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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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CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart Helped Fuel the Opioid Crisis, Jury Finds

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While all three chains have vowed to appeal, this ruling is a massive win for plaintiffs who argued that opioid manufacturers and retailers violated “public nuisance” laws when contributing to the opioid epidemic.


Jury Sides Against Retailers

A federal jury in Cleveland agreed Tuesday that CVS Health, Walgreens, and Walmart — three of the country’s biggest pharmacy chains — are responsible for contributing to the opioid crisis in two Ohio counties.

This is the first time that the retail arm of the drug industry has been held accountable for opioid overdoses and deaths. It’s also the first time a jury has been used to decide in a major opioid lawsuit.

Previously, only manufacturers such as Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson faced settlements or penalties, though the latter narrowly escaped $465 million in opioid fines in Oklahoma earlier this month after the state’s Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling. 

Many plaintiffs in thousands of similar lawsuits all across the country are seeing the Ohio jury’s decision as an optimistic sign — especially since most of them are using the same argument. Plaintiffs in Ohio alleged that either opioid manufacturers or retailers violated “public nuisance” laws by ignoring harm caused by opioid abuse that later snowballed into a full-fledged public health crisis. 

Retailers Vow to Appeal

Unsurprisingly, all three chains have promised to appeal Tuesday’s verdict.

There is precedent to think this decision could be overturned. For example, the now-overturned J&J lawsuit first successfully used the public nuisance argument in lower courts, but during an appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court thought the plaintiff’s argument was too broad. 

That said, every state has different public nuisance laws, so there may not be a clear-cut answer as to what actually could happen with all these cases. 

Despite a pending appeal, the judge overseeing Tuesday’s Ohio verdict will make a determination on how much these companies must pay after additional hearings in the spring. 

While the retail arm has largely avoided settling up to this point, if this case ultimately does not go their way, it could open the door for future settlements if they decide that route is less costly than going to trial. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Biden Authorizes Release of 50 Million Barrels of Oil From U.S. Reserve To Ease Gas Prices

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Experts believe the release will, at best, provide temporary relief to extremely high gas prices but only if other countries tap into a significant amount of oil from their reserves as well. 


Biden Taps Into Oil Reserves

President Joe Biden authorized the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve on Tuesday in an attempt to bring down staggeringly high gas prices.

“American consumers are feeling the impact of elevated gas prices at the pump and in their home heating bills, and American businesses are, too, because oil supply has not kept up with demand as the global economy emerges from the pandemic,” a White House announcement reads. “That’s why President Biden is using every tool available to him to work to lower prices and address the lack of supply.”

As of Tuesday morning, the national average of gas sat at $3.40, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). While down slightly over the last few days, the national average for November remains the highest it’s been since 2013. 

Despite the announcement, Americans shouldn’t expect to see an immediate drop in gas costs. In fact, gas prices are unlikely to be impacted much in the coming weeks since the government’s reserve only stores crude oil, which will need time to be refined into gasoline. 

Many analysts expect gas from the reserves to start reaching consumers’ pumps around mid-December, but even then, it will likely be used up in around a week. Last year, the U.S. used about 8 million barrels of gas from the reserve a day.

Those two factors are likely major contributors to why this news didn’t do much to calm the oil market. Following the announcement Tuesday, the benchmark oil price in the U.S. — measured by West Texas Intermediate crude futures — actually rose. 

Last week, Biden asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into “mounting evidence of anti-consumer behavior by oil and gas companies” amid rising gas prices. 

Price Concerns Persist

In its announcement, the White House said the U.S. release is being taken “in parallel with other major energy consuming nations, including China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom.” 

A number of analysts cited by various news publications have predicted that this kind of multi-country release is the only chance the U.S. actually has of meaningfully impacting gas prices.

“The bottom line for motorists is this moves the needle — but barely, and maybe not for a very long period of time,” Patrick De Haan, an industry expert at Gas Buddy, explained to The Washington Post. “It’s certainly something, but how much that something is will be contingent on how much the other countries put in.”

It is currently unclear how much oil the other countries plan to release, though Indian officials have said the country will release 5 million barrels from its reserve. 

Efforts could also go south in the long-term if the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) pushes back. It previously warned of a possible response if Biden decided to make this type of release, with the organization arguing that the U.S. has no real justification for needing to tap into its reserve. 

“There’s a threat this could lead to a risk of prices being elevated for longer if OPEC holds back meaningful production increases as a result,” De Haan told The Post. 

Overall, the release of oil is a tricky situation for Biden. He was already facing stacking criticism from Republicans for recent inflation and supply chain bottlenecks. Even now, many have said the release of 50 million barrels isn’t good enough on its own.

On the other side, Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) have argued that tapping into the reserve could provide temporary relief.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Business Insider) (Fox Business)

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Looters Launch Coordinated Attacks on High-End Stores Like Louis Vuitton in Chicago and San Francisco

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It’s unclear if the multiple attacks in each city are connected, but police have described the events as coordinated and planned. 


Raid on San Francisco’s Union Square

Dozens of individuals looted at least 10 stores in San Francisco’s Union Square on Friday, though that’s far from the only seemingly organized raid that occurred over the weekend.

Cell phone video from the incident shows multiple people running into a Louis Vuitton store and emerging with armfuls of merchandise. KGO-TV reporter Dion Lim shared images of the store picked clean in the aftermath, with its windows shattered. Burberry, Fendi, and YSL were among the other businesses she said looters targeted.

Video shared by Twitter user @CARLITOSGUEY shows San Francisco police officers swarming a Mustang outside of the Louis Vuitton store and beating its windows with their batons. They then pull someone from the passenger’s seat and pin that person to the ground.

At a news conference on Saturday, police told reporters they “were confronting an armed individual” in the Mustang. That vehicle, along with another, has now been seized by the department. Police also said they have so far made eight arrests connected to the incident. 

Police Chief Bill Scott has called the attack “concerted,” saying, “There’s no doubt in my mind that this was not unplanned.”

In total, over $1 million in merchandise was stolen. 

Other San Francisco Raids

Friday’s raid was quickly followed up the next night when around 80 looters ransacked a Nordstrom near San Francisco. All but three thieves managed to evade authorities.

At least two store employees were assaulted during the attack, including one worker who was pepper-sprayed by looters, according to a press release published Sunday by the Walnut Creek Police Department. 

Like the previous raid in Union Square, police described this attack as “clearly a planned event.” 

On Sunday night, yet another raid occurred at a jewelry store in Hayward, which is about 30 miles outside of San Francisco.

As of Monday afternoon, investigators have not been able to confirm whether these attacks are connected, though in recent years — and especially in recent months — they have become increasingly common.

For example, in May, Walgreens said it closed 17 Bay Area stores because of rampant shoplifting. 

“We are exploring every single possible criminal charge related to the conduct,” San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said Saturday. “We will use every tool in our tool belt.”

Chicago Louis Vuittons Raided 

The attacks in San Francisco follow a similar event that happened in a Louis Vuitton store in the suburbs of Chicago this past Wednesday.

During that heist, a group of 14 seemingly unarmed individuals ran into the store in broad daylight and began stockpiling merchandise sitting on shelves. 

So far, police have not made any arrests; however, they said they have retrieved one of the three vehicles the looters used as getaway cars. 

They also confirmed that no one was injured during the attack but that $120,000 in merchandise was stolen.

See what others are saying: (KGO-TV) (The Washington Post) (NBC News)

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