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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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SpaceX’s Starlink to Provide Dozens of Families in Rural Texas With Internet in 2021

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  • SpaceX has just agreed to use its Starlink satellite internet service to provide internet to 45 families who do not have broadband access and who live in the Pleasant Farms area of south Ector County, Texas.
  • The internet will be free for families, but the Ector County Independent School District is paying SpaceX $300,000 per year, with $150,000 of that coming from a nonprofit.
  • Services will later expand to 90 more families in the same area as the network evolves and as the district works to deal with the digital divide that has become more apparent during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The news follows reports that SpaceX is beginning public beta testing of Starlink at $99 a month, with a $499 upfront cost for the Starlink Kit, which includes a user terminal to connect to the satellites, a mounting tripod, and a wifi router.

What is SpaceX’s Starlink?

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has agreed to a deal with a Texas school district that will bring internet service to dozens of families in need next year.

The internet will be provided though Starlink, which is SpaceX’s plan to build an interconnected internet network with thousands of satellites, designed to deliver high-speed internet anywhere on the planet.

According to the Ector County Independent School District, SpaceX will supply internet to 45 families who do not have broadband access and who live in the Pleasant Farms area of south Ector County.

The internet will be free for families, but the district is paying SpaceX $300,000 per year, with $150,000 of that coming from a nonprofit known as Chiefs for Change.

The district said services will later expand to 90 more families in the same area as the network evolves.

The plan is part of the district’s effort to deal with the digital divide that has become more apparent during the coronavirus pandemic. As more students shift to online learning, a large number of them have been forced to work without stable internet and other essentials. 

“The partners with us share our vision for equity and access for all students,” the district said in it’s announcement. “Today, we take a giant leap forward in closing the digital divide that exists within our community.”

According to the district’s own surveys, 39% of families have limited or no internet access in the area. 

The announcement marks the first agreement for SpaceX to offer Starlink internet in the southern U.S. It will also make Ector County the first school district to utilize SpaceX satellites to provide internet for students.

SpaceX Expands Starlink Beta Testing

The news followed reports Monday that said SpaceX was expanding the beta test of its Starlink satellite internet service.

As of now, SpaceX has launched about 900 Starlink satellites, which is only a fraction of the total needed for global coverage but enough to start providing service in some areas. 

For the last few months, the company has conducted a limited private beta test with employees. However, in emails sent to an unspecified number of people Monday, SpaceX offered its first-ever public beta testing of the service.

It’s reportedly called the “Better Than Nothing Beta,” and it’s priced at $99 a month. Customers must also pay the $499 upfront cost for the Starlink Kit, which includes a user terminal to connect to the satellites, a mounting tripod, and a wifi router.

There’s also now a Starlink app listed by SpaceX on the Google Play and Apple iOS app stores.

At this time, it’s unclear where exactly service will be available, but Musk has recently suggested the public beta would be offered in the northern U.S. and southern Canada.

“Expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mbps to 150Mbps and latency from 20ms to 40ms over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all,” SpaceX warned in its email, according to CNBC.

As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations, and improve our networking software, data speed, latency, and uptime will improve dramatically. For latency, we expect to achieve 16ms to 19ms by summer 2021.”

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Department of Justice Files Antitrust Suit Against Google Alleging Unlawful Monopoly

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  • The Department of Justice is filing an antitrust lawsuit against Google, accusing it of illegally maintaining its monopoly by using its hefty ad revenue to engage in exclusionary contracts that block competition. 
  • An example of this would be Google’s arrangement with Apple to be the default browser on Safari. The Department thinks this agreement makes it impossible for competition to break through. 
  • Google has defended itself and says that it does make room for competition, but that consumers choose Google of their own volition. 
  • This is one of the largest antitrust suits against a major tech company in years and could be a long legal battle. Depending on the outcome, there could be major implications for other tech companies outside of Google. 

DOJ Files Suit Against Google

The Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it is filing an antitrust suit against Google, launching one of the largest cases of its kind against a tech company in decades. 

The suit will hurl multiple allegations against the tech giant, including claims that it maintains its monopoly via unlawful exclusionary and interlocking agreements and contracts that block the growth of competition. The Justice Department is claiming that the company spends billions of dollars in ad revenue to pay major phone and tech companies like Apple to make Google the default search engine on web browsers. 

The lawsuit also alleges that Google has arrangements to make sure its search application is preloaded and cannot be deleted on mobile Android devices, which the department says hurts and prevents competition. 

An action like this from the Justice Department has been highly anticipated for some time now. In the summer of 2019, Department officials announced a broad review of the practices of big companies, including Google. Their investigation into the company has lasted since and has included probes into several aspects of the Silicon Valley behemoth. 

“An antitrust response is necessary to benefit consumers,” Jeffrey A. Rosen, deputy Attorney General said in a briefing. “If the government does not enforce the antitrust laws to enable competition, we could lose the next wave of innovation. If that happens, Americans may never get to see the next Google.”

Google’s Dominance on the Internet 

The Attorneys General from eleven states will be joining the suit, and many more may decide to hop on as the legal battle continues. It could take years for this to play out and be resolved. Pending the results, it could also have major implications for other big tech companies. 

Google’s dominance across the internet is prominent. According to data from Vox, when it comes to searching, the company takes up 92% of the market, with its biggest competitor, Bing, owning just a small sliver of that space. When it comes to smartphone operating systems, it takes up 85% of the market. For web browsers, it takes up 66%. 

The Justice Department is not the only part of the government to recently take aim at Google. In the first week of October, a House subcommittee released a report accusing Google, as well as Facebook, Amazon and Apple, of holding and abusing monopoly power in their respective industries. That report mentioned anti-competitive contracts at Google. The House suggested that there was a “pressing need for legislative action and reform” when it comes to monopolies at major tech companies. 

Google’s Response

Google has repeatedly denied that it holds an unlawful monopoly. In a Tuesday statement, the company maintained that it allows for healthy competition and condemned the Justice Department’s choice to bring an antitrust suit forward.

“Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed,” the statement said. “People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.”

This lawsuit would do nothing to help consumers. To the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use.”

When it came to specifics in the suit, Google claimed the Justice Department was relying on “dubious antitrust arguments.” The company compared the agreements it has with companies like Apple to a cereal brand paying a grocery store to stock its boxes at eye level.

When it comes to Apple specifically, Google claims that it is the default in Safari because Apple believes Google to be the best search engine. Google also said their agreement is not exclusive and that Bing and Yahoo are also featured in Safari.

“This isn’t the dial-up 1990s, when changing services was slow and difficult, and often required you to buy and install software with a CD-ROM,” Google argued. “Today, you can easily download your choice of apps or change your default settings in a matter of seconds—faster than you can walk to another aisle in the grocery store.”

“This lawsuit claims that Americans aren’t sophisticated enough to do this. But we know that’s not true.”

While it will take several years for this case to be resolved, many are analyzing what the potential outcomes may be. The Wall Street Journal said that if Google loses, there could be court-ordered changes to its practices, potentially to create openings for new rivals. However, the lawsuit will not immediately specify specific solutions. That step will come further down the road. 

If Google wins this, it could throw a wrench in the government’s growing plans to go after big tech companies. Other investigations could get complicated or foiled, and it could mean that this issue might have to move into Congress’ hands.  

See what others are saying: (Vox) (Wall Street Journal) (CNN)

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Thousands of Amazon Workers Demand Paid Time Off To Vote

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  • Around 4,000 Amazon tech workers signed a petition Tuesday that calls for eight hours of paid time off to be made available for employees to use up until Election Day for voting-related activities, including voting, registering, and volunteering.
  • Amazon, which is the second-largest employer in the U.S., does not currently have a companywide policy that offers its over 1.3 million workers paid time off to vote.
  • By contrast, companies like Walmart, Facebook, Apple, Uber, Starbucks, and dozens of others offer some sort of paid allotted time for voting.
  • Amazon says employees can request time off to vote, but the number of hours and pay it will provide depends on local laws.
  • Critics note that while some states require employees to be excused and paid for a few hours if voting conflicts with work schedules, several battleground states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, do not.

Employees Back Petition

Thousands of Amazon tech workers backed a petition Tuesday urging the company to offer employees paid time off to vote on or before Election Day.

Amazon is the second-largest employer in the country, with over 1.3 million U.S. workers, including Whole Foods employees. However, it does not have a companywide policy in place that offers paid time off to participate in federal elections.

For comparison, Walmart, which is the nation’s largest employer, offers up to three paid hours for its employees to vote. Other companies like Facebook, Apple, Uber, Twitter, and Starbucks also provide allotted time for voting. Some companies, like Patagonia, are even closing their doors completely on Election Day, while stores like Best Buy are reducing hours.

Supporters of such policies point out that for many Americans, voting, especially during a pandemic, can mean hours-long lines and other unexpected delays.

Because of this, on Tuesday, more than 4,000 Amazon tech workers added their support to a petition that was created internally that morning by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice.

That group formed in 2018 to put pressure on the company to commit to reducing fossil fuel emissions, but has expanded its focus to speak out against poor working conditions and other issues.

The petition calls for eight hours of paid time off to be made available for employees to use up until Election Day for voting-related activities, including registering to vote and volunteering.

Amazon Responds

However, on the other side of the issue, Amazon spokeswoman Jaci Anderson said that the company has given employees information on how to register to vote and request time off.

“In all 47 states with in-person voting, employees that lack adequate time before or after their scheduled workday to vote, can request and be provided excused time off,” she explained. “The number of hours and pay provided to employees varies by state in line with local laws.”

It appears that for now, Amazon doesn’t want to make paid time off for voting a company-wide policy and instead will only comply with local laws.

That’s a big deal because, although many states require employees to be excused and paid for a few hours if voting conflicts with work schedules, several battleground states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, do not.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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