Amazon union leader Chris Smalls joins fight for fashion workers


Amazon union president Chris Smalls’ efforts to galvanize New York Amazon workers may have hit a snag in early May, but the organizer is ending the month by taking a stand for other easily exploited workers. As Women’s Wear Daily reported, Smalls led a rally in New York on Friday morning on behalf of the Model Alliance’s proposed fashion worker bill, which aims to put in place basic regulations and protections. work for all workers, including “models, influencers, stylists, makeup artists, hairstylists and other creative artists” – who generate nearly $600 million in revenue each year in the New York economy, as explains the alliance’s website.

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

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

“This is what we need to pass over the next three days in Albany,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, who also attended the rally outside Next Model Management offices in midtown Manhattan. “We return to Albany on Tuesday. We have until Thursday to get the Fashion Workers Act across the finish line. I think we will because it is common sense. It makes sense that you hold management agencies to the same standards that we apply to all other New York State employer agencies.

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

Labor-friendly legislation is meant to regulate management agencies that operate unchecked. Ensuring that payment is made to models and creatives within 45 days is one of the aims of the legislation. Designed to create more transparency and accountability in the industry, the goal is to give models and behind-the-scenes creatives as much workforce support as any other worker in New York State. If approved, the legislation would ensure agencies have a fiduciary responsibility to models, industry hairstylists, makeup artists and other creatives. It is also designed to prohibit unreasonably high commissions and fees.

Source: Women’s Wear Daily

A recognized leader in labor organizing, Smalls championed both the bill and worker status throughout the fashion industry. “He’s a once-in-a-generation leader and we’re so grateful to have his support,” said Model Alliance founder Sara Ziff.

“From Amazon to the track, we’re all workers at the end of the day. We deserve our fair share,” Smalls told the Friday crowd. “Today I am proud to stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters, showing that the work will support these role models and creatives, who are being exploited in this industry and not getting the transparency and fair share they deserve to rightly.”

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In all transparency, I have witnessed and experienced many of the issues at play during my own decades-long modeling career, which included several years signed to Next Models as well as being a longtime model for the studios of New York-based fashion from Amazon. While overall my own experience with the above two entities has been positive, veteran model Alex Shanklin shed some light on some of the broader issues specifically facing black talent in the industry, including the being “turned away from agencies, where he was trying to get representation, because of his skin color”, and “castings where all black models were in one room” separate from other guys, other celebrities or whatever they were casting”.

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“We have to pay attention to what’s been going on for years,” Smalls said. “Enough is enough. We’re all tired of being taken advantage of and the transparency isn’t there. We’re not just going to sit here today and talk about it. We’re going to take action. We’re going to withhold our work, our creativity and our catwalk models, we’re going to tell them that we’re not going to work with these people. We’re not going to let this system exploit us until we get what we rightly deserve.” he continued. “It’s transparency, it’s fairness. We are all creatives, especially black and brown individuals who are in this industry. They are even more exploited. We will ensure that everyone has the same equal employment opportunities and their fair share.


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

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