Leaked notes from an internal Amazon meeting attended by leadership, including founder Jeff Bezos, discussed a plan to smear fired warehouse employee Christian Smalls, labeling him “not smart or articulate” in an effort to make him “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”
“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’s General Counsel David Zapolsky wrote in notes from the meeting forwarded widely within the company.
The discussion surrounding Smalls, who is Black, was during a daily meeting to update everyone on the coronavirus situation. On Sunday (March 29), Jay Carney, Amazon’s SVP of Global Corporate Affairs, described to CNN the purpose of the daily meetings.
“We go over the update on what's happening around the world with our employees and with our customers and our businesses,” he said. “We also spend a significant amount of time just brainstorming about what else we can do.”
Amazon fired Smalls, who was a warehouse worker, last Monday after he led a walkout of numerous employees at a Staten Island distribution warehouse. Amazon claims Smalls was not fired for leading the protest, but because he violated a company-imposed 14-day quarantine after he came into contact with an employee who tested positive for COVID-19.
Smalls says the female employee who tested positive came into contact with many other workers for even longer periods of time before her test came back. He says he was singled out after begging management to sanitize the warehouse and to be more transparent about the amount of sick workers.
Zapolsky’s notes also revealed that they wanted to make Smalls the focus of its narrative when questioned about worker safety.
“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.”
In a statement to Vice News, Zapolsky says his insulting and arguably racist comments about Smalls “were personal and emotional.”
“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.”
Photo: Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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