Amazon executives plotted to smear a fired employee who had organized his fellow warehouse workers over health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak as "not smart or articulate," according to a leaked document that also included plans to paint him as the face of the entire unionizing movement within the company.
The behind-closed-doors remarks also betray the company's public claims that Chris Smalls, who led a walkout at a Staten Island facility earlier this week, was subsequently terminated over workplace violations related to social distancing and not because of his organizing activities.
In a tweet referencing the leaked memo, first obtained and reported on by Vice, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said the language in the notes by Amazon general counsel David Zapolsky referring to Smalls—who was fired Monday—was an example of "a racist and classist PR campaign."
"If execs are as concerned about worker health and safety as they claim, then they should provide the full paid sick leave ALL workers deserve," Ocasio-Cortez added.
Amazon’s attempt to smear Chris Smalls, one of their own warehouse workers, as “not smart or articulate” is a racist & classist PR campaign.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 3, 2020
If execs are as concerned abt worker health & safety as they claim, then they should provide the full paid sick leave ALL workers deserve. https://t.co/pAubxenDwr
Zapolsky made clear in in his remarks detailed in the leaked notes of the meeting that the company would level its attacks at Smalls in an effort to make him the focus of a coordinated smear campaign as a way to distract press coverage away from a focus on Amazon's safety record.
"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," said Zapolsky.
The richest man on earth, @JeffBezos, had a meeting to develop a PR strategy to smear Christian Smalls, a young, African American Amazon warehouse worker, father of 3, who organized a walkout because of unsafe conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Look how they talk about him: pic.twitter.com/aOdufw1Waf— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) April 2, 2020
"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 continued. "Make him the most interesting part of the story, and if possible make him the face of the entire union/organizing movement."
In comment to Vice News reporter Paul Blest, who broke the story on Thursday afternoon, Zapolsky said his comments "were personal and emotional" and borne of "frustration" over what the general counsel described as Smalls' endangering of "the health and safety of other Amazonians."
According to Blest's reporting:
The discussion took place at a daily meeting, which included CEO Jeff Bezos, to update each other on the coronavirus situation. Amazon SVP of Global Corporate Affairs Jay Carney described the purpose to CNN on Sunday: "We go over the update on what's happening around the world with our employees and with our customers and our businesses. We also spend a significant amount of time just brainstorming about what else we can do" about COVID-19.
As Common Dreams reported Thursday, Carney—former press secretary in the President Barack Obama White House—came under fire from progressives Wednesday for attacking Smalls on Twitter. The content of the memo and the strategy of making Smalls and the alleged danger he presented to his coworkers the focus of the communications push against worker organizing was in full display after Carney claimed that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, was acting against the interests of workers by defending Smalls.
. @SenSanders, I’m confused. Thought you wanted us to protect our workers? Mr. Smalls purposely violated social distancing rules, repeatedly, & was put on Paid 14-day quarantine for COVID exposure. 3/30 he returned to the site. Knowingly putting our team at risk is unacceptable. https://t.co/WR49t6Qkij— Jay Carney (@JayCarney) April 1, 2020
"Why are you attacking your own workers for putting each other at risk of infection when your company is the one doing that?" economist Marshall Steinbaum asked Carney.
Smalls, in an opinion piece for the Guardian Thursday, noted that the company was not treating all exposed workers the same and opined that could have to do with efforts to tamp down a surging labor movement at the retail behemoth:
On Saturday, a few days before the walkout, Amazon told me they wanted to put me on "medical quarantine" because I had interacted with someone who was sick. It made no sense because they weren't putting other people on quarantine. I believe they targeted me because the spotlight is on me. The thing is, it won't work. I am 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.
Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said the Amazon memo shows just how much the company fears a rising labor movement growing within its workforce—even amid a pandemic.
"In the middle of this crisis they're not thinking about people dying, hurting, or how their own fate is tied to these workers," tweeted Nelson. "Nope. They're thinking they've got to hold off the union organizing."