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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

Categories
Labor actions

Workers Fight Back Against Amazon Retaliation

https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/04/07/amazon-retaliation-workers-striking-back/

Amazon Retaliation: Workers Striking Back

by MATT SMITH

Photograph Source: Fibonacci Blue – CC BY 2.0

Amazon and its contractors have a pattern of retaliating against and intimidating employees who speak out. I know – because they also tried to do it to me.

Last week, my Amazon coworkers in New York took the courageous step of walking off the job to protest our company’s lack of action to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Amazon workers in Detroit and Chicago have followed suit, demanding that Amazon shut down any warehouse where positive cases of the virus are found, to ensure a thorough cleaning.

Out of a selfish concern for their profits, Amazon has refused to take this basic step, despite repeated requests from Amazon workers, including a petition signed last month by over 4,500 of us.

Now, Amazon employees have tested positive in at least 19 warehouses around the country, and the situation has become dire. So my coworkers are taking action.

But rather than act to protect our health, Amazon’s wealthy executives have chosen to retaliate against employees who speak out. In a brazen attempt to suppress employee dissent, they responded to the Staten Island walkout by firing its main organizer, Chris Smalls.

This decision came from the highest levels of the company. In leaked meeting notes between Jeff Bezos and company executives, Amazon Senior Vice President and General Counsel, David Zapolsky, made racist, anti-worker remarks against Chris, calling him “not smart or articulate” and arguing the company should make him “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”

The billionaires and executives at Amazon want control, and they are terrified by the idea of workers getting organized to demand things like paid sick leave, hazard pay, and safe working conditions that might have the slightest impact on their billions of dollars in profits. The executives are nervous at the increased questioning by their rank-and-file, including tech and corporate employees. That’s why they are desperate to prevent workers like Chris from speaking out. As Chris put it in an interview with socialist Seattle councilmember Kshama Sawant, by firing him, Amazon is “trying to cut off the head of the snake.”

Categories
Labor actions

More Protests Against Amazon COVID-19 Endangerment

https://www.theverge.com/2020/4/1/21202745/amazon-coronavirus-walk-out-detroit-protests-warehouse-cleaning

Amazon workers at a fulfillment center near Detroit, Michigan, plan to walk out over the company’s handling of COVID-19. Workers at the facility, called DTW1, say management failed to notify them of the first new coronavirus case and was slow to alert them to the second, leading them to suspect there are more infections at the warehouse than they’re being told about. The workers also say that shortages of cleaning supplies, crowded conditions, and a pace of work that leaves little time for sanitation put them at risk of infection. They are calling on Amazon to be more transparent about the virus and immediately close and clean the warehouse.

On the morning of the walkout, workers received an alert that a third worker had tested positive for the virus.

The walkout is the latest in a series of labor actions at Amazon facilities. On Monday night, workers at a Chicago delivery station walked off the job in protest of Amazon’s refusal to close the building for cleaning after a worker tested positive for COVID-19. Earlier that day, workers at a Staten Island fulfillment center walked out, also calling on Amazon to close the facility for cleaning. At the time, Amazon had confirmed only one case of COVID-19 at the Staten Island facility, but, as with DTW1, workers suspected there were more. Amazon has since confirmed that five workers are infected with the virus, according to notifications viewed by The Verge.

Workers in New York and Chicago have been organizing for better working conditions since long before the pandemic, but workers at DTW1 say the facility hasn’t been a major site of protests, a sign that frustration with Amazon’s handling of the virus is beginning to galvanize its larger workforce.

Categories
Labor actions

Whole Foods, warehouse workers demand time off, hazard pay

Amazon warehouse workers are walking out and Whole Foods workers are striking

In solidarity with warehouse workers, tech workers at Amazon are demanding the company provide fully paid family leave for people who miss work, provide fully paid leave to all Amazon workers, close facilities immediately following contamination, ensure full paid leave for workers whose jobs are impacted by such closures and ensure everyone has unlimited time to take care of their health.

“Recognizing the urgency of the moment, tech workers are going beyond asking Amazon to take action and are pledging not to work for Amazon if it fails to act,” the DC Tech Workers Coalition wrote in a petition. “We also pledge to ask organizations in our communities such as universities and conferences to not accept Amazon as a sponsor or participant in events.”

Meanwhile, workers at Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, are organizing a “sick out” strike tomorrow to demand better protections on the job, Vice reports.

According to Vice, Whole Foods workers will call in sick tomorrow and demand paid sick leave for those who stay at home or self-quarantine during the pandemic. They will also demand free coronavirus testing for employees and hazard pay.

Led by group Whole Worker, the sick-out was originally planned for May 1, but was moved up in response to reports that workers have started getting sick and testing positive for COVID-19.

“As this situation has progressed, our fundamental needs as workers have become more urgent,” the group wrote on its campaign page. “COVID-19 poses a very real threat to the safety of our workforce and our customers. We cannot wait for politicians, institutions, or our own management to step in to protect us.”

https://www.eater.com/2020/3/30/21199491/whole-foods-workers-protest-coronavirus-working-conditions-sick-out

Whole Worker is a group of Whole Foods team members who are not officially unionized, given Amazon’s (Whole Foods’s parent company) long history of union busting. In a petition, they call on all Whole Foods employees to not go to work on March 31, and note that “Whole Foods has temporarily relaxed its strict attendance policy, which means that team members can participate in this act of protest without fear of reprisal.” They are staging the “sick out” in response to the lack of protections they feel management has given them, which put both workers and customers at risk.

Local coverage:

Whole Foods workers organizing ‘global sickout’ on Tuesday