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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. 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.]
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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.]