Christian Smalls was fired from a Staten Island Amazon warehouse in March, after leading a protest against their treatment of workers during the COVID pandemic. At the time, Amazon tried to downplay the situation, but workers claimed that they were dishonest about the number of COVID cases, and that they had “failed to notify workers or properly clean the warehouse,” as reported in The Verge.
In a leaked memo published on Vice, a plan to discredit Chris Smalls, and through him, the unionization movement as a whole, was described by Amazon lawyer David Zapolsky, who also referred to Mr. Smalls as “not smart or articulate.” A quote from Zapolsky in the Vice article reads:
“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.”
This was followed by a public smear campaign on Twitter, carried out by two Amazon executives, one of the most vocal being Jay Carney, a former Obama press secretary.
Chris Smalls released a statement shortly thereafter in response to the leaked memo:
“Amazon wants to make this about me, but whether Jeff Bezos likes it or not, this is about Amazon workers — and their families — everywhere. Instead of protecting workers and the communities in which they work, however, Amazon seems to be more interested in managing its image … This is not about me. This is about all of us.”
Since the pandemic struck, nearly 20,000 Amazon employees have been infected. Meanwhile, the wealth of CEO Jeff Bezos has increased by a reported $24 billion. Although the online retail giant has attempted to defend its terrible worker safety record, their defense falls especially flat in light of their recent efforts to block a shareholder resolution “designed to force the online retailer’s executives to better safeguard employees,” with help from the Trump administration’s SEC, as David Sirota wrote in a report for The Daily Poster.
There have also been reports of Amazon’s HR department allegedly monitoring email lists “dedicated to employees who are minorities and those who are involved in activism.” A company spokesperson apparently said that “the practice was intended to gather employee feedback to help improve company practices,” however, history shows that working conditions don’t really seem to be a priority for Amazon. This type of worker surveillance also seems perfectly in line with the recent union-busting efforts at Amazon-owned Whole Foods.
In response to the situation, Chris Smalls founded a group called The Congress of Essential Workers, “a collective of essential workers (servers, warehouse workers, teachers, etc.) and allies across the United States coming together under a common goal: to support each other in a fight for better working conditions, better wages, and a better world.” The group put out a list of ten demands in a press release in late August, and has organized a series of demonstrations outside properties owned by Jeff Bezos.
The most recent of these peaceful protests took place on October 4 in Beverly Hills. Those in attendance gathered in Will Rogers Memorial Park, then marched to the gate of Bezos’ mansion, chanting and carrying a banner that read “Tax Bezos.” Broadcasters, including Status Coup, who were covering the march, seemed to experience interference while in front of the mansion, and there was reportedly a drone sent to monitor the situation:
In an interview with Status Coup’s Jenn Dize, Chris Smalls later relayed his thoughts on the attitudes of Amazon executives, saying “They don’t care about us,” and expressing his displeasure with executives’ concern about their public image and profits over the safety of employees. He also discussed Amazon’s reported price gouging during the pandemic, and the vision of T.C.O.E.W. to build democracy for workers, ending with the words, “make sure you follow this story, because it’s just the beginning.”
tcoew.org — The Congress of Essential Workers
TCOEW on Twitter
Christian Smalls on Twitter
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