 a.m. to meet one of the 50 vendors sharing cutting-edge tech tools and platforms that make listing, marketing, transaction management and closings a breeze.

While you’re there, pick up a complimentary cup of joe from The Listings Lab.
General session: The conference officially kicks off at 9 a.m. with two hours of dynamic speakers gracing the Grand Ballroom stage. Although we hope you’ll stick around for both hours, we understand the pull of carefully planned brunch business meetings or other networking opportunities.

With that in mind, here are three general session segments you can’t afford to miss:
Take a break: Get some expert social media training from Inman Global Head of Community Laura Monroe, The Agency agent Matt Lionetti and Engel & Völkers agent Karen Stone. The trio will explain how to create content that converts while offering a few laughs in the process.

Get to the nitty-gritty with team, agent and broker tracks: You’ve spent the morning learning about the overarching trends ruling the industry. Now it’s time to learn how those trends specifically impact your role with power hours — four mini-general sessions featuring four 15-minute chats.

If you missed the power hours, no worries. The afternoon will be filled with several other specialized tracks, including The Future of Finance (1 to 2 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom), Broker Connect (2 to 4 p.m. in the Trianon Ballroom) and Tech & Data Connect (2 to 4 p.m. in the Grand Ballrooms).

These tracks feature speakers, such as OJO Chief Real Estate Officer Chris Heller, PLACE Head of Industry Vija Williams, Compass Chief Evangelist Leonard Steinberg, Pacaso co-founder and CEO Austin Allison and Council of Multiple Listing Services CEO Denee Evans.

Closing time: Whew! You’ve had a packed first day at ICNY. End the day at the Booth Bar Crawl in Sutton Hall from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Meet fellow attendees and our featured vendors while enjoying light snacks and expertly-mixed cocktails — trust me, they’re good.

The after-party: Although you love Inman and wish you could stay glued to your conference seat all day long, we’d be remiss not to let you experience the unique sights and sounds of New York City.

The Hilton New York Hotel is near the legendary Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Museum of Modern Art. You can also make your way over to Times Square with a quick taxi ride.

If you’re feeling fancy, Ocean Prime, Mastro’s Steakhouse, Nusr-Et Steakhouse and Le Bernardin are a stone’s throw from the hotel. However, if you’d like a true NYC street-food experience, hit up one of The Halal Guys’ famous yellow stalls on the corner of 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue. You won’t regret it.

Get started: How was that after-party on Tuesday? Rough? After taking a couple of Tylenol and regaining your energy with a quick workout, begin your day with us once again in Sutton Hall with complimentary coffee. If you’re a latte aficionado or need something stronger than a basic brew, there’s a Starbucks across the street from the hotel.
Don’t forget to swing by our registration desk in the Rendezvous Trianon Hall to pick up a replacement badge, chat with attendees and meet some of our events team (they’re the best!).

General session: You know what time it is. Get to the Grand Ballroom bright and early to grab a seat and prepare for another day of dynamic speakers. As with yesterday, it’s best to stick around for the two hours — after all, you might miss out on a speaker doing a killer crane kick or spilling the beans on a new project.

However, if that’s not possible, here are a few sessions you must see:
Take a break: Meet The Agency founder Mauricio Umansky and his daughters/business partners Alexia Umansky and Farrah Brittany in a special meet and greet in Sutton Hall. Take a few pictures and maybe get a question or two answered.

Get to the nitty-gritty with breakout sessions: Much like Tuesday, Wednesday afternoon will be filled with a plethora of sessions geared toward brokers, agents, team leaders and tech wonks.

C-Suite leaders will have the opportunity to attend the invite-only CEO Connect in the Trianon Ballroom from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and some of the fiercest women leaders will take over Sutton Hall for a special WomanUP! session from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

Here are a few sessions to catch:
Sidenote: If you’re worried about missing out on sessions, don’t. Luckily, your ticket includes access to playbacks of both general sessions and the handful of sessions and specialized tracks that will also be live-streamed for our virtual ticket holders.

Closing time: Look at you! You’ve breezed through another day of ICNY. As a reward, come to Cocktails at Connect from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in Sutton Hall. Remember those cocktails from yesterday I told you about? There are even more. Just take it easy so you can enjoy the after-party too.

In addition to Cocktails at Connect, the lovely leaders of WomanUP! are hosting their own cocktail hour at Bridges Bar inside the Hilton New York Midtown from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

The after-party: The evening isn’t done yet! There’s still plenty more to see and do during your last full day in New York City. Manhattan has plenty to offer with access to Broadway and off-Broadway shows, a plethora of restaurants and other tourist attractions.

However, consider giving the other boroughs and neighborhoods some love with these events:
Get started: We’re nearing the home plate! In a few short hours, we’ll sadly be saying goodbye and setting our sights on Inman Connect Las Vegas (you’ll be smart to buy your ICLV tickets now for a pretty sweet discount).
Take your last trip to the registration desk, around the vendor hall and grab — you should know this by now — a complimentary cup of coffee from The Listings Lab.

General session: Since today’s agenda is only two hours long, there should be no reason to leave early unless you’re part of the crew of Aussies who regularly come to ICNY and have a ridiculously long flight home (G’bye mates!).
But since we’re softies, we’ll still give you the cheat sheet to the best sessions to catch on Thursday:

You’ve made it — Take the afternoon to do some networking, sightseeing, or prepare for your flight home. Although Inman Connect New York is over, you can continue the journey by watching replays of conference sessions and making Inman part of your daily reading routine. You’re reading Inman, right? Right? Good.

 

 

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