Vice News obtained a leaked memo from Amazon leadership that shows executives discussing a way to malign the fired warehouse worker, Christian Smalls, as part of a PR strategy.
“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,” Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky wrote in his notes during the internal meeting.
Zapolsky’s notes also specified that Amazon brass talked about using Smalls to slander the labor movement at the company.
“We should spend the first part of our response strongly laying out the case for why the organizer’s conduct was immoral, unacceptable, and arguably illegal, in detail, and only then follow with our usual talking points about worker safety,” Zapolsky wrote. “Make him the most interesting part of the story, and if possible make him the face of the entire union/organizing movement.” The conversation happened during a routine meeting, where execs have been discussing how to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Smalls was fired on Monday after staging the demonstration, which included a number of his fellow workers at a Staten Island distribution warehouse. He organized the protest to demand that the company close and sanitize the facility before allowing workers to re-enter. Amazon reportedly informed workers that someone at the warehouse had tested positive for coronavirus, but Smalls believes there are more unreported cases. On March 31, at least 21 Amazon warehouses across the U.S. had contracted the virus.
However, Amazon said Smalls was let go due to disobeying a company-imposed 14-day quarantine after he was exposed to the virus from another employee who tested positive. Smalls had worked at the company for five years.
Zapolsky told Vice that his “comments were personal and emotional.” He added, “I was frustrated and upset that an Amazon employee would endanger the health and safety of other Amazonians by repeatedly returning to the premises after having been warned to quarantine himself after exposure to virus COVID-19,” he said. “I let my emotions draft my words and get the better of me.”