Amazon workers hold Juneteenth vigils demanding Jeff Bezos reflect on company’s treatment of ‘unskilled workforce’


Amazon
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CEO Jeff Bezos says Juneteenth should be a moment for reflection about the ways we can eradicate systemic racism and create a more just country.

But some Amazon workers are holding Juneteenth vigils where they say they want to draw a link between “slavery, racism and Amazon’s treatment of its ‘unskilled workforce.’” At Juneteenth gatherings in New York and California, workers will demand that Bezos reflect on the working conditions and salaries inside his own company.

June 19 is Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in America. On this date in 1865, enslaved African-Americans in Texas learned that they were free when Union Gen. Gordon Granger read an order declaring that the Emancipation Proclamation was in effect in the state. President Abraham Lincoln had issued the proclamation more than two years earlier in the Civil War against the Confederacy.

Racism isn’t just about using slurs or waving the Confederate flag, says Adrienne Williams, co-founder of Bay Area Amazonians, a newly-formed worker advocacy group for staffers at the retail tech giant that is hosting one of the Juneteenth vigils.


‘The systemic racism is in all American institutions, and that includes Amazon. If Amazon really stands in solidarity with us, they should prove it by listening to us about solutions.’


— Adrienne Williams, co-founder of Bay Area Amazonians

“It’s things like Jeff Bezos saying slavery ended a long time ago while not paying a living wage,” Williams, a driver for the company, said in a statement.

“The systemic racism is in all American institutions, and that includes Amazon. If Amazon really stands in solidarity with us, they should prove it by listening to us about solutions,” said Williams, who is a critic of the company’s working conditions.

Don’t miss: The only way to truly solve the race problem in America is to narrow the wealth gap, black economists say

Full-time workers at the 840,000-person company have a $15 an hour minimum wage. When Amazon announced the $15 wage rate, some tough critics, including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, gave the company credit. Intense working conditions have been a common criticism of Amazon — and a pending federal lawsuit alleges the company isn’t meeting requisite safety conditions as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Amazon has previously has said it offers fair, competitive pay and safe conditions. Last month, Bezos said the company was planning to spend approximately $4 billion in profits on “getting products to customers and keeping employees safe” and on “higher wages for hourly teams.”

See also:This is one Amazon customer that Jeff Bezos is ‘happy to lose’

Williams’ group organized a vigil at a Richmond, Calif. fulfillment center, and another organization, Amazonians United New York City, will convene a Juneteenth vigil in New York City. That group consists of logistics workers “seeking improvements in our workplace,” according to its Twitter
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profile.

“For Juneteenth we honor the lives stolen by white supremacy, from the founding of the US, through slavery, up to modern police violence. We honor those workers lost to covid as Amazon and others prioritize profits over human life,” the group wrote on Twitter.

“We stand in solidarity with the Black community and are committed to helping build a country and a world where everyone can live with dignity and free from fear,” said Amazon spokeswoman Lisa Levandowski. “We understand many of our employees feel passionate about this issue and may want to join demonstrations — we respect and encourage their choice to do so.”

An alleged ‘facade of compliance’ at one fulfillment center

The Juneteenth vigils come just weeks after a lawsuit alleging Amazon is violating workplace safety laws at its Staten Island fulfillment center amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The 5,000-employee fulfillment center has a “façade of compliance,” but it prizes cost-efficient worker productivity over everything else, according to a Brooklyn federal lawsuit filed this month by three Amazon workers and relatives who live with them.

Many workers at the site “are people of color who travel hours every day by public transportation to work ten- to eleven-hour shifts for low wages,” the lawsuit noted.

One plaintiff said she got coronavirus from coworkers who were “who were explicitly or encouraged to continue attending work.” She alleges that she brought it home with her, and that weeks later she found a cousin who lived with her dead after he came down with COVID-19 symptoms.

The company allegedly tracks exactly how much time employees spend on “time off task” and issues written warnings for workers who have 30 minutes per shift and above, not including paid break time. Sixty minutes results in a final written warning, the lawsuit said. Employees who don’t handle enough merchandise during a shift also allegedly face consequences. The policies “are oppressive and dangerous, even absent a pandemic,” the lawsuit said.

When the lawsuit was filed, an Amazon spokesperson sent a statement to MarketWatch that read in part: “We are saddened by the tragic impact COVID-19 has had on communities across the globe, including on some Amazon team members and their family and friends. From early March to May 1, we offered our employees unlimited time away from work, and since May 1 we have offered leave for those most vulnerable or who need to care for children or family members.”

Levandowski, the Amazon spokeswoman, told MarketWatch that the company is planning to spend more than $800 million in the first half of the year on coronavirus-related safety measures and equipment. It’s also spending more than $85 million to re-assign certain workers to safety and audits at work sites, she said. Amazon has already provided 100 million masks to workers, almost 2,300 extra hand-washing stations, and tacked on nearly 5,800 extra workers to its janitorial staff.


A lawsuit is focused on a fulfillment center where many employees are people of color.

Several unions and 16 Democratic representatives and senators — including Senator Sanders — filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of the workers.

The lawsuit alleges Amazon isn’t complying with workplace safety laws. Company attorneys say that “could not be further from the truth.” They say the allegations are “meritless” and call the lawsuit a “publicity stunt.”


The lawsuit is “meritless” and a “publicity stunt,” Amazon’s lawyers said in court papers.

The cleaning staff size has tripled at the Staten Island site and restrooms and breakrooms are cleaned eight times more often than they used to be, Amazon said in court papers.

The fulfillment center now has portable hand-washing stations and 120 hand-sanitizer dispensers. Any workers who are quarantining or diagnosed with coronavirus will get two weeks paid time off so they can “focus on their health and protect others,” the company says. The center passed an unannounced inspection from the city’s sheriff’s office, it noted.

The emphasis on sanitation is missing the point, the workers’ lawyers replied. The case is trying to make the company change its “efficiency-maximizing human resource policies, which discourage workers from taking time off work if they feel sick or have a known exposure to COVID-19,” they wrote.

Judge Brian Cogan will hold a hearing on the case in mid-July.

Months before the lawsuit, one worker, Chris Smalls, organized a walkout at the same fulfillment center and says he was fired as payback. Smalls is a black man. In a memo, David Zapolsky, Amazon’s senior vice president and general counsel, said Smalls was “not smart, or articulate.” Zapolsky later apologized for the comments.

“Smalls wasn’t fired in retaliation for organizing the protest, Levandowski said. “We terminated his employment for putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of his employment.” Smalls was warned several times for allegedly violating the company’s social distancing guidelines, she said. Smalls was in close contact with a worker who had coronavirus, and was told to stay home with pay, Levandowski said. “Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite further putting the teams at risk.”

Shares of Amazon have been up 44.76% this year compared to a 9.35% decline for the Dow Jones Industrial Average
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and a 4.12% dip for the S&P 500 Index
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Coronavirus update: U.S. case tally climbs above 2.2 million as Tulsa prepares for Trump’s indoor rally


The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus illness COVID-19 in the U.S. rose above 2.2 million on Friday, as Tulsa, Oklahoma geared up for President Donald Trump’s planned campaign rally on Saturday night.

A group of local business owners and residents, worried at the prospect of a fresh outbreak of infections at the 19,000-seat indoor arena if attendees do not observe the safety guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had sued the owner of the venue to block it, but a Tulsa County judge denied their request for an injunction. The group has appealed the decision with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which is expected to make a ruling on Friday, as the Washington Post reported.

The CDC released its guidelines for reopening safely last Friday, and identified the highest risk of spreading the virus as stemming from: “large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.”

See:Considerations for Daily Life and Considerations for Events and Gatherings

Trump’s rallies tend to involve attendees queuing outside for hours before going through security and into arenas, where they cheer, shout and chant, all risk factors for spreading the droplets that contain the virus. The Trump campaign has acknowledged that risk by insisting that those who attend sign legal waivers absolving Trump and his staff of any blame, if people get sick or are injured.

Read: What we do know — and don’t know — about the coronavirus at day 100 of the pandemic

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, reiterated his message that Americans should continue to observe social distancing, frequent hand washing and cover their faces in public in an interview with the Washington Post.

“When you have a congregation of people, you increase the risk. It doesn’t matter why they’re congregating or where they’re congregating. When you have a congregation of people in a setting in which there’s active virus circulating in the community, you are at risk. You need to wear a mask.”

Face masks have been caught up in a culture war that has seen many resist wearing them, including President Donald Trump. The White House has been criticized for failing to push the message that they are important to contain the spread of the illness, although local officials are stepping into the vacuum.

Read: Despite concerning data, White House continues to play down coronavirus worries

California Gov. Gavin Newsom made them mandatory for Californians when in public on Thursday.

Fauci said the virus is “one of the most highly transmissible viruses that we know of,” and urged Americans to pull together and work to get the outbreak under control.

‘It’s tough for everyone. But remember, we are in this all together. We’re not just separate individual components. We’re in it together,” he said.

Don’t miss:100 days of the COVID-19 pandemic: 5 critical mistakes that created the biggest public-health crisis in a generation

Latest tallies

There are now 8.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and at least 454,582 people have died, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. At least 4.2 million people have recovered.

The U.S. has the highest case toll in the world at 2.19 million and the highest death toll at 118,436, with 20 states still seeing daily increases in infections, including Florida, Texas and Georgia.

Brazil has 978,142 cases and 47,748 fatalities, the data show, the second-highest death toll in the world.

Russia has 568,292 cases and 7,831 fatalities. India has 380,532 cases and 12,573 deaths.

The U.K. has 301,935 cases and 42,373 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe and now third highest in the world.

Two early hot spots, Spain has 245,268 cases and 27,136 deaths, while Italy has 238,159 cases and 34,514 deaths.

Peru moved past Italy by case numbers, with 244,388 cases and 7,461 deaths.

Chile, Iran, France, Germany, Turkey, Pakistan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and Canada are next and all ahead of China, where the illness was first reported late last year.

China has 84,494 cases and 4,638 deaths. China has shut down parts of Beijing after a fresh cluster of cases.

Beijing’s Coronavirus Cases Spoil Its Return to Normal
What are companies saying?

The IPO market continued to heat up with supermarket chain Albertsons Cos.
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setting terms for its planned deal on Thursday. The company is planning to sell 65.8 million shares priced at $18 to $20 to share, to raise $1.3 billion at the top of the range.

Albertsons is profitable, earning $466 million in 2019 on sales of $62.5 billion. It has reported strong demand for delivery and pickup at its stores during the pandemic. The company has filed to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol ‘ACI.’

Chinese oncology biotech Genetron Holdings Ltd priced its IPO at $16 per American depositary share, above its $11.50 to $13.50 price range. The company upsized the deal early Thursday, indicating strong demand for its paper. The shares will start trading on Nasdaq later Friday, under the ticker symbol “GTH.”

Elsewhere, companies continued to update investors on their reopening plans and post their latest earnings.

Here are the latest things companies have said about COVID-19:

• AMC Theatres, the world’s largest movie-theater operator and a unit of AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.
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will not require patrons to wear face masks once theaters reopen, Variety reported Thursday. In an interview, AMC CEO Adam Arom told Variety: “We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy. We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary. We think that the vast majority of AMC guests will be wearing masks.” AMC Theatres employees will be required to wear masks, and the theaters will sell masks to moviegoers who want them. AMC is making a number of changes to its theaters amid the pandemic, such as reduced seating and new cleaning procedures. AMC aims to open more than 400 theaters in the U.S. on July 15, and hopes to have almost all operational by the end of July.

• Used car retailer CarMax Inc.
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posted better-than-expected sales for its fiscal first quarter, despite pressure from the pandemic. “More than 80% of the days in the quarter were negatively impacted by a mix of store closures and limited operations,” the company said. Open stores were further impacted by occupancy restrictions. Same-store used unit sales declined 42%. Sales have picked up since hitting a trough in early April and same-store used unit sales for the two weeks to June 14 were within a 10% range of last year’s sales. The company had $658 million in cash and $1.08 billion in unused capacity on its revolving credit facility, as of May 31

• Bankrupt Hertz Global Holdings Inc.’s
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board’s finance committee determined it was “in the best interests” of the company to end the plan to sell newly issued stock. Hertz filed Monday to sell up to $500 million in shares that would potentially become worthless during the company’s restructuring. Hertz filed for bankruptcy on May 22. Earlier Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Hertz was in talks with lenders to get a loan to fund its bankruptcy reorganization.

• Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.
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has re-opened more than 75 offices in the U.S., or a little more than half of its portfolio, including its headquarters in Chicago. The real estate management company is on track to reopen nearly 100 offices by the end of July. Internationally, JLL has opened 84 offices in the Asia Pacific region and 78 offices in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.

• McDonald’s Corp.
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plans to hire 260,000 workers in the U.S. this summer as states, and dining rooms, reopen amid the pandemic. McDonald’s has put more than 50 safety precautions in place including temperature checks for workers and social distancing awareness signage in restaurants. Returning customers may also notice that some menu items are missing. Salads, bagels and yogurt parfaits are among 100 items that have been removed for the foreseeable future, according to The Wall Street Journal. The menu changes are an effort to streamline efforts during the COVID-19 outbreak.

• Penn National Gaming Inc.
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said 30 of its 41 gaming and racing properties have resumed operations after shutting down during the pandemic. That represents 70% of Penn’s regional gaming portfolio in 13 of the 19 states in which it operates. The latest reopenings are at the company’s four Ohio properties, and in Pennsylvania at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course. The company has implemented social distancing and safety protocols at its reopened properties, in line with the recommendations of health experts.

• Smith & Wesson Brands Inc.
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topped Wall Street estimates even as COVID-19 hurt sales of outdoor equipment. The company plans to complete its spinoff of American Outdoor Brands Corp. in August. The company changed its name back to Smith & Wesson during the quarter.



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Apple faces new complaints from app makers as EU launches antitrust probes


Apple Inc. is facing fresh complaints about the 30% cut it takes from App Store purchases, as European regulators launch two antitrust investigations into the tech giant.

Axios reported late Tuesday that Match Group Inc.
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, parent company of Tinder, OK Cupid and other popular dating services, criticized Apple
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for squeezing app makers’ revenue.

“Apple is a partner, but also a dominant platform whose actions force the vast majority of consumers to pay more for third-party apps that Apple arbitrarily defines as ‘digital services,’” according to a statement Match Group made to Axios. “Apple squeezes industries like e-books, music and video streaming, cloud storage, gaming and online dating for 30% of their revenue, which is all the more alarming when Apple then enters that space, as we’ve repeatedly seen.”

Separately, The Verge reported Tuesday that the makers of a new email app called Hey, which launched Monday, received an unpleasant surprise when Apple reportedly threatened to remove the app from its App Store if it did not allow in-app subscriptions, which Apple would get a 30% cut from.

In a series of tweets Tuesday, David Heinemeier Hansson, the founder of Basecamp, which made Hey, likened Apple to “gangsters” trying to shake him down. “This is profoundly, perversely abusive and unfair,” he said.

The makers of Hey maintain that since users can only sign up and pay for the service outside of Apple’s iOS app, it shouldn’t have to pay Apple a cut of its revenue.

In an email to The Verge, Apple suggested it not doing anything out of the ordinary with Hey. Apple reportedly told Protocol that Hey should not have been approved in the first place, since Apple doesn’t allow client apps — that is, where users can sign in but not sign up — for consumer services. For consumer apps, Apple reportedly told Protocol that it requires they offer feature in-app sign-ups and payments, so Apple can take a cut.

Apple did not immediately respond to a MarketWatch request for comment late Tuesday.

The complaints from the app makers come at a bad time for Apple, which earlier in the day found itself in the crosshairs of EU antitrust regulators, who announced they are investigating its Apple Pay service as well as its App Store. Complaints of unfair App Store restrictions from Spotify Technology SA
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, among others, led to the EU probe.

If found guilty, Apple could face a fine of 10% of its annual revenue. In 2019, Apple’s annual revenue was about $260 billion, meaning a fine in the range of a whopping $26 billion.

Apple is also facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.S. from the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission.



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