An internal Amazon memo proposed a smear campaign against the employee leading coronavirus protests over conditions at the retail giant’s Staten Island warehouse, according to a report
The company’s general counsel David Zapolsky, in notes taken at a meeting from a daily update with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos about COVID-19, discussed a plan to single out fired worker Christian Smalls as “not smart or articulate” — and to raise questions about his behavior.
“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," wrote Zapolsky in comments leaked to the website Vice.com.
Zapolsky issued an immediate mea culpa to Vice, but the African-American ex-employee wanted no part of it.
“They’re digging their own grave,” Smalls told the Daily News. “It’s borderline racist. These people are disgusting. They should be ashamed of themselves. It’s like a vendetta against me ... For what? For doing the right thing?”
The leaked notes also recounted a discussion among Amazon executives about using Smalls to discredit the wider labor movement at the company. Staten Island workers at the JFK8 warehouse began efforts to unionize two years ago.
“Make him the most interesting part of the story, and if possible make him the face of the entire union/organizing movement," wrote Zapolsky.
Smalls, who estimates as many as nine workers from the warehouse have gotten coronavirus, was absent from work on a mandatory quarantine order before his firing hours after Monday’s protest. He is calling for the shutdown of the massive facility for a two-week cleaning.
One of Smalls’ former colleagues told The News that he spent five days sleeping in his car— unable to go to work at the Staten Island warehouse after coming down with the symptoms of COVID-19 and fearful of spreading the virus to his wife and young kids.
“For my family’s safety … I took my blanket and pillow to the car,” he said by phone, insisting on anonymity over fears of losing his job with Amazon.
“They were really worried,"he said of his family. "But they’ve been doing their best, making green tea, soups and bringing it out to me.”
Zapolsky, in his statement to Vice, explained that his no-longer-private remarks about Smalls were fueled by emotion and angst. Amazon officials have criticized Smalls for showing up at a protest at the Staten Island warehouse Monday despite being ordered by them to self-quarantine for having contact with workers believed to have coronavirus.
“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.”
Amazon said all workers at the Staten Island site were advised of confirmed cases of the virus, but provided no number of infected employees at JFK8.
“We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of our employees at the site," said spokeswoman Rachael Lighty.