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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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Hundreds of Businesses and Celebrities Join Growing Fight Against Restrictive Voting Efforts

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  • In a letter published Wednesday, hundreds of major companies, law firms, corporate leaders, and celebrities banded together “to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”
  • The list of signatories includes companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon; celebrities such as Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, and Samuel L. Jackson; and billionaire investor Warren Buffet, among others.
  • Though the letter does not address any specific voting legislation, it was organized by Kenneth Chenault and Kenneth Fraizer, who also organized a letter late last month in which more than 70 Black executives urged companies to take a stand against GOP-led restrictive voting proposals being floated in dozens of states. 

Hundreds of Companies Oppose Restrictive Voting 

The number of companies speaking out against a series of GOP-led voting proposals is growing, despite calls from notable Republicans for boycotts against companies doing so.

In a letter published Wednesday morning, hundreds of major companies, law firms, corporate leaders, and celebrities united behind what journalist David Gelles described as “the biggest show of solidarity to date.”

The letter itself doesn’t specifically call out Republican voting efforts. Instead, the statement reads, “We stand for democracy,” with the signatories also vowing “to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”

Still, the letter comes in the middle of an ongoing battle between corporate America and the GOP, which is backing dozens of state proposals that many have condemned as restrictive and discriminatory against poorer individuals and people of color.

The slew of companies that signed Wednesday’s letter includes Target, Netflix, Bank of America, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Mastercard, American Airlines, United Airlines, and others. 

The letter also boasts star-power from celebrities like Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, Gwyneth Paltrow, George Clooney, and Samuel L. Jackson, among others. Notably, billionaire investor Warren Buffet also added his name to this list.

Companies Debate Taking Action Against States That Pass Restrictive Voting Measures

Wednesday’s letter was organized by Kenneth Chenault and Kenneth Frazier, who late last month also organized a similar letter from a group of more than 70 Black executives. That message, which urged companies to speak out against the GOP-led proposals, has largely been credited with helping to catalyze the fight between the GOP and corporate America. 

This past weekend, the two also partially led a Zoom call that featured over 120 CEOs and business leaders. 

During that call, participating executives considered a number of possible steps, including pulling donations to politicians who support restrictive voting measures, refusing to move business or jobs to states that pass such laws, and even relocating events; however, no hard plans were actually set into motion.

Still, some groups have already gone forward with various forms of protests against such laws. Last week, Major League Baseball announced it was moving its All-Star game out of Georgia, which recently passed a series of restrictive voting measures. On Monday, actor Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua also announced that they no longer plan to film their runaway slave thriller “Emancipation” in the state.

Some Companies Didn’t Speak Out in Wednesday’s Letter

Both federal and state Republicans have been very vocal as businesses have continued to lob criticism at their proposed laws. 

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned businesses to “stay out of politics,” though he later walked back that statement.

Two weeks ago, the Georgia state House voted to strip Delta Airlines of its tax breaks after the company spoke out against the state’s new voting laws. In fact, that reprimand might explain why it and other Georgia-based companies like Coca-Cola were absent from Wednesday’s letter. 

According to The New York Times, people involved in the process of organizing this letter said those companies feared more blowback and also did not feel the need to speak up again.

Connected to that, The Times reported that some companies originally tried to have the line of “oppos[ing] any discriminatory legislation” removed, but they later signed anyway after Chenault and Frazier insisted the line was crucial.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Hollywood Reporter)

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Nike To Clean and Resell Used Sneakers at a Discounted Price

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  • At least 15 Nike retail locations in the U.S. are participating in a new program the company calls “Nike Refurbish,” which is aimed at reducing waste.
  • As part of it, Nike will restore shoes with manufacturing flaws, as well as donated or returned shoes, and resell them at a discounted price.
  • Shoes at the end of their wear will be recycled into Nike Grind materials that are used to construct running tracks, gym floors, playgrounds, other Nike products, and more.

Nike Refurbish

Nike announced a new program on Monday called “Nike Refurbish” that will help boost sustainability and reduce waste.

As part of the program, the brand will take donated and returned shoes that are like new or gently used, as well as shoes with cosmetic manufacturing flaws, then clean and restore them to resell at a discounted price. Returned shoes must have been brought back within Nike’s 60-day return period in order for them to be resold. 

Nike employee restoring an eligible pair of sneakers. Source: Nike

All the refurbished shoes will have labeling on the box with information about their condition grade. Plus, they are also covered under Nike’s 60-day return policy. 

Nike Refurbished Footwear Sustainability Initiative | Well+Good
Source: Nike

Nike’s Recycling Efforts

Nike didn’t say what it previously did with returned sneakers in its announcement, but the new plan is part of its wider attempts to recycle materials.

On its website, it markets the initiative as a way for customers to “help keep shoes out of landfills.” and join Nike’s efforts towards, “Zero carbon and zero waste to help protect the future of sport.” 

Shoes that are truly at the end of their wear will be recycled into Nike Grind materials that are then used for tons of other projects, including running tracks, gym floors, playgrounds, outdoor courts, as well as other Nike apparel and footwear.

Nike Grind | Nike Purpose
Nike Grind material that was used to create an outdoor track. Source: Nike

So far, 15 Nike retail locations across the U.S. are confirmed to be participating in this model, but there are plans in place to expand this list over the course of 2021.

See what others are saying: (FOX Business) (Footwear News) (Miami Herald)

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Uber Sees Record Ride Demand But Doesn’t Have Enough Drivers Available

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  • Demand for Ubers outpaced driver availability in March, according to a Monday statement from Uber.
  • On top of seeing its best-performing month since the beginning of pandemic closures, the company also received more bookings last month than any other month in its entire history.
  • In an attempt to attract more drivers, Uber announced a $250 million, one-time stimulus payment last week to “boost” driver earnings.
  • While Uber said it believes it will turn a profit for 2021, the company could be set back more than $500 million because of a U.K. Supreme Court ruling that gives the country’s drivers minimum wage, holiday pay, and pension.

Uber Posts Record-Setting Growth

Uber announced Monday that its ride requests for the month of March were the highest it has ever recorded in its 12-year history. 

According to a filing with the SEC, last month, the company crossed “a $30 billion annualized Gross Bookings run-rate.” Alongside that, average daily Gross Bookings grew 9% from the previous month. 

Notably, this also marked the company’s best month since March of last year, when pandemic closures began in the U.S.

On top of that, Uber said its delivery business crossed “a $52 billion annualized Gross Bookings run-rate in March, growing more than 150% year-over-year.”

In fact, that demand over the past month was so high that Uber didn’t have enough drivers to meet it.

As vaccination rates increase in the United States, we are observing that consumer demand for Mobility is recovering faster than driver availability, and consumer demand for Delivery continues to exceed courier availability,” the company said.

$250 Million Driver Stimulus

Monday’s filing is in line with another announcement from Uber, which said last week that it is opening up a $250 million driver stimulus to “boost” earnings for drivers. 

“In 2021, there are more riders requesting trips than there are drivers available to give them—making it a great time to be a driver,” the company said at the time. “We want drivers to take advantage of higher earnings now because this is likely a temporary situation.”

“As the recovery continues, we expect more drivers will be hitting the road, which means that over time earnings will come back to pre-Covid levels.”

Can Uber Become Profitable?

In February, Uber reported $6.8 billion in losses for 2020, and for years, many have questioned if its business model is even profitable at all; however, in this latest filing, Uber said it believes it’ll become profitable by the end of 2021.

That said, last month, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom handed drivers a major win by ruling that they need to be reclassified as “workers,” guaranteeing them minimum wage, holiday pay, and pension. 

While big news, the U.K. classifies “workers” and “employees” separately. As a result, U.K. drivers still aren’t granted full benefits. 

The decision will also likely be a setback for Uber, as Bank of America has estimated that it could cost the company more than $500 million. 

Uber’s Vaccine Access Fund

In other Uber news, the company — along with PayPal and Walgreens — has launched a “Vaccine Access Fund.”

Through that fund, customers can donate money that will be used to help people who normally lack transportation get to their vaccination appointment.

Notably, all three companies have said they’ll donate a joint $11 million. 

That’s on top of the $5 million PayPal previously donated, as well as the 10 million free and discounted rides Uber promised to give in December. 

Uber users are able to donate in-app, and PayPal has launched a donation page on its website.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (CNBC) (CNET)

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