Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two

·5 min read


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Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama will hold another unionization vote starting in February after the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the company interfered in last year's vote.

Amazon will also likely be a hot topic in the Senate on Thursday when the Judiciary Committee is set to hold a markup on an antitrust bill that aims to limit tech giants from prioritizing their own products over rivals.

Let's jump into the news.

Amazon union vote set for February

Amazon workers at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., will once again vote on whether to form a union after the e-commerce giant's initial victory was thrown out.

Gearing up: The election will be held by mail starting next month, with ballots being sent out Feb. 4 and counted on March 28.

Workers at the Bessemer warehouse initially voted 1,798-738 against unionizing last year. An additional 505 ballots were not counted.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which would represent the workers in the case of a union win, immediately filed objections to that result.

Interference: NLRB officials determined after a lengthy hearing that Amazon had interfered with the rights of employees to freely cast their ballots.

The company was dinged for pushing USPS to install a mailbox in the facility's parking lot after initially pushing for an in-person vote.

Amazon was also faulted for effectively polling employees by distributing vote-no stickers. The initial vote to form what would be the first union at an American Amazon facility drew national attention.

Read more here.

Antitrust bill on deck

Sen. A Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
Sen. A Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday will mark up a proposal to limit tech giants from prioritizing their own goods over rival products, signaling momentum for proponents of revamping antitrust laws in the new year.

Bipartisan support: The American Innovation and Choice Online Act has bipartisan support, co-sponsored by Antitrust Subcommittee Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

Senators in support of the proposal say it would mitigate concerns critics have raised that tech giants, such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook, have engaged in discriminatory behavior by preferencing their own goods and disadvantaging their rivals.

"For too long, tech giants have used their power to suppress their rivals, unfairly put their products first in their marketplaces, and force sellers on their platforms to buy more services from them in exchange for better placement on their site. This has hurt both small businesses and consumers," Klobuchar said in a statement Monday announcing Thursday's markup.

The proposal is also co-sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.).

Industry response: Tech industry groups are pushing back on the proposal ahead of the markup.

Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at NetChoice, criticized the committee for not holding a hearing ahead of the markup. NetChoice names Amazon and Google among its members.

"A committee hearing would shine sunlight on what has thus far been an opaque legislative process," Szabo said.

Chamber of Progress, which calls Amazon, Apple, Google and Meta corporate partners, said the bill is "bad for consumers" and "politically toxic."

Read more here.

LET'S CIRCLE BACK (AGAIN)

Facebook is pushing back its plans for employees to return to offices until March and will require that employees show proof of having received a booster shot for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, had previously planned to fully reopen offices for vaccinated employees on Jan. 31 but is following in the steps of other companies in delaying the return as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads.

"We're focused on making sure our employees continue to have choices about where they work given the current Covid-19 landscape," Janelle Gale, Meta's vice president of human resources, said in a statement.

"We understand that the continued uncertainty makes this a difficult time to make decisions about where to work, so we're giving more time to choose what works best for them."

Read more here.

BITS AND PIECES

An op-ed to chew on: SpaceX's Elon Musk is going into the carbon capture business

Lighter click: Elmo might not like Rocco

Notable links from around the web:

The real action for tech regulation is far from Washington, D.C. (Protocol / Ben Brody)

Chicago's "Race-Neutral" Traffic Cameras Ticket Black and Latino Drivers the Most (ProPublica / Emily Hopkins and Melissa Sanchez)

Big Tech 'Antitrust Reform' Agenda Sags, Revealing Mostly Empty Rhetoric (TechDirt / Karl Bode)

One last thing: Judge exits Amazon case

Amazon logo
Amazon logo

A judge removed himself from a case involving Amazon after questions about potential financial conflict arose.

U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady removed himself from a 20-month civil case he had been overseeing between Amazon and two former employees after it was discovered his wife owned around $22,000 in Amazon stock, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

The civil case involves Amazon suing the two former employees for allegedly violating its conflict-of-interest policies.

O'Grady stepped away from the case after the Journal reported on his wife's financial connections, saying he did not know his wife had stock in the company. The stocks were sold after the report.

Read more here.

That's it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill's technology and cybersecurity pages for the latest news and coverage. We'll see you Wednesday.

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