- 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 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)
Apple Raises Worker Pay as Unions Gain Ground
The company’s vice president of people and retail was caught trying to dissuade employees from unionizing in a leaked video.
Labor Squeezes Apple into Submission
Apple announced Wednesday that its U.S. corporate and retail employees will see a pay increase later this year, with starting wages bumped from $20 per hour to $22, though stores in certain regions may get more depending on market conditions.
Starting salaries are also expected to increase.
“Supporting and retaining the best team members in the world enables us to deliver the best, most innovative, products and services for our customers,” an Apple spokesman said in a statement. “This year as part of our annual performance review process, we’re increasing our overall compensation budget.”
Some workers were told their annual reviews would be moved up three months and that their pay increases would take effect in early July, according to a memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, they were told the increased compensation budget would be in addition to pay increases and special awards already received within the past year.
Feeling squeezed by low unemployment and high inflation, tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have changed their compensation structures in recent weeks to pay workers more, and Apple is the latest to bend to market pressure.
Unions Gaining Traction
On Wednesday, The Verge received a leaked video of Apple’s vice president of people and retail, Deirdre O’Brien, explicitly dissuading employees from unionizing.
“I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship,” she said. “An organization that does not have a deep understanding of Apple or our business. And most importantly one that I do not believe shares our commitment to you.”
She vocalized more anti-union talking points, like the idea that the company will not be able to make important decisions as quickly with a collective bargaining agreement.
O’Brien has been personally visiting retail stores over the past few weeks in an apparent bid to combat budding union activity.
Apple stores in three locations — New York, Georgia, and Maryland — are currently pushing to unionize, with the latter two set to vote in elections on June 2 and 15, respectively. In response to these efforts, Apple has hired anti-union lawyers, given managers anti-union scripts, and held anti-union captive audience meetings.
In the United States, unionized workers make about 13.2% more than non-unionized workers in the same sector, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
As of Wednesday, Apple’s shares had fallen 21% since the start of the year, but sales grew 34% last year to almost $300 billion.
See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (CNBC) (The Verge)
Employees at Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software Form First Union at a Major Gaming Company
Organizers say the decision has the potential to upend labor practices in the gaming industry.
Raven Software QA Testers Win Union Bid
A group of 28 workers at Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software voted to form the first-ever union at a major U.S. gaming company.
While the Game Workers Alliance is a small union, organizers in the space say its formation represents a major shift for the gaming industry and will encourage others in the sector to follow suit.
The newly unionized workers are quality insurance (QA) testers working at the Wisconsin-based studio to develop “Call of Duty.” QA testers work to sort out any glitches in games, and the jobs are notoriously known for extreme crunch periods where staffers work long stretches of hours before a game’s release.
During crunch periods, employees are regularly given 12- to 14-hour shifts with just a few days off each month in order to meet release deadlines.
Many QA testers have said they are treated as second-class to others in the industry. They are paid much lower — often minimum wage or close to it — work on contract cycles and, as a result, feel disposable.
That particular sentiment was underscored for workers at Raven Software in December when the company ended the contracts of about a dozen QA testers. The decision prompted the remaining QA testers to hold a walkout and, shortly after that, they began organizing to form a union, which they dubbed the Game Workers Alliance.
Activision’s Battle Against Unionization Effort
Activision did not support the push for unionization and actively fought against it. The company refused to voluntarily recognize the union, and just days after the group filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, it moved QA testers to different departments across its properties.
Activision also announced it would convert over 1,000 temporary QA workers to full-time employees, give them a pay raise to $20 an hour, and provide more benefits. However, management said the move would not apply to the unionizing workers because, under federal law, they could not try to encourage workers from voting against unionization by offering pay hikes or benefits. Union leaders repudiated that argument.
Additionally, Activision fought against the union petition, arguing that any union would need to include all of the studio’s employees, but the Labor Board rejected the claim and let the effort proceed.
According to multiple reports, Activision management continued to push against the union in the weeks leading up to the vote. Some Raven employees told The Washington Post company leaders had suggested at a town hall meeting that unionization could hurt game development and impact promotions and benefits. The following day, the managers allegedly sent an email urging workers to “vote no.”
On Monday, Labor Board prosecutors announced they had determined that Activision illegally threatened workers and enforced a social media policy that violated bargaining rights. Activision denied the new allegations.
The two parties will have until the end of the month to file an objection, and if none are filed, the union becomes official. It is currently unclear how Activision and Raven will respond, but they have signaled that they might not make the transition period easy for the union.
According to internal documents seen by Bloomberg, the company has repeatedly mentioned that it can take a while for a union to negotiate its first contract.
In a statement following the vote, an Activision spokesperson told The Post that the company respects the right of its employees to vote for or against a union, but added: “We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 of Raven employees. We’re committed to doing what’s best for the studio and our employees.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)
Uber Forks Over $19 Million in Fine for Misleading Australian Riders
The penalty is just the latest in a string of lawsuits going back years.
Uber Gets Fined
Uber has agreed to pay a $19 million fine after being sued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for making false or misleading statements in its app.
The first offense stems from a company policy that allows users to cancel their ride at no cost up to five minutes after the driver has accepted the trip. Despite the terms, between at least December 2017 and September 2021, over two million Australians who wanted to cancel their ride were nevertheless warned that they may be charged a small fee for doing so.
Uber said in a statement that almost all of those users decided to cancel their trips despite the warnings.
The cancellation message has since been changed to: “You won’t be charged a cancellation fee.”
The second offense, occurring between June 2018 and August 2020, involved the company showing customers in Sydney inflated estimates of taxi fares on the app.
The commission said that Uber did not ensure the algorithm used to calculate the prices was accurate, leading to actual fares almost always being higher than estimated ones.
The taxi fare feature was removed in August 2020.
A Troubled Legal History
Uber has been sued for misleading its users or unfairly charging customers in the past.
In 2016, the company paid California-based prosecutors up to $25 million for misleading riders about the safety of its service.
An investigation at the time found that at least 25 of Uber’s approved drivers had serious criminal convictions including identity theft, burglary, child sex offenses and even one murder charge, despite background checks.
In 2017, the company also settled a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for $20 million after it misled drivers about how much money they could earn.
In November 2021, the Justice Department sued the company for allegedly charging disabled customers a wait-time fee even though they needed more time to get in the car, then refused to refund them.
Later the same month, a class-action lawsuit in New York alleged that Uber charged riders a final price higher than the upfront price listed when they ordered the ride.