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Amazon Walks a Political Tightrope in Its Union Fight

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WASHINGTON — Amazon is aligned with the Biden administration on several fronts.

It backs a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage. It has pledged to meet all the goals of the Paris climate agreement on reducing emissions. It has met with the administration to discuss how to help with the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

But a union drive at one of its warehouses in Alabama has the retailer doing a political balancing act: staying on the good side of Washington’s Democratic leaders while squashing an organizing effort that President Biden has signaled his support for.

Amazon workers in Bessemer, Ala., have been voting for weeks on whether to form a union. The voting ends Monday. Approval would be a first for Amazon workers in the United States and could energize the labor movement across the country.

Labor organizers have tapped into dissatisfaction with working conditions in the warehouse, saying Amazon’s pursuit of efficiency and profits makes the conditions harsh for workers. The company counters that its starting wage of $15 an hour exceeds what other employers in the area pay, and it has urged workers to vote against unionizing.

Labor leaders and liberal Democrats have seized on the union drive, saying it shows how Amazon is not as friendly to workers as the company says it is. Some of the company’s critics are also using its resistance to the union push to argue that Amazon should not be trusted on other issues, like climate change and the federal minimum wage.

Amazon has always fought against unionizing by its workers. But the vote in Alabama comes at a perilous moment for the company. Lawmakers and regulators — not competitors — are some of its greatest threats, and it has spent significant time and money trying to keep the government away from its business.

Amazon’s business practices are the subject of antitrust investigations at the Federal Trade Commission and in multiple state attorney general offices. Mr. Biden on Monday nominated Lina Khan, a legal scholar who came to prominence with her critique of the company, for a seat on the F.T.C.

“I think everyone is seeing through the P.R. at this point and focusing on both their economic and political power,” Sarah Miller, a critic of Amazon, said about the company. Ms. Miller, who runs the American Economic Liberties Project, an antitrust think tank, added, “I think the narrative is cooked now on their status as a monopoly, their status as an abusive employer and their status as one of the biggest spenders on lobbying in Washington, D.C.”

Drew Herdener, Amazon’s vice president for worldwide communications, said in a statement that the company shared common ground with the Biden administration on climate change, immigration reform, the minimum wage and pandemic policy, and was “seeing really positive collaboration on those fronts” with the White House.

“As it relates to progressive Democrats in general, we’ve been surprised by some of the negative things we’ve seen certain members say in the press and on social media,” he said. “If there’s a progressive company in this country, it’s Amazon. Find me another large company paying two times the minimum wage, providing great health benefits from Day 1, 95 percent education reimbursement, safe working environment, and so on. We really think we are an example of what a U.S. company should be doing for its employees.”

Amazon spent $18.7 million on federal lobbying last year, compared with $2.1 million a decade ago, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Its lobbyists press their employer’s case on a variety of issues, like how drones are regulated and the laws that govern pharmacies.

Consumers adore Amazon. In late 2019, a national survey by The Verge, a technology news site, found that 91 percent had a favorable view of the retail giant. When professors at Georgetown and New York Universities asked Americans in 2018 which institutions they had the most confidence in, only the military ranked higher than Amazon.

Still, when Jeff Bezos, the chief executive, testified before Congress last year, he faced accusations that the company squeezes the small businesses that use its online marketplace. A liberal philanthropic organization funded a network of activists to press Amazon on privacy, competition and labor issues. They have also attacked Mr. Bezos, the richest person in the world by some measures, for his personal wealth.

Amazon has made efforts to reach out to the new administration. Dave Clark, who runs the company’s consumer business, sent a letter to the White House in January offering to help with the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine and met virtually with Jeff Zients, the White House’s coronavirus coordinator, to discuss the vaccine rollout.

In December, the company also hired the lobbyist Jeff Ricchetti, whose brother, Steve Ricchetti, is a longtime aide to Mr. Biden and now a counselor to the president. In the final quarter of last year, Amazon paid Jeff Ricchetti $60,000, according to disclosure forms he filed with the government.

The company’s top lobbying and communications executive, Jay Carney, was a communications director for Mr. Biden during the Obama administration. President Barack Obama later named Mr. Carney the White House press secretary. He has deep relationships with Mr. Biden’s inner circle, and has played in a garage band with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Under Mr. Carney’s leadership, Amazon has taken steps to satisfy its liberal critics. In 2018, Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, attacked the company over its wages. Not long after that, the company announced that it would raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour and push federal policymakers to do the same.

“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do and decided we want to lead,” Mr. Bezos said in a statement at the time.

Amazon has promoted the $15-an-hour minimum in ads in publications frequently used to reach government officials, including Politico and The New York Times. Its lobbyists have pushed for a federal law raising the wage.

The union organizers in Bessemer have increasingly attracted support from the White House and top lawmakers in Congress. Labor leaders spent weeks pushing Mr. Biden’s staff to have him weigh in on the election at the warehouse.

Their lobbying paid off: In February, Mr. Biden appeared in a video that didn’t mention Amazon explicitly but was seen as a clear sign of support to the union. In the video, he said there “should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats” from employers in coming union elections, including in Alabama.

“I didn’t speak with the president directly, but my understanding was that the second this hit the president’s briefing book, he was like, ‘I’m in,’” said Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California both support the unionization effort, as do many other Democrats in Congress.

“We’ve got to protect every worker’s right to form and join a union, and to bargain collectively for better pay, quality health care, a safer workplace and a secure retirement,” said Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, where Amazon has its main headquarters. “That absolutely includes the Amazon workers in Alabama, just like workers in Washington State and across our country.”

Amazon’s opposition to the union drive could scuttle some of the good will it established among Democrats with its support for a higher federal minimum wage, some liberals said.

Mr. Sanders said he appreciated Amazon’s help on the minimum wage. “On the other hand,” he said, “to my mind, I find it hard to understand why Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon and the wealthiest guy in the world, worth about $182 billion, is spending millions of dollars fighting a union organizing effort in Alabama, where his workers are trying to organize for better wages and better working conditions.”

But he said he would ultimately approach the company “issue by issue.”

Mr. Sanders will appear at a union event in Alabama with the rapper Killer Mike on Friday. Mr. Clark, the Amazon executive, responded to the news with derision on Wednesday evening.

“I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace to our constituents,” he said on Twitter.

It recalled the message Amazon had waiting for a delegation of progressive lawmakers who met with union representatives in Alabama this month.

At the warehouse, workers held up a large banner with text in bold letters: “CONGRESS: PLEASE MATCH AMAZON’S $15/HOUR MINIMUM WAGE!”

Karen Weise contributed reporting.



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Whole Foods will soon let customers pay for groceries with palm scan

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Whole Foods will soon let customers pay for groceries using its parent company’s palm-scanning technology.

Amazon said Wednesday its palm-scanning system — currently used in about a dozen of its brick and mortar stores — will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the first of many planned rollouts at other locations.

The system uses Amazon One technology, which employs high-tech imaging and algorithms to create and detect a “unique palm signature” based on the ridges, lines and veins in each person’s hand.

Its high-tech sensors don’t require users to touch the scanning surface, like Apple’s fingerprint technology does.

Instead, palm-reading tech uses computer vision and depth geometry to process and identify the shape and size of each hand they scan before charging a credit card on file.

Amazon One will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, with many rollouts at other locations planned for the future.
Amazon One will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, with many rollouts at other locations planned for the future.
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The company said that the palm-scanning tech will be offered as just one of many payment options at participating Whole Foods Stores and that it won’t impact store employees’ job responsibilities.

“At Whole Foods Market, we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the shopping experience for our customers,” said Arun Rajan, senior vice president of technology and chief technology officer at Whole Foods Market.

Palm images used by Amazon One are encrypted and stored in a “highly secure” cloud, and customers can request to have their palm data deleted.

The company claims palm-scanning tech is more private than other biometric alternatives, such as facial recognition.

Amazon One builds on the “Just Walk Out” technology that Amazon uses in its Go stores, which detects the items shoppers pick up and charges them once they leave — without the need for a checkout line

Amazon is also planning to expand the cashier-less technology to Whole Foods, as reported by The Post.

Meanwhile, the tech could be good for its bottom line. The online behemoth aims to sell its palm-scanning tech to other companies like retailers, stadiums and office buildings.

Amazon One scanner
The scanner uses high-tech imaging and algorithms to create and detect a unique palm signature which is then encrypted and stored in a secured cloud.
Amazon

Last September, it said it was in “active discussions with several potential customers.” But it is unclear if it has progressed on any of those fronts.

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Apple’s new iPad Pros and TV remote don’t have U1 locators to help find them in your couch

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Apple has been quietly sticking special locator beacon chips into some of its new iPhones that’ll let you unlock your car and find lost items through walls — the latter thanks to the $29 AirTags announced today — but sadly, you won’t find that chip in the new M1-based iPad Pros or the long-awaited new Siri remote for the Apple TV.

Apple confirmed to us that the U1 locator chip, which uses pulses of ultra-wideband (UWB) radio to broadcast its precise location, won’t appear in the Siri remote. We’re waiting on final bulletproof confirmation about the iPad Pros, but it also doesn’t appear in their product page, spec sheet, or press release. Last year’s iP ad Pros didn’t include a U1 chip, either.

Is Apple expecting us to stick AirTags to our iPads and TV remotes to escape the jaws of the ever-ravenous couch? Unlikely, but the company has been pretty choosey about which devices get the chip so far. You can find it in the iPhone 11 and newer (but not the iPhone SE) and the Apple Watch Series 6 (but not the Apple Watch SE), but we’re pretty sure it hasn’t made its way to any iPads or MacBooks that have been announced since the chip’s introduction in September 2019.

Theoretically, Apple could build an ecosystem where any Apple device can easily find any other Apple device (not to mention UWB devices from Samsung, which is also deeply invested in the tech and has its own AirTag-like device as well). But for now, you’ll primarily just be using your phone to find AirTags, not other gadgets, except perhaps your future car.

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Your iPhone has a completely hidden app. Here’s how to find and use it

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Apple’s iPhone is full of hidden features and tricks we’re constantly discovering. For instance, did you know the Notes app has a hidden document scanner? Yeah, pretty cool. The latest hidden feature that’s been popping up on Twitter and blogs is another type of scanner, dedicated to QR codes, and it’s better than the one built into the camera app.

Indeed, you would already be able to filter QR codes utilizing the easy route in Control Center, or simply open the camera application and it will check a QR code. Also, you’re correct. Both of those strategies turn out great. However, the committed Code Scanner application accepts the position above and beyond by introducing a greater amount of the data I need to see about an examined code.

For instance, the camera application utilizes a little notice at the highest point of the screen to open a connection or show you data, though the devoted Code Scanner application makes it exceptionally clear what’s inside the QR code you just checked. Yet, here’s the rub: The Code Scanner application isn’t found on your home screen, nor is it found in iOS 14’s new App Library.

As should be obvious, the best way to discover the Code Scanner application is to utilize the iPhone’s Spotlight search include. Go to your iPhone’s home screen and swipe down in the center of the screen. An inquiry bar will show up at the highest point of your screen, alongside application and alternate route ideas underneath. Type either code or scanner. As you type, you’ll see the Code Scanner application symbol appear as an application idea. Tap to open it.

The flashlight icon at the bottom of the screen acts as a flash to illuminate a code if your phone is struggling to read it.

If you don’t have the QR scanner shortcut added to Control Center yet, here’s a post showing you how to customize Control Center to your liking. For more hidden features, check out our list for iOS 14. We also cover more general, but useful features in iOS 14.

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