Amazon’s AI-powered cameras are a double-edged sword that could make drivers safer, but also force the company to sacrifice productivity, a transportation expert says

GettyImages 1232149494 UNITED STATES - APRIL 6: Amazon driver Shawndu Stackhouse delivers packages in Northeast Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Amazon’s drivers must meet demanding productivity quotas as high as 300 packages per day, which drivers say require them to cut corners.

Amazon recently installed AI-powered surveillance cameras in its delivery trucks that monitor drivers’ behavior in what the company says is an effort to reduce risky driving behaviors and collisions.

Whether the cameras ultimately accomplish that goal may depend on how much productivity Amazon is willing to sacrifice in order to keep drivers safe, according to a transportation expert who studies AI-powered safety systems.

Amazon’s cameras, which are made by a startup called Netradyne, record 100% of the time that the vehicle’s ignition is on, tracking workers’ hand movements and even facial expressions and audibly alerting them in real-time when the AI detects what it suspects is distracted or risky driving.

Almost immediately, drivers pushed back – and one even resigned, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation – citing concerns about the cameras eliminating virtually any privacy they once had, as well as potentially making them less productive.

Several drivers told Insider’s Avery Hartmans and Kate Taylor they’re worried about Amazon penalizing them for using their phones on the job, even though they need the devices for navigation. Others said the additional safety precautions they’re taking to avoid committing infractions, like stopping twice at an intersection or driving slower, are making it hard to keep up with the company’s notoriously demanding delivery quotas, which can run as high 300 packages per day.

But that’s exactly the trade-off Amazon may be forced to make, Matt Camden, a senior research associate at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, told Insider.

“If a fleet wants to reduce risky driving behaviors, it’s critical to look at why the drivers are doing that in the first place, and usually, it’s because there’s other consequences that are driving that behavior,” such as “unrealistic delivery times,” Camden said.

“They want to keep their job. If they miss their delivery time, that’s going to look bad – they could be fired, they could lose their livelihood,” he said. “And if [the delivery time] is unrealistic, then they have to find a way to get it done.”

Instead, Camden said, companies like Amazon need to approach technology-based safety systems “from a more positive standpoint, from a training standpoint and say: ‘We’re not going to nitpick you. We just want you to be safe.'”

“Netradyne cameras are used to help keep drivers and the communities where we deliver safe,” Amazon spokesperson Alexandra Miller told Insider in a statement.

“Don’t believe the self-interested critics who claim these cameras are intended for anything other than safety,” she added.

Netradyne could not be reached for comment.

Safety first

Miller told Insider in Amazon’s pilot test of the Netradyne cameras from April to October 2020, accidents decreased 48%, stop-sign violations decreased 20%, driving without a seatbelt decreased 60%, and distracted driving decreased 45%.

However, independent research on the Netradyne “Driveri” camera system Amazon uses, and AI camera systems generally, is more sparse.

In an informational video for its camera rollout, Amazon claimed “the camera systems” can “reduce collisions by 1/3 through in-cab warnings,” citing studies by an investment bank called First Analysis as well as VTTI, where Camden works. (First Analysis could not be reached for comment).

Amazon didn’t respond to questions about which studies it was referring to in the video.

Camden said VTTI hasn’t looked at Netradyne’s cameras specifically, but that a study it conducted in 2010 found “video-based monitoring systems” without real-time alerts or AI prevented between 38.1% and 52.2% of “safety-related events” when tested on two different company’s delivery fleets.

But those safety benefits were a result of funneling data from the cameras to safety managers, who could then give feedback to drivers to help them drive safer.

“We can’t say that these AI-powered cameras would reduce 10%, 20%, 30%, 50% [of safety incidents],” Camden said. “We can’t get that specific number yet because we haven’t done the research, but it makes sense that in-vehicle alerts do work to address risky driving,'” Camden said.

Similar technologies do show promise, he said, citing VTTI research that showed real-time lane-departure warnings reducing crashes by more than 45%.

But Camden also said when VTTI did a study last year looking at why some delivery fleets are safer than others, it ultimately came down to which ones had a strong “safety culture” and were “prioritizing and valuing safety, at least on the equal level as productivity, if not higher.”

“The safest ones typically said: ‘If you’re tired, we don’t care if you miss your delivery, we want you to stop. We want you to take a break. If you have to go to the bathroom, we want you to stop and go to the bathroom. We don’t want you to feel pressured to keep going.'”

Camden said those fleets made it clear that drivers could reject unrealistic delivery times and wouldn’t be penalized if the route took longer because of traffic or construction.

“It’s easier said than done, of course, because productivity is driving the business. They have to make money, they have to keep their customers happy,” he said.

“But really, it comes down to creating the policies and the programs to support safety, support the driver, because we don’t want them speeding. We don’t want the drivers cutting corners to try to make a delivery.”

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Amazon’s victory against a union drive in Alabama proved workers want better workplaces, but America’s labor laws are too broken to help them get that, experts say

alabama amazon warehouse unionization 2x1
Amazon faces a historic union vote in Alabama.

After one of the most high-profile union – and anti-union – campaigns in recent history, Amazon employees in Bessemer, Alabama, voted overwhelmingly against unionizing, with the National Labor Relations Board confirming Friday that 71% of eligible ballots were cast in opposition.

But eight labor experts told Insider that focusing on the vote tally misses the bigger takeaway from this saga: that American workers are demanding better workplaces and a voice on the job, and America’s current labor laws simply aren’t designed to help them accomplish that goal.

Still, they said, Bessemer put a spotlight on how stacked the deck is against workers, and that the broad, diverse public support for the union drive showed the US labor movement is gaining more steam than it has in decades.

Amazon, which had aggressively opposed the union effort, undoubtedly won a significant battle this week (pending likely legal challenges from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union). But it may have put a target on its back that could prove costly in what’s likely to be an ongoing war over how companies treat their workers, the experts said.

The fight was never going to be fair

Amazon responded to the vote Friday by saying its “employees made the choice to vote against joining a union” and that it was glad their “collective voices were finally heard.”

But experts said that misrepresents what has happened since November, when Bessemer employees officially asked the NLRB to hold a union election.

“The result reflects the imbalance in current US labor law, rather than any genuine expression of whether workers would like to have more of a voice in their workplace,” Rebecca Givan, an associate labor and employment professor at Rutgers University, told Insider.

“This demonstrates just how hard it is for workers to gain a voice on the job when the employer has unlimited resources, full access to workers all day long, and very few legal constraints on what it can do or say,” she said.

Over the past several decades, American executives and politicians have chipped away at labor laws and workers’ right to organize, experts said. At the same time, companies have kept American workers’ pay and benefits down, and shipped jobs overseas where labor is cheaper – even as workers’ productivity, as well as corporate profits and executive pay, have soared.

In European counties, like France, where labor laws more heavily favor workers, some Amazon employees have been able to successfully unionize. That has paid dividends: in July, Amazon gave its French employees a 1.6% permanent raise following union negotiations.

In Bessemer, workers had a much tougher road to travel.

“Unions lose in 90% of the cases when management opposes the organizing effort,” which Amazon’s management did, Tom Kochan, a professor of management at MIT, told Insider.

That’s depite a surge in pro-union sentiment in the US in recent years. Kochan’s research in 2017 found that around 48% of non-union workers would join one if they had the opportunity, while a Gallup poll from August found that 65% of Americans approve of unions – the highest percentage in nearly 20 years.

But under US labor law, companies have lots of tools at their disposal to try to prevent employees from unionizing, from forcing them to listen to anti-union messaging in “captive-audience” meetings, to having a significant say over which employees are eligible to unionize in the first place. Even when companies violate those laws, the NLRB, which oversees union elections, lacks the power to issue fines, which experts said gives companies little incentive to play fair.

“The most important story is not the fact that the union didn’t win. Rather, it’s that they got as close to winning as they did,” Erin Hatton, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Buffalo whose research focuses on work and labor movements, told Insider.

“Through legal coercion and illegal tactics, employers spend a great deal of money to keep unions out and it usually works. So this outcome isn’t all that surprising. And yet the workers were incredibly successful in so many ways,” she said.

Anti-union tactics in the spotlight

One of those successes, experts said, was bringing attention to Amazon’s industry-standard, but still aggressively anti-union tactics.

“Amazon’s tactics during the campaign and voting process were successful for them but now are being questioned legally and in the public view,” Lynne Vincent, an assistant professor of management at Syracuse University, told Insider.

Even before employees started talking about forming a union, Amazon had hired private detectives known for union busting, spied on workers’ private Facebook groups, and tracked unionization risk with a heat map tool in an effort to thwart organizing efforts before they gained momentum.

Amazon also illegally fired multiple employees last year who organized demonstrations to shed light on what they said were unsafe and grueling working conditions, the NLRB found. Amazon previously said it disagreed with the board’s findings in one case, while the other case is still pending before an NLRB administrative law judge.

Once employees took their union drive public, Amazon enlisted expensive “union avoidance” consultants to help kick its union-busting tactics into overdrive. Amazon pushed its anti-union message through websites, t-shirts, frequent texts to employees, and midnight “education” meetings, which labor experts told Insider were fairly typically in union campaigns like this.

Amazon’s executives and PR team also waged an atypical attack on members of Congress who voiced support for the unions (Amazon later apologized for some of its tweets), and deployed an army of warehouse employees to respond to criticism of the company on social media.

But the company also sought to shape the voting process itself.

The NLRB has allowed mail-in voting in union elections since March 2020 due to the pandemic, but Amazon (twice, unsuccessfully) tried to get the NLRB to hold an in-person election. When that failed, it reportedly pressed the United States Postal Service to install a mailbox outside the Bessemer warehouse.

An Amazon spokesperson previously told Insider that the USPS installed the mailbox “for the convenience of our employees.”

But the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union – under which Amazon’s Bessemer employees would have unionized if the vote had passed – accused Amazon of using the mailbox to intimidate workers and plans to file unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB that, if serious enough, could cause the NLRB to throw out the election result.

John Logan, a labor and employment professor at San Francisco State University who specializes in companies’ union avoidance strategies, told Insider that the mailbox’s placement likely gave employees an impression that “Amazon was playing some kind of direct role in monitoring and even perhaps in counting the votes, which clearly creates an atmosphere of pressure and potentially unlawful intimidation.”

Vincent said that companies who use a similar anti-union playbook to Amazon “may see validation in the effectiveness of the tactics,” but that the Bessemer campaign may also cause politicians to reexamine and ultimately outlaw some of those tactics.

What’s next for American workers?

Kochan said the Bessemer union drive was “another clear indication that [US] labor law is broken, perhaps in its current form, beyond repair.”

But many of the experts who spoke to Insider said the massive amount of attention and public support it generated suggest there may finally be an appetite to begin those repairs.

Under the Trump administration, the NLRB “systematically rolled back workers’ rights,” according to an analysis by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. President Joe Biden has already signaled he intends to be much more pro-worker than his predecessor, releasing a video in support of unionization efforts and against corporate “anti-union propaganda” – as Amazon employees were voting.

“Given the pro union sentiment in many areas, as well as the clear backing of the current administration, it would still not be surprising to see successful efforts to unionize businesses in other areas, and eventually, even at Amazon itself,” Joseph Seiner, a labor and employment law professor at the University of South Carolina, told Insider.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, from Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, voiced support for the Amazon employees’ push to unionize. The House also passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would make it easier for workers to organize, harder for employers to misclassify workers, and ban certain union-busting tactics – though the bill faces steep odds in the Senate.

Veena Dubal, a law professor at UC Hastings who researches how technology impacts workers’ lives, said that the Bessemer vote may push regulators to look more closely at how giant tech firms like Amazon exert power over workers.

“A lot of regulatory focus has hinged on anti-trust regulation-the need to break up Amazon because of its significant market power-but the truth is, Amazon also exerts monopsony power in labor markets. In areas where Amazon warehouses exist, wages go down, not up,” Dubal said.

The COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice protests following George Floyd’s death last May have also forced Americans to reckon with how race plays a role in the workplace. That became a focus in Bessemer, where the RWDSU estimated that 85% of Amazon’s employees are Black, according to The New York Times.

“The core issue in the campaign was not about specific concessions but worker power. And in this case, it can’t be distinguished from the struggle for racial equity,” Premilla Nadasen, an associate professor of history at Barnard College who researches alternative labor movements, told Insider. “Black people are being disenfranchised electorally and subject to systemic violence. So, the struggle for economic control over matters more.”

“Official union membership figures aside,” she said, “more and more working-class Americans are recognizing the need to have a collective voice.”

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Uber gave drivers more control to prove they’re independent. Now the company is taking back control because drivers actually used it.

GettyImages 1176816141 (1) NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 24: Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO, UBER, speaks onstage during the 2019 Concordia Annual Summit - Day 2 at Grand Hyatt New York on September 24, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

  • Uber is revoking California drivers’ ability to set prices and see trip destinations in advance, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
  • Uber gave drivers more control in 2020 to avoid reclassifying drivers as employees under AB-5.
  • But it reversed course after Prop 22 exempted it from AB-5, saying drivers turned down too many rides.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In late 2019, California lawmakers passed AB-5, hoping to make it harder for companies like Uber to skirt labor laws and offload healthcare and unemployment insurance costs to taxpayers by misclassifying workers as contractors.

But Uber refused to comply, arguing that AB-5 didn’t apply to its drivers because they aren’t core to its business and that drivers really are independent because they’re “free from the control and direction” of Uber.

In an attempt to prove its independence argument, in January 2020, Uber gave California drivers more control by allowing them to set their own prices for rides and see passengers’ destinations before picking them up.

Regulators and courts didn’t buy it. But fortunately for Uber, a $200 million PR campaign around Proposition 22 successfully persuaded California voters to exempt it from AB-5, saving the company as much as $500 million per year, according to a 2019 estimate by Barclays analysts.

Now that Uber no longer needs to convince California authorities that its drivers are independent, the company plans to reclaim control, revoking the price-setting and passenger destination features it gave drivers barely a year ago, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday.

Uber’s reason for the reversal?

Too many drivers took advantage of the control Uber gave them, picking the most profitable rides while declining others, making it harder for customers to get rides and hurting Uber’s business, the company said. According to the Chronicle, one-third of drivers turned down 80% of rides.

Industry observers said the move is hardly surprising but it undermines Uber’s claim that the changes were ever about anything more than dodging regulation.

Uber did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

“It really shouldn’t be a shock to anyone,” Harry Campbell, who runs The Rideshare Guy, a popular blog among drivers, told Insider. “Since they passed Prop 22… there’s nothing holding them accountable for these changes.”

Campbell said that drivers likely won’t be happy given the popularity of the price-setting and passenger destination features, but added, “It’s kind of, unfortunately, a bit of a pattern that Uber specifically often gives drivers some things that they want and then ends up taking them away.”

“Is there a single Prop 22 promise that Uber hasn’t broken?’ Gig Workers Rising, which advocates on behalf of ride-hailing and food delivery drivers, tweeted in response to the Chronicle’s reporting, alluding to Uber’s history of misleading claims during its Prop 22 campaign.

But by revoking some driver-friendly features, Uber – which has yet to turn a profit – also revealed some of its post-pandemic priorities.

Companies like Uber and Lyft rely on flooding the market with drivers, who then face pressure to accept lower-paying rides and risk another driver getting the job or getting penalized themselves for turning down too many rides, even if those rides are unprofitable.

But during the pandemic, there has been a massive shortage of Uber and Lyft drivers, due to a drop in demand for rides and a concern among drivers about getting sick (the companies don’t provide healthcare or sick pay). And even as rider demand returns, many drivers are still staying home.

With fewer drivers on the road and Uber drivers able to freely reject unprofitable rides, they’re driving up their wages. That means higher prices and longer wait times for passengers, which Uber isn’t happy about.

“The companies, strangely, they care more about reliability than profitability at this moment in time,” Campbell said. “They want to make sure that the platform is working like everyone expects and if drivers are ignoring 80% of requests, that means that it literally is going to take longer for you to get matched with a driver.”

Campbell said Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and other platforms are offering huge incentives to drivers – like a $250 bonus for completing 20 rides – as they struggle to get them back on the road.

As with past promises, those incentives and other driver-friendly features could just as easily disappear if the market becomes saturated with drivers again and companies regain the upper hand, but Campbell said that there needs to be a middle ground.

“If Uber is going to be able to get away with paying drivers like independent contractors, I think that’s kind of some of the control that they have to give up and find a way to make work.”

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Leaked documents reveal how Amazon built a Twitter army to defend itself in a secret project codenamed ‘Veritas’

Amazon Jeff Bezos
Amazon’s Twitter army has defended it against criticism over the company’s labor practices.

Amazon is facing a fresh round of scrutiny over the army of warehouse workers it enlisted to defend the company and CEO Jeff Bezos on Twitter against criticism of the company’s grueling working conditions.

On Tuesday, The Intercept published leaked documents detailing the program, which Amazon launched in 2018 under the codename “Veritas,” revealing how Amazon recruited and trained employees to “set the record straight – leaving no lie unchallenged and showing that people who actually know what it’s like to work in our FCs love their jobs.”

Amazon required the “ambassadors” to “have a strong performance background and clean HR record, be authentic, have a great sense of humor, and be excited about speaking their mind and rebutting our critics in a polite, blunt way,” according to the internal documents obtained by The Intercept.

In a pilot test for Veritas, Amazon employees practiced pushing back against criticism that Bezos should be taxed higher, a post by Sen. Bernie Sanders interviewing a worker who said they experienced suicidal thoughts as a result of Amazon’s working conditions, and even reporting by Insider about workers urinating in bottles because they feared punishment for being “off task.”

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Amazon’s Twitter army came back under the spotlight this week amid a landmark effort by warehouse employees in its Bessemer, Alabama, facility to unionize – the largest such effort in the company’s history.

This week, dozens of Twitter accounts, portraying themselves as Amazon warehouse employees, began responding to new reports that warehouse and delivery staff still have to pee in bottlesor, in some cases, defecate in bags.

But Twitter shut down some of the accounts after Gizmodo reported that at least one was likely not a real person. (Amazon told The New York Times’ Karen Weise that the account was fake and that it had reported the account to Twitter).

Amazon’s top executives and public relations teams have also become increasingly confrontational on Twitter recently, sparring publicly with lawmakers including Sens. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as well as Rep. Mark Pocan.

The tweets, which The Intercept reported were so antagonistic that Amazon’s security team even though the company might have been hacked, were sparked because “Jeff Bezos was pissed,” according to Recode.

In one instance, Amazon’s official PR account replied to Rep. Pocan, saying “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

Amazon, which has been openly and aggressively anti-union, has deployed a range of union-busting tactics, from pushing company talking points during mandatory midnight “education” meetings to changing the timing of traffic lights near its facilities. The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, under which Amazon employees are seeking to organize, said the move was a ploy to stop its members from talking to workers stopped at red lights.

The company also reactivated its Twitter ambassadors to respond to a recent wave of criticism about the “pee bottles” and other complaints workers have raised about working conditions.

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The minimum wage would be $44 per hour if it had grown at the same rate as Wall Street bonuses

GettyImages 1207533986 Traders work during the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on March 17, 2020 at Wall Street in New York City. - Wall Street stocks rallied Tuesday on expectations for massive federal stimulus to address the economic hit from the coronavirus, partially recovering some of their losses from the prior session. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)
Wall Street employees based in New York City earned an average bonus of $184,000 last year – a 10% increase from the year before.

The chaos that the pandemic unleashed on America’s economy turned out to be a major boon for Wall Street traders, according to new data from the New York State comptroller’s office.

Wall Street firms paid their New York City-based traders an average bonus of $184,000 last year, a 10% increase from 2019, New York comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a press release Friday.

But those paydays have been skyrocketing for decades. Since 1985, Wall Street traders’ bonuses have grown 1,217% – and that’s just a fraction of their overall pay, which was more than $406,000 in 2019, according to data from DiNapoli’s office.

By comparison, the federal minimum wage has flatlined at $7.25 per hour – or $15,080 annually – for 12 consecutive years. When adjusted for inflation, it has actually decreased by 11% since 1985.

If the minimum wage had instead grown at the same rate as Wall Street bonuses, it would be $44.12 per hour today.

Unlike a majority of the US, Wall Street saw massive financial success in 2020, and experts say it exposed just how detached the industry has become from the rest of the country’s reality.

“It’s just another reminder that there’s a total disconnect between what happens on Wall Street and what happens in people’s everyday lives and in the real economy,” Sarah Anderson, director of the global economy program at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Insider.

Read more: Reddit day traders wanted to beat Wall Street to prove the system is rigged. Instead, they did it by losing.

The stock market blew past pre-pandemic levels months ago as millions of Americans still struggled to find work, while increased volatility in the markets led to record years for Wall Street firms that netted bank executives paydays of up to $33 million, even as many banks laid off workers despite promises not to during the pandemic.

In a blog post for IPS on Monday, Anderson highlighted how deregulation of the financial industry has allowed firms to link traders’ pay packages to increasingly risky investing practices that are mostly only beneficial for Wall Street.

“So much of what is the most rewarded on Wall Street is the kind of trading activity that really doesn’t add a lot to the real economy and isn’t essential,” Anderson told Insider, adding that last year’s huge bonuses were “mostly because of market volatility, not necessarily because they’ve added a lot of value to the economy.”

After the 2008 financial crisis, lawmakers passed the Dodd-Frank Act, which banned pay packages with “inappropriate risks,” but Wall Street lobbyists have successfully blocked efforts to implement the rule for years.

IPS’ report also examined how Wall Street has made racial and gender pay disparities worse because they’ve disproportionately hired white male employees for decades while people of color and women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs.

“Nationally, securities industry employees are 80.5 percent white, 5.8 percent Black, 11.5 percent Asian, and 8.1 percent Latino. By contrast, whites make up an estimated 55.4 percent of people in jobs that pay less than $15 per hour,” Anderson wrote.

Wall Street’s risky, lucrative business models and pay practices are coming under increased scrutiny as the pandemic forces Americans to reckon with the country’s growing inequality.

“I just hope that it will lead to a real assessment of how skewed our values are when people doing these essential jobs are paid such a pittance compared to people on Wall Street,” Anderson told Insider.

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Elon Musk illegally ‘threatened’ to retaliate against workers and Tesla repeatedly violated labor laws, NLRB says

Elon Musk

The National Labor Relations Board ruled Thursday that Tesla repeatedly violated labor laws by trying to prevent workers from organizing and discussing working conditions.

In a 3-2 vote, the NLRB found Tesla broke the law by “coercively interrogating” workers engaged in legally protected organizing activities, using gag orders to prevent them from talking to the media, and firing union activist Richard Ortiz in 2017 (the board ordered Tesla to rehire the worker).

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

The NLRB also ruled CEO Elon Musk “unlawfully threatened” workers in a 2018 tweet and must remove it.

“Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare,” Musk said in the tweet.

US labor law allows companies to claim bad things could happen if workers unionize, but it doesn’t allow them to punish workers if they do unionize. So, the NLRB said, Musk violated those laws by saying employees “would lose their stock options if they chose the Union as their representative.”

Musk’s tweet came in response to increased efforts by workers at Tesla’s Fremont, California, plant to form a union with the United Auto Workers (the “UAW” Musk referenced in the tweet) amid what they said were grueling working conditions.

UAW and Tesla employees had filed labor violation charges against Tesla in 2017, accusing it of trying to silence pro-union workers, leading the NLRB to open a formal complaint against the company.

Musk has clashed with workers at the Fremont factory over working conditions since then, as well.

Last May, after public health orders required nonessential businesses to shut down in Alameda County, Musk reopened the factory in defiance of those orders. The county eventually reversed course and let the factory restart operations after Tesla sued.

But a month later, several Tesla employees tested positive for COVID-19 despite claims from the company’s safety chief that there had been “zero COVID-19 workplace transmissions” since the plant reopened, and public health data has since identified more than 450 cases tied to the factory, which has around 10,000 workers.

Tesla employees said the company fired some workers who stayed home out of fear of catching the virus, despite telling workers they could do so.

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Amazon will pay contract delivery drivers $8.2 million to settle a wage-theft lawsuit

Amazon delivery driver packages
  • Amazon has agreed to pay $8.2 million to settle a wage-theft lawsuit, Vice News reported Friday.
  • Contract delivery drivers alleged Amazon was to blame for drivers not receiving legally required breaks and overtime.
  • Amazon has faced similar legal challenges in California and other states.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon agreed last month to pay some of its contract delivery drivers in Washington state $8.2 million to settle a class-action wage-theft lawsuit, reported earlier on Friday by Vice News and confirmed by Insider.

The lawsuit, originally filed by two Amazon delivery drivers in 2017, had alleged Amazon was partly to blame for illegally failing to pay drivers the minimum wage and denying them compensation for overtime and rest breaks.

The drivers, Gus Ortiz and Mark Fredley, worked for Amazon delivery service partner Jungle Trux – one of a sprawling network of contractors Amazon uses in part to reduce its legal liability and labor costs.

Ortiz and Fredley alleged Amazon imposed delivery quotas of 150 to 200 packages per day, forcing drivers to skip legally mandated rest breaks and work past their 10-hour shifts to complete the routes, and that Jungle Trux failed to pay them for those extra hours.

The settlement, first reported on Friday, covers drivers who worked for eight Amazon delivery service partners (DSPs) in Washington state between December 2014 and July 2020: Dash Delivery, Delivery Force, A‐1 Express Delivery Service (doing business as 1‐800 Courier), Progistics Distribution, Revelation Delivery, Genesis Delivery, and Transportation Brokerage Specialists.

“Amazon does not tolerate violations of labor laws. Where we find repeated violations, or an inability to correct labor violations, we terminate contracts with DSP program participants,” Amazon spokesperson Leah Seay told Insider in a statement.

But the company has faced a number of legal challenges from drivers employed by its DSP network.

California regulators fined Amazon $6.4 million for wage-theft violations earlier this month concerning former Amazon contractor Green Messengers. Amazon told Insider it was “not aware of the investigation” and is appealing the fine.

Amazon is also facing class-action lawsuits over wage-theft allegations in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, and Washington state, according to Vice’s analysis of court records.

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Uber will pay its 70,000 UK-based drivers minimum wage and benefits following a major Supreme Court defeat

uber driver prop 22
Rideshare driver Teresa Mercado raises her fist in support as app based gig workers held a driving demonstration with 60-70 vehicles blocking Spring Street in front of Los Angeles City Hall urging voters to vote no on Proposition 22 on Oct. 8, 2020.

  • Uber is reclassifying its UK-based drivers as “workers,” it said in a regulatory filing Tuesday.
  • The move requires Uber to follow minimum wage, paid vacation, and other labor laws.
  • Uber strongly opposes efforts to reclassify its drivers, but pivoted in the UK after a legal defeat.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Uber announced Tuesday it will reclassify drivers in the United Kingdom as “workers,” guaranteeing them minimum wage, paid vacation, pensions, and additional protection under the country’s labor laws.

In a statement, Uber told Insider the move will impact more than 70,000 drivers, and follows a recent unanimous Supreme Court decision that determined drivers should be classified as workers.

Uber initially downplayed the ruling, saying it “focussed on a small number of drivers who used the Uber app in 2016,” though shares of Uber dropped as much as 2% following the ruling.

With Tuesday’s announcement, Uber has opted to reclassify all UK drivers rather than fight legal battles with individual drivers about whether the court’s ruling would apply to them.

“Uber is just one part of a larger private-hire industry, so we hope that all other operators will join us in improving the quality of work for these important workers who are an essential part of our everyday lives,” Jamie Heywood, the regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, told Insider in a statement.

The move is a major shift for Uber, which has aggressively fought rulings by courts and regulators in the US that have determined drivers to be employees as opposed to contractors. In California, Uber spent at least $30 million persuading voters to pass Proposition 22, a law it co-authored that carved out an exemption from state labor laws to allow rideshare and food delivery drivers to be treated as contractors.

Unlike American law, which defines workers as employees or contractors, UK law has an additional “worker” category, which entitles workers to receive the minimum wage, paid vacation, rest breaks, and protections against illegal discrimination, retaliation for whistleblowing, and wage theft. That classification falls short of guaranteeing benefits like parental leave and severance to which full employees are entitled.

Uber said the UK minimum wage, which is slightly above $12, will serve as an “earnings floor, not an earnings ceiling” after accounting for roughly 62 cents in per-mile expenses, but that drivers won’t be paid for the time they spend waiting for a ride – which some researchers have found accounts for as much as 33% of drivers’ work.

Uber also said it will pay drivers around 12% of their earnings as vacation pay every two weeks and enroll them in a pension plan to which Uber will also contribute.

Labor advocates voiced their support for the move and the court ruling that proceeded it.

“Dear America … see what happens when a government lays it down? Is Uber leaving? No, they’re actually doing right by their workforce in the UK. Our drivers deserve this too. Why would an American company short change American workers? Because we let them!” tweeted California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the author of AB-5, the state labor law that Uber sought an exemption from by pushing Prop 22.

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After Elon Musk opened Tesla’s Bay Area factory against local rules, around 450 workers got COVID-19

tesla fremont factory plant workers FREMONT, CA - JULY 26: Damien Boozer and Paul Jacob work on the general assembly of the Tesla Model 3 at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, on Thursday, July 26, 2018. (Photo by Mason Trinca for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Tesla has attempted to reopen its Fremont factory multiple times despite local lockdown orders.

  • Elon Musk reopened Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory in May in defiance of public health orders.
  • From May to December, it recorded around 450 COVID-19 cases, The Washington Post reported Friday.
  • Alameda County, where the factory is located, previously refused to release the data.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Around 450 of the roughly 10,000 workers at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory tested positive for COVID-19 from May to December, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Tesla and Alameda County Public Health Department did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Last May, after public health orders required non-essential businesses to shut down in Alameda County, Elon Musk reopened the factory in defiance of those orders. The county eventually reversed course and let the factory restart operations after Tesla sued.

But a month later, several Tesla employees tested positive for COVID-19 despite claims from the company’s safety chief that there had been “zero COVID-19 workplace transmissions” since the plant reopened.

That outbreak appears to be much larger than previously known, according to The Post, which reported that Alameda County data obtained by legal transparency advocate PlainSite showed cases at Tesla’s factory rising to as high as 125 active cases in December.

In exchange for being allowed to reopen, Tesla agreed to share COVID-19 case data with the county. The county argued for almost a year that it couldn’t release the data publicly because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects the privacy of Americans’ health information.

Plainsite was able to obtain the data following a court ruling earlier this year, according to The Post.

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Amazon and delivery contractor fined $6.4 million by California regulators for stealing wages from drivers

Amazon delivery driver with mask, France
  • California fined Amazon and a delivery contractor $6.4 million for wage theft violations on Monday.
  • In a press release, the state’s labor commissioner said more than 700 drivers were owed money.
  • The drivers were employed by the contractor, but California law makes both companies liable.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

California’s labor commissioner fined Amazon and Green Messengers, a contractor used by Amazon to deliver packages, $6.4 million for stealing wages from 718 delivery drivers, the regulator announced in a press release Monday.

Its investigation found that the drivers, who were employed by Green Messengers to work 10-hour shifts, often had to work more than 11 hours and skip their meal and rest breaks in order to complete their Amazon delivery routes due to the high volume of packages.

But the investigation also found that, between April 2018 and January 2020, Green Messengers failed to pay them correctly for that extra work, which “resulted in frequent minimum wage, overtime, meal break, rest period and split-shift violations,” the release said.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on this story. As of Monday evening, Green Messengers’ website had been taken offline and a phone number listed for the business had been disconnected. According to the release, both companies have appealed the fines.

Read more: Amazon spent $44 billion striving for 1-day shipping in 2020, and its logistics empire is nowhere near done

While Amazon owns a massive fleet of delivery vehicles, it relies on a complex network of regional contractors like Green Messengers to employ many of the drivers who operate those vehicles.

The arrangement typically allows Amazon to avoid certain labor costs and legal liabilities that come with hiring employees directly, but a California law that went into effect in 2015 prevents companies like Amazon from shifting blame to contractors by allowing them to still be held liable for labor violations.

“Contracting out services does not release employers from their duty to ensure workers are being legally compensated,” California labor commissioner Lilia García-Brower said in the release. “In this case, both Green Messengers and Amazon.com Services are responsible for the wage theft that these workers suffered.”

The fines included more than $5.3 million in damages, wages, interest, and other penalties owed to the drivers, plus roughly $1.1 million in civil penalties owed to the state, according to the release.

Amazon has come under fire before for the working conditions it imposes on delivery drivers, both directly and indirectly through its delivery service partners, which investigations from multiple outlets including Insider and BuzzFeed News have found contributed to increased injury rates.

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