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Amazon and CZI face labor disputes as Biden promises gig workers better protections – TechCrunch

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Welcome back to Human Capital. In this week’s edition of HC, you’ll read about the latest labor struggles at Amazon and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, President-Elect Joe Biden’s promises to gig workers, a primary care network for Black people and people of color and more. Lastly, I pulled out some nuggets from DoorDash’s S-1 that are relevant to DEI and labor.

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Former Amazon warehouse worker sues company alleging failure to provide PPE to workers during pandemic

Christian Smalls, a former Amazon warehouse employee, filed a lawsuit against the company today alleging Amazon failed to provide personal protective equipment to Black and Latinx workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The class action suit alleges Amazon failed to properly protect its warehouse workers and violated elements of New York City’s human rights law, as well as federal and state laws.

“I was a loyal worker and gave my all to Amazon until I was unceremoniously terminated and tossed aside like yesterday’s trash because I insisted that Amazon protect its dedicated workers from COVID-19,” Smalls said in a statement. “I just wanted Amazon to provide basic protective gear to the workers and sanitize the workplace.”

Center for Black Innovation gets $2.1 million

The Knight Foundation, Surdna Foundation and Comcast NBCUNiversal put $2.1 million into the Center for Black Innovation. The plan is to support Black entrepreneurs and increase the number of Black founders in Miami and throughout the U.S. The money will go toward investor education, facilitating matchmaking sessions between founders and investors, offering courses to founders and more.

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative faces racial discrimination complaint

BERLIN, GERMANY – FEBRUARY 25: (r-l) Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of the social media platform Facebook, and his wife Priscilla Chan pose for a photo before the Axel-Springer-Award on February 25, 2016 in Berlin. Mark Zuckerberg got this first time awarding price for special innovations. (Photo by Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images)

Ray Holgado, a former employee of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, recently filed a racial discrimination complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Holgado, who is Black, worked at CZI from September 2018 through August 2020.

“Despite its social justice rhetoric, CZI is not a welcoming environment for Black employees,” Holgado’s complaint states. “Black employees are underpaid, undervalued, denied growth opportunities, and marginalized. Black employees who want to advance within the organization are shut down and labeled as too assertive or aggressive, while non-Black employees are favored and encouraged. When Black employees have communicated these concerns to CZI leadership, CZI has responded defensively and failed to address the underlying issues. CZI has utterly failed to ‘build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future’ for its Black employees.”

In a statement to TechCrunch, CZI denied the claims.

“While we take any allegation of discrimination seriously and will do so here, this former employee’s specific allegations were previously raised internally, independently investigated, and found to be unsubstantiated,” the spokesperson said. “The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is committed to fair treatment, access, and advancement for all members of the CZI team. We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, full stop.”

DEI nuggets from DoorDash’s S-1

Food delivery company DoorDash filed its paperwork to go public today. It’s a long document, so I’ve pulled out the relevant items related to DEI and labor.

DoorDash says it’s committed to diversity and inclusion in its S-1, despite never having released a diversity report

At DoorDash, we are committed to growing and empowering inclusive communities in our company, our industry, and the cities we serve. We believe that a diverse and inclusive workforce is critical to helping us attract and retain the talent necessary to grow our business. We also believe we will be a more successful company if we amplify the voices of those who have not always been heard, and when everyone has ‘room at the table’ and the tools, resources, and opportunities to succeed.

DoorDash also seems to be proud of the fact that none of its 3,279 employees have unionized:

None of our employees are represented by a labor union. We have not experienced any work stoppages, and we believe that our employee relations are strong.

DoorDash, like other gig economy companies, is also gearing up to pursue Prop 22-like legislation in other states:

As such, the passage of the 2020 California ballot initiative is likely to have an adverse impact on our results of operations. In addition, several other states where we operate may be considering adopting legislation similar to the 2020 California ballot initiative, which we would expect to increase our costs related to Dashers in such jurisdictions and could also adversely impact our results of operations.

Spora Health launches primary care provider network for Black people and POC

Image Credits: Spora Health

Spora Health launched its One Medical-like primary care provider network for Black people and people of color.

“An equitable healthcare system has never existed in America, especially for Black folks and that is the goal,” Spora Health  founder and CEO Dan Miller told TechCrunch.

Spora Health, which recently closed a $1.2 million seed round, is a primary care provider for Black people and people of color. Initially, Spora Health is taking a telemedicine approach, but eventually plans to open physical locations.

Lyft on passage of Prop 22

“As we look to the future, the win on Proposition 22 in California was a landmark achievement and a major victory for drivers, our industry and the broader Lyft community,” Lyft President John Zimmer said in Lyft’s earnings report this week. “The campaign was successful because it ultimately reflected the desires and priorities of drivers. More than 120,000 drivers signed up to be part of the effort to pass Prop 22 – they rallied, they volunteered, they shared their stories. Voters saw that and stood in solidarity with them. We look forward to continuing our conversations with policymakers across the country.”

Similar to Uber, Lyft is also looking to explore similar legislation across the country. On the earnings call, Lyft CEO Logan Green said Prop 22 provides a model for other states.

Uber and Lyft request rehearing on case that upheld preliminary injunction

Uber and Lyft both filed a petition for rehearings in the case brought forth by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Last month, an appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that would force Uber and Lyft to classify their drivers as employees. But now that Proposition 22 has passed, Uber and Lyft want the court to determine if the injunction is still appropriate.

Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft will likely still face lawsuits over worker classification in California since the recently-passed proposition can not be applied retroactively. According to Bloomberg Law, those legal options, however, will be limited and damages will be capped.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on Prop 22

In a joint statement, the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called Prop 22 a “devastating blow to the rights” of gig workers.

Here’s a snippet:

No worker should face exploitative or otherwise abusive work conditions, but many app-based workers do. We urge app-based companies to bring their wage and labor policies and practices in line with international human and labor rights standards. We urge the government of California to explore other legal avenues for holding companies accountable for respecting workers’ rights. Finally, we urge the United States Congress and the United States Department of Labor to protect the rights of app-based workers, such as through legislative and regulatory action that helps ensure a living wage, paid sick and family leave, and workers’ compensation for illness and injury.



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Indian ride-hailing startup Ola valued at $7.3 billion in new funding – TechCrunch

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Indian ride-hailing giant Ola has raised $139 million at a valuation of about $7.3 billion, it said in a filing, ahead of its plans to file for an initial public offering early next year.

Mumbai-headquartered financial giant Edelweiss led the new investment tranche. IIFL, Siddhant Partners, Tejal Merchantile, Hero Enterprise also poured money, Bangalore-headquartered Ola said in the filing, which was first reported by Indian news outlet Entrackr.

The new investment comes five months after SoftBank-backed Ola raised $500 million in a round, one of the largest in the internet consumer segment in India, led by Temasek and Warburg Pincus. Ola co-founder and chief executive Bhavish Aggarwal had also invested in that round, the firm said at the time.

Ola — which operates in India as well as Australia, the U.K. and New Zealand and has over a million drivers on its platform — said at the time that its ride-hailing business had rebounded after New Delhi eased restrictions in the country.

Separately, Ola Electric has raised $52.7 million in a round led by Temasek, the firm said in a filing. This investment comes two months after Ola Electric, which spun out of Ola in 2019, raised $200 million at a $3 billion valuation in a round led by Alpha Wave Global (formerly known as Falcon Edge Capital). Aggarwal also spearheads Ola Electric.

The firm, which unveiled its electric scooters in August, has delayed the delivery of the vehicle several times citing chip shortage. Furthermore, Bangalore-headquartered mobility startup Bounce this month launched its own electric scooter that is more affordable than Ola Electric’s offerings.

But the issues don’t stop there. Both Ola and Ola Electric have seen several key executive departures in recent months as a result of what Indian outlet Morning Context reported as toxic work culture and distrustful chief executive.



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Gotham Greens opens a 10-acre farm/research facility in California – TechCrunch

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During the good number of hours I’ve spent researching and writing about vertical farming in recent months, one key word keeps popping up: proximity. So many of the resources spent on modern farming are devoted to transporting produce long stretches, ramping up carbon footprints in the process. Gotham Greens isn’t vertical farming, exactly, but it has become a poster child for locally grown agriculture, courtesy of its urban greenhouse that sits directly atop a Whole Foods in Gowanus Brooklyn.

The 10-year-old company currently has three New York City locations (two in Brooklyn and one in Queens), two additional farms on the East Coast (Baltimore and Providence), a pair in the Midwest (Chicago) and one in the Mountain region (Denver). Today, it announced further westward expansion with the opening of its first California greenhouse, based just outside UC Davis.

Image Credits: Gotham Greens

Gotham’s ninth location is a 10-acre farm designed to dramatically reduce the resources required to grow produce. Using its hydroponic technology, the company says it’s capable of reducing the standard 10 gallons of water required to grow a head of lettuce to less than a single gallon. Overall, it claims the farm will be able to save 270 million gallons of water a year, while occupying 300 fewer acres than traditional farming practices.

It’s an interesting move, heading to California, where so much of the nation’s produce is grown — and certainly a different tactic that opening a location in New York City or Chicago. Of course, in spite of California’s proud tradition of growing, the state has been plagued by the very real devastation of climate change.

Image Credits: Gotham Greens

“California is the center of North America’s leafy greens production, where water shortages, wildfires and other results of climate change are straining critical agricultural resources. By putting down roots in California, we aspire to be a part of the agricultural industry’s solution to the increasingly visible impacts of climate change,” co-founder and CEO Viraj Puri said in a release. “Our newest greenhouse facility in Northern California is strategically located to service retailers and food service providers throughout the region more quickly while conserving precious resources, including land and water.”

The proximity to UCD was no mistake, either. The company will be partnering with researchers from the school and will likely have a solid pipeline of future employees. The company also used the opportunity to announce plans to reduce the plastic in its packaging 40% (versus 2020) and electricity use 5% by the year 2024.



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Autonomous driving startup Deeproute.ai prices L4 solution at $10,000 – TechCrunch

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Deeproute.ai, an autonomous vehicle startup with offices in Shenzhen and Fremont, California, unveiled an ambitious self-driving solution on Wednesday.

The package, named DeepRoute-Driver 2.0, is a production-ready Level 4 system that costs approximately $10,000. The price tag is incredible given the hardware used: five solid-state lidar sensors, eight cameras, a proprietary computing system, and an optional millimeter-wave radar.

Lidar accounts for roughly half of the total cost, a Deeproute spokesperson told TechCrunch. “As the whole supply chain is getting more developed and scale[s] up, we can expect the cost can go further down.”

The two-year-old startup is unabashed about going up against its more mature counterparts. As it said in its Wednesday release, “DeepRoute-Driver 2.0 offers differentiation from existing L4 pioneers like Waymo and Cruise, which boast sophisticated and efficient L4 algorithms but with a hefty price tag, and from advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) such as Tesla, that are affordable but have limited capabilities in terms of fully automated driving.”

Sensor makers in China have been working to reduce the once exorbitant prices of lidar to make them fit for mass production. DJI-spawned Livox is one, and so is Temasek-backed Innovusion.

Lidar on the car roof. Photo: Deeproute.ai

Deeproute’s L4 solution uses two pieces of lidar from Robosense, which is based in Shenzhen, as its main lidar on the car roof. Three other lidar sensors from Beijing-based Z Vision are located at the front, left and right around the rear wheel, covering the vehicle’s blind spot. Both Z Vision and Deeproute are backed by Fosun RZ Capital, an affiliate fund of Chinese conglomerate Fosun Group.

The low price of Deeproute’s L4 tech could mean thin profits for the startup, or, it’s squeezing the margins of its suppliers, a founder of an autonomous vehicle startup suggested to TechCrunch.

A test drive shows that Deeproute’s L4 system is able to navigate rush-hour traffic in downtown Shenzhen, performing tasks like flexible lane change, yielding to pedestrians and auto on or off-ramp merging.

Though merely two years old, the team behind Deeproute includes pioneers in China’s self-driving industry. In 2019, Zhou Guang founded Deeproute after he was forced out of his last company Roadstar.ai amid infighting. At the time, Roadstar had raised at least $140 million from investors and was widely considered a promising player in the autonomous vehicle space.

Investors have been rooting for Zhou’s new venture. In September, the startup announced a $300 million Series B round from Alibaba, Jeneration Capital, Chinese automaker Geely, among others. 

It’s not uncommon to see OEMs and carmakers pouring money into AV startups in exchange for future production partnerships. Momenta, for instance, has landed multiple strategic investments from titans like Bosch, Toyota and Daimler.

While Deeproute hasn’t officially secured a customer for its L4 solution, the startup’s spokesperson said a few “major automakers” have taken rides in the cars integrated with the tech and “they were impressed by the functionality as well as the pricing.”

“We are very positive on the prospect of signing the contract soon,” the spokesperson said.



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At ‘Lens Fest,’ Snap debuts creations tools for more sophisticated augmented reality experiences – TechCrunch

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As Snap’s creators begin to experiment with the company’s augmented reality Spectacles hardware, the company is delving deeper into juicing the capabilities of its Lens Studio to build augmented reality filters which are more connected, more realistic and more futuristic. At the company’s annual Lens Fest event, Snap debuted a number of changes coming to their lens creation suite. Changes range from efforts to integrate outside media and data to more AR-centric features designed with a glasses-future in mind.

On the media side, Snap will be debuting a news sounds library which will allow creators to add audio clips and millions of songs from Snapchat’s library of licensed music directly into their lenses. Snap is also making efforts to bring real-time data into Lenses via an API library that showcase evolving trends like weather information from Accuweather or cryptocurrency prices from FTX. One of the bigger feature updates will allow users to embed links inside lenses and send them to different web pages.

Image: Snap

Snap’s once-goofy selfie filters remain a big growth opportunity for the company which has long had augmented reality in its sights. Snap detailed that there are now more than 2.5 million lenses that have been built by more than a quarter-million creators. Those lenses have been viewed by users a collective 3.5 trillion times, the company says. The company is building out its own internal “AR innovation lab,” called Ghost, which will help the company bankroll Lens designers who are looking to push the limits of what’s possible, dishing out grants for up to $150k for individual projects.

As the company looks to make lenses smarter, they’re also looking to. make them more technically capable.

Beyond integrating new data types, Snap is also looking at the underlying AR tech to help make for enjoyable lenses for users with lower-end phones. Its World Mesh feature has allowed users with higher-end phones to leverage AR and view lenses that integrate more real world geometry data for digital objects in a lens to interact with. Now, Snap is enabling this feature across more basic phones as well.

Image: Snap

Similarly, Snap is also rolling out tools to make digital objects react more realistically in reference to each other, debuting an in-lens physics engine which will allow for more dynamic lenses that can not only interact more deeply with the real world but can adjust to simultaneous user input as well.

Snap’s efforts to create more sophisticated lens creation tools on mobile come as the company is also looking to build out more future-flung support for the tools developers may need to design for hands-free glasses experiences on its new AR Spectacles. Creators have been crafting experiences with the new hardware for months and Snap has been building new lens functionality to address their concerns and spark up new opportunities.

Image:Snap

Ultimately, Snap’s glasses are still firmly in developer mode and the company hasn’t offered any timelines for when they might ship a consumer product with integrated AR capabilities, so they theoretically have plenty of time to build to build in the background.

Some of the tools Snap has been quietly building include Connected Lenses which enable shared experiences inside Lenses so multiple users can interact with the same content using AR Spectacles. In their developer iteration, the AR Spectacles don’t have the longest battery life, meaning that Snap has had to get creative in ensuring that Snap’s are there when you need them without running persistently. The company’s Endurance mode allows lenses to continue running in the background off-display while waiting for a specific trigger like reaching a certain GPS location.



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Samsung Electronics merges mobile and consumer electronics units, names new co-CEOs – TechCrunch

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Samsung Electronics announced today it has merged its mobile and consumer electronics units and unveiled its new leadership to replace its three major divisions leaders, effective starting today (Dec.7), in the company’s biggest shake-up since 2017.

Jong-Hee (JH) Han, head of visual display business, was promoted to vice chairman and co-CEO and will lead the newly merged mobile and consumer electronics unit, which is also called SET division, and continue to head the visual display business.

Han, who played a key role in the company achieving the company’s top position in global TV sales for the last 15 years, is expected to “strengthen the synergies among the different businesses in the SET division and help drive new business and technologies,” Samsung said.

Kyehyun Kyung, CEO of Samsung Elecro-Mechanics, was also named co-CEO of Samsung Electronics and will lead the company’s device solutions (DS) division spanning semiconductor and components units.

The tech giant said the new leadership will help lead “the next phase of the company’s future growth and to strengthen its business competitiveness.”

The consolidation of its two main units, mobile and consumer electronics, is seen as an effort to simplify its structures and focus more on the semiconductor business.

The sweeping reshuffle announcement comes roughly four months after the company’s vice president and de facto leader Jay Y. Lee was released on parole in August.

Samsung announced in November its plans for a $17 billion US semiconductor plant in Taylor Texas and laid out a $205 billion investment plan, which includes semiconductor, artificial intelligence, robotics, and biopharma, over the next three years.

Kinam Kim, the former vice chairman and head of the DS division, was named chairman of Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology. As part of its reshuffle, the company also named Hark Kyu Park as its new chief financial officer.



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EV maker Arrival to build high-voltage battery module assembly plant in North Carolina – TechCrunch

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Arrival, the electric vehicle manufacturer that aims to break up the assembly line in favor of multiple microfactories, is investing $11.5 million to build a high-voltage battery module assembly plant in Charlotte, North Carolina. The plant will provide batteries for electric buses and vans produced at the company’s microfactories in Rock Hill, South Carolina and Charlotte, respectively.

Earlier this week, Arrival also agreed to collaborate with Li-Cycle, a lithium-ion battery recycler, to create a closed-loop EV battery supply chain. Like most other automakers, Arrival is recognizing the reality of supply chain delays and materials shortages and is working to vertically integrate as much of the process as possible, while also maintaining its commitment to sustainability.

“This was not always part of the plan,” Katie Blixt, Arrival’s head of PR and communications in North America, told TechCrunch. “As we’re figuring out the production plan and timeline and figuring out what makes sense to bring in-house and add to our vertical integration, we just decided that the best move was for us to be able to assemble these ourselves and have more control over the process.”

Over the next several months, Arrival will be refitting an existing warehouse in order to start production in the third quarter of 2022, according to Blixt, who noted that Arrival’s battery chemistry supplier is LG. The plant should have a production capacity of up to 350,000 battery modules per year, which can be used across Arrival’s different commercial vehicle platforms and can be tailored to suit the customer’s specific battery requirements, according to the company.

Arrival has announced before that it hopes to build 31 microfactories by 2024. So far, it has three planned for 2022; Arrival aims to start production of its buses at Rock Hill in Q2 next year, vans in Bicester, England in Q3 and vans in Charlotte in Q4.

“We’ve withdrawn long-term forecasts on microfactory numbers beyond that because the advantage of the microfactory model is that we don’t have to plan several years in the future and the number will be determined by demand and access to capital,” said Blixt.

Whenever Arrival does start scaling up its microfactories, it will also now scale battery assembly plants alongside them, so it’s almost an opposite approach to the Tesla gigafactory style of production, said Blixt, noting that Arrival might build multiple regional battery assembly facilities to supply local microfactories.

The battery modules will be software-based and have self-diagnostic capabilities, so if there’s an issue with one, the module itself can be replaced instead of the entire set of batteries in the vehicle, said Blixt. If the software detects an anomaly, it will send information up to the cloud for Arrival’s technicians to diagnose and then send instructions back down to Arrival’s network of outside service providers. The company recently announced partnerships with companies like Valvoline and Firestone to provide Arrival customers with vehicle maintenance.



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Aussie online used car dealership Carma comes out of stealth with $20M seed round – TechCrunch

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Australia is emerging onto the online used car dealership scene with Carma, a startup that just raised a $20 million (AUD $28 million) seed round from Tiger Global, an American investment firm. Carma has been operating in stealth for the past nine months, and says the funding has enabled the company to recruit an executive team, develop its website and establish its first inspection and reconditioning facility in Sydney.

Carma isn’t the first online car dealership with a punny name. The startup now joins the ranks of Carvana and Vroom in the U.S., Clutch and Canada Drives in Canada, Kavak in Mexico and Cazoo in the U.K. They’re all coming to fruition at a time when the pandemic has resulted in a shortage of semiconductors, which has led to automakers being unable to meet rising demand in vehicles. Increasingly, consumers want a contactless, frictionless way to not only search for and buy a used car, but also have it delivered to their doors – a service companies like Carma are offering in their native markets around the world.

“We are convinced there is a massive opportunity to disrupt the used car industry in Australia by replicating an online, full-stack model that we see achieving success in the US and globally,” said Griffin Schroeder, partner at Tiger Global.

Carma’s service will open to Sydney customers first, but Carma plans to expand throughout the state of New South Wales in the coming months, and to Brisbane and Melbourne next year. The startup said it would begin another round of fundraising soon to support its accelerated expansion plans in 2022.

“Investment in the digital used car dealership space is very active globally, given the international success of the model,” said Carma co-founder and CEO, Lachlan MacGregor, in a statement. “Having this significant backing from Tiger Global has been a fantastic vote of confidence in Carma and allowed us to move rapidly to build out an exceptional team, technology stack and physical infrastructure. We skipped the start-up phase and were able to go straight to scaling up with a proven business model.”

With this sizeable seed round, Carma is gearing up to launch its online platform. The company currently has a fleet of 300 vehicles in stock, which it sources from private sellers, other dealers and through auctions, but will shortly have over 500, according to a spokesperson for the company.

“Typically, our cars are under five years old, with less than 100,000 kms (62,137 miles), and with the latest features,” a spokesperson for Carma told TechCrunch. “After we buy them, they undergo a thorough mechanical inspection, repair and reconditioning process in-house, before being photographed at our state-of-the-art facility in Sydney. We will only sell cars that meet our high standards.”

Customers looking at cars on Carma’s platform will be able to view 360-degree high-res imagery of the exterior and interior, with any flaws called out and photographed. The company says it will offer transparent prices and over-the-phone and online customer support. After a checkout process that can take as little as 10 minutes, customers can have a car delivered to their homes and are given a week to try it out. If they’re not satisfied, they get their money back – all standard stuff in this industry.

The Australian used car landscape is fragmented, and the online car buying space is somewhat limited to classifieds and Facebook Marketplace. Carma has no major competition to speak of, so it has a chance to corner the market while it’s hot.



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