Amazon union organizer's appearance on Fox News with Tucker Carlson sparks debate

Smalls rejected Carlson's attempt to pit the labor movement against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — is it enough?

By Jon Skolnik

Published April 15, 2022 1:13PM (EDT)

Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee who was fired in March after staging a small walkout over conditions, speaks during a protest of working conditions outside of an Amazon warehouse fulfillment center on May 1, 2020 in the Staten Island borough of New York City. People attending the protest are concerned about Amazon's handling of the coronavirus and are demanding more safety precautions during the pandemic. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee who was fired in March after staging a small walkout over conditions, speaks during a protest of working conditions outside of an Amazon warehouse fulfillment center on May 1, 2020 in the Staten Island borough of New York City. People attending the protest are concerned about Amazon's handling of the coronavirus and are demanding more safety precautions during the pandemic. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

On Thursday, Christian Smalls, the former Amazon worker who successfully led a union organizing effort amongst some of the company's New York warehouse workers, appeared on Fox News. Smalls' appearance on a right-wing network known for its anti-union rhetoric, during which he argued that he didn't need the support of progressive lawmakers in Congress to ensure the movement is successful, has since sparked debate amongst activists and commentators on the left.  

"It wasn't just her," Smalls told Carlson of Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who he has previously criticized over her choice to pull out of an appearance at an Amazon labor rally in Staten Island last August. "It was all of them," he added, suggesting that no progressives showed up. "Once again, we have no ill will against them. We know that whether they showed up or not, they didn't make or break our election."

"Yeah, I mean, it's a weird moment," Carlson responded. "Because I'm on the right. I've never been particularly pro-union. But it does seem like Amazon needs some counterbalance. It's a huge company, the workers have no power, and maybe we could share a little power with the people who work there."

RELATED: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called out after Amazon workers win historic first union vote

Smalls also noted that Amazon, the country's second-largest employer, has been anti-union from the beginning of the company's existence. 

"They created a system that they have full control of the working people," the labor leader said. "Having a union brings representation for the workers."

"I mean maybe if they throw some more woke slogans at you, you'll forget you can't feed your family," Carlson quipped.  

The unlikely interview unleashed a cascade of backlash and counter-backlash online between commentators on the left, some who felt that Smalls shouldn't have appeared on Fox News, a right-wing network that has relentlessly attacked labor movements across the country. 


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Andrew Lawrence, Deputy Director of Rapid Response at Media Matters, claimed Smalls' appearance lent Carlson undue "credibility."

"Tucker carlson is a hateful bigot and he uses his program every night to spread his hateful bigotry," Lawrence tweeted. "Someone like smalls appearing on his show only gives tucker credibility he doesnt deserve."

"If you're Tucker, precisely what you want from this segment – which, in its entirety, features Smalls using the platform quite deftly to advocate for labor – is for leftists to take the bait, resent Smalls, or else join (Tucker, more so than Smalls) in vilifying an ally," echoed writer Sam Adler Bell. "Don't play his game."

RELATED: "This seems totally illegal": Amazon may ban union terms like "pay raise" in internal messages

But others felt that Smalls' interview was a good decision, rejecting the notion his appearance on Fox News was bad publiclity for the union.

Steven Thrasher, an assistant professor of journalism at Northwestern, tweeted that it's "very curious how many liberals want Chris Smalls, whose rising coalition is winning in arenas they never have, expect him to [sic] comform to their norms and behaviors – even as their coalitions are consistently losing." 

"I don't want to big up Tucker but it's worth seeing (again) how good Chris Smalls is at this simply by being true to himself," chimed author Tressie McMillan Cottom. "Media pros go on these shows and fail at it all the time. The Big Homie just stuck his landing and presumably had lemon pepper wings after."

Earlier this month, for the first time in the company's history, Amazon workers successfully voted to form a union. Warehouse workers in Staten Island cast 2,654 votes, or about 55% of the electorate, in favor of the effort. Amazon, for its part, has repeatedly indicated that it seeks to overturn the move, alleging that the union driver's organizers meddled with the election by disrupting the company's anti-union messaging campaign. 

Amazon Labor Union attorney Eric Miller has called Amazon's claims "patently absurd."

The employees have spoken," he said. "Amazon is choosing to ignore that, and instead engage in stalling tactics to avoid the inevitable – coming to the bargaining table and negotiating for a contract."


Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, and The New York Daily News.

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