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Sundance

Union: The Sundance Documentary About Taking on Amazon

Chris Smalls appears in Union by Brett Story and Steve Maing, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. | Photo by Martin DiCicco

We all know that Amazon is a trillion-dollar company, with the money and resources to protect its interests at all costs. So how do you portray the daunting task of trying to fight a trillion-dollar company as the little guy? You start with footage of middle class workers waiting in line for public transportation early in the morning. The workers are making the trip to Amazon Warehouse. Now compare it to footage of Jeff Bezos heading into space via a rocket. This could not highlight the difference in realities for these two any better. You now have everyone’s attention. This is exactly how the documentary Union from the Sundance film festival starts out to capture the viewer. Filmmakers Stephen Maing and Brett Story follow The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) lead by a former Amazon worker Chris Smalls as they fight an uphill battle to officially unionize.  

Union, catalogs the ups and downs of the ALU at the Amazon JFK8 Fulfillment center in Staten Island from Spring 2021 to April 1, 2022. Chris Smalls is the leader of the ALU movement. A former Amazon employee, Smalls was fired for protesting the lack of PPE available to employees during covid. They were packing PPE up and sending it all over the world in fulfillment but could not obtain it for a safe working environment. He then decided to start the ALU.

The documentary follows the efforts of Chris and several other ALU members to obtain enough signatures to meet the 30% threshold required to file and then initiate a vote. Amazon has a lot of turnover (150% stated in the documentary), so getting 30% of a current workforce was no easy task. We do hear a common employee complaints of being overworked and underpaid as a reason to push for the union. There is also mention of an algorithm that decided who was working the hardest, but we never receive specific details of instances.

Via phone camera footage inside the warehouse we do see some of Amazon’s tactics to combat ALU efforts.  HR representatives at orientations focus on the costs each individual person will pay for the union, while implying there would be little benefit. There is mention of union busters getting paid upwards of $2000 a day to persuade people from signing as well as write ups in retaliation.

Union does an excellent job showcasing the struggles endured during the fight to unionize including arrests, arguments and disciplinary action. The ALU is not made out to be the number one authority on everything union. In fact, there are times where it is obvious that they do not completely know what they are doing. Despite their struggles the ALU does not back down.  The ALU is creative in its efforts to obtain signatures. From inviting people in with free food to free weed, they use any tools at their disposal to complete their goal.

A great documentary, Union takes you through the David vs Goliath fight the ALU has against Amazon and you can’t help but cheer these workers on.

Credits

  • DIRECTOR(S)STEPHEN MAINGBRETT STORY
  • PRODUCERSSAMANTHA CURLEYMARS VERRONE
  • EXECUTIVE PRODUCERSIMPACT PARTNERSTHE VILLA FAMILYANONYMOUS CONTENT
  • CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCERSBARBARA DOBKINERIC DOBKINPAULA FROEHLESTEVE COHENNATASHA DOLBYDAVID DOLBYMERYL METNIPIERRE HAUSERCHELSEA HALLIGANRYAN PARKERALEXANDER CARPENTERANDREW NEEL
  • CINEMATOGRAPHERMARTIN DICICCO
  • EDITORSBLAIR MCCLENDONMALIKA ZOUHALI-WORRALL
  • COMPOSERROBERT AIKI AUBREY LOWE
  • YEAR2023
  • CATEGORYFEATURE
  • COUNTRYUNITED STATES
  • LANGUAGEENGLISH
  • RUN TIME102 MIN
  • COMPANYLEVEL GROUND PRODUCTIONS

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