Memo shows Amazon tried to smear fired worker: ‘Not smart or articulate’

A leaked document from CEO Jeff Bezos reveals how the shipping company worked on strategies to tear down Chris Smalls' character

(Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Amazon executives were developing a plan to smear a fired Staten Island warehouse employee who organized a protest over the company’s alleged failure to properly clean its worksite during the coronavirus outbreak, leaked notes from a company meeting reveal.

In a daily briefing on the coronavirus updates, which reportedly included CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon execs referred to Chris Smalls as “not smart or articulate” and discussed a PR strategy to make him “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”

READ MORE: Amazon worker on strike over COVID-19: ‘Dildos are not essential items’

“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 the leaked notes, which were obtained by Vice News. The notes became part of a memo which was circulated across the company.

Smalls was fired on Monday after he organized the protest, where he and other employees walked out of work and formed a picket line outside the Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island to protest the unclean site. Smalls also accused Amazon of being dishonest about the actual number of employees who have COVID-19. Smalls told ABC News that management only confirmed one worker at the warehouse tested positive although he personally knew of several other infected employees.


NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MARCH 30: Amazon employees hold a protest and walkout over conditions at the company’s Staten Island distribution facility on March 30, 2020 in New York City. Workers at the facility, which has had numerous employees test positive for the coronavirus, want to call attention to what they say is a lack of protections for employees who continue to come to work amid the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Amazon countered that Smalls was fired for ignoring “multiple warnings” about social distancing and a two-week quarantine and had come in contact with an infected employee.

Zapolsky’s notes strategized how the online giant should handle negative media coverage and criticism from elected officials, which includes the possibility that New York Attorney General Letitia James will pursue legal action against the company in the wake of Smalls’ firing.

“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 in the notes, according to Vice News. “Make him the most interesting part of the story, and if possible make him the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”

After the notes surfaced publicly, Zapolsky told Vice News that he let his passion for Amazon “get the better” of him.

“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,” Zapolsky said in a statement to the news site. “I let my emotions draft my words and get the better of me.”

READ MORE: Amazon workers walk out on the job in protest of coronavirus

In addition to Smalls’ firing, Zapolsky’s notes also revealed Amazon has made attempts to buy millions of protective masks to protect its workforce from the coronavirus. The company has already secured roughly 10 million masks for “our operations guys,” but plans to buy 25 million more from a supplier over the next two weeks, Zapolsky wrote.

As a PR move, the leaked notes discuss a possible plan to give away masks to hospitals and grocery stores if Amazon was able to get a surplus. Amazon execs called the move “different and bold.”

“If we can get masks in quantity it’s a fantastic gift if we donate strategically,” Zapolsky wrote. “Another idea for giving masks away— give 1,000 masks to every police station in the country,” he added saying this would “remind folks it’s not just medical workers who need these.”