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Bezos Got Astronaut Wings, Amazon Got a Union

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
April 1, 2022
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Jeff Bezos

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Jeff Bezos and the billionaire founders of other human spaceflight companies like to talk about how sending the rich and famous and just plain rich to space will change the world. On Friday, it did. But, not in the way the Amazon founder thought.

“We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going up to space, because while he was up there, we were organizing a union,” ex-Amazon worker Christian Smalls said after workers at a Staten Island fulfillment center voted to form the company’s first union.

The vote came two years almost to the day that Smalls led a walkout of the warehouse on March 30, 2020, to protest what he and other workers called inadequate measures to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Smalls was fired for his effort, and later led the unionization drive.

Vice received a leaked memo from a meeting attended by Bezos in which Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky disparaged Smalls.

“He’s not smart, or articulate, and to the extent the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers,” Zapolsky wrote.

Bezos, who flew to space on New Shepard last July, has strongly opposed the unionization of workers, who have long complained about poor conditions and low wages at Amazon’s distribution centers.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said 2,654 workers voting in favor of a union while 2,131 who voted against it, according to The City.

NLRB still has to certify the union vote. Amazon is considering an appeal based on alleged “inappropriate and undue influence” by the labor board. A NLRB spokeswoman denied an improper conduct, The City reported.

After his suborbital flight aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard last year, Bezos gave a series of shout outs to those who made the trip to space possible.

“I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this,” Bezos said.

The comment went viral — but not in a good way. It sounded tone deaf to critics who feel Bezos has made too much of his fortune on the backs of poorly paid workers laboring in difficult conditions. The high-profile spaceflight helped to fuel for the unionization effort.

Bezos got FAA astronaut wings for his 10-minute trip to space. Amazon ultimately got a union.

Bezos’ critics would say that’s karma. What he would say is probably unprintable.