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Essential Workers Team Up for May Day Strikes, Demanding Better Treatment During Pandemic

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  • Workers at stores like Target, Walmart, Amazon, Whole Foods, FedEx, and Instacart are walking out and calling out for protests on May Day, or International Workers’ Day.
  • They are asking customers to boycott these businesses in solidarity and are calling for a variety of demands including protective gear and cleaning supplies at all times, increased transparency about coronavirus cases in facilities, hazard pay, and more.
  • Some of the companies, like Amazon and Whole Foods, have pushed back, arguing that they already invest heavily in health and safety measures.
  • While the workers have each launched individual protests, this demonstration marks the first time they have come together to fight for better treatment during the pandemic.

Employees Strike 

Employees from several major companies refused to work Friday, protesting their treatment while working during the coronavirus pandemic.

Workers from Target, Walmart, Amazon, Whole Foods, FedEx, Instacart, Shipt, and other gig workers have teamed up for the protest on May Day, or International Workers’ Day. Their roles have become critical during virus outbreaks, but the protestors say they need more resources and support to feel safe while doing their jobs. 

Many of the groups have previously staged their own individual protests, though some companies described the efforts as having little impact on overall operations. Others promised to make improvements, but workers say they’ve failed to follow through. This latest demonstration, however, marks the first time these essential workers have combined their efforts in a massive push for change since the outbreaks. 

Protestors all over the country plan to walk off their jobs midday or call out completely. At some locations, they will stand outside facilities and storefronts in protest. Workers are also broadly calling for people to boycott these stores and services as a way to show support. 

According to The Intercept, the demonstrators at each company are making a variety of demands including back pay for unpaid time off they’ve used since the beginning of March, as well as hazard pay or sick leave for the remainder of the pandemic.

Many are also asking that companies provide them with protective equipment and cleaning supplies at all times, along with increased transparency about the number of coronavirus cases in their facilities.

One of the organizers who spoke to Vice, Christian Smalls, said, “We formed an alliance between a bunch of different companies because we all have one common goal which is to save the lives of workers and communities.”

“We are acting in conjunction with workers at Amazon, Target, Instacart and other companies for International Worker’s Day to show solidarity with other essential workers in our struggle for better protections and benefits in the pandemic,” Daniel Steinbrook, a Whole Foods employee and strike organizer, told The Intercept.

Companies Defend Themselves 

The protests come as more and more essential workers are speaking out about poor conditions within their companies. Amazon workers, for instance, have staged several strikes in New York, Minnesota, Chicago, Italy, and even virtually as their colleagues test positive for COVID-19.

They’ve called the company’s response inadequate and have been frustrated by its refusal to alert workers about the number of warehouses that have seen outbreaks.

Amazon, for its part, has defended its warehouse conditions this week. The company told several media outlets that “masks, temperature checks, hand sanitizer, increased time off, increased pay, and more are standard across our Amazon and Whole Food Market networks already.”

“While we respect people’s right to express themselves, we object to the irresponsible actions of labor groups in spreading misinformation and making false claims about Amazon … The statements made are not supported by facts or representative of the majority of the 500,000 Amazon operations employees in the U.S. who are showing up to work,” it said.

Still, the company is facing several inquires from the National Labor Relations Board and New York City’s human-rights commissioner about whether it unlawfully retaliated against workers who spoke out. Christopher Smalls, for instance, says he was fired after organizing a March walkout, but the company said he was fired for “multiple safety issues” including the violation of an order to stay home after being exposed to COVID-19.

Whole Food workers, who also protested a the end of March, were faced with similar pushback in recent statements. Whole Foods spokeswoman Rachel Malish mirrored Amazon’s response, saying the action isn’t representative of the company’s 95,000 employees and that organizers have misrepresented “the full extent of Whole Foods Market’s actions in response to this crisis.”

As far as Instacart workers, in March, over 10,000 also launched a strike, demanding hazard pay and safety equipment, among other things. Instacart at the time gave in to some demands, but employees say they were given flimsy masks and spilled hand sanitizer. Others have yet to receive any and say workers who have fallen ill have had trouble accessing promised benefits.

The company disagrees, with spokesperson Natalia Montalvo telling The Washington Post that the company has been working to implement new policies, distribute protective equipment and give out bonuses.

Some Shipt workers, a company owned by Target, say they have not received gloves and other equipment that was promised to them in April. Shipt spokeswoman Julie Coop, however, said the company is distributing protective equipment to shoppers and handing out bonuses.

Target has also said it’s taken a number of steps to improve working conditions, including increased pay for hourly workers, bonuses for store managers, expanded sick pay, more protective gear, increased cleanings, and limits to customer traffic. 

Walmart and FexEx have not released statements about the protests as of Friday morning.

Amazon, Instacart, and Shipt have seen some extra criticism as their profits spike during the pandemic. Many eyes are on these companies, who seem to not be passing on their profits to help protect and support their workers. 

Workers are hopeful that their unified front against these massive corporations will help them in their efforts to remain safe during the pandemic. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Tech Crunch) (NPR

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Target Joins Walmart in Offering Free College Tuition To Attract and Retain Workers

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The decision makes Target the latest major company to dangle such incentives before employees, joining the likes of Walmart, Chipotle, and Starbucks.


Target Launches Debt-Free Education Asssitance Program

Target announced new employee perks on Wednesday that it likely hopes will help attract and retain workers. 

Starting this fall, Target will cover the cost of tuition, fees, and textbooks for both part-time and full-time workers who pursue degrees or certificates at more than 40 participating institutions.

Employees will have at least 250 different business-aligned programs to choose from, including Business, Computer Science, Design, and more.

Target will also fund advanced degrees, paying up to $10,000 each year for master’s programs at those schools, and it’s offering up to 5,250 for those pursuing non-master’s degrees or business-aligned programs at one of the select schools.

The company said it plans to invest a total of $200 million in the education program over the next four years, and employees in the U.S. will qualify as soon as their first day.

“Target employs team members at every life stage and helps our team learn, develop and build their skills, whether they’re with us for a year or a career. A significant number of our hourly team members build their careers at Target, and we know many would like to pursue additional education opportunities. We don’t want the cost to be a barrier for anyone, and that’s where Target can step in to make education accessible for everyone,” said Melissa Kremer, Target’s Chief Human Resources Officer.

Companies With Similar Perks

Places like Chipotle and Starbucks have already had similar education programs in place, but more companies have been introducing or expanding on similar policies as businesses across the country struggle to find and retain workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Just last week, Walmart announced that it will cover the full cost of college tuition and books for itsemployees, after previously requiring them to pay $1 a day for the assistance. Those workers can now select from around 10 academic partners.

While many have applauded these actions from big corporations, others have noted that it makes it tougher for smaller businesses to compete since they don’t have the same resources at their disposal.

There is some concern about how this could change the business landscape in the future as a handful of large companies dominate in their own sectors and siphon a lot of the talent, forcing smaller competitors to close. Still, others argue that this was already happening. At least now, the big players are investing and support their workforce while doing it.

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (The Hill) (Forbes)

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Tencent Stock Plummet as Company Weighs Video Games Ban for Kids in China

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The world’s largest game developer appears fearful that the Chinese government will launch another crackdown on gaming similar to one it launched in 2019 when it limited game time for minors.


No More Video Games

Tencent Holdings, Ltd. — China’s most valuable corporation and the world’s largest gaming company — announced Tuesday that it would consider completely banning games for those under 12-years-old in China.

Tencent also announced that it will now limit playtime for Chinese minors to just 1 hour during weekdays and no more than 2 hours during weekends and holidays. Under a Chinese law set up in 2019, game developers are required to limit minors to just 1 hour and 30 minutes of playtime during weekdays and 3 hours during weekends and holidays.

Additionally, the company explained that it will move forward with plans to enact systems that bar those under 12 from engaging in microtransactions, starting with the largest mobile game, “Honor of Kings” (王者荣耀). It’s possible the ban will extend to some of Tencent’s other holdings, such as “League of Legends” (Riot Games) and “Path of Exile” (Grinding Gear Games), although these changes will likely only affect Chinese users.

Tencent’s decision comes just a day after the Economic Information Daily, a subsidiary of state media giant Xinhua News, said in a now-deleted article that video games were “spiritual opium” and that no industry should continue in a manner that will “destroy a generation.”

Likening video games to opium holds cultural significance in China, which has long disliked narcotics and is sensitive to comparisons to the drug. Using such language, especially by state media, is often seen as a sign that the government is ready to crack down on the industry.

Crackdown Fears

Those fears largely played out over a 24-hour period as shares for Tencent and NetEase, another large game developer in China, plummeted. Tencent’s shares dropped by 11% on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, although it eventually settled at just a 6% loss by the end of Tuesday.

It wasn’t just Chinese gaming companies that were worried. The announcement sent ripples across the entire industry as Nintendo, Capcom, and Nexon shares all were heavily affected as well. One of the reasons that such an article can cast widespread concern is that China has increasingly become the largest market in the $180 billion video game industry, making it larger than the global movie industry and North American professional sports, combined.

Coupled with the recent fall of ActivisionBlizzard’s stock over the last two weeks due to its sexual assault lawsuit and other industry shakeups, over a trillion dollars of market value was wiped out at one point on Tuesday.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Time) (Fox Business)

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Google Is Banning “Sugar Dating” Apps as Part of New Sexual Content Restrictions

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The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms.


Sugar Dating Crackdown

Google has announced a series of policy changes to its Android Play Store that include a ban on sugar dating apps starting September 1.

The company’s Play Store policies already prohibit apps that promote “services that may be interpreted as providing sexual acts in exchange for compensation.”

Now, it has updated its wording to specifically include “compensated dating or sexual arrangements where one participant is expected or implied to provide money, gifts or financial support to another participant (‘sugar dating’).”

The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms currently available for download.

Search results for “Sugar Daddy” on Google’s Play Store

What Prompted the Change?

The company didn’t explain why it’s going after sugar dating apps, but some reports have noted that the move comes amid crackdowns of online sex work following the introduction of the FOSTA-SESTA legislation in 2018, which was meant to curb sex trafficking.

That’s because FOSTA-SESTA created an exception to Section 230 that means website publishers can be held liable if third parties are found to be promoting prostitution, including consensual sex work, on their platforms.

It’s worth noting that just because the apps will no longer be available on the Play Store doesn’t mean the sugar dating platforms themselves are going anywhere. Sugar daters will still be able to access them through their web browsers, or they can just sideload their apps from other places.

Still, the change is likely going to make the use of these sites a little less convenient.

See what others are saying: (The Verge)(Engadget)(Tech Times)

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