Leaked Amazon Memo Details Plan To Smear Fired Warehouse Organizer: ‘He’s Not Smart Or Articulate’

Leaked Amazon Memo Details Plan To Smear Fired Warehouse Organizer: ‘He’s Not Smart Or Articulate’

A leaked Amazon memo details a plan to smear a fired New York Amazon manager who called for a protest and walkout over unsafe working conditions amid the COVID-19 crisis. “He’s Not Smart Or Articulate,” said the memo. Amazon fired a Black worker after he protested COVID-19 working conditions. Workers say Amazon is not doing enough to keep them safe from the spread of the virus. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

In March, a New York Amazon facility fired assistant manager Christian Smalls when he called for workers to walk out and protest over unsafe working conditions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Leaked notes from an internal meeting of Amazon leadership obtained by Vice News reveal that company executives talked about a plan to smear Smalls. In the notes, they called Smalls “not smart or articulate” — part of a PR strategy to make Smalls “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.” Notes from the meeting, which included CEO Jeff Bezos, were forwarded widely in the company, Vice News reported.

“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,” wrote Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky in the leaked notes.

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Smalls was fired after he led a walkout of a number of employees at a Staten Island distribution warehouse. Amazon said the firing was due to Smalls not complying with a company-imposed 14-day quarantine after he came into contact with an employee who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Zapolsky’s leaked notes from the meeting included how Amazon could handle a wave of bad press and calls for investigations from elected officials over the termination of Smalls, who had worked for the company for five years. 

“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 said his “comments 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.”

Smalls wrote in a guest column for the Guardian that Amazon failed to disclose a worker’s illness to the rest of the workforce. He said he thought he was “targeted” by Amazon because he had received media attention for organizing the protest.

The guest post was titled, “Dear Jeff Bezos, instead of firing me, protect your workers from coronavirus.”

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Smalls’ firing got widespread attention and drew outrage from labor supporters and politicians, including the New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, and Bernie Sanders, The Guardian reported.

New York Attorney General Letitia James called the firing “immoral and inhumane.” She said her office is considering all legal options against Amazon and she called on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate the incident.

“At the height of a global pandemic, Chris Smalls and his colleagues publicly protested the lack of precautions that Amazon was taking to protect them from COVID-19. Today, Chris Smalls was fired,” James said in a statement. “In New York, the right to organize is codified into law, and any retaliatory action by management related thereto is strictly prohibited. At a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling and are deeply concerned about their safety, this action was also immoral and inhumane.”

Smalls said he is getting calls from Amazon workers across the country and they all want to stage walk-outs, too. “We are starting a revolution and people around the country support us.”

During Amazon meetings which are held daily, the company also discussed encouraging Amazon executives to use Smalls to discredit the wider labor movement at the company. Employees at the warehouse known as JFK8 launched an effort to unionize in 2018.