Amazon executives allegedly tried to smear a warehouse employee as part of a PR strategy after firing him. According to Vice News, leaked notes from the company's internal meeting revealed Amazon's plot against Christian Smalls, who organized a walkout because he was frustrated with the company's lack of protective measures against the coronavirus, as Blavity previously reported.
The executives wanted to make Smalls "the face of the entire union/organizing movement," according to the notes.
“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 said, according to the notes obtained by Vice.
The meeting reportedly included CEO Jeff Bezos and focused on a discussion about the coronavirus crisis. In an interview with CNN, Amazon SVP of global corporate affairs Jay Carney said the purpose of the daily meeting is to "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," Carney said.
After firing him from the warehouse on Staten Island, the company said the reasoning behind Smalls' termination was that he "violated a company order to self-quarantine" and put his colleagues at risk of getting infected.
“He was also 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 told Silive.com.
“Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk," the company said. "This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues.”
In his notes, Zapolsky said “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.”
“Make him the most interesting part of the story, and if possible make him the face of the entire union/organizing movement,” he wrote.
After the notes leaked to Vice, Zapolsky issued a statement, saying 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.”
The notes also revealed that Amazon was putting together a PR campaign to give away masks to hospitals and grocery stores.
“If we can get masks in quantity it’s a fantastic gift if we donate strategically,” Zapolsky wrote.
Smalls said Amazon doesn't care about its employees.
“It’s a shame on them,” he told Vice. “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.”
Although Amazon said two employees at the warehouse have tested positive for the coronavirus, Smalls said there are many more infected workers that Amazon is not publicly confirming. The fired employee also disputed the company's order to self-quarantine, saying Amazon never clearly stated when the quarantine would have to start.
Smalls said Amazon targeted him specifically because he was outspoken about the company's need to take more strict measures against the virus.
“You put me on quarantine for coming into contact with somebody, but I was around [my co-worker] for less than five minutes,” he told Vice. “[The co-worker] was with my associates for 10-plus hours a week, I’ve been communicating with [management] all week but no one else was put on quarantine.”
In an interview with CNBC, Smalls said he is "being the voice of the people that are afraid to speak up."
"I'm taking a stance against the company," he said. "They're not informing employees who has tested positive. We're not doing the community no good if we are bringing the virus to our families."
Speaking to Forbes, Smalls said, "They want to silence me."
"They want to stop me from doing what I’m doing, spreading awareness and giving people who aren’t free to speak a voice," he said. "But they’re not going to stop me, I’m going to continue to fight for them and bring awareness to these flawed policies. Their policies are flawed and they’re not transparent.”