Amazon Warehouse Workers Inspire Historic Unionization Efforts, Highlighted in Sundance Documentary

PARK CITY, Utah – The Sundance Film Festival witnessed a powerful moment as the documentary “Union” premiered to a standing ovation. The film delves into the tireless efforts of Amazon workers to unionize a warehouse in Staten Island, showcasing their struggle against a company known for its opposition to unionization. Directed by Brett Story and Stephen Maing, “Union” sheds light on the challenges faced by workers as they organize and push back against one of the world’s largest corporations.

The documentary highlights the story of Chris Smalls, the president of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) and a former Amazon employee. Smalls was fired after protesting against poor working conditions during the pandemic. But at the premiere, he was hailed as a hero alongside his fellow organizers, who fought for better treatment and representation for Amazon workers.

The success of workers at the JFK8 facility, which became the first Amazon facility to unionize in April 2022, served as inspiration for others. However, the film doesn’t shy away from exploring the complexities and challenges faced by organizers in their quest for collective bargaining power. It exposes the internal and external politics at play as workers go head-to-head with a corporate giant.

Throughout the documentary, workers share their grievances regarding long hours, short breaks, and inadequate safety measures. The film also highlights the high turnover rate among Amazon employees, which posed a significant obstacle for the ALU’s organizing efforts. Despite these challenges, the union ran a grassroots campaign from a tent outside the warehouse, providing support and resources to their fellow workers.

The film captures the intense determination of the organizers, but it also reveals the fractures within the union. Some workers lose faith in the operation, leading to dissent and a shift in alliances. Smalls, who was portrayed as a powerful figure within the union, faces criticism for his leadership style.

While the workers at JFK8 succeeded in unionizing, negotiations with Amazon have yet to begin. The film suggests that Amazon is responsible for the delay in contract talks, leading to further discontent among the workers.

The premiere of “Union” at the Sundance Film Festival comes at a time when labor strikes have taken center stage, shutting down Hollywood productions for months. The documentary was met with applause from artists who share a pro-labor sentiment. However, there are concerns that major studios may hesitate to acquire the film due to the potential backlash it could evoke from Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos.

Despite the risks, the filmmakers believe that their documentary’s message is vital. They hope to encourage corporations to consider the well-being and rights of their workers. “Union” tackles not only the fight for worker rights at Amazon but also the broader struggle for labor rights and fair treatment in the corporate world.

As the film premiered, violence escalated in Gaza, and the producers of “Union” wore the Palestinian kaffiyeh as a show of solidarity. The filmmakers acknowledged the importance of solidarity and the shared experiences of struggle. They expressed gratitude to the Amazon Labor Union for allowing them to witness and document the incredible organizing efforts.

“Union” stands as a testament to the power of collective action and the ongoing fight for worker justice. It serves as a reminder that workers from all backgrounds must unite in their quest for better treatment and representation, even in the face of powerful opposition.