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Amazon workers fight for better COVID-19 conditions

(BUSINESS NEWS) Amazon workers organize locally, nationally, and globally in an attempt to get Jeff Bezos’ attention to gain safe working conditions at warehouses.

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While Amazon claims it has taken serious measures to increase facility cleanings and encourage social distancing measures at its fulfillment centers, workers nationwide feel the tech giant’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been inadequate.

Workers have complained that Amazon has maintained standard work procedures such as fulfilling an hourly pack rate to meet customer demand, which can be used to track and reward (or demote) worker performance. Employees claim the metrics don’t allow them time to practice safe sanitary practices like visiting the bathroom to wash their hands after sneezing or coughing. They also raised concerns about standing meetings, where workers are gathered shoulder-to-shoulder to receive updates.

Many workers have also lodged concerns about lack of transparency regarding confirmed cases at their warehouses. Multiple walkouts have been staged after confirmed cases were reported and the warehouses continued operations. Workers believe their managers are not disclosing the real number of cases.

The following is a non-exhaustive timeline of employee unrest at Amazon, and some of the company’s reactions.

  • March 13: Two Amazon HQ office workers are diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • March 16: Amazon announces effort to hire 100,000 additional employees and qualifying employees will receive increased pay of $2/hour in the US, Canada, the UK, and EU countries.
  • March 17: Amazonians United NYC write a post on Medium petitioning for coronavirus protections from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. As of this writing, 5,210 workers from around the world have signed this petition.
  • March 18: Workers at the DBK1 warehouse in Queens, New York, receive confirmation that a worker has been diagnosed with COVID-19. This is the first confirmed case at an Amazon warehouse.
  • March 29: Two workers are diagnosed with COVID-19 at the EWR4 warehouse in Robbinsville, New Jersey.
  • March 30: At least a dozen workers walk off the job at EWR4 in Robbinsville. Workers at Staten Island JFK8 warehouse stage an organized walkout led by Chris Smalls. He is fired later that day.
  • March 31: Whole Foods workers organize sick-out demanding “guaranteed paid leave for employees who isolate or self-quarantine instead of coming to work; reinstatement of health care coverage for part-time and seasonal workers; hazard pay for coming to work; and the implementation of policies to facilitate social distancing between workers and customers.”
  • April 1: A third confirmed case of coronavirus is announced to workers at the DTW1 warehouse in Romulus, Michigan. A handful of workers walkout.
  • April 3: Chicago workers stage walkout after a colleague tests positive for COVID-19 a week earlier, demanding the facility be closed and sanitized.
  • April 7: Amazon pilots disinfectant fogging, mandates social distancing, temperature checks, and masks throughout shifts.
  • April 10: Amazon fires UX designers and outspoken members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa. A warehouse operations manager from Hawthorne, California dies of COVID-19, the first reported death at Amazon.
  • April 13: Amazon says 100,000 jobs have been filled and another 75,000 will be added. Amazon encourages workers from especially impacted industries like hospitality, restaurants, and travel to apply.
  • April 14: Amazon confirms firing Bashir Mohamed, a Minnesota worker who had also been calling for safer work conditions.

It is unclear exactly how many employees participated in each of the walkouts. It is unlikely that a protest by even 300 workers of the nearly 300,000 Amazon employees would have a major impact on production, or Amazon’s practices, for that matter.

But their efforts are gaining traction. New York Attorney General Letitia James, Senator Bernie Sanders, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have all made public statements denouncing Amazon’s treatment of its workers. Attorney General James is considering legal action for Chris Smalls firing.

Amazon has made significant efforts to use its resources as a positive force in the pandemic. The Amazon coronavirus blog tracks its charitable efforts, including donating laptops to Seattle students for remote learning and opening a Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund in Seattle, among many other charitable moves. Though commendable, how a corporation treats its workers reveals a fundamental truth about its priorities.

According to Forbes, Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world with an estimated net worth of $145.1 billion. Amazon recorded $280.5 billion in revenues and a record $11.5 billion in net profit in 2019.

One New Jersey warehouse worker has been on unpaid leave since March 13. Rachel Belz told Yahoo! Finance that she elected to stay home when at least 12 workers at her warehouse tested positive for the coronavirus, fearing exposing her son and parents to the deadly virus. “Money is a renewable resource – they’re not.

Heather Buffo is a Cleveland native, a recovering Bostonian, and an Austin newbie. Heather has her Bachelor of Arts in Neurobiology from Harvard University, and is a City Year Boston AmeriCorps alum. When she's not writing for AG, you can find her pouring beers at the Brewtorium, but only one at a time.

Business News

Supreme Court okays trademarking for ‘generic’ name URLs

(BUSINESS NEWS) Generic name trademarks have helped to stave off monopolies of broad products and services, but the Supreme Court just ruled that generic company names like Booking.com, can now be trademarked.

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For years, The United States Patent and Trademark Office has denied rights to names termed as “generic.” This was previously used to prevent generic terms from monopolizing a section of the market. It has prevented many companies from doing that as well.

However, as we move into the 21st century we begin to see things that may not be so cut and dry. As usual life gets messy and things are far more grey than they previously have been.

Recently, the US Supreme Court ruled that website names are eligible for a change to the previous trademark rules. The website that pushed for this privilege first, Booking.com that is owned by Booking Holdings Inc., argued that they needed this ruling to stop consumers from following copycats down a rabbit hole and away from their business.

The decision, heavily weighted at 8-1, gives Booking.com, nationwide legal protection against competing companies trademarks.

A remark released later by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Supreme Court states, “We have no cause to deny Booking.com the same benefits Congress accorded other marks qualifying as nongeneric.” An argument quoted from the decision continues as since, “‘Booking.com’ is not a generic name to consumers, it is not generic.”

This stance, taken by the majority, exemplifies a firm position on the rights of the individual companies’ abilities to identify themselves as they see fit.

The lone dissenting vote coming from Justice Stephen Breyer who argued that he fears that this decision “will lead to a proliferation of ‘generic.com’ marks, granting their owners a monopoly over a zone of useful, easy-to-remember domains.”

Honestly, if you can’t come up with your own domain that either incorporates, but doesn’t copy, or gets your point across without being too generic, you may need to hire a PR person.

This move forward from the Supreme Court opens up a lot of possibilities for people to be creative with their businesses. If generic and simple names will be the norm, then people will have to think outside the box in the future. Bring on the challenges.

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Business News

New company beats Amazon with next morning delivery?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Amazon has a new competitor in South Korea: Coupang, with faster shipping than Prime.

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What if I told you Amazon Prime’s, 1-3 day guaranteed delivery time isn’t the fastest e-commerce service the world has to offer? You would think I’m lying right?

Coupang, one of the world’s fastest delivery services located in South Korea, allows you to order any item, anytime before midnight, promising that it will be at your doorstep by 7am! (I wasn’t lying!) With 70% of its employees living within a 10 minute radius of a Coupang center, 80% of residents residing in populated cities and 95% of it’s population owning a smartphone, South Korea has become the perfect e-commerce epicenter. Coupang employees over 10,000 people who together deliver 99.3% of all orders within 24 hours. Imagine it’s Tuesday night, you’re falling asleep and suddenly remember you forgot to get your wife a present for her 50th birthday tomorrow. You have two options: accept your fate of being put in the dog house for three long weeks, or quickly order a few great items off Coupang’s website that’ll be delivered BEFORE she even wakes up!

Like Amazon, Coupang allows its customers to create a profile, store desired products in a list, and check out using your saved payment method. Half of South Korea’s total population of 51.6 million has installed Coupang’s app with a surge of people trying Coupang for the first time during stay at home orders due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The company struggled to meet fulfillment demands, especially those including PPE, household cleaning products, and children’s necessities. While many companies are struggling to stay afloat, Coupang is quickly adapting to meet consumer demands. In March, the company opened a new logistics center to expand its overnight/same day delivery services and is currently working to reach an even broader population.

Believe it or not, right before Coupang received a $2 Billion investment from SoftBanks, its founder, Kim Bom debated walking away from it all. Bom founded the company in 2010, receiving the investment in 2018 and is expected to pursue an IPO by the end of 2020. So for all of you entrepreneurs wondering if you should give up on that decade long dream…DON’T. Coupang went from selling a few hundred items each day to 3.3 million. Now that’s what you call entrepreneurism!

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Business News

Google plans to pay publishers for content (a little too late)?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Google will finally pay publishers for news, but only a few, and they have to meet Google standards.

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I mean…could you get any greedier Google? (Chandler Bings voice).

After years and years of pressure and complaints from publishers that Google’s search feed doesn’t properly recognize them or the news they work so hard to report, Google has finally announced that they will begin to pay publishers for content. But only some.

WHAT A LOAD OF BS.

According to the News Media Alliance, Google profited 4.7 BILLION in 2019 as a search engine for the news industry. So now, not only is Google fleecing its content providers and the writers who are working to create material for them, but it’s quite likely that Google’s algorithm is pushing paid news to the top of its search feed. What does this mean for users? It means that for one, you will see what they want you to see, but most importantly, it means that Google HAS the money to pay its publishers but chooses not too!

Google’s announcement to start paying publishers excludes all publishers outside Brazil, Germany, and Australia. Even within the countries that Google closed a deal with, there are many that do not meet its “high quality content” requirement for a paid position. The problem with all this nonsense is that we stopped letting the news come from others like us, and instead, according to the U.S News Media Alliance, the news is entirely owned by a handful of companies. You may have 635 channels on your TV, but if you google…or maybe you should duck duck go it, you’ll find that all those channels lead back to one huge organization.

SO WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?

Google has definitely been pressured to make some big changes, and while paying publishers is a good first step in the right direction, is it enough to make up for years of damage?

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