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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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Amazon workers

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 is the Venture Growth & Partnerships Lead at Republic where she works with partners in private investing to democratize access to capital for entrepreneurs. Heather studied neurobiology at Harvard University, and is a City Year Boston AmeriCorps alum. She likes to write for AG, drink Austin beer, and ride around town on her road bicycle. His name is Pippin. Say hello if you see them.

Business News

9-to-5 workdays are no longer the norm: Flexibility brings productivity

(BUSINESS) Doing away with 9-to-5 workdays in a cubicle can work wonders for a team’s productivity. This is no longer a dream, but today’s reality.

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productivity outside of the challenging the norm of 9-to-5 workdays

As we’ve seen in recent years, many of the old concepts about work have been turned on their heads. Many offices allow a more casual dress as compared to the suit and tie standard, and more and more teams have the option of working remotely. One of these concepts that have been in flux for a bit is challenging the norm of 9-to-5 workdays. Offices are giving more options of flex hours and remote work, with the understanding that the work must be completed effectively and efficiently with these flexibilities.

Recently, I got sucked into one of those quick-cut Facebook videos about a company that decided to test out the method of a four-day workweek. This gave employees the option of what day they would like to take off, or, it gave employees the option to work all five days of the week, but with flex hours.

Despite the decrease in hours worked, employees were still paid for a 40-hour workweek which continued their incentive to get the same amount of work done in a more flexible manner. With this shift in time use, the results found that employees wasted less time around the office with mindless chit-chat, as they understood there was less time to waste.

The boss in this office had each team explain how they were going to deliver the same level of productivity. The video did not share the explanations, but it could be assumed that the incentive of a day off would encourage employees to continue their level of productivity, if not increase it.

This was done with the goal of working smarter, rather than harder. Finding ways to manage time better (like finishing up a task before starting another one) helps to stay efficient.

During the trial, it was found that productivity, team engagement, and morale all increased, while stress levels decreased. Having time for yourself (an extra day off) and not overworking yourself are important keys to being balanced and engaged.

There is such a stigma about the way you have to operate in order to be successful (e.g. getting up early, using every hour at your disposal, and using free time to meditate).

Let’s get real – we all need a little free time to check back in with ourselves by doing something mindless (like a good old-fashioned Game of Thrones binge). If not, we’ll go bonkers.

Flex hours and remote working are not all about having time to do morning yoga and read best-seller after best-seller. Flex hours give us the time to take our kids to and from school and comfortably wear our parenting caps without fear of getting fired for not showing up to work precisely at 9 AM.

9-to-5 workdays are becoming dated and I’m glad to see that happen. So many people run themselves ragged within this frame and it’s impossible to find that happy work-life balance. Using flex options can help people manage every aspect of their lives in a positive way.

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Business News

Corporate-franchise relationships: How has COVID affected them?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Being a part of a franchise has made sense for a long time for both the corporation and the franchisee, but the long stretch of COVID is adding complications.

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A franchise cup on a wooden table.

Americans love a franchise. We love knowing that every Dunkin Donuts iced coffee will taste the same as it did 3 states away – and every McDonald’s snack wrap will meet our expectations.

Franchises rose in popularity after World War II, and the corporate-franchise relationship since has generally been a happy one – that is, until COVID-19.

What’s their relationship?

Franchises are easier to start than a small business from scratch. You receive a business playbook and brand loyalty from corporate – if the business at large is doing well, chances are your franchise will mirror that. No need for independent advertising!

From the franchises, corporate gets an upfront fee and ongoing royalties. (For a McDonalds franchise, that’s $45k and 4% of monthly gross sales, respectively.)

Basically, it’s win-win. Both parties are happy.

Pandemic strain

The pandemic has shrunk margins across most industries, and the chain hotels, restaurants and services have been hit hard. As a result, corporate is adding more costs for franchisees, such as big cleaning bills and promotional discounts to bring back some revenue during COVID.

However, with corporate still taking the same amount from the franchises every month, these newly instated policies threaten to drive some stores into the ground – and franchisees are fighting back.

“I get that franchising isn’t a democracy,” said a Subway franchisee, who objected to the unprofitable “2-Subs-for-$10” promotion that corporate was pushing for. “But at the same time, it’s not a dictatorship.”

What I see here is corporate greed at work; they need to keep their margins up in a sinking economy, so they’re looking to the pockets of their franchisees to make up for that lost dough.

The pandemic has not been easy on any business (with the exception, of course, of Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla, which is a whole other story). However, that’s the draw of being connected to corporate – you are tied to something bigger than your individual store, and will thus stay afloat as long as they do. It’s a big reason why many opt for starting a franchise as opposed to starting their own, independent small business.

I’m glad to see individuals fighting back against corporate policies that don’t benefit them. They held up their side of the bargain – let’s see if corporate can continue to hold up theirs.

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Business News

What to do if you think you have been wrongfully terminated

(BUSINESS NEWS) Being fired hurts, but especially if you were wrongfully terminated. Here is what you can do if you need to take action.

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Stressed man staring at computer after being wrongfully terminated.

While there are plenty of ways an employer can legally fire an employee, there’s also a long list of unethical and illegal methods. If you suspect you’ve been wrongfully terminated from your job, it’s imperative that you fight back.

Common Signs of Wrongful Termination

Research shows that around 150,000 people are unjustly fired every year in the United States. That’s more than 410 people per day – roughly 17 people per hour. Here are some common signs that you’re a victim:

  • Violation of written rules or promises. The vast majority of employment is known as “at-will” employment. This means you may be fired at any time for any reason (so long as the reason is not illegal). However, if there’s a written statement or contract that implies job security, then you’re probably not an at-will employee. Review all of your employment documents to see what sort of language exists around the topic of termination.
  • Discrimination. It doesn’t matter if you’re an at-will employee or not, employers can never fire someone based on discrimination. It’s illegal – point blank, period. If you suspect you’ve been fired because of your color, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, or pregnancy, discrimination could be to blame.
  • Breach of good faith. Employers are known to breach good faith when they do things like mislead employees regarding their chances for promotions; fabricate reasons for firing; transfer or fire an employee to prevent the collection of sales commissions; and other similar situations.

Every situation is different, but these three signs are clear indicators that you have a potential wrongful termination claim. How you proceed will determine what happens next.

How to Respond to a Wrongful Termination

Emotions tend to run high when you’re fired from a job. Whether you loved the job or not, it’s totally normal to run a little hot under the collar upon being wrongfully terminated. But how you handle the first several hours and days will determine a lot about how this situation unfolds. Now is not the time to fly off the handle and say or do something you’ll regret. Instead, take a diplomatic response that includes steps like:

1. Gather Evidence

Wrongful termination cases are usually more complicated than they first appear on the surface. It’s important that you focus on gathering as much evidence as you possibly can. Any information or documentation you collect will increase your chances for a successful outcome. This may include emails, screenshots, written contracts and documentation, voicemails, text messages, and/or statements from coworkers.

On a related note, remember that your former employer will be doing the same thing (if a claim is brought). Be on your best behavior and don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Avoid venting to coworkers or firing off short, snappy emails to your former boss. As the saying goes, anything you say or do can and will be used against you.

2. Hire an Attorney

Don’t try to handle your wrongful termination case on your own. Hire an experienced lawyer who specializes in situations like yours. This will give you a much better chance of obtaining a successful outcome.

3. Get Legal Funding

If you’re like most victims of wrongful termination, you find yourself with no immediate source of income. This can make it difficult to pay your bills and stay financially solvent in the short term. An employment lawsuit loan could help bridge the gap.

As Upfit Legal Funding explains, “Wrongful termination lawsuit loans provide the necessary financial assistance they need to reach a settlement. This funding helps cover basic living costs until the plaintiff is able to get assistance from their settlement.”

The best thing about these loans is that you only have to repay them if there’s a successful outcome. In other words, if the claim gets thrown out or denied, you owe nothing.

4. File the Proper Paperwork

Work closely with your attorney to make sure that your complaints and claims are filed with the appropriate regulatory agencies (and that you meet the required deadlines). Depending on the type of claim, there are different groups that oversee the complaint and can help you move in the proper direction.

Adding it All Up

Getting fired is serious business. And while there are plenty of legal reasons for being terminated from a job, it’s worth exploring what’s actually going on behind the scenes. If it’s found that your employer stepped out of line, you’ll be compensated in an appropriate manner. This won’t typically help you get your job back, but it can provide some financial rectification.

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