- Dozens of companies have now condemned restrictive voting bills flowing through legislative chambers in at least 43 states, with many specifically singling out Georgia’s passage of one such bill last week.
- Over 70 Black executives for major U.S. companies began urging other businesses to fight back on Tuesday.
- Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola, and Apple all joined the effort on Wednesday by condemning Georgia’s new voter law, while major players in the film and sports industry have announced plans or considerations to pull out of the state.
- In a CNBC interview Wednesday evening, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) accused the companies of making blanket criticisms without indicating what parts of the law they oppose, though CNBC’s anchors quickly outlined several specific aspects of the law that companies have criticized.
Black Execs Form Coalition Against Voter Suppression
More major companies are speaking out against GOP-led efforts to restrict voting access across the country, following the lead of more than 70 Black executives who signed a letter Tuesday urging businesses to take action.
Despite growing frustrations from consumers, many corporations were largely silent last week when the Georgia state legislature passed a massive overhaul of its election laws.
That newly-formed law enacts stricter voter identification requirements for submitting and returning absentee ballots. Counties can also now choose to only offer a single drop box location if they want, and drop boxes will be shut down on the last four days of voting. The law also makes it a misdemeanor to directly hand out food or drinks to voters waiting in line at polling sites.
Georgia isn’t alone here. According to Axios, at least 42 other states are working to restrict voting access.
With that in mind, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, one of the leaders of the coalition of Black executives, wrote in Tuesday’s letter, “When the [Georgia] law passed, I started paying attention.”
“There seems to be no one speaking out,” he added. “We thought if we spoke up, it might lead to a situation where others felt the responsibility to speak up.”
As The New York Times noted, while some Georgia-based companies like Delta, Coca-Cola, and Home Depot offered general statements in support of voting rights, “none took a specific stance on the bills.” That also included Merck.
“This is about all Americans having the right to vote,” said former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault, who is leading the coalition of Black executives alongside Frazier. “But we need to recognize the special history of the denial of a right to vote for Black Americans. And we will not be silent.”
That coalition has since called on corporate America to publicly reject proposed voting laws that could disenfranchise Black voters. It’s also called on companies to use their influence, money, and lobbyists to hold lawmakers accountable.
The group itself appears to be the first time that this many powerful Black executives have joined forces to call out other companies for not standing up for racial justice.
More Companies Speak out
A domino effect of companies speaking out began to appear by Wednesday, beginning with Delta Airlines.
After facing a potential consumer boycott for not taking a stronger stance on the Georgia voting bill, CEO Ed Bastian released a statement that read, “I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.”
“The right to vote is sacred,” Bastian added. “It is fundamental to our democracy and those rights not only need to be protected, but easily facilitated in a safe and secure manner.”
“Since the bill’s inception, Delta joined other major Atlanta corporations to work closely with elected officials from both parties, to try and remove some of the most egregious measures from the bill. We had some success in eliminating the most suppressive tactics that some had proposed.”
More drastically, the director of an upcoming Indiana Jones movie, James Mangold, and Star Wars icon Mark Hamill both announced that they will no longer film in Georgia.
Last week, the executive director of Major League Baseball said he’s considering whether or not to move games out of the state. President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he would “strongly support” such a plan.
Gov. Kemp Fires Back
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) spoke about the wave of companies that have now condemned his state’s new election law in an interview Wednesday evening.
“Specifically for Delta, they did not express any reservations about the final products of this bill,” Kemp said on CNBC. “It wasn’t until a couple of days after we signed it, after the political pressure, that Ed Bastian is now putting out a statement… quite honestly, nothing he said yet is pointing to any specific points in the bill that are causing suppression or any of those things because it doesn’t exist.”
Kemp repeated his point of not having seen any specific criticisms multiple times in the interview, even though CNBC’s anchors mentioned cited complaints from Frazier and others.
In fact, Kemp claimed multiple times in the interview that the bill actually expands voter access in Georgia.
“Governor, [these companies] don’t think so though,” anchor Sara Eisen said at one point. “No matter how much you say that. They’ve come out against it, and they’re going to fight it. And what we saw a few years ago with the LGBT bathroom bill rules, was that corporations are very powerful and once they start threatening boycotts of the state, your state, your predecessor reversed on the rules. So you’re going to deal with the corporate backlash. How far are you willing to take it?”
“Look, I’m glad to deal with it,” Kemp said before once again claiming he had not seen any specific complaints from corporations.
See what others are saying: (CNBC) (The Hill) (MarketWatch)
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.