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Union Claims Amazon Tainted Election, Wants Vote Overturned

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The union that lost an election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama this month has accused the company of breaking labor laws during the campaign and asked federal officials to throw out the results.

The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) filed 23 charges at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Friday alleging Amazon created an atmosphere of fear and confusion surrounding the vote. The union said in a statement that its claims “constitute grounds to set the election aside” and order a new one.

Among other charges, the union alleges that Amazon threatened workers with layoffs or the closure of the warehouse if they unionized, as well as cuts to their pay and benefits. It is illegal for employers to make such threats.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company denies the allegations.

“Rather than accepting these employees’ choice, the union seems determined to continue misrepresenting the facts in order to drive its own agenda,” the company said in a statement. “We look forward to the next steps in the legal process.”

Workers voted 1,798 to 738 against unionizing in a preliminary tally, although the labor board has not yet certified those results. It’s likely that NLRB officials will hold a hearing on the union’s allegations, offering the union a chance to present its evidence. 

The election results could ultimately be overturned, although such a case could last months or years due to appeals.

Stuart Appelbaum, the RWDSU’s president, told HuffPost after the election that he believed Amazon acted illegally and the results should not be certified.

“We think there needs to be a new election,” he said.

Even if the results are thrown out, the union would have to win a new election at a warehouse where it just lost. Regardless, the hearings could provide the union with a way to air its case against Amazon, which carried out an aggressive and so far successful anti-union campaign.



Amazon urged workers to cast their ballots as quickly as possible, even having a billboard put up on the interstate.

In their filing with the board, the union says Amazon broke the law by having a U.S. Postal Service box placed at the warehouse for the election. An NLRB official had told the company it could not have drop boxes onsite for the mail-in election, but the company asked the Postal Service to install a temporary mailbox.

The union accuses Amazon of surveilling the mailbox and pressuring workers to bring their ballots to work to drop them in the box. Amazon says that it did not surveil the mailbox and that only the Postal Service had access to it.

“It created the impression … that Amazon was conducting the election,” Appelbaum said.

In the filing, the union also accuses Amazon of carrying out “an extensive campaign” of polling and “interrogating” workers about their union support, and holding mandatory meetings in which the company told workers “that the union will go on strike and that employees will lose money.”

That appears to be a reference to the so-called “captive audience” meetings in which consultants delivered talking points against the union. These meetings are a standard feature of anti-union campaigns, and Amazon workers told HuffPost they took place every week in the run-up to the vote.



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Bitcoin mining has been under a microscope lately. We talked to a crypto expert to understand why blockchain is getting a bad rap.

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If you’ve even casually followed Bitcoin news lately, you may have seen headlines such as these:

“Bill Gates Sounds Alarm On Bitcoin’s Energy Consumption”

“Bitcoin’s wild ride renews worries about its massive carbon footprint“

“Why does Bitcoin need more energy than whole countries?”

These captions are meant to drive clicks and perhaps even plant a seed of doubt in the public’s mind about trending cryptocurrencies. But is crypto trading the energy vampire that the media has made it out to be? 

We spoke with podcast producer and blockchain expert Matthew Diemer, a longtime player in the crypto industry, to get a more balanced view of this issue. Diemer manages The Decrypt Daily podcast, which discusses all aspects of crypto news and information. 

Popular digital currencies

Before we dive into the conversation, let’s start with a quick rewind on some basic cryptocurrency facts. Currently, there are dozens of virtual currencies, also known as tokens, available to purchase and trade. However, the most well-known currency by far is Bitcoin, having been around now for over a decade. 

Other rising stars in the crypto space include Ethereum, dogecoin, and Litecoin. And recently, a wave of interest in NFTs is fueling public demand (however, NFTs, or “non-fungible tokens,” are a type of virtual product that exists primarily within the Ethereum blockchain.) 

To understand how energy use and blockchain (i.e., the technology that allows cryptocurrencies to exist) are intertwined, one has to dig a little deeper into the processes of creating and trading cryptocurrencies.

Proof of Work makes crypto function

Blockchain technology involves a method of tracking every single transaction called Proof of Work (PoW). Essentially, PoW is a publicly documented record, also called a ledger, organized by a group called miners. Miners, predictably, are the ones that mine to create new tokens by recording every transaction for the blockchain. 

As Diemer explains, miners take each “transaction in the data and put it into the decentralized database. Once it’s put in that decentralized database, that one person wins and gets the block reward because they are the first person to do that. Basically, that transaction is now locked within the blockchain. And we call it a blockchain because you can see the chain of transactions all the way back to the beginning, or the genesis, block of Bitcoin.”

Miners repeat these tasks continually as more crypto is bought and sold. So, because this process involves performing extremely complex algorithms repeatedly, mining uses energy, and lots of it. Now that the connection between energy use and blockchain is clear, let’s dive deeper into the energy and mining relationship at the crux of this controversy.

Energy use and Bitcoin mining

Though Diemer is the first to admit that Bitcoin mining “takes a lot of energy, around 170 Terawatts per block,” he also says we should be careful about how we frame up the idea of energy use when it comes to blockchain management. 

Diemer states, “I don’t like the term energy usage because I think that’s disingenuous. We should be thinking about the word carbon emissions, or CO2 footprint.” But, Diemer said, we should “be concerned about the CO2 footprint of any kind of energy consumption.”

To his point, the laser focus on Bitcoin in relation to energy is leaving out a lot of factors. For example, Diemer says, Bitcoin obtains “74% of electricity from renewable sources,” a stat backed up by a 2019 CoinShares report

Based on this data, the topic of crypto energy consumption requires a reframing of sorts. In other words, Diemer states, “do we care about how much energy is consumed, if it’s renewable? No, because it’s renewable.”

Bitcoin as a business

Diemer proposes that when it comes to energy management, crypto miners might be more concerned than most people because it affects their bottom line. “Bitcoin mining is a business proposition. You want to get the cheapest energy to do this business because it takes a lot of energy to mine Bitcoin. Therefore, anything that is not the cheapest possible is a negative against your business.”

“Bitcoin miners purposely set up next to renewable power sources and use their excess energy.” In other words, Diemer suggests mining is using energy that would otherwise be wasted. Indeed, recent reports show as much as 72% of the energy produced globally is lost.

Bitcoin mining unlikely to drive Texas energy prices

The bulk of Bitcoin mining is located overseas, with the vast majority (65%) of that taking place in China, according to Statista. Although China is heavily dependent on coal energy, savvy miners have found a way to harness unused power. 

Diemer explained, miners “actively search out the cheapest, most efficient ways to conduct this business. I had somebody on the show that had a Bitcoin mining firm in Sichuan, and that’s exactly what they did. They flew to Sichuan and found one of the many dams that are there and nestled up next to it and started a partnership with them.”

Currently, less than 8% of mining is U.S.-based. However, that stat is likely to change as crypto continues to grow in popularity, causing miners stateside to look for the best places to expand their pursuits. And one location set to skyrocket in popularity is Texas. 

Crypto mining in Texas

Texas is an attractive hub for would-be miners. The Lone Star State is already ripe for solar energy generation. Texas currently leads the U.S. in solar generation, lagging only behind California. Texas is also a leader in other types of renewable energy, such as wind power, which could be essential to low-cost and efficient mining operations. 

But with Texas struggling through an energy crisis for the first part of 2021, how much more pressure can the southern power grid stand? Will prices skyrocket even more than during the February winter storm, And how much of that cost will be passed onto the consumer? 

Like the situation in China, Texas miners can use energy that would otherwise go to waste. And it is precisely this type of symbiotic relationship that could be a boon for energy production in the south-central region of the U.S. 

A mining facility already exists in west Texas was able to “sell its contracted power supplies back into the grid for a profit,” according to Bloomberg. So, “when power prices in Texas topped $200 a megawatt-hour, Layer1 reaped returns of more than 700%.”

The good news is that if other facilities follow suit, mining may help the Texas power grid retain more of its renewable energy. However, whether or not the excess energy will translate into savings for Texas electricity customers remains to be seen.

Why mining gets blamed for energy consumption

The question still remains that if miners are so strategic about optimizing energy, why has bitcoin mining been getting the brunt of the blame for energy consumption? 

Traditional monetary transactions involving fiat (i.e., government-issued) currency involve significant energy output as well. Consider the number of debit and credit card swipes that take place every second, which totaled over 174 billion transactions globally in 2018, according to the Federal Reserve. With that figure in mind, is the blockchain industry liable for energy gluttony, or are they being scapegoated by the “old guard” in the finance space? 

Diemer states, “I think that it’s an easy narrative, and I think that narrative always trumps research and due diligence. It’s easy to run with a narrative instead of actually digging down on the conversation and trying to understand what’s happening.” 

But Diemer is confident that the same avant-garde thinkers that facilitated the early days of crypto may be the same innovative minds that come up with our next big energy solution. “The interesting thing about the free market is that sometimes they find solutions to problems…that aren’t thought of by the public or the government.”

Perhaps he sums it up best by saying, “The minds in this space are just brilliant individuals that are thinking literally like Sci-Fi novels. And not only thinking like Sci-Fi novels, but they’re also writing the Sci-Fi novel as we speak and then putting it into everyday action. And if that’s not inspiring to you, then I don’t know what is.”

Energy Expert

Lisa Iscrupe is a writer with over 15 years of experience working in the energy and telecom space. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts focused in English Language and Literature from UNC Charlotte.

[SlavkoSereda]/Getty Images

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Falcons coach tight-lipped about Julio Jones’ future

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The Atlanta Falcons began their offseason training program Tuesday without longtime star receiver Julio Jones, who apparently has no intention of returning to a rebuilding team that is still struggling to get under the salary cap.

Rookie coach Arthur Smith was tight-lipped about the Falcons’ options, but insisted that he doesn’t begrudge Jones for speaking his mind.

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“We encourage our players to speak for themselves,” Smith said during an interview session dominated by questions about Jones’ future. “That doesn’t change anything for us. We understand our plan going forward. We’ve had multiple private conversations with our players. Those conversations will remain private on my end.”

After plenty of questions about the seven-time Pro Bowler who, along with Matt Ryan, has been the face of the franchise for the past decade, Jones brought the situation to a head in a brief interview Monday with former NFL star Shannon Sharpe.

“I’m outta there,” Jones told the host of the “Undisputed” on FS1. When asked where he wants to play, the 32-year-old replied, “Right now, I wanna win.”

That seems unlikely with the Falcons, who are coming off their third straight losing season. Atlanta fired coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff after an 0-5 start to a year that ended at 4-12.

Smith and new general manager Terry Fontenot have made it clear that all options are on the table as they attempt to rebuild the roster and deal with several salary cap limitations, which could be eased greatly by trading Jones.

After months of silence from both sides, Jones appears to be pushing for a resolution. In addition to his interview with Sharpe, a photo surfaced on social media of the receiver posing with the fan while wearing a Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt.

Asked about Jones’ choice of attire, Smith called it “irrelevant.”

“You can wear whatever you want,” the coach said. “I don’t care.”

While the Cowboys would not seem to be in the market for another top receiver, there are teams that would surely benefit from having a dynamic player who had six straight seasons with more than 1,300 yards receiving until he was limited to nine games in 2020 by injuries.

Among the teams that might interested in Jones: the San Francisco 49ers, coached by former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan; the New England Patriots, who have already made a big splash in free agency; and the Jacksonville Jaguars, buoyed by a new franchise quarterback (Trevor Lawrence) and more cap space than any team in the league.

Jones’ status has certainly become a hot topic around the league, with Arizona receiver DeAndre Hopkins even sending a tweet — since deleted — implying he’d to restructure his contract if that’s what it took for Cardinals to deal for Jones.

Hopkins was at it again on Monday, posting a picture on Instagram of himself with Jones, receiver A.J. Green and former NFL star Michael Irvin at the 2016 Pro Bowl. He included the message, “Julio u remember what we talked about.”

Smith repeatedly refused to discuss any aspects of the Jones drama, from reports that the receiver privately requested a trade before the NFL draft to whether there’s any chance of a reconciliation with one of the team’s most popular players. The coach did say that every player on the roster has received a playbook and all information related to the voluntary OTAs (organized team activities).

“We’ve got so much respect and appreciation for what Julio Jones has done here with this franchise and what he’s meant to this city,” Smith said “But we have conversations about our roster all the time. We have to have contingency plans.”

Jones’ $15.3 million base salary is guaranteed and he’s set to cost the Falcons slightly more than $23 million against the salary cap next season. If he’s traded after June 1, they would be able to split the dead money over two seasons, which would greatly ease their grim financial situation.

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As it stands, the Falcons still must clear several million dollars just to sign a draft class led by the No. 4 overall pick, tight end Kyle Pitts.

While trading Jones makes sense financially, especially given the emergence of receivers Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage, the situation has cast a pall over a franchise that has never seemed to recover from blowing a 28-3 lead in the 2017 Super Bowl.

Ryan made it clear last week how much Jones has meant to the team’s success.

“I love Julio. I’ve been so lucky to play with him for the past decade,” Ryan said. “He’s an incredible competitor and one of the best to ever do it at his position.”

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Amazon’s Profit More Than Triples As Pandemic Boom Continues

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NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon’s pandemic boom isn’t showing signs of slowing down.

The company said Thursday that its first-quarter profit more than tripled from a year ago, fueled by the growth of online shopping. It also posted revenue of more than $100 billion, the second quarter in a row that the company has passed that milestone.

Amazon is one of the few retailers that has benefited during the pandemic. As physical stores temporarily closed, people stuck at home turned to Amazon to buy groceries, cleaning supplies and more. That doesn’t seem to be dying down.

In the first three months of this year, the company reported profit of $8.1 billion, compared to $2.5 billion the year before. Earnings per share came to $15.79, about $6 more per share than what Wall Street analysts expected, according to FactSet.

Revenue jumped 44% to $108.5 billion. Seattle-based Amazon is one of four American companies that have reported quarterly revenue above $100 billion. The others are iPhone maker Apple, oil and gas company Exxon Mobil and retailer Walmart.

Amazon said revenue will remain at that level in the second quarter, expecting between $110 billion and $116 billion. Part of the reason why: It plans to hold Prime Day, its popular sales event, during the quarter. Amazon didn’t specify a date for Prime Day, but said it would happen before the end of June.

Besides online shopping, Amazon’s other businesses grew, too. Sales at its cloud-computing business, which helps power the online operations of Netflix, McDonald’s and other companies, grew 32% in the quarter. And at its unit that includes its advertising business, where brands pay to get their products to show up first when shoppers search on the site, sales rose 77%.

Amazon’s growth comes as it faces activism from within its workforce. Workers at a warehouse in Alabama tried to unionize, saying they wanted better pay and more break time. But a majority of voters batted down that effort.

This week, Amazon announced it was giving more than 500,000 workers a raise of between 50 cents and $3 an hour starting next month to attract new workers. The company already pays at least $15 an hour.

The online shopping giant has been on a hiring spree to keep up with a surge in orders. It had 1.27 million employees at the end of March, adding more than 430,000 people in the last year.

Shares of Amazon.com Inc., which are up 40% in the last year, rose 2.6% in after-hours trading Thursday.



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Watch Consumer Reports Trick A Tesla Into Driving Without A Driver

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Consumer Reports has released a video revealing how a vehicle operator tricked a Tesla into driving in autopilot mode without a person in the driver’s seat to take over in case of trouble.

The demonstration was broadcast just days after two friends died in a fiery crash in Texas in a 2019 Tesla Model S that authorities said had no driver — which Tesla CEO Elon Musk has denied.

Rigging the car to run on its own appeared relatively easy (check out the video above). A small weight was attached to the steering wheel to mimic the touch of a driver’s hand, but the person in the car actually touched nothing and sat in the front passenger seat. The car traveled down the road and emitted no warning that no one was in charge.

Tesla’s Autopilot website warns that its cars are not “autonomous.” Autopilot is “intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any time,” the website states.

The site, however, gives mixed messages. In a featured video on the Autopilot site, a car is shown traveling all over town while the driver does nothing and has his hands in his lap. A message at the start of the video notes that the “person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.

Musk has largely shrugged off concerns about the autopilot feature and has insisted it makes the cars safer by helping drivers. Drivers have been known to fall asleep at the wheel, read or text while driving, or simply stop paying attention to the road when using the feature.

The friends in Texas, ages 59 and 69, were killed last Saturday night when the Tesla missed a curve and crashed into a tree, causing a fiery explosion in a residential neighborhood in suburban Houston. Their wives had heard them discussing trying out the car’s autopilot function as they left, according to law enforcement authorities. There was no one in the driver’s seat when firefighters extinguished the car blaze, according to Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman. One man was in the front passenger seat; the other was in the back seat, according to Herman.

It took four hours and 32,000 gallons of water to put out the fire because the car’s lithium battery cells kept reigniting.

After Tesla stock dropped 3.4% Monday after the accident was widely reported, Musk denied the car was driverless. He insisted in a tweet that “data logs recovered so far” showed that the autopilot was “not enabled” in the crash.  He also said the owner had not purchased an “FSD” ― a Full Self-Driving package.

Herman told Reuters that Musk’s tweet Monday was the first officials had heard from Tesla. He said authorities would serve search warrants on the company to obtain any data it had recovered from the vehicle.

“If he is tweeting that out, if he has already pulled the data, he hasn’t told us that,” Herman said. “We will eagerly wait for that data.”

Tesla officials did apologize on Thursday — but not for the Texas crash. Tesla promised to cooperative fully in an investigation into a February multi-car crash in China. One of the drivers in that crash had climbed atop a Tesla at a car show in a protest blaming her Tesla’s brakes for the crash.

“We will work with regulators to conduct a deep-dive investigation with no reservations, and accept society’s supervision with sincerity and openness,” the company said on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo, Vice reported.

Tesla offered a “deep apology” for failing to solve the problem, pledged to win back consumers’ support “with genuine sincerity” and promised to cover all the costs of a third-party examination of the protester’s vehicle.

The Communist Party’s powerful corruption watchdog had criticized Tesla as “spoiled and arrogant,” and warned it against “making Chinese people’s money while taking Chinese people’s lives,” Vice reported.





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CEO Hits Back At Fox News After They Derided Him For Offering $70,000 Minimum Salaries

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The last six years have been a long strange trip for CEO Dan Price.

Back in 2015, the tech entrepreneur shocked the business world by slashing his own $1.1 million pay package to help fund a minimum “living wage” of $70,000 for all workers at his credit card processing company Gravity Payments.

Price’s decision led to him being heavily criticized as a “socialist” on Fox News and Fox Business. In addition, some clients dropped Gravity for reasons that included fears the salary hike would cause their rates to rise.

But in the years since, Price has been hailed as a success by Harvard Business School and Inc. magazine, which noted the number of employees at Gravity has doubled while the value of payments that the company processes has gone from $3.8 billion a year to $10.2 billion.

On Tuesday, Price referenced this success in a viral Twitter thread and video that took aim at his conservative critics, particularly Fox.

It hasn’t all been a smooth ride, Price admitted.

He also explained what inspired his decision to cut his own salary to $70,000 a year and raise pay for workers, saying the discovery that an employee was secretly working a second job at McDonald’s made him realize he was an “awful CEO.”

Although he took a drastic pay cut, Price said he doesn’t miss the “millionaire lifestyle” one bit.





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Why Pause The J&J Vaccine? An Expert Explains The Decision

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The decision by two key federal regulatory agencies to recommend a “pause” in using the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine got everybody’s attention on Tuesday, especially since the progress had been so encouraging lately.

The impetus for the recommendation was six reports of medical incidents among the more than 6 million people who have gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In a joint statement, the two agencies, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said they were acting out of an “abundance of caution” in order to see whether these incidents were side effects of the vaccine and, if so, what that means for future use of the one-dose shot.  

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is one of three now available in the U.S. under emergency authorization orders. The other two are from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. 

All three vaccines induce human cells to produce the now-familiar COVID-19 protein spikes so that the body’s immune system learns to recognize the virus. But the Johnson & Johnson vaccine operates in a slightly different way than Moderna’s or Pfizer’s, neither of which have generated reports of such incidents.

Biden administration officials said Tuesday that the pause will not meaningfully affect vaccine distribution in the U.S. ― noting, among other things, that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine accounts for less than 5% of the shots that have gone into arms. 

The U.S. is already averaging more than 3 million vaccinations a day, and there are already small pockets of the country where supply is reaching or outstripping demand, with more likely to follow soon. 

Still, officials were hoping the J&J vaccine would boost the supply and provide a version that was easier to administer, because it requires just one dose rather than the two spaced-apart vaccinations that both Moderna and Pfizer require.

These reports are serious, but they are also very rare.
Joshua Sharfstein, Johns Hopkins professor and former FDA official

So what exactly did the FDA and CDC say today? Was that the right decision?What does it mean for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and the vaccination campaign more generally, going forward?

Joshua Sharfstein has thought a lot about these issues. He served as principal deputy FDA commissioner during the Obama administration. Before that term, he was health commissioner for the city of Baltimore. Afterward, he served as secretary of health for Maryland. Now he is a public health professor at Johns Hopkins University. (He’s also a friend I’ve known for many years.)

HuffPost asked for his take on these questions. Here is a lightly edited version of our conversation, which took place over email.

Cohn: First thing: Can you translate for the public what the FDA and CDC actually have said and what it means? 

Sharfstein: FDA and CDC are reporting that six people developed an unusual type of blood clots within two weeks of vaccination with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. All six are women, between the ages of 18 and 48. One died, and a second is in intensive care. These reports are serious, but they are also very rare. More than 6 million people have been vaccinated with this vaccine so far. 

The concern, for FDA and CDC and, of course, the rest of us, is that the vaccine may be the cause of this disorder ― that it’s not just a coincidence. To investigate and respond to this potential risk, the agencies have asked for a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

We should hear more soon, including at an advisory committee meeting scheduled for tomorrow, about what this means for the vaccination program. Today’s announcement reflects that the national vaccine program is working to identify and assess even remote risks quickly.

Cohn: A “pause.” So how long are we likely taking here?

Sharfstein: I would anticipate we’ll know more in days to several weeks. 

Cohn: People want to know if these reports means the vaccine is unsafe. Can you put this into context for us, relative to other vaccines or drugs? 

Sharfstein: When thinking about the safety of a drug or vaccine, I consider three questions.

First, how do the risks compare with the benefits? In this case, the benefits are impressive. Studies have shown that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is quite effective at preventing illness from COVID-19. The vaccine appears to be even more effective at preventing serious illness and death. 

FDA and CDC scientists are working now, first, to assess the likelihood that this unusual clotting problem is actually related to vaccination. And then, if they find it is likely to be related, they will have to weigh the very considerable benefits of avoiding COVID-19 against the potential harms of this unusual clotting problem for different groups of people. With this complication so rare, my expectation is that for all groups, they will find that the benefits far exceed the risks. The chance of a problem appears to be less, for example, than the risk of a severe allergic reaction to any of the COVID vaccines.



Principal Deputy Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein (left) and Acting Associate FDA Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs Michael Chappell testify May 27, 2010, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on a voluntary recall of over-the-counter medications.

Second, how do the risks compare with the risks of other medical products that serve the same purpose? Two alternative COVID vaccines ― from Pfizer and Moderna ― have not been associated with this unusual clotting problem. So one question is whether, for people at the highest risk of this complication, it might make sense to recommend alternative vaccines where they are readily available. The agencies and their advisory committees may consider this option. 

Third, how well can the safety challenges be managed? With every vaccine, even the ones that have been around for many years, there’s a risk of a major allergic reaction. It’s very rare, but we prepare for it by having epinephrine handy at all times. Leaders at the FDA and CDC have said that one of the reasons for the pause is to make sure clinicians know about this unusual clotting problem, so they can be prepared to recognize it and provide effective treatment.  

Cohn: So let me press you here. As you say, the side effect has been very rare ― six reported incidents out of more than 6 million doses already in people’s arms. Why pause at all, given the vaccine’s potential to prevent large numbers of death? Why not just say, hey, we’re watching this but don’t see any reason to hold back on the shot?

Sharfstein: I respect that FDA and CDC are asking for a little time to assess the risks and to develop clinical recommendations for managing this unusual condition.

In addition, in public health, as in life, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Here, the public health agencies are showing how seriously they take the safety of these vaccines. They’re going to investigate these cases and then make a responsible decision on how to proceed. 

Continuing to vaccinate could have led people to worry that safety is a secondary consideration, undermining their desire to be vaccinated. Trust and confidence are the most important elements of a successful vaccination program. A loss of credibility now could damage efforts to encourage the use of all COVID vaccines this year and set back the nation’s recovery.

Cohn: OK, let’s talk about people who are reluctant to be vaccinated. Could this pause undermine their confidence further?

Sharfstein: Confidence comes both from the perception of risk and from trust in the vaccination program overall. These rare and unusual cases of clotting were going to be a big news story, no matter how FDA and CDC responded.

The logic of a pause is, in part, that someone concerned about the remote possibility of a clotting problem will hear from the start that public health agencies are taking the concern seriously. They’ll then be more open to the evidence and conclusions. 

Cohn: It sounds like you’re saying the risk of too little caution is bigger than the risk of a little too much caution. For example, if the FDA comes off as in any way cavalier about safety ― or, worse, if it fails to act on something that become a bigger problem ― then the damage to its credibility and ultimately public faith in vaccines could be enormous and long-lasting, and that risk more than outweighs whatever we lose by going through this pause. Do I have that right? 

Sharfstein: Yes. This is the world of “making decisions in the setting of uncertainty.” We do not know at this moment everything that the virus and the vaccines have in store for us. What we do know is that a loss of credibility among those who are on the fence about vaccination could be an enormous setback. Taking a moment to assess the situation is a responsible step. It’s now important for the agencies to move expeditiously, share information transparently and explain their next set of decisions well.  

Cohn: Let’s shift focus and talk science. We’re not hearing about these side effects with Moderna or Pfizer. But European regulators reported similarly rare but serious side effects with AstraZeneca. Is that a clue about what’s actually happening, because both J&J and AstraZeneca use similar delivery methods?

Sharfstein: Both the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are derived from a common cold virus called the adenovirus. An important question is whether this unusual clotting problem might be linked to the adenovirus component of the vaccines. 

Cohn: So why wasn’t this picked up in clinical trials?

Sharfstein: Clinical trials for vaccines are unable to detect very rare adverse events. That’s because the trials involve tens of thousands of subjects, but rare side effects may happen at a rate of 1 in 100,000, or even 1 in 1 million people.

To catch these problems, FDA and CDC set up a number of programs to monitor safety as the products gain wide use. This very monitoring identified the clotting cases, and now the agencies are responding. In other words, this recent finding and pause reflect the vigilance of our oversight system. 

Cohn: One reason everybody has been excited about Johnson & Johnson is that it’s just one dose and doesn’t have unusual storage requirements. That makes it a lot easier to deliver in under-served areas here ― and, especially, around the world. What are the global implications for this?

Sharfstein: The global dimension of the issue should not be overlooked. Both the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are very important for global immunization efforts, so getting to the bottom of this unusual clotting problem is a high priority. FDA, CDC and other global regulators should be clear about the implications of different policy actions for the use of these vaccines around the world.

A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus





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How Amazon Crushed The Union Threat In Alabama

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In early March, the union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, appeared to be gaining steam.

A slew of high-profile politicians had recently come out in support of the effort, including Georgia voting rights activist Stacey Abrams. NFL football players and celebrities jumped onboard. President Joe Biden delivered a historic speech criticizing employers like Amazon for trying to break up union campaigns.

But as one warehouse worker told me near the end of the election, “Everything came too late.”

Like others in this story, she spoke on condition of anonymity, fearful of retaliation from Amazon. While she was happy to see the public backing, she didn’t think it would make much of a difference when workers were already deep into a seven-week mail-in election. Amazon had been holding anti-union meetings and urging workers to vote as quickly as possible. Many voters had already cast their ballots.

This particular worker didn’t have her first in-depth conversation with a union organizer until after she’d been forced to sit through several of the anti-union meetings Amazon’s consultants ran.

“You just can’t escape it anywhere,” she said. “Amazon just bulldozed.”

Workers ended up rejecting unionization by a count of 1,798 to 738, according to a preliminary tally that the National Labor Relations Board hasn’t yet certified. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) says it plans to contest the results, accusing Amazon of violating labor law during the campaign and tainting the election. A case before the NLRB could last months.

It’s much easier to point out a campaign’s fatal shortcomings in hindsight. I reported on the union drive as it unfolded. I thought the union was unlikely to win because of the basic structural advantages of any employer in an election of this size, let alone one with the power and resources of Amazon. But I was not anticipating such a blowout. I even thought a squeaker victory for the union might be possible.

So what happened? This account is based on interviews with 11 workers from the warehouse and seven organizers and union officials involved in the campaign. It’s meant to show the rationale behind the union’s fast-moving and high-risk campaign, the effectiveness of Amazon’s counterattack, and the challenges anyone faces trying to organize at the world’s largest online retailer. 

‘We Had To Move Fast’

The Bessemer campaign moved unusually quickly for a large-scale organizing effort. The facility opened in April 2020, and by summer, a handful of workers approached the RWDSU about unionizing. 

They had predictable gripes likely made worse by the pandemic: Amazon’s time-off-task policy, which punishes workers for time spent away from their duties; the high production quotas enforced by management; and a baseline wage of $15 that didn’t seem to match the workload.

A small group of workers began talking discreetly with others in the predominantly Black workforce. This core included two especially gutsy workers: Darryl Richardson and Jennifer Bates. Richardson, 51, had helped lead a union drive at a Mercedes seat supplier in Tuscaloosa before getting laid off in 2019. Bates, 49, had spent a decade at an iron foundry before coming to Amazon.

In October, the union began stationing organizers at the warehouse’s entrances to talk to workers after their shifts ended. Some were eager to sign union cards on the spot or at a nearby tent. But the RWDSU also gathered cards that workers signed virtually online ― a less common practice put in use because of the pandemic.

A union needs signed cards from 30% of a bargaining unit before the NLRB will greenlight a secret-ballot election. Even though a union can win an election with a simple majority of votes cast, most organizers don’t like to walk into an election without cards from two-thirds or even three-quarters of the workers ― most employers will run a union-busting campaign and peel off a chunk of that support.

The union originally filed for an election for a bargaining unit of 1,500 workers. But Amazon was on a hiring spree throughout the year as the pandemic drove a surge in online shopping. Organizers posted at the gates could see the warehouse parking lot growing fuller each week.



Amazon urged workers to cast their ballots as quickly as possible, before the union reached more of them. The company even had a billboard on the interstate.

Amazon said the bargaining unit should be roughly 5,800 workers, including seasonal employees ― nearly four times what the union proposed. Employers generally like to petition the NLRB to expand the bargaining unit because it dilutes whatever support the union has already built up. Even if the appeal fails, it buys more time to get an anti-union campaign in motion.

This left the union in a bind: It could accede to Amazon’s bigger election and have much more organizing on their plate, or it could fight at the NLRB and potentially lose momentum. It chose the former and presented enough cards to trigger the larger election.

Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU’s president, said the union ultimately gathered more than 3,000 cards by mid-January ― a majority, though not the kind of supermajority a union would typically want. He said organizers were fearful of delay.

“We knew we had to move fast,” he said. “We didn’t have the luxury of time you might have in another environment.”

You’ll never deep-organize a workplace that has 100% turnover. You’ll just chase your tail.
Joshua Brewer, lead organizer, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union

Plenty of unions would have bailed at this point to regroup for a longer effort. Some organizers on the outside believed the interest was too small for comfort given the massive counter-campaign Amazon was expected to unleash. Some also wondered about the cards signed online: If those were easier to gather and didn’t require the in-depth conversation that might happen before someone signs a card in person, could the union really count on those workers to be there in the end? 

Joshua Brewer, the union’s lead organizer, told me the majority of the cards they received were hard cards, not digital ones. Late in the election, I asked him about some of these doubts and whether the union ever considered slowing down. He said its most pressing consideration at that point was turnover. 

Amazon does not disclose how many workers pass through its warehouses in a year, but the union operated under the assumption that Bessemer had an annual turnover rate of at least 100%. That doesn’t mean literally every worker leaves within a year. It means the number of workers who quit or get fired in a year is greater than the average number of workers in the facility. (An Amazon spokesperson declined to share how many workers have passed through the Bessemer warehouse since it opened.)

High turnover can be costly for employers because they’re constantly training new workers. But turnover is invaluable when it comes to fighting organizing drives. The union must constantly generate new supporters to account for those it loses daily to churn. RWDSU’s Mid-South Council president, Randy Hadley, told me organizers assumed they were losing at least 60 signed union cards per week. 

Brewer doubted they would ever get an election if they backed off.

“You’ll never deep-organize a workplace that has 100% turnover,” he said. “You’ll just chase your tail.”

J.C. Thompson, a process assistant at the warehouse and vocal opponent of the union, predicted support was narrower and shallower than the union realized. He believed Amazon provided a decent job and that the union couldn’t improve on it. I spoke with him five weeks into the election, in an interview Amazon arranged with a spokesperson on the line. He thought younger workers, in particular, may have signed cards without being firm “yes” votes. 

“Some have already quit or already been fired,” he said. “The numbers that they think they have, they don’t really have.”

A Captive Audience

Following the standard corporate playbook, Amazon hired “union avoidance” consultants in the run-up to the election, which was slated to start in February. These people specialize in persuading workers to vote against the union and in coaching supervisors on how to throttle support.

Companies can’t legally retaliate against a worker for supporting a union or interrogate them about their leanings. But the remedies for breaking the law are notoriously weak. Oftentimes, a scofflaw company is merely ordered to hang a poster acknowledging the violations they’ve committed. There’s a strong incentive for employers to dance close to the legal limitations if it means keeping a union out. 

Amazon brought in at least two union avoidance consulting firms, according to disclosures filed with the Labor Department. One firm’s filing said consultants would be paid $3,200 apiece per day to conduct meetings, with three names listed. Another firm’s filing does not list a particular rate and simply says there is “no maximum billing amount.” Amazon also tapped the leading management-side law firm Morgan Lewis to handle its litigation before the labor board.

Adam Obernauer, one of the RWDSU’s organizers, called Amazon’s union-avoidance approach “the platinum package.” An Amazon spokesperson declined to say how much money the company spent and how many consultants it hired, though more information will trickle out in future filings. One management-side attorney estimated it was in the millions — possibly eight figures.

Organizers at the warehouse entrances were tracking the out-of-state plates they saw on cars coming and going, presuming they were consultants, corporate Amazon employees or managers from other warehouses brought in to address the organizing drive. Hadley said the union got tips from nearby hotels about new bookings that might be for anti-union purposes. 

Amazon had its messaging throughout the warehouse, including the bathrooms. But the most effective strategy was probably the so-called “captive audience” meetings where attendance was mandatory. Consultants sowed doubt about what a union could accomplish and painted the RWDSU in a poor light. 

“They were harping a lot on dues,” said one worker. “They were saying, ‘The union’s coming in, and the union is a business. The money they make is gonna be off of you. Your $9 a week, they’re gonna use that money to buy cars.’” 

Unions try to prepare workers ahead of time for this messaging, a process that’s known as “inoculation.” But the speed of the Bessemer campaign left little time to prep such a large and ever-changing workforce. Many workers likely walked into these meetings before speaking to a union rep. That could make some workers particularly receptive to the portrayal of the union as a third party looking out for itself.  

The meetings could be strange, workers said. Sometimes a handful of authoritative-looking people stood off to the side. Were they consultants? Managers from other warehouses? Some workers asked obsequious-sounding questions that made others wonder if they were plants.

And there were many of those meetings. “I want to say they were every week, and one week, they were every day,” said one worker. “They were very, very frequent.” 

Amazon had anti-union messaging throughout the warehouse and put workers through so-called "captive audience" meetings, where



Amazon had anti-union messaging throughout the warehouse and put workers through so-called “captive audience” meetings, where consultants delivered talking points against unionizing.

Union support inside the warehouse was “very much a quiet thing” due to fear, the worker said. “I don’t think people even talk about it,” another worker said. The union made a strategic decision early in the campaign not to push too many workers into public view, concerned about retaliation.

But some workers may have wondered how deep union support ran when few were outspoken about it. In a post-mortem on the election in The Nation, longtime organizer and writer Jane McAlevey pointed to this hush-hush support as a death knell for the campaign.

Some workers did push back in the captive-audience meetings. Three workers told me they were private about their union support but felt compelled to speak out against misinformation in the group meetings. One worker said he was asked to stay behind after the others left. He refused.

Studies have shown these anti-union campaigns are effective and can even tip election results. In a 2009 analysis of union elections, Cornell labor researcher Kate Bronfenbrenner found that unions only won elections 47% of the time when employers held captive-audience meetings, compared to 73% of the time when they didn’t. Anti-union literature, videos and emails also appeared to chip away at the union win rate as well.

Longtime organizer Gene Bruskin said the messaging ultimately works because of fear. Bruskin played a leading role in the United Food and Commercial Workers’ successful effort to unionize the 5,000-worker Smithfield pork plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, one of the biggest U.S. labor victories of the past quarter-century. The Amazon election drew many comparisons to the Smithfield one because of its size, its location in the South and its broader significance for the labor movement. 

“When people hear there’s an election, they think, well, everybody gets to vote, there’s a secret ballot,” Bruskin explained. “What they don’t understand is the company has access to the workers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and has enormous influence over their lives. They can threaten, they can give raises, they can demote, they can not grant favors. Every worker knows that.”

They used to yell at people. As soon as it was clear we’re gonna vote on the union, it was all smiles.
Amazon worker

Bruskin called the discrepancy between the union’s influence and the company’s “overwhelming.” It took 16 years and three elections before the Smithfield workers won their fight, and only after the union secured a deal curbing the company’s anti-union campaign.  

The RWDSU received workers’ contact information once the election was scheduled, consistent with NLRB rules. But because of the pandemic, the union decided not to prioritize home visits, a standard feature of union campaigns. Instead, it began a phone-banking operation with 100 organizers making calls, including around 20 organizers on loan from the AFL-CIO labor federation and its affiliates. These calls would not have held the same power as mandatory meetings on the worksite. 

Meanwhile, Amazon paired its anti-union messaging with what workers described as a management facelift. Supervisors became more solicitous to employees’ concerns. One worker said he saw a dramatic change among the monitors who enforced social distancing rules in the break rooms. 

“They used to yell at people,” the worker said. “As soon as it was clear we’re gonna vote on the union, it was all smiles. ‘Hey, how are you? We’re here to help. Please stay six feet apart. Please and thank you.’” 

He said they even started putting out candy.

Workers who were vocal against the union tried to convey to their co-workers that Amazon’s pay wasn’t bad. Wages at the Bessemer warehouse start at $15.30 per hour. The union’s strongest supporters at the warehouse believe the pay needs to be higher for the work they do. Richardson had previously earned $23 an hour at a Mercedes seat supplier. Bates had made $20 an hour at the iron foundry. 

While Amazon’s pay does fall below many other blue-collar jobs in the Birmingham area, it might seem solid to someone coming from fast food, especially in a state where the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. 

“Amazon does pay better than other people,” one worker said. “If you weren’t working there, you might be working at Walmart for $11.”

This presented a clear challenge for the union. At the union hall one day in early March, a warehouse worker had shown up to help the organizing drive. I watched as she made her first phone-banking call to a co-worker that afternoon. She spent 20 minutes making a confident case for what the union could do, then thanked the woman for her time and hung up.

“She plans to vote no,” she reported. “If you were making $8, and then you’re making $15, that’s a big deal.”

‘VOTE NOW’

Seven weeks gave workers plenty of time to consider how to vote, but Amazon wisely urged them to cast their ballots as soon as possible. The company had already been inundating them with anti-union messaging; the union was still contacting some workers for the first time.

Amazon even had a billboard up on the interstate on the way from Birmingham: “VOTE NOW! Mail your ballot right away!”

NLRB rules required Amazon to stop captive-audience meetings just before the ballots went out in the mail, but the company was free to continue holding one-on-one conversations with workers it believed might lean union. One worker said a man pulled him aside on the warehouse floor and asked if he’d received his ballot yet. He didn’t know who the guy was but assumed he was an anti-union consultant.

“I lied and said I voted ‘no’ just to get them away from me,” the worker said.

Brewer acknowledged during the election that Amazon probably had an advantage in the early ballots. But in late February, the union felt the campaign swinging in its favor. There was the gush of support from influential people, and then Biden’s landmark Feb. 28 speech about unions, which some labor historians considered the most significant pro-union remarks from a sitting president.

It’s impossible to say what kind of effect it had — or could have had if it had come sooner. But one pro-union worker said Biden’s remarks did make some people reconsider the significance of the vote.

“Some that were on the borderline, they were like, ‘Man. Maybe there’s more to this than we thought,’” he said. “I said of course there is. You now have the president coming out in front of everybody saying Bezos needs to straighten up.”

The union has decided to challenge the election results, accusing Amazon of breaking labor laws during the campaign. It's pos



The union has decided to challenge the election results, accusing Amazon of breaking labor laws during the campaign. It’s possible the National Labor Relations Board orders a new election.

By early March, organizers said they were hearing from workers who had previously voted “no” but wanted to change their vote. I never personally encountered a voter who wanted to switch, but one employee who was phone-banking said he had spoken to four regretful “no” voters. An NLRB spokesperson declined to comment on how many voters, if any, asked for fresh ballots.

The union claims Amazon broke the law by having a mailbox on warehouse property when the election began in early February. The labor board had rejected Amazon’s request for ballot drop boxes onsite, but Amazon asked the U.S. Postal Service to place a mailbox on its campus, according to emails the union obtained and The Washington Post published. The union argues that it was an illegal attempt to exert control over the election, a claim Amazon denies.

The NLRB could order another election if it finds Amazon violated the law. But a do-over would leave the union having to win an election at a warehouse where it already lost badly. 

Appelbaum argued that the campaign will prove fruitful despite the results. Workers like Bates and Richardson sparked a broader fight with Amazon and brought unprecedented scrutiny to the company, he said. They compelled Biden to take a public stand against corporate anti-union behavior.

“The Biden video was a result of this campaign. It’s going to be useful in organizing all over the country,” he said in an interview after the election. “We forced Amazon into the first election they’ve ever had, when their strategy has always been to avoid any elections…. We shined a spotlight on the working conditions. The American public didn’t have a sense of that.”

The campaign certainly brought new attention to the work that goes into breaking union drives. Democrats are pushing for the most sweeping reform to labor law in more than half a century in the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. The bill would outlaw the kinds of captive-audience meetings that Amazon ran, and the Bessemer campaign will likely be Exhibit A for progressive lawmakers.

But the results may well turn out to be a significant setback. The union gathered more than 1,000 signed cards from other Amazon facilities in recent months thanks to the Alabama campaign’s publicity. The election outcome could give many of those workers cold feet. It has already prompted more discussion about whether winning NLRB-run union elections is even possible at Amazon warehouses, given the playing field and the company’s deep pockets. 

The worker who supported the union but expected a loss said she now finds Amazon more intimidating than she did six months ago.  

“They’ve learned how to crush a real unionization effort,” she said.



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