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  • Bloomberg

    Amazon Access to Mailbox Could Be Grounds to Overturn Union Vote

    (Bloomberg) -- Testimony that Amazon.com Inc. had access to a mailbox installed for workers to vote in a recent union election could prompt the National Labor Relations Board to overturn the results, according to the agency’s former chair.During an NLRB hearing on Friday, employee Kevin Jackson said Amazon security guards used keys to open the mailbox, which was located near the entrance of the facility in Bessemer, Alabama.The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which lost the election last month, has accused Amazon of having the mailbox installed so it could spy on workers. Even just the impression of election surveillance by an employer can influence the vote’s outcome, so the hearing is focusing largely on what workers witnessed during the election.If the board finds Jackson’s testimony credible, it should be reason enough to overturn the result, said Wilma Liebman, who chaired the NLRB under President Barack Obama. What Jackson is alleging “at a minimum creates an appearance of Amazon involvement -- if not an inference of actual tampering -- with ballots,” Liebman said via email Friday.Amazon has denied an ulterior motive, saying it asked the U.S. Postal Service to install the mailbox in a bid to boost turnout. “As we’ve said from the start, this mailbox was secure and Amazon had no access to outgoing mail,” a company spokeswoman said Friday. “Similar to any other mailbox that serves businesses, we had access only to the incoming mailbox where we received mail addressed to the building. The facts will become clear when we have a chance to present them next week.”Jackson testified that as he was leaving work one morning he saw security guards approach the mailbox and then watched one of them open a large box on the bottom labeled “1P.”“What he was getting out or looking for, I’m not sure,” he said.While it was dark at the time, Jackson said his headlights illuminated the area. He also testified that Amazon security guards used surveillance cameras to monitor the parking lot, including zooming in on particular cars to read license plates and see who was inside if they detected anything suspicious.Under long-standing precedent, NLRB elections are supposed to be held under “laboratory conditions,” in which “employees are able to exercise free and uncoerced choice” about unionization, Liebman said. “This conduct certainly departs from that.”“What legitimate purpose could there possibly be for Amazon security guards to be opening the box?” she asked.In an April 16 complaint, the union accused Amazon of misconduct -- including issuing anti-union threats, firing an employee for distributing union cards and pressuring workers to use the mailbox to cast their votes. Amazon workers have been testifying all week about the mailbox and how the company encouraged them to use it as a secure way to submit their ballots.A labor board hearing officer who will recommend a ruling on the matter asked Jackson several questions about what he saw, indicating she deemed his testimony potentially relevant to the case.Like other Amazon employees who testified this week, Jackson said he was approached by managers asking him if he received a ballot and whether he voted.One Amazon manager, whose name Jackson didn’t know, asked him “off the record” what he felt about the union campaign. Jackson said he responded by quoting scripture. The manager, Jackson said, told him, “That’s not the answer I was looking for,” and asked him again. Jackson said he repeated the same Bible verse.“She was frustrated with my answer and walked off,” he said.Jackson, who was recently hospitalized for an undisclosed health condition, testified via video conference while lying down. Amazon attorneys asked if he was taking any medication that would affect his memory and he responded that he wasn’t.Amazon employees voted 1,798 to 738 against joining the union, with 505 other disputed ballots uncounted. The labor board has the authority to invalidate election results in response to conduct that could have changed the outcome and prevented employees from making a free choice about whether to unionize.“This damning eyewitness testimony of an Amazon security guard opening the famous mailbox (to which the company insisted only USPS had keys) comes as no surprise,” said Representative Andy Levin, Democrat of Michigan. “But the worker’s riveting account of a supervisor asking him ‘off the record’ (right!) whether he was for the union is just as important. As I have suspected since my first visit to Bessemer, Amazon broke the law, and the NLRB will likely come to that conclusion.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Gasoline Pinch to Grind on for Weeks With Truck Shortage
    Bloomberg

    Gasoline Pinch to Grind on for Weeks With Truck Shortage

    (Bloomberg) -- Drivers encountering fuel shortages in parts of the U.S. East and South may find it takes weeks before supply levels return to normal.Now that Colonial Pipeline Co. has resumed deliveries that were halted for nearly a week by a cyberattack, the industry is facing a new logistics problem on top of the lack of available fuel: not enough truck drivers to transport gasoline and diesel from distribution hubs to retail outlets.While filling station outages fell slightly in South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee on Friday, about half of each state’s outlets are still without fuel, according to retail-tracker GasBuddy. In North Carolina, about 65% of stations lack supply.“Too many stations need fuel, not enough capacity at the rack, not enough truck drivers,” Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, said on Twitter, reeling off the factors behind the shortages. He said it will take a few weeks for a recovery.Colonial Pipeline Co. paid nearly $5 million to Eastern European hackers to end a ransomware attack that shut its network of pipelines that transport gasoline, diesel and jet fuel along the U.S. East Coast. The outage, which occurred just weeks before the kickoff of summer driving season, left some retail stations dry in more than 10 states and pushed the average national pump price above $3 a gallon for the first time in six years.As of Friday afternoon, fuel flowing out of Houston toward the Southeast on Colonial’s system remained at less than half of capacity, according to people familiar with the matter. A little more than 14,000 stations are still without fuel in the affected areas of the U.S., down from a peak of about 16,200, according to GasBuddy.One of North America’s biggest distributors said the shortages will drag on because of the lack of tanker trucks to haul supplies.“It’s really going to be probably seven to 10 days before the average consumer really notices a noticeable improvement” in local supplies, said Andy Milton, senior vice president of supply at Mansfield Energy Corp., whose closely held company handles more than 3 billion gallons of fuel a year across the U.S. and Canada.Mansfield has brought trucks to areas affected by shortages from as far away as Minnesota and Texas.“The truck itself becomes the major, the major problem,” Milton said.Many truck drivers stopped hauling fuel during the pandemic when gasoline demand collapsed. Now, companies are rushing to hire them back. As recently as last week, Pilot Corp. was offering $5,000 hiring bonuses for tanker drivers to supply its stores and said it could hire 200 people before summer.The lack of drivers makes the recovery that much harder and people will need to be patient, said Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Association. “Everybody’s expecting to have their gas stations up and running overnight. That’s not going to happen and part of the reason is a stressed supply chain because of the driver shortage.”Hundreds of trucks have now descended into North Carolina with fuel from other parts of the country, said Rob Leon, the emergency director for Broco Oil, a Massachusetts-based fuel distributor, who has been driving a truck himself this week, making deliveries in the state.Terminals are still far from back to normal though as sites across the state attempt to replenish supply. “I was at the terminal this morning, and I took the last 1,000 gallons of gasoline and the last 1,500 gallons of diesel fuel that they had,” said Leon. “We had a truck yesterday that was in line for over 12 hours, and then they just turned around, didn’t even get a load.”(Updates throughout with comments on the truck shortage.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Apple and Microsoft’s Rivalry Had Cooled. Now It’s Back and Getting Testier
    Bloomberg

    Apple and Microsoft’s Rivalry Had Cooled. Now It’s Back and Getting Testier

    (Bloomberg) -- At a virtual product launch in November for Apple’s Mac reboot, actor John Hodgman appeared in a nerdy, ill-fitting suit before a white backdrop. “Stop, hang on, wait, one more thing, hi, I’m a PC,” he said, reprising the popular Mac vs. PC television commercials of a decade ago that not so subtly telegraphed the idea that Apple was cool and Microsoft wasn’t. The event was held to let Mac fans know the new machines were getting a processor with more sizzle. But the subtext was unmistakable: Apple Inc.’s old rivalry with Microsoft Corp. was back.For several years, the two companies had found reason to collaborate. Microsoft’s Office and other apps began appearing on the iPad and iPhone; Apple even invited Microsoft to a product launch. Apple recently made it easier to use Xbox game controllers on Apple devices, while Microsoft made its products compatible with such new Apple features as the Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard. Last fall, Apple even put its TV app on the Xbox. But around the time the PC character reappeared, Microsoft began bad-mouthing Apple to regulators, saying the company’s App Store was anti-competitive. The Redmond, Washington, software giant had thrown in its lot with Epic Games Inc., which was suing Apple for booting its Fornite title from the App Store and accusing the iPhone maker of monopolistic behavior. A Microsoft executive has since testified against Apple at the trial, now in its second week, telling the court that Apple’s tight control of its App Store had hurt Microsoft’s own gaming efforts.The tensions are unlikely to ease once a verdict comes down because Apple and Microsoft are both looking to dominate the next big things in tech—from artificial intelligence and cloud computing to gaming, tablets, custom processors and mixed-reality headsets. The renewed antipathy between Apple and Microsoft started about a year ago. Microsoft had developed a cloud gaming service for iPhones and iPads called xCloud. One app would let users pay a monthly fee to Microsoft and stream dozens of different gaming titles from the cloud. The service was supposed to do for gaming what Netflix did for video, appease gamers and turn Apple devices into a more powerful gaming platform backed by Xbox, one of the hottest names in the industry. But Microsoft never launched the service in its intended form, having failed to persuade Apple to loosen App Store rules forbidding all-in-one gaming services. Originally, Microsoft was barred from launching any cloud-based games at all. But a few months after concerns over the ban on streaming apps went public, Apple tweaked the rules. Microsoft can now launch a cloud gaming service, but each game must be downloaded separately, defeating the purpose of an all-in-one solution. Now Microsoft is rolling out the service on Apple devices via the web, a much less optimal experience than a real app. Read more: Apple’s App Store Rules Limit Rival Gaming Services While Arcade Runs FreeAround the same time, Microsoft President Brad Smith began urging U.S. and European antitrust regulators to examine Apple’s practices. “They impose requirements that increasingly say there is only one way to get on to our platform and that is to go through the gate that we ourselves have created,” Smith told a Politico reporter. He added that he considered Apple’s behavior worse than the actions that landed his company in the antitrust hot seat more than 20 years ago.What might have remained a resolvable dustup escalated instead once the Epic trial got underway. Lori Wright, Microsoft’s vice president of business development for Xbox, testified that Microsoft is being stymied by Apple’s rules when it comes to gaming, backing Epic’s claims that Apple is an antitrust violator. Apple fired back, saying Microsoft earns $600 million to $700 million a year from its relationship with Epic and is simply defending the game maker because it’s good for business.Apple argued that Microsoft’s Xbox download store has similar rules to Apple’s, taking a 30% cut, requiring its own payment system and banning alternative digital marketplaces. Apple also said Microsoft, as an iOS developer, stands to benefit if it’s forced to revamp the App Store.“We clearly disagreed with Apple’s refusal to allow game streaming via the App Store,” Microsoft spokesman Frank X. Shaw said in an email. “But that disagreement won’t keep us from collaborating with Apple on other topics, as we do with Microsoft 365 on iOS and Mac devices.”Perhaps, but there is potential for other clashes. In the booming personal computer market, where the companies compete head to head, Mac sales doubled in the first quarter, according to International Data Corporation, more than twice as fast as sales of PCs, which largely run on Microsoft’s Windows operating system. While Apple holds only 8% of the computer market, its upgrades are popular with the legions of Americans who are expected to continue working from home after the pandemic subsides. Apple is also planning to release a mixed-reality headset next year, venturing into territory Microsoft staked out years ago with the Hololens. Microsoft has explored developing chips for its line of devices, echoing an Apple strategy that has helped boost sales. The two companies are also competing for talent in AI and cloud infrastructure, two key future battlegrounds. Microsoft is even back to making its own phones, and, of course, they use an operating system from another Apple foe: Google’s Android. How bad could the animus get? If the past is prologue, pretty testy. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously likened the launch of iTunes on Windows to handing someone in hell a glass of ice water, while Apple routinely poked fun at Microsoft software and accused the company of copying Apple’s designs.Microsoft recently started running commercials pitting its Surface hybrid tablet and laptops against the iPad Pro and MacBook Pro. Hodgman, who plays PC in the Apple ads, could be hearing from his agent.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.