Categories
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.”

Categories
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.
Categories
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.

Categories
Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions

Amazon’s Anti-Union Woman at the DOJ

https://therevolvingdoorproject.org/jamie-gorelick-amazons-anti-union-shadow-adviser-at-the-doj/

Excerpt:

Almost 6,000 Amazon warehouse workers are voting to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union this week. Amazon has ruthlessly fought back attempts by workers to come together for better pay and working conditions, dragging workers into propagandistic anti-union meetings, paying temps to wear anti-union messages, and sending text blasts and leaving flyers in bathrooms telling workers to vote “no.” Their playbook is guided by a gamut of expensive anti-union consultants and law firms who coach businesses on how to bust unions.

Jamie Gorelick, a close friend and confidante to potential Attorney General Merrick Garland, sits on the board of Amazon and is a partner at WilmerHale, one of these anti-union firms. WilmerHale’s work brazenly suppressing unions and her affiliation with a monopolist like Amazon render their close relationship deeply concerning — all the more so since Gorelick has drawn public attention to their friendship in recent weeks, a likely wink aimed at potential WilmerHale clients. The contrast is stark in light of President Biden’s promise to the AFL-CIO saying “If I’m in the Oval Office, guess who’s gonna be there with me? Unions.”

WilmerHale’s Anti-Union Activism

WilmerHale is a BigLaw firm that publicly states that it trains workers on “union awareness and avoidance.” This is a euphemism common among anti-union firms. For workers, it translates to misinformation and intimidation. Union-busting groups at Amazon have held workers captive and made them listen to pro-employer propaganda to “sow doubts about the unionization drive.” I have worked on campaigns where anti-union consultants sat behind bus drivers, whispering lies about inflated dues and potential discipline while on the road. Gorelick’s WilmerHale seems to offer similar services, bragging about “non-lawyer HR Professionals” that it dispatches to paying clients to work on “discrete HR projects.” It is tough to imagine a clandestine HR project, but WilmerHale’s boasts about representing employers before the National Labor Relations Board and the “complete and total victory” it won defending Teradyne from discrimination suits does not build confidence.

WilmerHale’s staff proudly admits to coaching employers on how to avoid unions. Attorney Julie Murphy and Special Counsel Ariella Feingold “represent management clients” on “union avoidance strategies and union organizational campaigns” while Partner Laura Schneider “assist[s] employers with managing strikes.” Jonathan Rosenfeld, chair of the labor and employment practice, “acted as labor and employment counsel to clients in […] warehouse and distribution,” the same sector as the Amazon workers trying to organize. The firm also represented employers against distribution unions like the Teamsters, who alleged that the employer illegally coerced union members.

Gorelick herself sat on the board of other anti-union companies like United Technologies (UT) for 14 years. During her tenure, unionized janitors protested their layoffs at an annual shareholder meeting. Machinists Union workers went on strike after workers said UT gave them “a slap in the face” with a measly offer of .25 cent wage increases over five years. And this is without mentioning the litany of unfair labor practices filed against the company for years

 

Categories
Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions Surveillance Capitalism

Ex-FBI Agents in Amazon Security Ops

 

https://theintercept.com/2021/02/11/amazon-jobs-security-fbi/

Excerpt:

At least 26 ex-FBI agents and employees currently work at Amazon, holding positions in the security division, software development, human resources, and board of advisers, according to a review of LinkedIn. The company’s earliest hires were in 2007 and 2008 — for “Deputy Chief Information Security Officer and VP of Security Engineering” and “Chief Information Security Officer,” respectively — but hiring really started ramping up in 2019, when eight former law enforcement specialists were brought on board in security roles.

A wide variety of jobs fall under the umbrella of security. The company, whose cloud computing service, Amazon Web Services, is one of the largest web hosts in the world, has to ward off potential cyberattacks on its servers and work to prevent the theft of its array of merchandise. Hiring in the security division also includes monitoring employees, according to several job descriptions, and, in the past, has included tracking union activism. And the company’s embrace of former law enforcement officials follows a familiar path among other industries that have faced labor and activist pressure.

LAST YEAR, AFTER Amazon was caught trying to hire two “intelligence analysts” tasked with tracking “labor organizing threats” within and outside the company, it quietly filled those positions with two former FBI agents and hired four others.

The company had posted job listings seeking an “Intelligence Analyst” and “Sr Intelligence Analyst,” both based in Phoenix, to monitor and collect information on organized labor, activist groups, “hostile political leaders,” and other sensitive topics. Amazon deleted the job listings after fierce backlash from labor groups and the public.

The deleted listings, accessible on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, described the job duties and listed previous experience in “intelligence analysis and or watch officer skill set in the intelligence community, the military, law enforcement, or a related global security role in the private sector” among their preferred qualifications.

Categories
Attacks on BDS

Arkansas No-Israel-Boycott Rule Loses Court Battle

Arkansas Times wins challenge of state’s Israel boycott rule

Excerpt:

Big news today from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Arkansas Times, and the First Amendment, have prevailed in a lawsuit challenging the state law that prevents state business with those who won’t pledge not to boycott Israel.

A federal district court had dismissed our challenge, but the 8th Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, sent the case back to the district court.

The Times, represented by the ACLU, asked for an injunction against the law. We had never editorialized about Israel or the boycott but objected to being forced to sign a pledge about editorial content as a condition of doing business The case was over an advertising contract with the Pulaski Tech branch of the University of Arkansas. We lost an existing contract because we refused to sign a pledge.