Unionization Efforts by Amazon Workers Dealt a Blow After Alabama Vote

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Amazon workers at a giant Alabama warehouse have voted against unionizing, a significant blow to a months-long campaign that pitted union activists against one of the nation’s most powerful employers and briefly appeared poised to reenergize the American labor movement.

Workers cast 1,798 votes against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the effort to unionize employees at the facility in Bessemer, Ala., while 738 workers voted to join the union, according to a vote result Friday overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

Some 5,876 warehouse workers were eligible to cast ballots by mail-in vote starting in February.

The result came after a days-long count that was announced online via livestream, and after nearly a week in which the labor board reviewed and certified, behind closed doors, all cast ballots. There were 505 contested ballots set aside during this process and not included in the final tally. The union said the majority were contested by Amazon. The labor board determined there weren’t enough contested ballots to affect the election result.

It was the closest Amazon workers anywhere in the U.S. had come to a union, unusually in a right-to-work state with enduring Deep South history. In Bessemer, worker concerns over the company’s handling of COVID-19 workplace safety converged with the racial equity movement to set in motion one of the most closely watched American union drives in recent history.

The RWDSU said it intended to challenge the result, which it characterized as the result of intimidation and unfair practices by Amazon during the campaign. Amazon on Friday disputed union messaging that it had unfairly influenced the vote, and thanked the Bessemer workers for participating in the vote.

The chasm reflected the dual reality that many Amazon workers say they navigate: On the one hand, earning higher than minimum wage, with benefits, at one of the world’s most influential companies at a precarious time for the economy and jobs. And on the other hand, enduring the exacting control and pace of work in warehouses that Amazon has come to be known for, to meet the quick delivery goals customers have come to expect — all as consumer demand boomed during the pandemic.

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The Unionization Vote at Amazon

From today’s New York Times:

The most closely watched union election in recent history is underway in Alabama, where almost 6,000 workers at an Amazon warehouse near Birmingham are voting on whether they want to form a union. The election has attracted attention from President Biden, N.F.L. players and Hollywood actors, making it a high-stakes test of whether a union has a role in one of the country’s biggest employers.

The unionization effort, which began last summer, is the largest and most viable organizing campaign among Amazon workers in the United States. Here is what you need to know about it.

The unionization push came from a group of largely Black workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., which is just outside Birmingham. Late last summer, they approached a local branch of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has grown in the South, particularly in poultry, an industry with traditionally dangerous jobs and many Black employees.

The union deployed organizers who worked at nearby warehouses and poultry farms to focus full time on talking to workers at the Amazon warehouse. By late December, more than 2,000 workers signed cards indicating they wanted an election, the union said. The National Labor Relations Board determined that those signatures signaled “sufficient” interest in holding a vote.

Two big forces have helped drive the unionization effort: the pandemic’s focus on essential workers and the racial reckoning brought on by Black Lives Matter protests.

Amazon opened the Bessemer warehouse in March 2020, just as the coronavirus was taking hold in America. The pandemic made clear the critical role essential workers, many of whom were Black and paid hourly, played in serving customers and the economy broadly. Amazon had extraordinary growth last year, as people turned to online shopping instead of venturing into stores. It went on a huge hiring spree, ending the year with 1.3 million employees and $386 billion in sales.

In early summer, George Floyd’s killing prompted calls for racial justice, and the union has focused its organizing on issues of racial equality and empowerment. It has a decades-long history of working on civil rights and labor issues in the region. Around the same time, Amazon ended the extra pay it had given workers earlier in the pandemic. The workers who started the organizing said their pay was not commensurate with the risks they took and the productivity they must maintain.

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Biden throws support behind Amazon workers holding milestone union vote

From today’s CNN Online:

President Joe Biden on Sunday night lent his support to Amazon workers who are pushing to unionize — and appeared to warn Amazon (AMZN) not to deter them.

In a video posted on Twitter, Biden didn’t mention the company by name, but he did reference workers in Alabama, where a milestone union election is underway at an Amazon facility in Bessemer. Eligible workers at the facility are currently voting by mail to decide whether to form Amazon’s first US-based union.”Today and over the next few days and weeks, workers in Alabama, and all across America, are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace,” Biden said in the video.

“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” Biden continued. “No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences. You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice.”

Biden’s remarks reflect the high profile of the Amazon vote, which has garnered national attention and support from prominent Democrats including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as Stacey Abrams. A group of 50 Congresspeople sent a letter last month urging Amazon’s outgoing CEO, Jeff Bezos, to “treat your employees as the critical asset they are, not as a threat to be neutralized or a cost to be minimized.”

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is conducting the union drive for Amazon workers at the Bessemer facility, thanked Biden “for sending a clear message of support” for the workers.

“As President Biden points out, the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is by organizing into unions. And that is why so many working women and men are fighting for a union at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama,” Appelbaum said in a statement.

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Amazon to Pay $62 Million Fine for Withholding Tips From Delivery Drivers

From today’s New York Times:

Amazon agreed on Tuesday to pay $62 million to the Federal Trade Commission to settle charges that it withheld tips to delivery drivers over a two-and-a-half year period, in a case that highlights the federal government’s increased interest in gig-economy workers.

The F.T.C. said in an announcement that Amazon had promised its Flex delivery drivers that they would receive 100 percent of all customers’ tips. But starting in 2016, the F.T.C. said, Amazon secretly lowered the hourly delivery wages, which were advertised at $18 to $25, and tried to mask the smaller wages by using customer tips to cover for the smaller hourly pay. The net effect was that the contract workers received smaller overall take-home pay, the agency said.

The practice wasn’t disclosed to drivers but the Flex drivers noticed the compensation reductions and began to complain. Amazon stopped the practice in 2019, after it became aware of the F.T.C.’s investigation, the agency said. The company settled without admitting wrongdoing.

“Rather than passing along 100 percent of customers’ tips to drivers, as it had promised to do, Amazon used the money itself,” said Daniel Kaufman, the acting head of consumer protection at the F.T.C. “Our action today returns to drivers the tens of millions of dollars in tips that Amazon misappropriated, and requires Amazon to get drivers’ permission before changing its treatment of tips in the future.”

Flex workers are classified by Amazon as independent contractors and often use personal vehicles for deliveries of the company’s Prime Now and AmazonFresh items. Customers can give a tip to delivery drivers on the checkout page.

Amazon is facing greater regulatory scrutiny overall. The Seattle company is under investigation for antitrust violations amid growing concerns from lawmakers and regulators about the power of the big tech companies.

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Amazon, Instacart Workers Demand Coronavirus Protection And Pay

From NPR News Online:

Some Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, N.Y., and Instacart’s grocery delivery workers nationwide walked off their jobs on Monday. They are demanding stepped-up protection and pay as they continue to work while much of the country is asked to isolate as a safeguard against the coronavirus.

The protests come as both Amazon and Instacart have said they plan to hire tens of thousands of new workers. Online shopping and grocery home delivery are skyrocketing as much of the nation hunkers down and people stay at home, following orders and recommendations from the federal and local governments.

This has put a spotlight on workers who shop, pack and deliver these high-demand supplies. Companies refer to the workers as “heroes,” but workers say their employers aren’t doing enough to keep them safe.

The workers are asking for a variety of changes:

  • Workers from both Amazon and Instacart want more access to paid sick time off. At this time, it’s available only to those who have tested positive for the coronavirus or get placed on mandatory self-quarantine.
  • Amazon workers want their warehouse to be closed for a longer cleaning, with guaranteed pay.
  • Instacart’s grocery delivery gig workers are asking for disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer and better pay to offset the risk they are taking.

Read the complete article here.

A brutal year: how ‘techlash’ caught up with Facebook, Google and Amazon

From The Guardian Online:

What goes up must come down, and in 2019, gravity reasserted itself for the tech industry.

After years of relatively unchecked growth, the tech industry found itself on the receiving end of increased scrutiny from lawmakers and the public and attacks from its own employees.

Facebook and Instagram ads were linked to a Russian effort to disrupt the American political process.
Social Media, Fake News, and the hijacking of democracy by reactionary forces at home and from abroad.

“The whole year has been brutal for tech companies,” said Peter Yared, chief executive officer and founder of data compliance firm InCountry. “The techlash we have seen in the rest of the world is just now catching up in the US – it’s been a long time coming.”

From new privacy legislation to internal strife, here are some of the major hurdles the tech industry has faced in the past year.

As the 2020 presidential race intensified, tech companies faced a growing backlash over the campaign-related content they allow on their platforms.Advertisement

In October, Facebook quietly revised its policy banning false claims in advertising to exempt politicians, drawing fierce criticism from users, misinformation watchdogs, and politicians. Following the change in policy, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren took out advertisements on Facebook purposely making false statements to draw attention to the policy.

Democratic lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grilled Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, over the policy change in a congressional hearing in October. “Do you see a potential problem here with a complete lack of factchecking on political advertisements?” Ocasio-Cortez asked, as Zuckerberg struggled to answer. “So, you won’t take down lies or you will take down lies?”

Meanwhile, other tech companies took the opposite stance.TikTok, whose reported 500 million users makes it one of Facebook’s largest rivals, made clear in a blogpost in October it would not be hosting any political advertisements.

And Facebook rival Twitter banned almost all political advertising in October. Google stated in November it would no longer allow political advertisers to target voters based on their political affiliations.

Read the complete article here.

For Amazon workers in Minnesota, Prime Day means protest

From today’s Washington Post:

As a “rebinner” at an Amazon fulfillment center outside Minneapolis, Meg Brady says she is expected to handle 600 items per hour, constantly pivoting on her feet to grab one item and place it in a nearby chute.

Brady, 55, compared the job to an aerobics workout — one she says has left her with a stress fracture in her foot and on short-term disability for almost two months.

She’s been an Amazon employee for a year and seven months. And on Monday afternoon, she joined a small group of her fellow workers and dozens of other protesters outside the cavernous warehouse to demonstrate against the company’s working conditions, benefits and corporate culture. The protest took place on the first day of Prime Day, one of Amazon’s flagship shopping events that generates billions of dollars in sales for the retail giant.

“To actually get out and say [to Amazon], ‘You’re not doing a good job,’ that’s not an easy thing to say,” Brady said. “Because Amazon is so huge, you do feel like you’re this small person trying to fight a giant.”

Amazon has long defended how it compensates and treats workers, and the company argues that employees don’t need to form a union because Amazon already provides comprehensive benefits. Last year, Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all U.S. employees, and chief executive and founder Jeff Bezos has challenged his retail rivals to do the same. Last week, the company announced it would retrain one third of its U.S. workforce — a total of 100,000 employees — to prepare them for increasingly tech-centered jobs. (Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

But Amazon has still come under increasing scrutiny from workers rights groups, lawmakers and politicians over issues ranging from corporate taxation to market competition. Amazon’s growing power has drawn particular attention on the 2020 campaign trail, with calls to break up the tech giant or more heavily regulate its vast empire. On Monday morning, presidential candidate and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted in support of the strikers, saying that “Their fight for safe and reliable jobs is another reminder that we must come together to hold big corporations accountable.”

Read the complete article here.

Amazon announces it’s raising minimum wage for U.S. workers to $15 per hour

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Amazon is boosting its minimum wage for all U.S. workers to $15 per hour starting next month.

The company said Tuesday that the wage increase will benefit more than 350,000 workers, which includes full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal positions. It includes Whole Foods employees. Amazon’s hourly operations and customer service employees, some who already make $15 per hour, will also see a wage increase, the Seattle-based company said.

Amazon raising minimum wage for U.S. workers to $15 per hour

Amazon has more than 575,000 employees globally. Pay for workers at Amazon can vary by location. Its starting pay is $10 an hour at a warehouse in Austin, Texas, and $13.50 an hour in Robbinsville, N.J. The median pay for an Amazon employee last year was $28,446, according to government filings, which includes full-time, part-time and temporary workers.

Amazon said its public policy team will start pushing for an increase in the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

“We intend to advocate for a minimum wage increase that will have a profound impact on the lives of tens of millions of people and families across this country,” Jay Carney, senior vice president of Amazon global corporate affairs, said in a statement.

Read the complete article here.

Amazon is considering up to 3,000 cashierless AmazonGo stores by 2021

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Amazon.com Inc. is considering a plan to open as many as 3,000 new AmazonGo cashierless stores in the next few years, according to people familiar with the matter, an aggressive and costly expansion that would threaten convenience chains such as 7-Eleven Inc., quick-service sandwich shops such as Subway and Panera Bread, and mom-and-pop pizzerias and taco trucks.

Amazon is considering up to 3,000 cashierless AmazonGo stores by 2021

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos sees eliminating meal-time logjams in busy cities as the best way for Amazon to reinvent the brick-and-mortar shopping experience, during which most spending still occurs. But he’s still experimenting with the best format: a convenience store that sells fresh prepared foods as well as a limited grocery selection similar to 7-Eleven franchises, or a place to simply pick up a quick bite to eat for people in a rush, similar to the U.K.-based chain Pret a Manger, one of the people said,

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment.

The company unveiled its first cashierless store near its headquarters in Seattle in 2016 and has since announced two additional sites in Seattle and one in Chicago. Two of the new stores offer only a limited selection of salads, sandwiches and snacks, showing that Amazon is experimenting with the concept simply as a meal-on-the-run option.

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Amazon, JPMorgan, Berkshire Hathaway team up to lower healthcare costs for their workers — and maybe everyone

From today’s LA Times:

Three of the nation’s most formidable companies — Amazon.com, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — sent shock waves through the healthcare industry Tuesday by announcing a joint plan to reduce healthcare costs for their U.S. employees.

Although the companies said their focus mainly would be on providing improved healthcare for their own U.S. workers, which total nearly 1 million, the move immediately triggered speculation that any solutions they develop could spread throughout the industry.

That sent healthcare, drug and health-insurance stocks tumbling even though the three companies provided few initial details about their venture, with investors guessing that the trio’s initiative eventually could crimp sales growth and profits for others in the healthcare field.

Consumers might see a benefit if the companies could develop a blueprint for curbing the surge in healthcare and drug costs while maintaining or enhancing patient care, a scenario that government and the industry so far have struggled to achieve.

The speculation of a disruption to the industry was fueled by the stature of the three companies’ billionaire chief executives: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who already has radically changed the retail industry; Warren Buffett, the famed investor who also oversees dozens of companies under Berkshire’s umbrella; and Jamie Dimon, whose JPMorgan Chase is the nation’s largest bank with $2.5 trillion in assets.

Bezos and Buffett also are two of the nation’s richest people, with net worths of $119 billion and $92 billion, respectively, while Dimon’s net worth is just over $1 billion, according to Forbes.

The three said they would start “an independent company that is free from profit-making incentives and constraints” and that its early focus “will be on technology solutions” that would provide “simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.”

Read the complete article here.