Tech

What the Biden administration means for Amazon: New union push, antitrust scrutiny could lie ahead

US President Joe Biden speaks in regards to the Covid-19 response as US Vice President Kamala Harris (L) seems to be on earlier than signing govt orders within the State Eating Room of the White Home in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Photographs

Like many within the tech business, Amazon has cozied as much as the Democratic Celebration. Its political motion committee and firm executives are amongst those that threw their cash behind President Joe Biden on the marketing campaign path, whereas Amazon’s high spokesperson, Jay Carney, has longstanding ties to Biden.

However that does not assure the subsequent 4 years of the Biden administration can be easy crusing for the web retail large. Antitrust reform, stronger privateness requirements and a renewed push for employees’ rights are only a few of the problems that could possibly be on the brand new administration’s agenda.

Here is what’s at stake for Amazon within the Biden administration: 

New union push

After a rocky relationship with Trump’s administration, organized labor is hopeful that Biden will make good on his guarantees to be “the most pro-union president.” Amazon is more likely to maintain a detailed eye on the brand new administration’s strikes on the labor entrance, because it faces a renewed push from unions to prepare its warehouse employees.

Biden has made empowering employees a key tenet of his labor agenda, which additionally proposes varied reforms to labor legal guidelines and increasing employee protections. His plan consists of insurance policies that may take into account an organization’s labor file when awarding federal contracts and codify into legislation an Obama-era change to Nationwide Labor Relations Board guidelines geared toward dashing up union election campaigns. 

Biden has additionally voiced assist for the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which handed the Home final February and would levy fines in opposition to corporations that intervene with employees’ organizing efforts. Whereas the invoice is unlikely to move within the Senate, it might generate new scrutiny of Amazon’s efforts to track workplace unrest, in addition to its labor practices.

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally organized by UFCW Union members to assist Cease and Store staff on strike all through the area on the Cease and Store in Dorchester, Massachusetts on April 18, 2019.

Joseph Prezioso | AFP | Getty Photographs

“I might say [the PRO Act] has little or no likelihood of passing,” stated Gordon Lafer, a labor research professor on the College of Oregon and a analysis affiliate on the Financial Coverage Institute. “So apart from that, the query is what might the Biden-appointed Labor Board do unilaterally while not having laws? There’s a lot they might do that may be important.”

From a excessive degree, Biden’s assist of the labor motion has the potential to reignite union membership after years of regular declines. This might pose a risk to Amazon, which has staunchly opposed unions in its workforce. Amazon’s urge for food for unions is at the moment being examined in Alabama, the place employees at its Bessemer warehouse are set to vote subsequent month on whether or not to hitch the Retail, Wholesale and Division Retailer Union. 

Whereas Biden and Amazon could not see eye to eye on unions, the corporate is in settlement with Biden on one difficulty: elevating the minimal wage to $15 an hour. In a tweet replying to Biden final week, Amazon touted its $15 minimal wage and stated it hopes to work with the administration on making it the nationwide customary.

An Amazon spokesperson did not reply to questions looking for readability on how it might work with the Biden administration on minimal wage points. 

Better OSHA oversight

Biden has additionally telegraphed plans to broaden office protections by restoring some Obama-era reforms to the Occupational Security and Well being Administration, which had been rolled back by the Trump administration. Biden plans to extend the variety of OSHA investigators and require corporations to electronically report their office accidents, amongst different modifications.

This might imply that Amazon and different corporations face stricter enforcement of OSHA requirements. With extra investigators on workers, the company could also be extra more likely to take up OSHA complaints filed by staff and examine services, in addition to levy fines in opposition to corporations which are discovered to be in violation of OSHA guidelines, stated Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA official who now works for the Nationwide Employment Legislation Mission.

“The enforcement change at OSHA has been turned off, however it’ll get turned again on,” Berkowitz stated. “OSHA will once more reply to complaints with inspections and there can be a willingness to implement the legislation to guard employees.”

Amazon’s office security file continues to be a topic of controversy, together with in the course of the coronavirus pandemic. California’s lawyer common is investigating working conditions at Amazon’s California warehouses in the course of the pandemic, whereas some lawmakers have scrutinized the corporate’s response to the coronavirus disaster.

Amazon employees at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse strike in demand that the power be shut down and cleaned after one staffer examined constructive for the coronavirus on March 30, 2020 in New York.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Photographs

The corporate has previously said it continues to put money into making a safer work atmosphere at its services.

Amazon has bolstered its workplace safety team with quite a few individuals who have ties to OSHA and employment litigation as scrutiny of its warehouse working circumstances continues to develop. The corporate added one other staffer from the company to the office security group this month when it introduced on Madeleine T. Le, a former OSHA lawyer, as senior governance and compliance supervisor.

“Amazon has lawyered up for this,” Berkowitz stated. “They’re lawyering as much as begin combating OSHA inspections.”

Amazon spokeswoman Rachael Lighty stated the corporate has expanded its office well being and security group as a part of its efforts to make sure its workplaces are “main in state-of-the-art security investments, coaching and schooling, and security packages.”

“At this time, our international office well being and security group is comprised of greater than 5,000 staff who use Amazon’s innovation, expertise and information insights, mixed with distinctive expertise and management within the security business, to make sure the best requirements to maintain our staff protected,” Lighty stated.

Breaking apart Huge Tech

Biden has supplied few hints on how he would method antitrust points, past expressing concern over the ability Silicon Valley giants wield in tech and different industries. However there are indicators he’ll take a more durable stance on reining in Huge Tech than the Obama administration, which has been criticized for its shut ties to tech corporations. 

Whereas Google and Facebook are currently the focus of investigations on the federal degree, Amazon is unlikely to flee antitrust scrutiny with Biden within the Oval Workplace. 

Amazon is already being probed by Federal Commerce Fee officers over its enterprise practices in retail and cloud computing, based on studies from several outlets. Final yr, the Home Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust discovered that Amazon has monopoly power over third-party sellers. Amazon and its rivals, together with Fb, Google and Apple, additionally face a separate probe from the Justice Division.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testifies earlier than the Home Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Business and Administrative Legislation listening to on “On-line Platforms and Market Energy” within the Rayburn Home workplace Constructing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 29, 2020.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Photographs

Teams which are vital of Amazon’s energy are intently watching who Biden appoints to key posts dealing with tech coverage issues, fearing that any affect from Silicon Valley might derail antitrust investigations or diminish scrutiny. Alex Harman, competitors coverage advocate at advocacy group Public Citizen, stated he expressed these issues in conferences with Biden’s company assessment groups final November. 

“This was an issue within the Obama administration that I used to be a part of,” Harman stated. “There was a taste of ‘Google is nice and a Google revolving door is a constructive factor.’ That’s not OK.”

Part 230 underneath assault

One other tech coverage that is more likely to be in focus within the new administration is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields tech corporations from being chargeable for what customers put up on their platforms. 

Talks of Part 230 reform are sometimes focused towards social media corporations like Facebook, Twitter and Google‘s YouTube. However the legislation affords Amazon and different e-commerce corporations some protections as properly. 

Much like social media corporations, the legislation protects e-commerce websites from being held chargeable for any user-generated content material on their platforms, like product descriptions or buyer evaluations. 

Amazon has invoked Section 230 as a protection in some product legal responsibility lawsuits regarding defective merchandise bought on its web site, arguing that it merely supplies the platform for third-party retailers to hawk their wares, so it isn’t truly the vendor. 

The corporate additionally pointed to Section 230 in defending its choice to drop Parler, a social media website fashionable with Trump supporters, from its cloud-computing platform within the wake of the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6.

Biden has called for Part 230 to be revoked, arguing that corporations needs to be held accountable for internet hosting content material they know to be false. 

It is unclear how the Biden administration could search to reform Part 230. Democrats and Republicans agree there are points with the legislation, however they’re divided on why it deserves a assessment. Usually, Democrats hope to carry platforms extra liable for policing false speech and calls to violence, whereas Republicans fear about inconsistent moderation practices that censor politically conservative viewpoints.

Privateness and facial recognition

With Democrats in charge of Congress, lawmakers might revive makes an attempt to manage facial recognition expertise and set up a federal privateness legislation.

Amazon has beforehand come underneath hearth from advocacy teams, politicians and staff who’ve pressured the company to cease promoting its facial recognition software program to authorities businesses. Final June, Amazon imposed a one-year moratorium on facial recognition software program contracts with police, however it did not say if the ban utilized to federal businesses.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris acknowledged the necessity for modifications to privateness and facial recognition legal guidelines earlier than they entered the White Home. Biden stated in an interview with The New York Times final yr that the U.S. “needs to be setting requirements not not like the Europeans are doing relative to privateness.”

Final yr, two partisan privateness payments were introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Rating Member Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Whereas lawmakers agree on the necessity for a federal privateness legislation, they proceed to disagree on whether or not the nationwide legislation ought to preempt state payments and if people needs to be allowed to sue corporations over privateness violations.

Lawmakers are already analyzing the info Amazon collects from customers. Final month, the Federal Commerce Fee sent letters to Amazon, Fb, Twitter and several other different tech corporations requiring them at hand over details about how they accumulate and use information.

In 2019, Amazon and different members of the Enterprise Roundtable wrote to congressional leaders saying the assist the creation of a client information privateness legislation.

In relation to facial recognition, as a U.S. Senator for California, Harris expressed skepticism round facial recognition expertise. Harris in 2018 wrote to three federal agencies to spotlight analysis exhibiting how facial recognition can produce or reinforce racial and gender bias.

Amazon can be impacted by any federal limits on facial recognition expertise, comparable to these proposed within the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, a invoice that seeks to ban federal legislation enforcement use of the expertise.

Teams that advocate for racial justice and privateness rights are hoping the Biden administration will take up the decision to keep the technology out of the hands of legislation enforcement completely.

“Amazon, together with different Silicon Valley corporations, are raking in billions of {dollars} by promoting this actually harmful software to legislation enforcement,” stated Myaisha Hayes, marketing campaign methods director at advocacy group Media Justice. “We’re hoping that with this administration we will persuade extra members of Congress to take police tech surveillance actually significantly.”

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