Amazon union leader Chris Smalls joins the fight for fashion workers

Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls appeared at a rally for the pending Fashion Workers Act on Friday, in hopes of compelling the New York Senate to pass legislation.

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Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls’ efforts to galvanize New York Amazon workers may have hit a snag in early May, but the organizer is closing the month taking a stand for other easily exploited workers. As reported by Women’s Wear Daily, Smalls led a rally in New York on Friday morning on behalf of the Model Alliance‘s proposed Fashion Workers Act, which aims to put in place regulations and basic labor protections for the breadth of workers—including “models, influencers, stylists, makeup artists, hairstylists and other creative artists”—who drive nearly $600 million in income each year to New York’s economy, as explained by the alliance’s website.

Chris Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, greets supporters at the Amazon distribution center in the Staten Island borough of New York, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021.
AP Photo: Craig Ruttle

The rally was strategically timed to garner the attention of the New York State Senate, which enters the final few days of its current legislative session this week.

“This is what we need to pass in the next three days in Albany,” said co-presenter of the bill, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, who also appeared at the rally outside of Next Model Management’s offices in downtown Manhattan. “We’re going back to Albany on Tuesday. We have until Thursday to get the Fashion Workers Act across the finish line. I think we’ll do it because it is common sense. It is common sense that you would hold management agencies to the same standards as we hold every other employer agency in the state of New York.”

As further explained by WWD, the details of the proposed bill are as follows:

The pro-labor legislation is meant to regulate management agencies that operate without oversight. Ensuring that payment is made to models and creatives within 45 days is one objective of the legislation. Designed to create more transparency and accountability in the industry, the aim is to give models and behind-the-scenes creatives as much labor support as any other worker in New York State. If approved, the legislation would ensure that agencies have a fiduciary responsibility to models, industry hairstylists, makeup artists and other creatives. It is also designed to prohibit any unreasonably high commissions and fees.

Source: Women’s Wear Daily

A proven leader in union organizing, Smalls advocated for both the bill and the status of workers throughout the fashion industry. “He is a once-in-a-generation leader and we are so grateful to have his support,” noted Model Alliance founder Sara Ziff.

“From Amazon to the runway, we’re all workers at the end of the day. We deserve our fair share,” Smalls told Friday’s crowd. “Today I’m proud to stand with my brothers and sisters here in solidarity, showing that labor will support these models and creatives, who are exploited in this industry and don’t get the transparency and fair share that they rightly deserve.”

In full disclosure, I witnessed and experienced several of the issues at stake during my own decades-long career as a model, which included several years signed to Next Models as well as being a longtime model for Amazon’s New York-based fashion studios. While, on the whole, my own experience with both of the above entities was positive, veteran model Alex Shanklin spotlighted some of the broader issues specifically faced by Black talent across the industry, including being “turned away at the doors of agencies, where he was trying to get representation, due to his skin color,” and “castings where all of the Black models were in one room ‘separate from the other guys, other celebrities or whatever they were casting.”

“We have to pay attention to what’s been going on for years,” said Smalls. “Enough is enough. We’re all tired of being exploited and the transparency is not there. We’re not just going to stand here today and talk about it. We’re going to take action. We’re going to hold our labor, our creativity and our models from the runway—we’re going to tell them we’re not going to work with these people. We’re not going to keep allowing this system to exploit us until we get what we rightfully deserve,” he continued. “That is transparency, that is equity. We are all creatives, especially the Black and brown individuals that are in this industry. They get exploited even more. We’re going to make sure that everybody has the same equal employment opportunity and has their rightful fair share.”

Maiysha Kai is Lifestyle Editor of theGrio, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in fashion and entertainment, great books and aesthetics, and the brilliance of Black culture. She is also the editor-author of Body (Words of Change series).

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