Leaked notes from an Amazon meeting detail plans to besmirch a former worker who organized a protest against the company’s lack of safety measures during the coronavirus pandemic.
Christian Smalls, an assistant manager at the Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, was fired on Monday, March 30, after he led a walkout directed at health concerns due to the virus. He was later fired for what Amazon said was a violation of a 14-day quarantine order.
But Smalls, who worked at Amazon for five years before his termination, believed otherwise.
“It’s a shame on them,” he told VICE News concerning his separation from the company. “This is a proven fact of why they don’t care about their employees, to fire someone after five years for sticking up for people and trying to give them a voice.”
Originally, the company told news sources Smalls “was found to have had close contact with a diagnosed associate with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and was asked to remain home with pay for 14 days, which is a measure we’re taking at sites around the world,” Amazon stated.
However in notes leaked from a meeting between Amazon executives and CEO Jeff Bezos the group discussed Smalls and their intentions to slander Smalls as part of their PR strategy to steer the focus away from the company.
“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 notes from the meeting.
The notes were forwarded widely in the company.
The directive sets out to make Smalls the face of the company’s effort to ensure the safety of its workers amid the pandemic.
“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 told ABC news he planned to take legal action against Amazon, calling his dismissal a “wrongful termination.”
“We all know this is retaliation. There’s no way around it. I took a huge stand, put my career on the line and I don’t regret it,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t know how they even sleep at night for doing that.”