Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Come Sail Away

When you go on a cruise on the Amazon you need to not just be afraid of the pirhanas but of Covid which is equally as deadly.

Amazon has come under scrutiny for its varying business practices including stifling small businesses,  harming those small companies that sell on Amazon from selling outside the platform, book publishing percents and of course being a monopoly when it comes to online selling. They have long been predatory but since Covid there are more eyes on the company.  And what really been brought to the forefront is the reality of working for Amazon and how they handle, staff and manage their warehouse staff and in turn ultimately run their business.

Mother Jones years ago did a profile on being an Amazon worker including how they use snowbirds and other migrant workers and hire many through secondary operators to keep wages low while also describing the the conditions in which they work.  Since then more stories have been done regarding the way Amazon contracts workers, including those who drive the delivery trucks and their danger to the roads and how Amazon absolves themselves of responsibility when fatalities result due to the demanding schedule that all employees must adhere to to meet their "exacting" standards. If there ever was time to unionize this is the time.  But Amazon will have none of it and this will be a protracted battle as time passes.

Then came Covid and the attempt to organize and establish a protocol that lent to worker safety came to the attention of the public at large as it was the first time they could not meet demand from the massive amounts of orders across the country when the quarantine and shelter in place took place across the country.  In that many workers fell sick leading to warehouses shutting down, workers who became activists were terminated with racial tropes being used and in turn Whole Foods also an Amazon company were overwhelmed with their own demands as they too became an essential business.  From hours, to schedules to wages all of which Amazon had kept private was now a matter of public knowledge.

Years ago The New York Times did an expose on the culture of Amazon and how it changed Seattle for the worse.  And while some of that may be true, Seattle has a history of being a company town and their own failures in protecting those of the underclass. I use that word as it was not just race that was a factor, it was about one's own personal history and culture in a city  that was largely white, measures becomes less an extrinsic measure such as gender or race, but one  of class, family and education in which to use as a measure or tool to determine worth.  So when race is factored out ultimately there are still measures in which to discriminate and segregate.

Nashville as I have written is the bookend to Seattle in ways that to this day amaze me and would surprise those who live in Seattle, for they are sure they are superior in equality and egalitarianism, But what they either did not know or simply  forgot,  that the same measures Nashville uses, history and class, are the same measures they use,  they just have a third that is less of a secret as it is in Nashville.  And Seattle used to be a working man's town and there was a strong union presence but today those same businesses that still exist have long been anti union, Nordstrom is one and even Teachers and others who once took to the picket lines are now quiet as this is where we are heading, to all of us towing the company line.  The right to work states of the South are the sirens of that ship cruising the Amazon, just ask Boeing another Seattle corporation who found the waters off South Carolina a little to warm to not dive in.

And it is no surprise that Nashville orgasmed itself when Amazon designated it the home of its Center for Operational Excellence.   They are still wetting themselves as the other white shoe firm from Alliance Bernstein has had to postpone its relocation due to Covid but given what is happening here I suspect that they are thrilled to be leaving and how that will favor them in the long run.  So in some way Covid was a blessing in disguise.

Before Covid this was the current PR.  Labor Statistics, over 291,000 non-farm jobs were added in the Nashville metropolitan area between 2009 and November 2019; between 2017 and 2018 alone, 29,800 jobs were added. This growth has become more glaring to locals as more people move to Nashville, at over 100 people daily at its peak in 2016, according the U.S. Census Bureau.

Although Amazon’s 5,000 new jobs are a win for Nashville, it still makes up only a small percentage of the roughly 403,000 Nashville residents who are currently employed. Furthermore, companies such as AllianceBernstein, EY, SmileDirectClub, and Philips have all announced plans to bring major offices or headquarters to Downtown Nashville.  Since that time much has changed, SmileDirect has laid off many and is under investigation, EY has not said anything, Philips and other companies have also laid off, (Nissan another large presence in Nashville) closed offices and many many other business have changed their plans.  
The time frame for Amazon in Nashville is 2021 and much will change undoubtedly as time passes and undoubtedly they will continue to lie, misrepresent facts, and follow their own agenda unless some legislation changes to force their hand.  But the reality is that they were never going to pay the average employee 150K per job and the absurdity of that still makes me laugh as the city itself is undergoing its own crisis from budget mishaps, the Covid pandemic, the Tornado and the overall slide in the economy both local and national as many other industries and business are now reeling from this as well. And with Amazon you can never be too sure as they change with the wind when it comes to their long term plans and they are now looking to buy more of the properties than lease them.  The office footprint for Amazon is twice as expansive as it was just three years ago.   Despite that growth, a deep dive into the numbers suggests that the company may be pumping the brakes on new leases. It may also be trending in favor of owning.

Additionally we are going to see more businesses reexamine the central office and how to maintain social distancing, the idea of working from home to reduce costs has already led Facebook to decree it can be indefinite but with the note that where the employee chooses to live will affect wages as the cost of living is a determining factor with regards to wages and now more than ever this will be an issues coming forward, as business will be ultimately looking at how to change the bottom line, and rather than losing work force via layoffs,  reassigning and relocating them may be the goal post Covid.

And this goes in line with the bullshit Amazon peddles is that regards to wages.  CityLab did an analysis of the wage issue and found it of course in opposite to the promises and long term goals that the city agreed to with Amazon and the incentives offered.  This is a great analysis that anyone who lives in a city/state where the endless incentives dished out actually mean nothing and ends up costing the tax payer more.  I suspect that this practice will be kicked into high gear in the year ahead as States try to right the tax revenue post Covid.

In Nashville, Will Amazon Overpromise and Under-Deliver?
New salary data cast doubt among activists on whether Amazon will fulfill its compensation pledge in Nashville. And they’re advocating to stall local approvals.

By Sarah Holder
March 15, 2019
CityLab in San Francisco, focused on urban politics, housing, and work.

A transparency measure passed last year in Nashville has unlocked new information about Amazon’s plan to build an operations center there, including hints that the company may not fulfill its employee salary promises. The document, which also reveals Amazon’s local hiring projections, offers the clearest look yet at Amazon’s employment plans in an HQ2 city. And as Nashville’s Metro Council prepares to vote on the city’s incentive package on Tuesday, advocates are hoping to use it to push them to defer approval, and organize a public hearing with Amazon.

In its November public announcement, Amazon pledged it would build a 1-million square foot “Operations Center of Excellence” in downtown Nashville, investing more than $230 million in the city and hiring 5,000 full-time workers paid “an average wage of over $150,000.” In the more detailed resolution released this week, Amazon reaffirmed those commitments, and for the first time provided a breakdown of what the positions might look like. The majority of the jobs (3,000) are projected to be in business and financial operations, and 40 percent of the total jobs are expected to be held by “residents of Davidson County.”

What’s less clear is how much each of these jobs will pay. Amazon reiterated in its resolution that overall, the jobs will have an “average salary of over $150,000.” But instead of including its own specific projected salary ranges, Amazon posted Davidson County’s median annual wage for each category of job, and promised that almost all of Amazon’s Nashville employees will be paid more.

The county’s overall median annual wage is $47,110, and Amazon promises that 90 to 95 percent of Amazon jobs will top it. The top Davidson County salary listed goes to those in management jobs, who are paid a median annual wage of $104,830. Amazon is projected to employ 50 of them, and pay them “above” that median. The lowest salaries are projected to go to Amazon’s 400 office and administrative support workers, 90 to 95 percent of whom will also be paid “above” the Davidson County median of $37,540.

All of those baseline salaries are a far cry from the $150,000 average salary Amazon promised, notes Ann Barnett, a campaign and community coordinator with the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, and an organizer with Stand Up Nashville. “Let’s give Amazon all of the benefit of the doubt—let’s say they’ll pay all employees $50,000 over the median wage,” she said. That average still comes to about $118,000 a year. “Literally, they’d have to almost triple these wages to reach the number they’ve been promising all along.”

Amazon declined to comment to CityLab on the record about how these medians would affect its salary decisions.

Part of the problem could be that Amazon promised median salaries of $150,000 in all three cities it initially chose to host new campuses, seemingly regardless of local costs of living. And $150,000 goes a lot further in Nashville than it does in Arlington County, where Amazon plans to build another campus; or in Seattle, the site of Amazon’s original headquarters. According to Sperling’s Best Places, Nashville’s cost of living ranking—accounting for things like home prices, utilities, and transportation costs—is 110, more than the U.S.’s average of 100, but much lower than Arlington’s 194.2 and Seattle’s 204. Comparing housing prices alone, Nashville median home costs $250,000, versus Arlington’s $685,000 and Seattle’s $761,000.

“I wouldn’t want to get into an argument about how little they deserve to be paid,” said Barnett. “The bottom line is that Amazon has promised an average of $150,000. If they’re lying about that, what else are they lying about?”

The “Do Better Nashville” law that led Amazon to release this information was introduced by council member Anthony Davis in November 2017 and passed last January, amid controversy over Nashville’s role in the bidding war for Amazon’s HQ2. The Nashville Metro Council has final approval power over the incentive package offered to Amazon, even though it was not fully briefed on the contents of Nashville’s HQ2 bid, which included up to $15 million in cash grants, contingent on hiring. (For each job created over the next seven years, the city has pledged $500 to the company, pending the Metro Council’s Tuesday vote.) The state has separately approved a $65 million cash grant, also contingent on hiring, along with $21.7 million in job tax credits.

In the past, there has been little public oversight over what companies that were promised incentives​​​​​​ actually delivered, says Barnett. “We had seen a lot of projects come into town promising to deliver a certain number or type of jobs and once they get the lucrative tax deals, they change their whole business plan,” she said. “We wanted to get more transparency, and get answers concretely upfront in writing so the council folks—and by extension the community members—could make a more informed decision on the front end.”

Under the new law, every company given economic and community incentive grants or payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) incentives by the city must outline the number, quality, duration, and compensation of the jobs they’ll create, both during and after construction; whether they’ll go to Davidson County residents; and the number of labor and OSHA violations the company has had in the past decade.

Barnett says that in its resolution, Amazon has failed to adequately address all these points. The company pledged that 40 percent of its employees will be residents of Davidson County, but Barnett notes that it did not break down the number of people relocated versus the number of people hired from within the community. She fears Amazon could be counting employees that move from Seattle or elsewhere and become residents thereafter.

“I feel incredibly frustrated,” said Barnett. “They haven’t given us any answers, even though we have this mechanism to get these answers.”

Amazon has made other commitments to developing a relationship with Nashville’s local talent, however. In its resolution, Amazon announced it would hold “two job fairs or recruiting events” annually, in partnership with local universities and HBCUs, “focused on diverse hiring over the initial two years.” Just this week, it pledged $800,000 to “endow a computer science professor at Tennessee State University,” according to the Nashville Business Journal, “in an effort to start establishing its own pipeline of diverse prospective employees.” Amazon has also committed $100,000 to Project Return, a local organization that helps the formerly incarcerated return to civilian life.

And while there are few ways to claw back incentives once they’re given, Nashville has given itself an escape route by passing the “Do Better” law, which mandates that companies submit quarterly reports to the mayor’s office of economic and community development providing updates on hiring and wages. If Amazon gets two years into the project—paid $500 for each job it creates—but doesn’t hold to its salary and local hiring commitments detailed in the resolution, the council can suspend or terminate incentives, said Barnett.

Arlington County, which has been chosen to host another 25,000-employee Amazon campus, does not have similar transparency measures in place. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam quietly signed away up to $750 million in state incentives (some of which is contingent on hiring) to Amazon last month; and the Arlington county council will vote Saturday on the county’s own incentive package of $23 million, which is tied to projected increases in the local hotel tax.

Activists hope to use a public hearing before the vote to raise their own concerns over Amazon’s cooperation with federal immigration agents, its perceived lack of public engagement, and its potential to inflate already-high housing prices—though local polling shows that county residents are overwhelmingly supportive of the deal there, and they have few allies on the county council.

“We’ve lost 25,000 jobs in this century,” said Christian Dorsey, the Arlington County Board’s vice-chair. “Amazon is effectively going to bring us back to the peak of our prior economic performance.”

But as activists in New York City proved last month when they drove Amazon away from building its planned campus in Long Island City, Queens, nothing’s a done deal until it’s done.

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