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.

Categories
Boycott Amazon Campaign

Feb. 20 Solidarity Actions with Amazon Workers-Amazon Hires Union Buster

Local Los Angeles Action Friday Feb. 19, 12:30 pm

https://www.facebook.com/events/246035533749830

Union activists and community groups are holding a rally in front of the office of Morgan, Lewis and Bockius. This giant union-busting law firm was hired by Amazon to defy fair labor practices and intimidate and lie to 5,800 Amazon workers during their historic drive for a union. This workforce is 85% African American in a “right to work” state fighting against one of the richest corporations in the world. Please join us at this socially distanced, mask wearing rally! For more information call 323 306-6240

 Solidarity with Alabama Amazon Workers!

https://supportamazonworkers.org/

Actions are planned across the country for February 20 in response to a call from the Southern Workers Assembly for a National Day of Solidarity with Alabama Amazon workers fighting to form a union.

Bessemer, Alabama, sitting on the outskirts of Birmingham and with a population of 26,500 — about 75% African American — has become a central focus for the entire class struggle.

There, at Amazon warehouse BHM1, thousands of workers are fighting for a union. Over Amazon’s strident objections, the National Labor Relations Board is conducting a union representation election by mail.

Not only is this African American majority workforce up against the world’s richest human, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, they are facing off with the second-largest company in the U.S. — and the ninth largest in the world.

Support Amazon Workers is a campaign led by workers, labor and community activists who see mobilizing solidarity as a critical task to ensure their victory.

Lists of local actions

https://supportamazonworkers.org/feb20/

Amazon Hires Union-Buster

https://theintercept.com/2021/02/10/amazon-alabama-union-busting-koch/

Excerpt:

AMAZON IS BRINGING on a set of well-trained union suppression consultants in its high-profile fight to keep its massive warehouse workforce free of organized labor.

The Seattle-based conglomerate recently retained a consultant named Russell Brown to help thwart the union election that began recently at its fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, new disclosures show.

Brown was brought on by Amazon on January 25 for a contract to help persuade Amazon’s Alabama employees not to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, or RWDSU, a union that is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers, also known as the UFCW. He is paid $3,200 per day, plus expenses, for the work.

Brown is the head of RWP Labor, which touts itself as a specialty firm that assists companies in “maintaining a union free workplace.” The company features a team of consultants that includes a former International Brotherhood of Teamsters trainer who now assists corporations with defeating union campaigns. The firm brags that it has won many previous anti-union drives and specializes in training company leaders, persuading employees, and developing corporate social responsibility plans devised to prevent union interference.

Categories
Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Boycott Amazon Campaign Labor actions

Amazon Forces Workers into “Megacycle” Shifts

https://www.vice.com/en/article/y3gk3w/amazon-is-forcing-its-warehouse-workers-into-brutal-megacycle-shifts

Excerpt:

On January 25, hundreds of workers at an Amazon warehouse in Chicago were presented with a baffling choice: sign up for a ten-and-a-half-hour graveyard shift, or lose your job.

Management informed workers that their warehouse, known as DCH1, would be shut down, and they were being offered a shift that runs from 1:20am to 11:50am, which is known as “megacycle,” at a new Chicago warehouse.

DCH1 has been the target of protests, walkouts, and petitions organized by workers that have changed Amazon’s nationwide policies for its warehouses. Its closure will force workers to choose between their lives outside of Amazon and keeping their jobs in the middle of a pandemic.

 

Categories
Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions

Amazon Fined Millions for Stealing Contract Drivers’ Tips

The trucks are branded Amazon prime in the photo, but the drivers are supposedly “independent contractors,” not Amazon employees, and they got stiffed by Amazon for their tips.

The drivers were part of Amazon’s Flex business, which was founded in 2015. The drivers are independent workers, and are not Amazon employees.

The FTC said Amazon at first promised workers that they would be paid $18 to $25 per hour. It also told them they would receive 100% of tips given to them by customers on the app. But in 2016, Amazon started paying drivers a lower hourly rate and used the tips to make up the difference, according to the complaint. Amazon didn’t disclose the change to drivers, the FTC said, and the tips it took from drivers amounted to $61.7 million.

https://www.axios.com/amazon-ftc-settle-claims-lifted-driver-tips-907426eb-a678-4347-a7ea-df642c3c1d53.html

Excerpt:

Amazon will pay more than $61.7 million to settle charges from the Federal Trade Commission that it did not pay drivers in the Amazon Flex delivery service their full share of tips over a two and a half year period.

What’s happening: The FTC filed an administrative complaint against Amazon and Amazon Logistics, which the agency says told Amazon Flex delivery drivers and customers that the drivers would be paid the full amount of any tips added to a delivery.

  • “Rather than passing along 100 percent of customers’ tips to drivers, as it had promised to do, Amazon used the money itself,” Daniel Kaufman, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a release.
  • “Our action today returns to drivers the tens of millions of dollars in tips that Amazon misappropriated, and requires Amazon to get drivers’ permission before changing its treatment of tips in the future.”
Categories
Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions Surveillance Capitalism

Bezos Kicks Himself Upstairs to Build Greater Monopoly Power

In the artist’s rendering of Amazon’s projected “HQ2”, is it melting, or burning?

https://www.axios.com/amazons-next-act-bezos-jassy-9cdfdb3c-0094-49fd-8d1a-966f69dd1d73.html

Excerpt and links:

In choosing top official Andy Jassy as the new CEO beginning in Q3, but staying on as executive chairman, Jeff Bezos, 57, is perpetuating Amazon ambitions that exceed the public’s imagination, Ina Fried writes.

  • Jassy, 53 — CEO of Amazon Web Services (AWS), the company’s cloud services unit — gave Amazon a key profit engine to fuel its outsized ambitions. AWS boasts profit margins that outstrip retail’s.

Between the lines: When people thought Amazon was building “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore,” it was actually building “The Everything Store.”

  • When people thought it was focused on that, Amazon was expanding to web services and then advertising.
  • When people thought it was laser-focused on all things online, Amazon moved into physical retail, buying Whole Foods and launching the cashier-less Amazon Go convenience stores.
  • Amazon’s culture runs deep. Executives tend to either gain some experience and move on to places with more lavish perks or better work-life balance, or they buy into the Amazon approach and stay forever.There are few better examples of that than Jassy, who joined Amazon in 1997 — 24 years ago.
  • Yes, but: Many have awakened to Amazon’s size and power. Pressure from policymakers, and from within the company’s own ranks, won’t go away with a change in management.
    • Just Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission fined Amazon $62 million for allegedly stiffing delivery drivers. The FTC is also said to be working with states to investigate the company over antitrust concerns.
    • Activist employees, meanwhile, are increasingly looking to unionize, pressure the company on business and environmental issues, or both.
  • Stepping back from day-to-day operations will free Bezos to focus more on aspirations beyond the company:
    • Blue Origin, Bezos’ space venture, will benefit from more of Bezos’ drive and ambition.
    • Like Elon Musk, Bezos talks about the strategic importance of space as an exit plan for the human race if Earth becomes uninhabitable.
    • Amazon CFO Brian Olsavky said on an earnings call that Bezos will remain involved in many “large, one-way door” issues, including acquisitions and planning new lines of business.
    • [Not to mention, which it doesn’t, that Bezos personally owns the Washington Post. And that includes radio station WTWP (The Washington Post), successor to WTOP which the paper used to own but sold off.]
Categories
Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power

Amazon Squeezes Sellers to Fund Investments

Monopsony is the corollary of monopoly — it is the power of being the dominant seller in a market, able to set prices and control the other players. Amazon has leveraged its power in the retail market to rake in the lion’s share of returns from the millions of small-business retailers it hosts and provides shipping and other services for, and then uses the funds to finance its investments in tech and other sectors to ensure its ongoing dominance and vertical integration.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/19/technology/amazon-sellers.html

Excerpt:

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, lumps the many parts of the company into two buckets, according to the two people close to the business. One bucket is investments, or bets on the future like Alexa, its virtual assistant. The other is contributors, or the profitable businesses that provide money for Amazon’s investments.

To him, the retail operation is a contributor that can be squeezed for cash.

Billions of dollars generated from selling products online go into investments like Alexa, which has 10,000 employees working on it, and the company’s expensive Hollywood productions. And still, Amazon’s consumer businesses, including Alexa and other pricey projects, produced $5 billion in operating profit last year.

The financial success stems from a big strategy shift that was underappreciated when Mr. Bezos made it two decades ago.

From the day the company started shipping orders in 1995, Amazon offered customers products the same way as traditional retailers like Target, buying them at wholesale and reselling them at a higher price. Four years later, Mr. Bezos and his team decided that Amazon would also let companies list items on the site for a cut of the sale, more like eBay and Alibaba. The change allowed Amazon to offer a wider variety of products.

“We want to try and build a place where people can come to find and discover anything that they might want to buy online,” Mr. Bezos said that year.

The decision eventually turned Amazon into the one-stop shop it’s known as today. Shoppers could find not only well-known brands like Tide detergent, but also obscure Christmas ornaments.

From a NY Times newsletter account of one toy seller:

Amazon is by far America’s biggest digital mall. By selling there, Viahart doesn’t have to hunt for customers on its own.
Viahart’s figures also show that people on Amazon are far more likely to buy, not just browse, compared with shoppers on the toy company’s own website. Hart said that he assumes Amazon Prime members are conditioned to buy and know they will usually get an order fast with no additional delivery fees.
A complicated relationship
But as much as Amazon has been his lifeblood, Hart has mixed feelings.
“It’s enormously frustrating to be tied to a company that makes decisions sometimes on a whim that may be unfair or we have no control over,” Hart told me. “But I can’t complain. I mean, I do complain, but it is what it is.”
One of the more eye-opening details to me was how much it costs Viahart to sell on Amazon.
According to Hart’s figures, for every $100 worth of products that Viahart sold last year on Amazon, his company on average kept $48.25. [Emphasis added–BDS-LA] He says that it’s far more expensive to sell on Amazon than on Walmart’s website or eBay. The cut that Viahart pays Amazon has generally increased each year, Hart says, although it declined in 2020. [He stays because Amazon provides 90% of his sales.]
Categories
Labor actions

Union Drive at Amazon in Bessemer, Alabama

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/25/business/amazon-union-alabama.html

EXCERPT:

The largest, most viable effort to unionize Amazon in many years began last summer not in a union stronghold like New York or Michigan, but at a Fairfield Inn outside Birmingham, in the right-to-work state of Alabama.

It was late in the summer and a group of employees from a nearby Amazon warehouse contacted an organizer in the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. They were fed up, they said, with the way the online retailer tracked their productivity, and wanted to discuss unionizing.

The RWDSU has a history of progressive unionism, Above, RWDSU District 65 members in the 1963 March on Washington for jobs and justice.

As the workers arrived at the hotel, union officials watched the parking lot to make sure they had not been followed.

Since that clandestine meeting, the unionizing campaign at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., has moved faster and further than just about anyone has expected. By late December, more than 2,000 workers signed cards indicating they wanted an election, the union said. The National Labor Relations Board then determined there was “sufficient” interest in a union election among the warehouse’s roughly 5,800 workers, which is a significant bar to hit with the government agency that oversees the voting process. About a week ago, the board announced that voting by mail would start next month and continue through the end of March.

Follow-up:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/29/opinion/amazon-union-ballot.html

The everything store wants its workers to vote on unionization in person, in the middle of a pandemic.

Craig Becker and 

Mr. Becker is the general counsel to the AFL-CIO, of which the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is an affiliate. He was a member of the National Labor Relations Board from 2010 to 2012. Dr. Stanley is a professor of labor and legal history at the University of Chicago.

EXCERPT:

A battle over voting by mail is again being waged in an electoral contest. But now it’s Amazon that opposes a mail-ballot election in order to thwart a unionization effort at an Alabama fulfillment center.

In November, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, rejected Donald Trump’s falsehoods about voter fraud, writing on Instagram just after the election, “By voting in record numbers, the American people proved again that our democracy is strong.”

Now, however, Amazon’s opposition to mail balloting threatens to undermine workplace democracy. In the era of Covid-19, it also endangers public health.

The voters in the election are nearly 6,000 warehouse employees at an Amazon Robotics sortable fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., a Birmingham suburb that was once a center of steel production. They receive, sort and package goods delivered across the South. They will cast ballots to decide whether to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, a part of the United Food and Commercial Workers. With 40 coronavirus cases recently found at the warehouse, the union sought a mail-ballot election. The ballots are currently scheduled to be sent out on Feb. 8 and must be received by March 29.

 

Categories
Surveillance Capitalism

Avril Haines, Palantir & the Biden Administration

Recent disclosures of enormous fees earned from Wall Street by Joe Biden’s prospective Cabinet and other appointees have focused more on Janet Yellen for Treasury Secretary and proposed Secretary of State Blinken, but an especially troubling example is Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence. Haines was paid $180,000 to consult for the data-mining company Palantir, which has raised liberal hackles for providing data and surveillance services to law enforcement, including the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Even more troubling, her affiliation with Palantir was the subject of an effort to bury the facts in the memory hole. According to The Intercept, “Haines’s biography page at the Brookings Institute, where she is listed as a nonresident senior fellow, boasted of this affiliation until at least last week, when it suddenly no longer appeared on the page.

“The nature of the consulting work that Haines did for Palantir is not clear. As of press time, requests for comment to her, the Biden campaign, Palantir, and Brookings were not answered. Prior to being removed from the Brookings page, the connection to the data-mining company was listed alongside a long list of other affiliations that were similarly pared down.”

https://theintercept.com/2020/06/26/biden-adviser-avril-haines-palantir/?menu=1

Read more about Amazon’s relationship with Palantir here.