Amazon’s top lawyer crafted a strategy to scapegoat the man who organized a protest at a New York warehouse, calling the African-American ex-employee ‘not smart, or articulate.’ President Obama’s ex-spokesman helped carry it out.
Chris Smalls was fired on Monday, after he led up to 50 of his colleagues at a Staten Island warehouse to walk out in protest over what they described as unsafe working conditions at the mammoth facility, including the lack of protective gear for the workers. A number of political and media figures, including the Democrat presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) condemned the firing.
Amazon’s General Counsel David Zapolsky’s strategy to deal with the fallout was to propose “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,” according to the notes from a daily meeting of the company’s top executives – including CEO Jeff Bezos – obtained by Vice on Thursday.
Make him the most interesting part of the story, and if possible make him the face of the entire union/organizing movement.
“He’s not smart, or articulate,” and the press focusing on him will put Amazon “in a much stronger PR position,” Zapolsky argued.
EXCLUSIVE: Leaked notes from an internal Amazon meeting reveal that company executives discussed a plan to smear Christian Smalls, a warehouse employee who was fired after he led an employee walkout at a Staten Island distribution warehouse. https://t.co/HgimBi1JFD
— VICE News (@vicenews) April 2, 2020
Two executives – Senior VP of operations Dave Clark and senior VP of global corporate affairs Jay Carney – then pushed back on Sanders’s tweets using Zapolsky’s talking points, both blaming Smalls for “purposely violated social distancing rules.”
That admission came from the Washington Post, the daily newspaper owned by Bezos, which framed the situation as being pretty much entirely Zapolsky’s brainchild while maintaining that Amazon was doing all it could to protect its workforce, and hiring even more people to deliver much-needed products to millions of Americans under lockdown due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Amazon’s top legal executive suggested the company’s senior leaders fend off workplace safety criticism by trying to turn the focus on an activist warehouse worker it had fired just days earlier https://t.co/3HgKOBSTrZ
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) April 2, 2020
The entire episode also had a political undertone. As journalist Jeremy Scahill of the Intercept pointed out, Zapolsky is a fundraiser for Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s former vice president and the current favorite of the Democratic establishment to win the 2020 presidential nomination. Carney was Obama’s spokesman from 2011 to 2014, and Biden’s prior to that.
Way back in 2007, Biden had described Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean,” touching off a firestorm of accusations that such descriptions were thinly veiled racism.
“Racial coding” is how journalist Malaika Jabali also described Zapolsky’s notes, adding that “many warehouse workers are [people of color[. This is a class AND race fight.”
Contrary to Zapolsky’s claims, Smalls did not appear to have any trouble expressing his views to RT, or penning a Guardian op-ed after his firing.
“People are scared to work” in the 5,000-person facility, he told RT on Wednesday, adding that Amazon refused to disinfect the warehouse even after as many as a dozen people tested positive for the coronavirus. He also pledged to keep fighting, going directly to Governor Andrew Cuomo if need be.
“I let my emotions draft my words and get the better of me,” Zapolsky told Vice after he was asked to explain his notes. He then went right back to the original talking points blaming Smalls, saying he 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 the coronavirus.
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