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Podcast: How trade unions got their mojo back

Taylor Nicole Rogers, the FT’s US labour and equality correspondent, stands in for regular host Isabel Berwick in this episode to ask what the resurgence of trade union activity in both the US and UK is doing to the relationship between employer and employee. We hear from Mick Lynch, general secretary of the UK’s National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, and Taylor speaks to Dave Lee, the FT’s San Francisco correspondent, about attempts by US workers to form a union at Amazon and elsewhere, and the risks they face.

Jeff Bezos is being ‘harassed’ by US regulators, says Amazon

Amazon has accused the US Federal Trade Commission of harassing its top executives, including founder Jeff Bezos and chief executive Andy Jassy, as part of a probe into the ecommerce group’s Prime membership scheme.

Since March 2021, the regulator has been investigating whether Amazon uses deceptive techniques to lure customers into signing up for Prime, the subscription service that offers free delivery and other benefits at a cost of $139 a year.

The FTC is also examining whether Amazon unfairly complicates the process for customers who want to cancel their membership.

How to stop California burning

Most people driving through Napa County, California’s famed wine region, see only beauty. Steven Burgess sees something different. Spotting clumps of juniper along the edge of a multimillion dollar property, he calls out the combustible shrub’s local nickname: “green gasoline!”

The 49-year-old volunteer firefighter and former vintner is giving the Financial Times a history tour, pointing out the scars of mega blazes that have intensified here and around the world over the past decade, capturing global attention and concern.

How listening to uninterrupted noise helped millions to focus

Who among us isn’t depressingly familiar with the constant tug of war between putting off tasks that require focus, and, like a moth to a flame, being drawn to distraction?

Sometimes we blame ourselves, cursing our tendency to procrastinate. But we should give ourselves a break. We’re living in an unprecedented age where billions of dollars have been made by machines designed to tempt us away from doing what we had planned to do.

These thoughts are hardly new. But something happened recently, which — ironically — has captured no small amount of attention and provided me with a glimmer of hope that the internet that has rewired our minds could also be used to untangle them.

Amazon pins hopes on influencers to crack livestream shopping market

Amazon has stepped up plans to crack the QVC-style livestream shopping market as the $1tn ecommerce giant aims to replicate the success of social media rivals in an attempt to revive flagging online sales.

The group has been increasing investment in Amazon Live, a platform it quietly launched in 2019 but is now a central focus as it fights to grab a slice of a growing market that is viewed as the future of shopping by social media platforms. This year, the company has hosted at least four events designed to attract more influencers to its platform, including a glitzy retreat at a Mexican beach resort.

To the top names, it has offered up generous bonuses: thousands of dollars in added incentives to stream live on Amazon instead of elsewhere, according to leading influencer agencies.

San Francisco’s battle to bring a digital city back to real life

The Tadich Grill, the oldest restaurant in California, has stared down a crisis or two: earthquakes; several recessions; Covid-19. Founded in 1849, its current home on California Street puts it in the heart of the city’s downtown Financial District, known as “FiDi”. And it is ground zero in the city’s struggle to get people back to work.

Jure Bracanović, one of the white-coated waiters, says the restaurant, like others nearby, has suffered as the lunch and dinner crowd switched to working from home, and convention business collapsed. The stream of delegates at tech events has almost entirely evaporated, in part due to the perception the city’s streets are “dangerous”, he says.

Apple workers win vote to form company’s first US union

A group of Apple retail employees has voted to unionise, marking the first union for the consumer tech giant in the US, as a burgeoning labour movement gathers momentum across the country.

[…]

The group’s victory follows successful union drives at other American corporate giants, including Amazon, Starbucks and Google parent Alphabet. While small in scale, the unionisation wave has gathered momentum at companies that had until recently managed to fend off organised labour, with union-busting techniques and a partial reliance on a less competitive jobs market than exists in today’s post-pandemic economy.

How bad is big tech’s hiring freeze?

The end of the tech boom has sparked a flurry of job cuts as companies move swiftly to tighten their belts. Recruitment at Meta and Uber has slowed, job offers from Twitter and Coinbase have been rescinded and deep lay-offs have swept parts of the sector.

But while household tech names have grabbed attention for pulling back on recruitment after a prolonged period of headcount expansion, some analysts, recruiters and jobseekers are finding some reasons to stay calm — for now.

Grief turns to anger in Uvalde

Uvalde is a small city. Around two weeks ago, Angie Garza, a grandmother who helps run an automotive radiator repair shop on Main Street, took in Celia Gonzales’s grey Ford truck — it needed its air conditioning fixed.

On a follow-up visit a few days later, Garza recalls, there seemed to be something on her customer’s mind. “She looked distressed. She said she was dealing with her grandson.”

On Tuesday, Gonzales was shot by her 18-year-old grandson, Salvador Ramos, and remains in a critical condition. Ramos took her truck to make a short journey in the direction of Robb Elementary School, before crashing into a ditch.

Wearing body armour and carrying an automatic rifle, sold to him legally, he went inside the school and killed 19 children and two teachers. Among the dead was Amerie Jo Garza, Angie’s granddaughter. She was 10.

Read more @ FT.com >>

‘Union drip’ shows how the American labour movement is changing

In which I become the first (probably) and last (possibly) person to use the phrase “dripped out” in the Financial Times:

Back in the sixties, a prescient essay from the British historian Eric Hobsbawm stated that “explosive” spikes in union support could only occur after what he termed “qualitative innovations in the movement”.

Bad conditions alone weren’t enough of a driving force to galvanise workers into unionising, he argued, unions had to also move with the times: introducing modernised ways of thinking, new demands, and fresh leadership.

In 2022, it could be said that this reinvention quite literally hangs off the shoulders of Chris Smalls, the leader of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), and an aficionado of what has come to be known as “union drip”. 

Read more @ FT.com >>

Workers reject union at Amazon warehouse number two

Amazon workers at a second facility in New York have rejected efforts to form a union, dealing a blow to a grassroots labour movement that hoped to capitalise on momentum from its surprise victory at a larger warehouse last month.

Employees at a sorting facility in Staten Island, known as LDJ5, voted by 618 to 380 against joining the Amazon Labor Union, the organisation led by Chris Smalls, a former worker at the ecommerce giant.

Read more @ FT.com >>

I must admit, after the Amazon Labor Union’s triumph at JFK8 last month, I did think the momentum would carry them through this vote at LDJ5, which just over the road.

What does this mean for the ALU? There’s a danger, of course, that its progress could be completely unravelled. Amazon squashed the vote at LDJ5, and it may be able have the JFK8 thrown out. Testing times for Chris Smalls and his grassroots org.

Twitter employees fear the worst, hope for the best with Musk deal

As Twitter employees digested the most turbulent week in the company’s 16-year history, the message from top leadership was: sit tight.

In the immediate aftermath of the news that Elon Musk had clinched his $44bn takeover bid for the platform with Twitter’s board, staff at a virtual emergency all-hands meeting were told there would be no lay-offs “at this time” and that little else would change until the deal closes later this year, pending shareholder approval and any further dramatic twists.

But then what? Twitter’s workforce is divided and apprehensive.

Read more @ FT.com >>

The great Covid privacy creep

San Francisco’s Moscone Center is best-known as the site where tech companies stage blockbuster events. It was here in 2007 that Steve Jobs unveiled the original iPhone with the words, “Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.”

I used to be a regular visitor to Moscone but, over the past two years, I’ve been there just three times: twice for vaccine jabs and, more recently, for the Game Developers Conference, a gathering of video games creators, known as GDC. It was the largest event I’ve been to since the great re-emerging, with 12,000 people attending.

Read more @ FT.com >>