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Amazon sought to discredit labor organizer of COVID-19 worker walkout

Amazon had a strategy to smear the organizer of a worker walkout at the online retailing giant’s Staten Island, New York fulfillment center on Monday, according to leaked notes from a company meeting.

The notes, circulated as a memo within Amazon, and acquired by Vice News, addressed many issues about the company’s planned actions during the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Amazon fired Chris Smalls, the organizer of the workplace walkout several hours after the event Monday.

In response to any regulatory or media query about Smalls, “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,” according to the memo, reportedly forwarded within Amazon by the company’s general counsel David Zapolsky.

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“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,” the memo says.

Zapolsky said in a statement sent to USA TODAY: “My 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. I let my emotions draft my words and get the better of me.”

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