(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc’s general counsel on Thursday said his emotions clouded his judgment when he wrote meeting notes in which he allegedly outlined a public relations strategy against a protest organizer and questioned the employee’s intelligence.
Amazon did not confirm the authenticity of the notes, which Vice News reported were from a daily meeting with the company’s Chief Executive Jeff Bezos and senior leadership team.
David Zapolsky, Amazon’s secretary and top lawyer, allegedly wrote that a worker who criticized Amazon’s warehouse operation during the coronavirus pandemic was “not smart, or articulate” and suggested Amazon might “make him the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”
Amazon and other businesses have provided vital deliveries as nearly 90% of the United States has been told by their governments to stay home to slow the spread of coronavirus. However, some employees have protested, saying the companies are not doing enough to protect their health.
Workers from at least 19 of Amazon’s U.S. warehouses including in Staten Island, New York have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to media reports.
Amazon said it fired employee Christian Smalls after he came to the Staten Island warehouse for a demonstration Monday in violation of his paid quarantine. Smalls was in contact with a diagnosed coronavirus patient, Amazon said.
In a statement, Zapolsky said: “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.”
Smalls, 31, told Reuters he planned to sue Amazon and was working with the New York Attorney General, who earlier called on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate the firing.
He said he was not a professional organizer but had stepped into the role to help people. “I want to support those who are afraid to speak up,” Smalls said.
The alleged comments by Zapolsky follow a contentious relationship Amazon has long had with unions that have wanted to organize its workforce.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which said it was working with Smalls, called the alleged behavior “disgusting!” The affiliated United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said in a statement that federal regulators should investigate Amazon’s actions and Zapolsky and other executives should be fired.
Amazon, speaking to the company’s relationship with unions, said it already offers the benefits and pay that labor organizations want. Amazon said it also respects workers’ “rights to choose a union.”
Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco and Krystal Hu in New York; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Lincoln Feast.