- Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is believed to be the driving force behind a series of confrontational posts that the official Amazon News Twitter account directed at Democratic lawmakers last week, according to Vox’s Recode.
- Recode’s report claims Bezos instructed company officials to be “more aggressive in how they pushed back against criticisms of the company that he and other leaders deem inaccurate or misleading.”
- In one highly criticized exchange with Rep. Mark Pocan (Wi.), Amazon News cast doubt over claims that warehouse workers were forced to pee in bottles to avoid bathroom breaks.
- Reports about Bezos’ order come as workers at one Alabama warehouse finish voting Monday on whether or not they will become the first Amazon warehouse in the country to unionize.
Bezos Allegedly Directs Amazon To Fight Back
The official Twitter account for Amazon News attracted the internet’s attention last week after it began lobbing snarky replies at Democratic lawmakers. According to a new report from Vox’s Recode, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos may be to blame.
The report described Bezos as “pissed” and said he “expressed dissatisfaction… that company officials weren’t more aggressive in how they pushed back against criticisms of the company that he and other leaders deem inaccurate or misleading.”
He then reportedly gave a broad mandate to “fight back.”
What Is Bezos Reportedly Upset About?
The Twitter spats with lawmakers began on Wednesday after it was reported that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was traveling to Alabama to meet with Amazon workers who’ve been pushing to unionize.
In a statement on Twitter, Amazon Consumer Chief Dave Clark said he welcomed Sanders and “appreciate[s] his push for a progressive workplace.”
He also added, “I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace for our constituents: a $15 minimum wage, health care from day one, career progression, and a safe and inclusive work environment.”
“So if you want to hear about $15 an hour and health care, Senator Sanders will be speaking downtown. But if you would like to make at least $15 an hour and have good health care, Amazon is hiring.”
From there, Rep. Mark Pocan (Wi.) jumped into the mix, quote tweeting Clark and saying, “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a “progressive workplace” when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles.”
Here, Pocan is referring to two things: The first is Amazon’s efforts to keep employees from unionizing by telling them that unions cost too much money and that the company already provides enough benefits for its workers.
The second is a reference from a 2018 report in which British author James Bloodworth, who went undercover at an Amazon warehouse, said he found a bottle of urine on a warehouse shelf. When speaking to Insider, Bloodworth said at the time that workplace culture in the warehouse was like a “prison” and that workers were admonished for taking restroom breaks.
In a reply to Pocan, the account for Amazon News said, “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”
“We hope you can enact policies that get other employers to offer what we already do,” it added.
“And yes, I do believe your workers,” Pocan bit back. “You don’t?”
And yes, I do believe your workers.— Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) March 25, 2021
Amid the exchanges, Amazon began trending on Twitter, with many people very confused and others outwardly shocked at the tone in Amazon’s tweet.
This is so wild. What brand thinks it’s a smart idea to publicly communicate in such a condescending manner, especially when there’s ample documentation of how little protection you offer your fulfillment center workers? Not doing yourself any favors here…— Charlotte Hill (@hill_charlotte) March 25, 2021
Eventually, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) added her voice by including a letter from an Amazon manager who noted three separate instances where bags of poop had been found by drivers.
“This you?” she asked.
On Thursday, Amazon News and Senator Elizabeth Warren (Ma.) engaged in another so-called “Twitter war.”
In a reply to a condemnatory thread by Amazon news, Warren accused Amazon of exploiting loopholes to pay lower taxes and vowed to “fight to break up Big Tech so you’re not powerful enough to heckle senators with snotty tweets.”
In a reply, Amazon News accused Warren of trying to break them up “so that they can’t criticize her anymore.”
Amid this “Twitter war,” Amazon workers at a warehouse in Alabama have been voting over the last couple of months on whether or not to unionize.
That vote ends Monday, while counting is expected to begin Tuesday. If the push is successful, it would become the first Amazon warehouse in the U.S. to be represented by a union.
Facebook Is Reviewing More Than 2,200 Hours of Footage for Next-Gen AI
The project, which could prove to be revolutionary, is already raising some big privacy concerns.
Facebook’s Next-Gen AI
Facebook announced Thursday that it has captured more than 2,200 hours of first-person video that it will use to train next-gen AI models.
The company said it aims to make the AI, called Ego4D, capable of understanding and identifying both real and virtual objects through a first-person perspective using smart glasses or VR headsets. In effect, that could potentially help users do everything from remembering where they placed forgotten items to recording others in secret.
Facebook listed five key scenarios the project aims to tackle and gave real-world examples of how each may look for people who will eventually use the AI.
- “What happened when?” With that scenario, Facebook gave the example, “Where did I leave my keys?”
- “What am I likely to do next?” There, Facebook gave the example, “Wait, you’ve already added salt to this recipe.”
- “What am I doing?” For example, “What was the main topic during class?”
- “Who said what when?” For example, “What was the main topic during class?”
- “Who is interacting with whom?” For example, “Help me better hear the person talking to me at this noisy restaurant.”
Facebook said the amount of footage it has collected is 20 times greater than any other data set used by the company.
In the wake of recent controversy surrounding Facebook, it’s important to note that the footage wasn’t reaped from users. Instead, the company said it, and 13 university partners, compiled the footage from more than 700 participants around the world.
Still, that hasn’t alleviated all privacy concerns.
In an article titled, “Facebook is researching AI systems that see, hear, and remember everything you do,” The Verge writer James Vincent said that although the project’s guidelines seem practical, “the company’s interest in this area will worry many.”
Vincent pointe out that the AI announcement doesn’t mention anything in the way of privacy or removing data for people who may not want to be recorded.
A Facebook spokesperson later assured Vincent that privacy safeguards will be introduced to the public in the future.
“For example, before AR glasses can enhance someone’s voice, there could be a protocol in place that they follow to ask someone else’s glasses for permission, or they could limit the range of the device so it can only pick up sounds from the people with whom I am already having a conversation or who are in my immediate vicinity,” the spokesperson said.
Among positive reception, some believe the tech could be revolutionary for helping people around the house, as well as for teaching robots to more rapidly learn about their surroundings.
FDA Issues Its First E-Cigarette Authorization Ever
The authorization only applies to tobacco-flavored products, as the FDA simultaneously rejected several sweet and fruit-flavored e-cigarette cartridges.
FDA Approves E-Cigarette
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an e-cigarette pen sold under the brand name Vuse on Tuesday, as well as two tobacco-flavored cartridges that can be used with the pen.
This marks the first time the FDA has ever authorized the use of vaping products. In a news release, the agency said it made the decision because “the authorized products’ aerosols are significantly less toxic than combusted cigarettes based on available data.”
“The manufacturer’s data demonstrates its tobacco-flavored products could benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products — either completely or with a significant reduction in cigarette consumption — by reducing their exposure to harmful chemicals,” the agency added.
The company that owns Vuse, R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company, also submitted several sweet and fruit-flavored pods for review; however, those were all rejected. While the FDA did not specify which flavors it rejected, it did note that it has yet to make a decision on whether to allow menthol-flavored e-cigarettes, including ones sold under Vuse.
FDA Is Reviewing All Vape Products Still on the Market
In January 2020, the FDA banned pre-filled pods with sweet and fruity flavors from being sold. While other e-cigarette related products, including some forms of flavored vapes, were allowed to stay on the market for the time being, they were only able to do so if they were submitted for FDA review.
The FDA’s primary issue with fruity cartridges stems from statistics showing that those pods more easily hook new smokers, particularly underage smokers.
In fact, in its approval of the Vuse products, the FDA said it only authorized them because it “determined that the potential benefit to smokers who switch completely or significantly reduce their cigarette use, would outweigh the risk to youth, provided the applicant follows post-marketing requirements aimed at reducing youth exposure and access to the products.”
While some have cheered the FDA’s decision, not everyone was enthusiastic. Many critics cited a joint FDA-CDC study in which nearly 11% of teens who said they vape also indicated regularly using Vuse products.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Wall Street Journal) (The Washington Post)
Kaiser Permanente Health Workers Vote To Authorize Strike Over Pay, Staffing, and Safety
The vote could inspire unioned Kaiser workers in other states to eventually approve strikes of their own.
Workers Approve Strike
Over 24,000 unioned nurses and other healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente hospitals voted Monday to authorize strikes against the company in California and Oregon.
The tens of thousands of workers who cast a ballot make up 86% of the Kaiser-based healthcare professionals represented by either the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) or the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. An overwhelming 96% voted to approve the strike.
According to both unions, the list of workers includes nurses, pharmacists, midwives, and physical therapists.
The vote itself does not automatically initiate a strike; rather, it gives the unions the power to call a strike amid stalled contract negotiations between Kaiser and the unions. If the unions ultimately tell their members to begin striking, they will need to give a 10-day warning.
The California and Oregon contracts expired Sep. 30, but several more Kaiser-based union contracts are rapidly approaching their expiration dates as well. That includes contracts for more than 50,000 workers in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, Washington state, and D.C. Notably, the demands from those workers echo many of the demands made by California and Oregon’s union members.
At the center of this potential strike are three issues: staffing problems, safety concerns, and proposed revisions to Kaiser’s payment system. For months, nurses have been publicly complaining about long shifts spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, staffing shortages, and an over-reliance on contract nurses.
Because of that, they’re seeking to force Kaiser to commit to hiring more staff, as well as boost retention.
But the main catalyst for any looming strikes is pay. According to UNAC/UHCP, Kaiser wants to implement a two-tier payment system, which would decrease earnings by 26% to 39% for employees hired from 2023 onward. On top of that, those new employees would see fewer health protections.
The unions and their members worry such a system could lead to an increased feeling of resentment among workers since they would be paid different rates for performing the same job. They also worry it could exacerbate retention and hiring issues already faced by the hospital system.
Additionally, the workers want to secure 4% raises for each of the next three years, but Kaiser’s currently only willing to give 1%, citing a need to reduce labor costs to remain competitive.