A leaked memo shows Amazon resorting to brass-knuckle tactics against a former employee who claimed he was fired for organizing a strike at the e-commerce giant’s Staten Island fulfillment center.
The memo, which was obtained and first reported on by Vice, was taken from an internal meeting of Amazon leadership after warehouse worker Christian Smalls helped organize a walkout involving more than 100 staffers at the Staten Island facility on Monday.
The strike was in response to Amazon's alleged lack of coronavirus safety protections. The media reported on March 24 that one worker at the Staten Island warehouse had tested positive for COVID-19. As part of the walk-out, Smalls had demanded that the facility be closed and sanitized in light of the infected employee. He was fired that day.
|Photo: Amazon Day One blog.|
Smalls told the press that his firing "was a targeted retaliation.” Amazon, for its part, claims it fired Smalls because he violated the company’s social distancing guidelines.
Smalls has since told media outlets that “10 cases” of COVID-19 have been confirmed at the warehouse.
The leaked internal memo details Amazon’s strategy to tackle employee efforts to unionize by characterizing Smalls as “not smart or articulate” in an effort to “make him the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”
“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.
“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.”
Amazon’s top spokesman Jay Carney told CNN host Brian Stelter on March 29 that the company’s employees are its “first and primary concern,” and that Amazon has enacted “extraordinary measures” regarding safety and social distancing protocols to make sure its frontline workers are “as protected as they can be as they go about doing this heroic work for their fellow citizens” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Carney also said that Amazon has raised staff pay during this period and extended benefits, and allows “unlimited unpaid time off” through the end of April “with no repercussions” if employees feel unsafe coming into work.
Former White House spokesman Carney joined Amazon to head its then-newly-formed global corporate affairs department in early 2015.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio this week ordered the City's Commission on Human Rights to investigate Amazon’s firing of Smalls. de Blasio said that if Amazon had retaliated against Smalls for organizing a strike, “that would be a violation of our city’s human rights law and we would act on it immediately.”