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Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power

Amazon Monopoly Power in COVID Marketplace

https://www.propublica.org/article/the-amazon-lockdown-how-an-unforgiving-algorithm-drives-suppliers-to-favor-the-e-commerce-giant-over-other-retailers

At a time when much of the retail sector is collapsing, Amazon is strengthening its competitive position in ways that could outlast the pandemic — and that could raise antitrust concerns. Increasingly, manufacturers of in-demand products are catering to Amazon, while competing retailers take the leftovers, consultants and brand executives told ProPublica.

“Amazon has the power to bury sellers and suppliers if they don’t comply,” said Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at Open Markets Institute, a think tank that has been critical of Amazon and other big tech companies. “It might be automated through an algorithm, but it’s still the wrath of the monopolist that they are afraid of. … Amazon is able to cut off its competitors’ access to inventory by leveraging its monopoly power.”

As locked-down shoppers have flocked to buy food, medicine, cleaning supplies and personal care products on Amazon, the retailer has in turn upped its suggested inventory levels for many manufacturers that sell their products on its platform. It has also expanded purchases of certain essential products that it sells directly to shoppers, often buying two or three times as much as it did before the pandemic, executives said.

Note from BDS-LA: There is an economic concept called “monopsony” — the power of a BUYER rather than a manufacturer or seller to make the market and set prices. Amazon appears to have created a third category, by straddling the line between wholesaler and retailer as the essential “middleman”.  By demanding the lion’s-share of product from producers on an all-or-nothing basis, they become the go-to site for purchasers, driving smaller retailers to the brink.

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Labor actions

Whole Foods Assessing ‘Danger’ of Unionization at Stores

Whole Foods using ‘heat map tool’ to track potential unionization at stores

Whole Foods is using an interactive “heat map tool” to track which of its store are most likely to attempt to unionize, Business Insider reports.

The software works by analyzing data on the Amazon-owned company’s 510 locations before assigning them a unionization risk score.

Scores are based on more than two dozen metrics, including turnover rates, employee loyalty, and racial diversity.

The scores also take into account how close each location is to a union office as well as statistics on unemployment and poverty in the surrounding area. The company monitors allegations of labor-law violations made by employees with the National Labor Relations Board as well.

The end result is a heat map in which certain at risk stores are highlighted with a red dot. Business Insider also reports that a statement on the map specified its focus as union-related.

“The [Team Member] Relations Heatmap is designed to identify stores at risk of unionization,” the statement reads. “This early identification enables resources to be funneled to the highest need locations, with the goal of mitigating risk by addressing challenges early before they become problematic.”

NOTE:

Apparently, their metrics suggest that stores with less racial diversity in staffing have a higher risk of a unionization drive. This may reflect that Whole Foods management uses racism and divide and conquer tactics to disrupt worker solidarity, cohesion and activism.

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Labor actions

Working Life Podcast on Amazon Workers Protest

Episode 178: Postal Workers Face The Pandemic As The Service Struggles Financially; Amazon Workers Protest

All worth listening to regarding the postal workers important struggle for the commons, but the section on the Amazon workers’ struggle begins at 34:25. Of course there is an unmentioned connection, in that there is speculation that Trump has it in for the post office becauseJeff Bezos’s Amazon is probably their best customer.

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Boycott Amazon Campaign

Amazon Web Services Used to Monitor Prisoner Calls for COVID keywords

https://theintercept.com/2020/04/21/prisons-inmates-coronavirus-monitoring-surveillance-verus/

Prisons Attempt to Track Coronavirus-Related Keywords in Inmate Phone Calls

Akela Lacy, Alice Speri, Jordan Smith, Sam Biddle – April 21 2020

Prison officials in at least three states are using software to scan inmate calls for mentions of the coronavirus, a move advocacy groups believe paves the way for abuse while raising stark questions about carceral health care.

The monitoring software was created by LEO Technologies, a Los Angeles company backed primarily by scandal-plagued Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy. Known as Verus, it was first deployed several years ago to forestall suicide attempts, mine calls for investigative tips, and for a range of other purposes. In recent weeks, it has been marketed as a system “that can mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across our nation’s jail and prison facilities” by alerting prison authorities to sickness-related conversations between inmates and the outside world.

LEO then routes the data through Amazon’s cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services, to obtain call transcripts, which are then shared back to LEO for keyword analysis by its staff. The LEO Technologies website notes the company is part of the “AWS partner network,” an Amazon initiative that “helps companies build, market, and sell their AWS offerings by providing valuable business, technical, and marketing support,” per an Amazon web page.

Document: LEO Technology

“It automatically downloads, analyzes, and transcribes all recorded inmate calls, proactively flagging them for review,” explains a Verus product brochure, which also claims this “near real-time intelligence” can be used to identify sick inmates, help allocate personnel in understaffed prisons, and even prevent “COVID-19 related murder.” The brochure touts Verus’s “advanced semantics” and “proactive analysis” and provides what it says are real-world examples of Verus already at work in undisclosed prison facilities.

Coronavirus monitoring trials have begun at prisons in Alabama, California, and Georgia, LEO Tech CEO Scott Kernan said, adding that there may be further deployments he could not immediately detail.

Advocates for incarcerated people said they feared the technology would be used against those discussing the virus with people outside.

“We’ve been using words that would trigger the keywords that were advertised on that document,” said Sarah Hamid, an organizer with the Carceral Tech Resistance Network, whose volunteers work closely with incarcerated people. “And so we became concerned because we don’t know what the ramifications are of using those words. Like, if somebody uses the word ‘coughing,’ will their entire dorm be put under lockdown or something like that?”

How It Works — and Who Pays For It

According to LEO Technologies’ website, the Verus system operates in at least 26 facilities in 11 states, including uses not specific to the coronavirus. In an interview with The Intercept, Kernan said that prisons use Verus by telling their phone service provider to share call data with LEO Technologies;

LEO then routes this data through Amazon’s cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services, to obtain call transcripts, which are then shared back to LEO for keyword analysis by its staff. The LEO Technologies website notes the company is part of the “AWS partner network,” an Amazon initiative that “helps companies build, market, and sell their AWS offerings by providing valuable business, technical, and marketing support,” per an Amazon web page. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

Kernan, a former California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation secretary, also sits on the board of the GEO Group, one of the two largest private prison corporations and the largest operator of immigration detention facilities in the country.

LEO Technologies is funded by Elliott Broidy, a Trump insider and former national deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee whose office was raided in 2018 as part of a Justice Department investigation into money laundering and foreign influence peddling.

Categories
Boycott Amazon Campaign

NY Times Profile of Athena Co-Founder

nytimes.com/2020/04/18/technology/athena-mitchell-amazon.html

Ms. Mitchell has testified before Congress, is a polite but persistent presence on Twitter, and is a frequent tutor to journalists new to the monopoly beat. She had a starring role in “Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos,” a documentary by PBS’s “Frontline” that is one of the most incisive examinations of the company and its founder. And last winter, Ms. Mitchell was a driving force in creating Athena, a coalition of nearly 50 labor, small business and social justice groups that aims to reform and possibly break up Amazon.

The company declined to make a senior executive available for this article, but in the past it has noted that it has only a small share of global commerce, that it faces formidable competitors, and that its “customer obsession” has lowered prices. “Amazonians are working around the clock to get necessary supplies delivered directly to the doorsteps of people who need them,” chief executive Jeff Bezos wrote in a letter to shareholders published Thursday, which also detailed steps taken to protect workers from the virus and temporarily increase pay.

Athena has kept the pressure on, publicizing Amazon employee walkouts, holding press calls on topics like “Is Amazon a Danger to Public Health?” and giving a platform to workers. Never before has Amazon faced this kind of organized, sustained and national opposition.

All of this makes Ms. Mitchell’s tiny two-room office in Portland, Maine — a desk, a few bookshelves piled high and a poster that says “Strike while it’s hot” — a headquarters of the budding Amazon resistance.

Categories
Labor actions

Stop Amazon Firing Whistle-Blowers

Workers at Amazon have been fighting to protect all of us from COVID-19, including walking out to protest the dangerous conditions in Amazon’s operations. Instead of listening to us and protecting public health, Amazon has chosen to fire whistleblowers. win a member of The Awood Center. I spoke out about unsafe working conditions in Minnesota warehouses, and Amazon showed me the door. Just two weeks ago, the company also fired Chris Smalls, another worker who dared to protest Amazon’s failure to protect workers. And in Seattle last week, Amazon fired two tech workers, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, both outspoken critics of the conditions we face in Amazon operations.

These firings are outrageous and a fundamental failure of leadership. Stand with the Amazon employees who have walked off the job to protect our families and our communities:

Tell CEO Jeff Bezos: Listen to workers, reinstate those who have been fired, and start protecting workers’ and public health NOW.

 

TAKE ACTION

Amazon has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its facilities and provide adequate paid leave to all who work there. If conditions remain the same, COVID-19 cases will continue to spike, and workers and the public will continue to be put in harm’s way. Amazon needs to act now.

We expect better of every institution in American life in the midst of this crisis. We all need to do everything we can to keep us all safe and healthy. That includes Amazon, and the richest man on earth: CEO Jeff Bezos.

Amazon MUST immediately reinstate any whistleblower who has been fired for organizing for health and safety protections. Amazon MUST take our complaints seriously. Amazon MUST fix the problems and protect worker and public health. Our safety – and our lives – are on the line.

Please join us in telling CEO Jeff Bezos: Listen to workers, reinstate those who have been fired, and start protecting workers’ and public health.

In Solidarity,
Bashir Mohamed, MSP1 Amazon Associate

 

TAKE ACTION

 

Categories
Boycott Amazon Campaign

Virginia Pushback Against Amazon

https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/virginia-amazon-faces-some-new-york-style-pushback-n975836

Buoyed by the success of activists and policymakers in New York, a coalition of community and advocacy groups alongside a handful of local politicians in Northern Virginia are calling on policymakers to reject Amazon’s plans to build a second headquarters in Arlington.

The “For Us, Not Amazon” coalition is calling for transparency from Amazon and politicians over their plans for the East Coast headquarters, which were largely negotiated behind closed doors. They argue, as New York opponents did, that the project will lead to gentrification and rising housing costs that will disproportionately harm low-income and minority communities in the region.

As in New York, community activists in Virginia are concerned about the generous government incentives offered to the technology company. Under the terms of the deal, Amazon will receive $573 million in incentives in return for creating 25,000 jobs with an average wage of over $150,000.

Categories
Labor actions

Whole Foods Workers Planning May 1 Strike

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/15/whole-food-protests-coronavirus-working-conditions-sickout

Whole Foods workers across the US are planning to hold another sickout protest on 1 May, as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infections at the supermarket chain continue to rise and workers charge the Amazon-owned company is doing too little to help them.

Workers complain too little is being done to enforce social distancing in stores; it is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to qualify for sick pay; and some are not given masks or training on cleaning. In the meantime, Whole Foods is reportedly recording record sales.

Dan Steinbrook, an employee at Whole Foods in Boston, said: “The bottom line is we don’t think Whole Foods or Amazon is doing nearly enough as they could be to protect both employees and customers at the store in terms of personal safety and public health.”

Steinbrook, who also participated in a sickout protest on 31 March organized by Whole Worker, a worker activism group said: “Grocery stores are one of the only places open to the public so they’ve become a significant public health concern in terms of stopping the spread of this disease. Any transmission we can stop at the grocery stores is extremely important for saving a lot of lives.”

Whole Foods workers have become increasingly concerned over the confirmed cases of coronavirus at Whole Foods stores. Employees have tested positive for coronavirus at Whole Foods locations across the country including West Orange, New JerseySudbury, MassachusettsBrookline, MassachusettsArlington, MassachusettsHingham, MassachusettsCambridge, MassachusettsSan Francisco, CaliforniaNew York City, New YorkFort Lauderdale, FloridaNew Orleans, Louisiana and Allentown, Pennsylvania.

photo credit: Peter Foley EPA (the Guardian)

Categories
Labor actions

Amazon Stiffing its Workers Who Are Out Sick

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/08/amazon-warehouse-workers-say-they-struggle-to-get-paid-despite-sick-leave-policy.html

 

 KEY POINTS
  • Amazon said it would provide workers with up to two weeks of paid sick leave if they tested positive or are in quarantine due to the coronavirus.
  • But five Amazon workers told CNBC they’ve received no pay or were given 60% of their typical weekly paycheck, despite meeting the requirements for paid sick leave.
  • Many of them are now applying for unemployment benefits in order to make up for gaps in their income.

A worker at a facility in Indiana said it feels like there’s “lots of hoops that workers have to jump through” in order to get paid while they’re in quarantine. The worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said the issue has only added to workers’ frustrations around safety and transparency at their facilities.

“We do not feel safe in our building anymore,” the worker said. “And the pay we do get if we test positive is only 60% of our pay. Amazon is not taking care of us.”

An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC that the company offered two weeks of paid sick time to “ensure employees have the time they need to return to good health without the worry of lost income.” Employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are in quarantine may be eligible for additional paid time off beyond the two weeks, the spokesperson said. They added that the company is “working with employees to gather the information we need to approve” extra paid sick time.

“Because we are continually revisiting policies to ensure the safety of our employees, going forward, this information may include self-report of patterns of symptoms and exposure, particularly when the employee cannot obtain medical certification at all,” the spokesperson said.

Photo by Jeenah Moon for Reuters on CNBC website of worker at Amazon’s Staten Island, NY facility.

Categories
Boycott Amazon Campaign

Amazon’s Self-Publishing Arm Is a Haven for White Supremacists

https://www.propublica.org/article/the-hate-store-amazons-self-publishing-arm-is-a-haven-for-white-supremacists

The company gives extremists and neo-Nazis banned from other platforms unprecedented access to a mainstream audience — and even promotes their books.

Featured Graphic: Extremism flourishes on Amazon’s self-publishing arm. (Tom Gauld, special to ProPublica )

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

This story is a collaboration between ProPublica and The Atlantic and is not subject to our Creative Commons license.

Fair use excerpt (go to link above for full story):

“Give me, a white man, a reason to live,” a user posted to the anonymous message board 4chan in the summer of 2017. “Should I get a hobby. What interests can I pursue to save myself from total despair. How do you go on living.”

A fellow user had a suggestion: “Please write a concise book of only factual indisputable information exposing the Jews,” focusing on “their selling of our high tech secrets to China/Russia” and “their long track record of pedophilia and perversion etc.”

The man seeking advice was intrigued. “And who would publish it and who would put it in their bookstores that would make it worth the trouble,” he asked.

The answer came a few minutes later. “Self-publish to Amazon,” his interlocutor replied.

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