In the end, it wasn’t even close. Workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse near Birmingham voted 1,798 to 738 against forming a union. Another 505 contested ballots won’t be counted, since they wouldn’t be enough to change the outcome.
As discussed a few weeks ago, the negative vote came even as Amazon was suffering from a wave of bad publicity, much of it self-inflicted. But in retrospect not much of it had to do with warehouse working conditions (it was delivery drivers, not warehouse workers, who reportedly suffered from a lack of bathrooms). And Amazon went all out to convince its employees to vote no, including holding anti-union lectures at work, running anti-union TV ads, and sending anti-union text messages.
“Amazon spent big in Bessemer, hiring some of the nation’s premier anti-union lawyers and relentlessly sowing fear and uncertainty among the workforce,” Rebecca Kolins Givan, an associate professor at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, told Danielle on Friday. “Their investment paid off. They scared workers into voting against the union.”
The company objected to the analysis, however. “It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true,” Amazon said in a statement. “Amazon didn’t win—our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union.”
The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, which was seeking to represent the Bessemer workers, said it planned to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
Whatever the outcome of that complaint, the current legal requirements for forming a union appear to present a substantial barrier for expanding labor power in similar situations. Amazon and many other tech companies have the means to conduct the most sophisticated anti-union campaigns, campaigns which have proven their effectiveness in the Bessemer vote.
Across the entire tech business market, the union push is meeting mixed success. Workers at Medium voted not to form a union, though workers at Kickstarter and Glitch voted yes. At Google, about 900 workers and contractors voluntarily joined the Alphabet Workers Union since January, but it has not sought a company-wide vote to represent all workers. The Google union has already made a difference for some workers, as Danielle covered in her latest magazine feature. Its small size means it can’t rely on common union tactics, like threatening to strike, and will need to keep up the pace of recruiting. “We’re going to have to be unconventional and creative,” executive union council member Auni Ahsan says. “How can we find pressure points and attack from different directions?”
Sticking with the topic of working conditions, the annual Fortune Best Companies to Work For list is out today and includes a mix of companies with unionized employees and those without. Among the tech set, Cisco and Salesforce grabbed the top two rankings, Nvidia was 11th, Adobe 18th, and SAP America 29th. Smaller tech companies including Atlassian, Zillow, Splunk, and Citrix also ranked in the top 75.
MicroNuance or NuanceSoft? While some of its peers are doing lots of little acquisitions, Microsoft appears to go for bigger bites at times. The software giant, which acquired LinkedIn and Github and has lately been pursuing Discord, now is buying Nuance Communications, a healthcare-focused A.I. company, for around $20 billion. A pioneer in A.I. apps, Nuance still makes Dragon Dictate software but has spun off businesses like imaging and automotive A.I. in recent years. Speaking of spin offs, IBM says its departing IT infrastructure business unit will be called Kyndryl. What the what the? They say it's "Kyn" from the word kinship because "relationships with people–employees, customers and partners–are at the center of the strategy" and "Dryl" from tendril, "bringing to mind new growth." Okay then. On the other hand, the list of IT spinoffs is filled with names like Conduent, Cognizant, and Perspecta, so ¯_(ツ)_/¯.
Twelve dancing unicorns. The startup scene in India is suddenly red-hot. After only six companies in 2019 and seven companies in 2020 reached "unicorn" status valued at $1 billion or more, six Indian companies last week hit the $1 billion level, Bloomberg reports. The startups raising big bucks included fintech Cred, e-commerce firm Meesho, and app developer Mohalla Tech. But Buzzfeed reporter Pranav Dixit wrote a compelling first-person essay on Sunday criticizing Big Tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter for not taking more pro-democracy stands in India. "Writing about technology from India now feels like having a front-row seat to the country’s rapid slide into authoritarianism," he notes.
Hijinks in high security. Another day, another scraping incident. Hackers posted personal info about 1.3 million Clubhouse users but the company says the data dump was collected from its app, not a breach of its security. In other cybersecurity news, the Biden administration is planning to nominate Chris Inglis, former deputy director of the National Security Agency, as the first national cyber director, the Washington Post reports. The position, created by Congress last year, oversees cybersecurity efforts at civilian federal agencies.
Chip off the old fab. The White House is hosting a virtual semiconductor summit today with tech CEOs from Intel, Google, and Dell among others joining automakers and other hard-hit industries to discuss the chip shortage with the president.
I am once again asking for your tech budget. In gadget world, Apple is prepping new iPad Pro models with mini-LED screen technology but the tablets may be in short supply due to the aforementioned chip shortage and difficulties making the new displays. Bloomberg also reports Apple is working on a combination streaming video box and video conferencing camera set up. Meanwhile, Google is "sunsetting" its iOS and Android Shopping app to better focus on shopping via its search service. Oh, and about that COVID PC boom? It's still booming. The industry shipped almost 83 million desktop and laptop computers in the first quarter, 55% more than a year ago and the highest Q1 total since 2012, Canalys reports.
No go. NASA's Ingenuity drone did not take off on Mars on Sunday as planned due to a programming glitch discovered during a test on Friday. The first flight of the robot helicopter will now come April 14 or later, the space agency says.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Friday's essay about non-fungible tokens used to fund a book release drew plenty of comments: pro, con, and just confused. Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain and Berkman Klein Center senior research coordinator Will Marks have an essay in The Atlantic arguing that NFTs in general should be taken seriously as more than just as a temporary fad.
But these more conventional fragments of ownership—ancillary artifacts or services that could be sold on eBay or at a flea market—are distractions from the value of NFTs more than enhancements of it. An essential part of NFTs’ value is that they don’t convey anything resembling traditional ownership.
When patrons support artists with a grant—and perhaps receive a public thanks from the artist—they are not buying works, but rather publicly signaling their commitment to the artist, intertwining their respective reputations. They are conspicuously consuming vapors, and the very intangibility of the benefits contributes to the conspicuousness. One is reminded of the short-lived app called I Am Rich, which merely displayed an image of a glowing red gem. It ran for $999.99 in the Apple App Store, and scored eight purchasers, only two of whom appeared to regret their purchase enough to seek a refund. And apps can’t be resold—so those purchasers weren’t in it for any perceived investment value.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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A new SPAC offers a way to bet on the company that powers many of the apps in your phone By Shawn Tully
Good news, Amazon: The end of the pandemic is unlikely to slow down e-commerce By Lance Lambert
Inside Sweden’s ambitious plan to turn the krona into a digital currency—and fend off the rise of crypto coins By Sophie Mellor
Tech’s work-from-home boom is leaving frontline workers behind. How leaders can close the gap By Azella Perryman
Corporate greenwashing is all the rage. How can we stop it? By Paul Polman
Comfortable work-from-home clothes you can still wear when you’re back in the office By Rachel King
(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)
BEFORE YOU GO
It's been a mixed 46th season for Saturday Night Live but the most recent show, with Carey Mulligan hosting and Kid Cudi as musical guest, was top notch. Highlights included the cold open covering the Derek Chauvin trial and Bowen Yang's amazing bit as the iceberg hit by the Titanic ("There's so much going on beneath the surface that you can't see"), which was a classic. But the absolute best moment to me was Kid Cudi performing his song "Sad People" in a dress honoring the late Kurt Cobain.
Close call, life on the edge
Ahh, when the time comes, I'll find peace
Still in the search of nights sittin' wishin'
I can find love in me
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