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Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Boycott Amazon Campaign Labor actions Surveillance Capitalism

Protesters Challenge Amazon Shareholders to Clean Up the Company’s Act

May 24, 2021 protest of Amazon's human rights, labor and environment violations
May 24, 2021 labor unionists, faith-based groups and civil libertarians protest Amazon’s human rights, labor and environment violations.

Here’s a report from the Athena coalition:

Athena.

On Wednesday, Amazon will hold its annual meeting with investors. There, they will continue to celebrate $21.3 billion in pandemic profiteering, dangerous exploitation of workers, and preying on Black, brown and immigrant communities with ICE deportations, police, pollution, and destruction of small business and climate.

Activist shareholders will introduce resolutions to begin to address Amazon’s business model, and your neighbors are assembling at the doors of its biggest shareholders to say we have #EyesOnAmazon shareholders, and expect them to vote with our communities, not Amazon’s destructive agenda.

Eyes On Amazon
This year, more than any other, Amazon’s role in our democracy and economy is on the agenda at its shareholder meeting. The pandemic and murder of George Floyd forced a reckoning over racism in America. Organizers and activists fought back against Amazon’s expanding partnerships with violent police departments; protested the firing of Black whistleblowers who worked at Amazon warehouses; and fought Amazon’s environmental damage in Black and brown neighborhoods, disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

This year we expand our fight, showing up beyond warehouses, beyond Jeff Bezos’ 25-bathroom mansion and beyond ICE headquarters in front of the doors of Amazon’s billionaire shareholders in our cities.

See you on the streets!

And here’s the full document to the shareholders spelling out Amazon’s egregious violations of labor, environmental and human rights:

Amazon 2021-Proxy-Statement

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Stand with Palestine

Stand Up for Palestine! Stop US-backed Israeli Attacks!

Demonstrations are being held nationally, including here in L.A. about the latest Israeli attacks on Palestine and Palestinians. Stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people against Israeli aggression and settlerism.

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Attacks on BDS

Big Money Behind Anti-BDS Campaigns

https://theintercept.com/2019/03/25/adam-milstein-israel-bds/

Excerpt:

In the summer of 2014, Milstein got involved in student government elections at the University of California, Los Angeles. Earlier that year, UCLA’s student government had voted against a resolution for the university to divest from U.S. companies with Israeli army contracts, a cause that pro-Israel activists vehemently opposed. (The school’s student council passed a divestment measure later that year.)

“It’s of extreme importance that they prevail vs. some anti-Israel, pro-BDS students that are competing against them.”

Through the UCLA Hillel, Milstein secretly donated $1,000 to the campaigns of two pro-Israel activists on campus, Avi Oved and Avinoam Baral, who had opposed that measure. The activists asked Milstein to reach out to other pro-Israel donors to contribute to the campaigns of their election slate as well. Milstein’s involvement came to light through leaked emails published by UCLA’s student newspaper.

“It’s of extreme importance that they prevail vs. some anti-Israel, pro-BDS students that are competing against them,” Milstein wrote. In response, Oved thanked him and pledged to stand up against BDS initiatives at the student council.

The revelation of Milstein’s funding rocked the campus, angering students who thought that it was wrong for an outside donor with a committed ideological agenda to secretly fund a student election campaign. That anger was compounded by Milstein’s repeated posts on Twitter, where he scoffed at President Barack Obama’s declaration that Islam is a “religion of peace,” accused Obama of “cuddling up to Islam,” and said the president wanted to destroy America.

“Students had their campaigns funded by outside donors, and nobody knew who they were and what their agenda was,” said Rahim Kurwa, who at the time was a board member for UCLA’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, and is now a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “They were making a mockery and sham of any normal democratic process.”

UCLA Hillel was able to send students to Israel with right-wing funding

Milstein’s involvement in UCLA student politics extended to funding California college student trips to the AIPAC conference, one pro-Israel advocate from California familiar with Milstein’s work told The Intercept. A Jewish UCLA student at the time also familiar with Milstein’s work said that Milstein invited pro-Israel students over to his house in a wealthy LA suburb to schmooze with his pro-Israel donor friends. The gatherings were meant to give students a chance to request donations for campus elections and to meet potential mentors for future professional connections, establishing a pro-Israel pipeline from UCLA to post-graduate jobs.

“He found his niche. He wanted to be the guy, and that was a space that was relatively untapped and he could have a huge impact,” the California pro-Israel advocate said.

While the student election funding disclosure cast a harsh spotlight on Milstein, he did not step away from campus Israel politics. Instead, he dived deeper into them — and, of late, has poured money into efforts that target individual students who speak out for Palestinian rights.

THE ISRAEL ON Campus Coalition, or ICC, which coordinates with the Israeli government and targets progressive students with secretive online campaigns, has been an outlet for Milstein’s efforts to stifle pro-Palestinian speech at universities. He is a director on the group’s board, according to the coalition’s website as of December 2018, as well as its most recent tax filing, and his foundation has given the group $115,000 since 2010. The ICC did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment.

The coalition’s stated aim is to coordinate the pro-Israel campus activism of a wide array of groups, but it has carried out some of its operations in secrecy. Investigative reporting, however, mostly by The Forward’s Josh Nathan-Kazis, has exposed the coalition’s advocacy work.

Last September, The Forward revealed that the coalition had secretly monitored a workshop organized by Open Hillel, a group of progressive Jewish students seeking to change how Hillel, the major campus Jewish group, operates by getting the student group to include perspectives in favor of Palestinian rights at campus events.

“These donors are really scared that Jewish students will attend colleges across the country and start having nuanced conversations on Israel-Palestine,” said Eva Ackerman, Open Hillel’s national organizer.

The Forward, along with ProPublica, also reported on how the ICC ran a Facebook ad campaign in 2016 accusing Remi Kanazi, a Palestinian-American poet, of “violence and hate.” The ICC did not disclose its involvement with the ad campaign, which appeared to have been the work of students at the campuses Kanazi was visiting for performances at the time.

Perhaps most disturbing for campus activists, The Forward exposed how the ICC operates the group SJP Uncovered, which accuses the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine of anti-Semitism, racism, and terrorism, and trawls through the social media pages of college students involved in Palestinian rights work. SJP Uncovered has gone as far as comparing Jewish supporters of Palestinian rights to the Ku Klux Klan. Much like Canary Mission, another anonymous blacklist website, the ICC plasters students’ names and faces on SJP Uncovered’s website, Twitter, and Facebook pages, often taking quotes out of context and fueling online harassment of students. (Milstein is said to be a funder of Canary Mission, according to an undercover investigation by Al Jazeera, though he has denied the allegation. Eric Gallagher, the former pro-Israel advocate who said Milstein funded Canary Mission in the documentary, told Milstein that Al Jazeera had selectively edited his quote to make it appear he was saying Milstein backed the blacklist.)

PS You can access the censored Al Jazeera documentary “The Lobby,” featuring undercover exposes of the people running pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian advocacy in the US via this website:

https://electronicintifada.net/content/watch-film-israel-lobby-didnt-want-you-see/25876

 

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Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions

Bessemer AL Amazon Union Campaign Defeated

RWDSU is Fighting the Outcome over Unfair Labor Practices  by Amazon

https://aflcio.org/press/releases/fair-shot-how-pro-act-wouldve-changed-amazon-organizing-landscape

Heroic Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, came together to claim their right to form a union, but antiquated federal labor law and a virulently anti-union company stood in their way. We all benefit from broad and accessible union membership. Organizing a union should not be a trial by combat. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act will make it easier for working people to organize if we so choose.

Here’s how the campaign unfolded in Bessemer, Alabama, and how it would be different under the PRO Act.

Before Organizing Started—Firings and Surveillance: 

  • Amazon workers were aware of the company’s anti-union position.
  • Amazon has fired workers for union activity in New York and Virginia, and faced no financial penalties. There are none under current labor law.
  • Amazon’s use of high-tech surveillance of workers’ organizing interests were widely reported. Amazon faced no penalties for this activity.

Under the PRO Act:

  • Workers who were fired would have had access to double damages for lost wages, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would be required to use the courts to get these workers their jobs back quickly.
  • Amazon would have to inform employees about their rights under the law, like other federally guaranteed rights. 
  • Unions would likely use labor law’s “unfair labor practice charge” system more vigorously because there would be meaningful penalties. 
  • Unions and employees would have the option of going to court to remedy unlawful action. 

When Workers Organized in Alabama: 

  • The Amazon campaign moved rapidly, driven by a groundswell of worker support, because most organizers understand speed is one of the only shields against illegal, but unpunished, employer violations of labor law.
  • Workers met with organizers clandestinely because they were very fearful of losing their jobs.
  • A relatively small number of workers have become the public face of the campaign because the remedies for workers being illegally fired for union activity are ineffective.  Workers being forced to silence themselves made it easier for Amazon to try to paint the union as an outside entity rather than a support for a genuine, new organization of working people.
  • Workers filed a petition to certify their union with the NLRB on Nov. 20, 2020, and immediately Amazon used legal maneuvers to attempt to have the petition thrown out.
  • In order to move forward with an election and accommodate Amazon, the union consented to thousands of seasonal workers, many of whom no longer worked in the facility, being included in the proposed bargaining unit and the representation election.
Bad News for Organized Labor: Vote Count at Amazon Bessemer Warehouse Going Against Union

https://paydayreport.com/amazon-union-being-defeated-2-to-1-w-30-counted-chicago-amazon-workers-wildcat-strike/

Excerpt:

Amazon Threw Out Hundreds of Ballots 

After more than a week of scrutinizing ballots and signatures, Amazon was able to successfully throw out hundreds of ballots, possibly padding its current lead.

“There remain hundreds of challenged ballots mostly by the employer that will need to be addressed after the public count,” the RWDSU said in a statement today. “As the ballot envelopes are opened and the ballots are counted there’s a possibility that more issues could impact the final results.”  (BDS-LA Note: RWDSU is the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store workers Union, which has long had a commitment to organizing the unorganized.)

FOIA: Amazon Pressured Postal Service to Put Postal Box In Front of Amazon Entrance

Whatever may occur in the union vote today, RWDSU has already indicated they plan to challenge the union vote for a variety of illegal intimidation tactics.

New FOIA documents released by The Washington Post show Amazon pressured the U.S. Postal Service to install a mailbox directly in front of the warehouse entrance.

“We have not heard anything back on the install of this collection box,” a postal service account manager wrote to Alabama colleagues on Jan. 14 in an email obtained via FOIA by The Washington Post. “Amazon is reaching out again to me today about the status as they wanted to move quickly on this.”

RWDSU contends that managers would routinely encourage workers to fill out their ballots and cast them directly in front of them.

The union has alleged that this is illegal intimidation and will likely appeal any vote to the National Labor Relations Board.

For more, check out The Washington Post. 

Amazon Workers in Chicago Stage Wildcat Strike 

While the workers at Amazon in Alabama appear headed for defeat, they may have inspired a movement nationwide.

Yesterday, non-union workers at an Amazon warehouse in Chicago staged a walkout to demand better conditions.

The Chicago Sun-Times has the story. 

Categories
COVID Labor actions

920+ Toronto area Amazon Workers Got COVID

More than 900 Amazon workers got COVID-19, data shows — as new modelling warns of growing variant infections across essential workplaces | The Star

The article is behind a paywall. It says public health authorities in Ontario have identified workers with essential jobs as being a key vector for the transmission of new more transmissable variants of SARS-CoV2, and that neighborhoods with high concentrations of essential workers — who, in Canada, as in the US, are disproportionately BIPOC — have much higher rates of the new infections. The picture of an Amazon warehouse above is from the Toronto Star, where no photo credit is given visibly.

The Washington Post covers the consequences for Canada of this Amazon-fueled new surge:

Canada coronavirus: British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec impose restrictions as cases surge – The Washington Post

Across the country, public health officials and infectious-disease experts are reporting that the patients who are hospitalized with more severe illness are younger than during previous surges. The ages of younger people infected varies across the country, but generally they are under age 60.

“As the new variants spread, you will see that covid-19 is killing faster and younger,” Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of a panel of scientists advising Ontario Premier Doug Ford, said Thursday as he unveiled new modeling for the province. “It’s spreading far more quickly than it was before, and we cannot vaccinate quickly enough to break this third wave.”

Categories
Labor actions Surveillance Capitalism

Amazon Automates Firings; 21st Century Sweatshop

Apparently, Amazon is firing people in such massive numbers for failing to meet “productivity” goals, that it has turned the process over to A-I tracking and robots to carry out the dismissals.

How Amazon automatically tracks and fires warehouse workers for ‘productivity’ – The Verge

Excerpt:

Documents obtained by The Verge show those productivity firings are far more common than outsiders realize. In a signed letter last year, an attorney representing Amazon said the company fired “hundreds” of employees at a single facility between August of 2017 and September 2018 for failing to meet productivity quotas. A spokesperson for the company said that, over that time, roughly 300 full-time associates were terminated for inefficiency.

The number represents a substantial portion of the facility’s workers: a spokesperson said the named fulfillment center in Baltimore includes about 2,500 full-time employees today. Assuming a steady rate, that would mean Amazon was firing more than 10 percent of its staff annually, solely for productivity reasons. The numbers are even more staggering in North America as a whole. Amazon operates more than 75 fulfillment centers with more than 125,000 full-time employees, suggesting thousands lose their jobs with the company annually for failing to move packages quickly enough.

The documents also show a deeply automated tracking and termination process. “Amazon’s system tracks the rates of each individual associate’s productivity,” according to the letter, “and automatically generates any warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors.” (Amazon says supervisors are able to override the process.)

Critics see the system as a machine that only sees numbers, not people. “One of the things that we hear consistently from workers is that they are treated like robots in effect because they’re monitored and supervised by these automated systems,” Mitchell says. “They’re monitored and supervised by robots.”

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Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions

NLRB Considers Consolidating Multiple Unfair Labor Charges vs Amazon

Fired, interrogated, disciplined: Amazon warehouse organizers allege year of retaliation (nbcnews.com)

Excerpts:

“Amazon will work to destroy your character and try to keep you from talking about what’s actually going on,” Bailey said. “And it’s all so that Jeff Bezos can make more dollars.”

Bailey’s complaint is one of at least 37 charges filed to the NLRB against Amazon, America’s second-largest employer, across 20 cities since February 2020, when news of the pandemic began to spread, according to an analysis of NLRB filings by NBC News. These complaints accuse the company of interfering with workers’ rights to organize or form a union. That’s more than triple the number of cases of this kind filed to the agency about Amazon in 2019 and six times the number filed in 2018.

For comparison, Walmart, America’s largest employer, has had eight such charges since February 2020. The meat-processing giant JBS, whose workers have been fighting for better working conditions throughout the pandemic, including staging protests, had nine.

The number of similar charges filed against Amazon over the last year has become significant enough that the NLRB is considering whether the “meritorious allegations warrant a consolidated effort between the regions,” NLRB spokesman Nelson Carrasco said. Typically NLRB charges are investigated by one of 26 regional offices. But in rare instances the board combines cases into a consolidated complaint, as it has done with Walmart and McDonald’s, if it believes there is a pattern emerging at a company.

<snip>

Amazon’s anti-union campaign states that union members would have to pay $500 a year in dues with no guarantee of better pay. Economic research indicates that collective bargaining unions generally raise pay for both union and nonunion members. “Amazon fears the union because of the leverage it can have to organize strikes that could cripple the business,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, a Los Angeles-based investment firm, noting that Amazon’s efficient customer service is critical to the company’s success.

If unions negotiate better pay and benefits, it would increase Amazon’s operating expenses and reduce profit, Pachter added.

Seay [of Amazon] said Amazon hosts “regular information sessions for all employees, which include an opportunity for employees to ask questions.”

Note from BDS-LA: Catch the not-so-veiled threat from the Amazon spokesperson in the next paragraph.

“If the union vote passes,” she added, “it will impact everyone at the site, and it’s important all associates understand what that means for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon.”

In other press reports, Jeff Bezos was so “pissed” about possible pro-labor, anti-trust legislation from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, that he personally authorized a twitter campaign calling them out.

This is from vox.com’s recode section:

Inside Amazon, rank-and-file employees were also perplexed by the company’s Twitter approach. “Suspicious activity on @amazonnews Twitter account,” was the title of one internal support ticket — called a trouble ticket inside the company — filed by an Amazon security engineer last week, according to a screenshot viewed by Recode.

“Over the past two days, there have been two threads by @amazonnews in response to comments made by US Government officials that have received considerable attention,” the ticket reads. “The tweets in question do not match the usual content posted by this account.”

The security engineer noted that the tweets were posted using Twitter’s web app rather than Sprinklr, the social media management software typically used by the Amazon News account to post tweets.

The tweets, according to the security engineer, “are unnecessarily antagonistic (risking Amazon’s brand) and may be a result of unauthorized access.”

The support ticket was closed without action, according to a source.

 

Categories
Surveillance Capitalism

Amazon Effort to Re-invent Health Care Fails

Sometimes even big, powerful monopolies are incapable of overcoming the contradictions of their own system. According to a report in the NY Times, Amazon’s effort to re-invent employer based health care coverage, which briefly knocked down insurance industry share values, has died. Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffett’s conglomerate) and JP MorganChase bank had announced a join venture in 2018 called Haven. [Buffett, Bezos and Chase’s Jamie Dimon are pictured above in an AP photo.] It was designed to start with their own employees, and work out from there to tecniques and a “product” that could streamline health coverage. But it died a quiet death in January.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/04/business/haven-amazon-berkshire-hathaway-jpmorgan.html

Excerpt:

A joint venture formed by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to explore new ways to deliver health care to their employees is disbanding, according to a short statement on its website. The company, Haven, will cease operations at the end of February — three years after its arrival sent shock waves through the health care industry.

“Haven explored a wide range of health care solutions, as well as piloted new ways to make primary care easier to access, insurance benefits simpler to understand and easier to use, and prescription drugs more affordable,” the statement said. …

But two people familiar with the collaboration said logistical hurdles had made it harder than expected to come up with new ideas that made sense for all three companies.

Berkshire Hathaway, one of the people said, had a wide variety of systems for administering health care at the companies it owns, so across-the-board changes were difficult even internally. And JPMorgan funds its own health care plan for its employees, which posed a challenge to applying ideas that could work for Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway.

A NY Times tech newsletter takes matters further:

Let me go back to one of Amazon’s high-profile projects in groceries. To sum up the company’s last 15 years: Amazon operated a grocery-delivery service for a decade without much success. Then nearly four years ago it bought the Whole Foods chain of 500 grocery stores for more than $13 billion. That hasn’t been a smash. Now Amazon is building a different chain from scratch with stores that Bloomberg News described as somewhere between a Trader Joe’s and larger supermarkets.
There have been news reports that Amazon has dreams of heavily automated stores and plans to eliminate cash registers in lots of places. Maybe Amazon wants to use its grocery outposts as prep centers for deliveries of fresh fish and dish soap.
This is where I add that it’s possible I will look like an idiot for writing this. Groceries, robots for the home, pharmaceutical drugs and health insurance are all areas worthy of innovation. It’s just helpful to think of Amazon’s efforts as experiments — sometimes bad ones — rather than fully baked marvels of creation.
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Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power

Amazon Won’t Sell E-Books to Libraries

When Amazon’s monopoly power is so bad that even the Washington Post, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is condemning its negative effects on society as a whole, you know how foul it really is.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/03/10/amazon-library-ebook-monopoly/

Excerpt:

Many Americans now recognize that a few tech companies increasingly dominate our lives. But it’s sometimes hard to put your finger on exactly why that’s a problem. The case of the vanishing e-books shows how tech monopolies hurt us not just as consumers, but as citizens.

Many Americans now recognize that a few tech companies increasingly dominate our lives. But it’s sometimes hard to put your finger on exactly why that’s a problem. The case of the vanishing e-books shows how tech monopolies hurt us not just as consumers, but as citizens.

Librarians have been no match for the beast. When authors sign up with a publisher, it decides how to distribute their work. With other big publishers, selling e-books and audiobooks to libraries is part of the mix — that’s why you’re able to digitally check out bestsellers like Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land.” Amazon is the only big publisher that flat-out blocks library digital collections. Search your local library’s website, and you won’t find recent e-books by Amazon authors Kaling, Dean Koontz or Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Nor will you find downloadable audiobooks for Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime,” Andy Weir’s “The Martian” and Michael Pollan’s “Caffeine.”

Categories
Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions Surveillance Capitalism

Amazon Installs A-I Surveillance in Delivery Vans

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/03/amazon-using-ai-equipped-cameras-in-delivery-vans.html

Excerpts:

Amazon drivers at some U.S. facilities will soon have an extra set of eyes watching them when they hit the road to make their daily deliveries.

The company recently began testing AI-equipped cameras in vehicles to monitor contracted delivery drivers while they’re on the job, with the aim of improving safety.

Amazon has deployed the cameras in Amazon-branded cargo vans used by a handful of companies that are part of its delivery service partner program, which are largely responsible for last-mile deliveries. The cameras could be rolled out to additional DSPs over time, and Amazon has already distributed an instructional video to DSPs, informing them of how the cameras work.

Deborah Bass, an Amazon spokesperson, confirmed to CNBC that the company has begun using the AI-equipped cameras across its delivery fleet. Some details of Amazon’s plans were previously reported by The Information.