Mar 29, 2021

Axios Login

I hope you all had a good weekend and, for those celebrating Passover, I hope you had a meaningful Seder and, also, you may have some Matzah crumbs on your shirt. I can't see, it's just a fair bet. That stuff gets everywhere.

For everyone, please consider joining Axios' Russell Contreras tomorrow at 12:30pm ET for a virtual event on the launch of Axios Latino, a newsletter covering the Latino community in the Americas, featuring Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta.

Today's edition is 1,291 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Amazon's scorched-earth PR strategy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Amazon has launched a sharp-elbowed PR offensive on social media in response to a sea of pressure from workers, politicians and regulators.

Why it matters: It's a risky move that could help fight short-term battles, but also risks establishing a pattern of antagonism against people and groups that could be thorns in the company's side for years to come.

Driving the news: Amazon is nearing the finale of a union-organizing effort at an Alabama warehouse, with mail-in voting due to end today.

  • The company has campaigned aggressively against the union, including a crescendo of text messages sent directly to workers, according to one pro-union site. It has also reportedly deleted hundreds of thousands of lower-level warehouse workers from a corporate directory.
  • The company confirmed to Axios that it has hired local police to work off-hours as security for the Alabama warehouse, which Amazon said is to protect employees coming to and from work. The company declined to comment on the broader PR campaign.

What they're saying: Executives have replied to political attacks with pugnacious tweets, directly targeting Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in comments last week amid criticisms that the company doesn't pay enough taxes or adequately compensate employees.

  • "I welcome @SenSanders to Birmingham and appreciate his push for a progressive workplace. I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that's not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace," Amazon consumer boss Dave Clark tweeted on Wednesday.
  • More broadly, Amazon has challenged the narrative that it is a harsh place to work. In a tweet to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), the company denied allegations that tough schedules force workers to urinate in bottles rather than take bathroom breaks — prompting more reports that this is indeed taking place.

The big picture: Amazon is almost certain to be under a microscope in the coming years.

  • From an antitrust perspective, Amazon already dominates online retail and is a major player in web services and is a growing player in both online advertising and physical stores (Whole Foods, Amazon Books, Amazon Go).
  • The company has long been criticized for the amount of taxes it pays. Still, it's hard to see what Amazon has to gain by baiting senators, and Amazon doubled down after Warren pushed back.

Between the lines: Some of Amazon's snappy retorts came from Clark's personal account, but most came from the corporate Amazon News account, which has no name attached.

  • And while some saw Clark as the voice behind the corporate push, Vox reported Sunday that the increased aggression came after founder Jeff Bezos urged executives to tackle critics head on.

Our thought bubble: Bezos may like the tough talk, and the company may hope it's standing up for itself and rallying public opinion. But it could easily backfire, antagonizing key constituencies and deepening Amazon's identification as an overbearing bully.

What's next: The results of the union vote will begin being counted on Tuesday, though the process, overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, could take a couple of days.

Meanwhile: Amazon is apparently rethinking just how extensively to monitor delivery workers using surveillance cameras. The Information reports the company is scrapping a plan to use such cameras to see whether workers are wearing face masks.

2. Tech companies begin opening offices back up

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Facebook, Microsoft and Uber have all announced plans to begin letting some general workers back into their offices, albeit at reduced levels.

Why it matters: Unlike the rapid shuttering of offices a year ago at the start of the pandemic, the reopenings are expected to be phased and gradual, with many companies foreseeing a hybrid environment where many workers come in only part of the week.

Driving the news:

The big picture: Some companies, such as Dropbox, are planning on being remote-first going forward, turning offices into collaborative spaces when in-person gathering is needed on a particular project.

  • Twitter and Square have said that employees can work remotely on a permanent basis.
  • Others, like Salesforce, are adopting a hybrid approach, with some workers coming to the office each day and others choosing to be remote part or all of the week.
3. Google alum launches new tech coalition

A Google policy alum Monday launched Chamber of Progress, a new center-left tech coalition that will advocate policies the industry supports as regulatory scrutiny intensifies, Axios' Ashley Gold reports.

The big picture: Tech's cozy relationship with Washington during the Obama years is long over. At the same time, the tech industry generally supports progressive policies embraced by Democrats currently in power.

What's happening: Adam Kovacevich, who formerly led Google's policy and external affairs team, headed up government relations for Lime and worked for Democrats on Capitol Hill, describes the group as a "new tech industry coalition devoted to a progressive society, economy, workforce, and consumer climate."

  • Initial partner companies include Amazon, Google, Facebook, Doordash, Getaround, Instacart, Lime, Twitter, Uber, Waymo, Wing, Zillow and Automattic.
  • Companies are contributing financially but won't sit on the Chamber of Progress board of directors or vote on policies, Kovacevich said, which differs from other groups in Washington.

What they're saying: "Tech had a very long political honeymoon that lasted almost through the end of the Obama era," Kovacevich told Axios. "The last five to six years have been characterized by a swing in the other direction."

  • Kovacevich said Chamber of Progress will work on issues like income inequality, a stronger social safety net and action against climate change in addition to traditional tech policy issues like supporting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and competition.

Go deeper: Board members include three longtime tech policy insiders: Maura Corbett, founder and CEO of the Glen Echo Group; Julie Samuels, executive director of Tech NYC; and Marvin Ammori, chief legal officer of Uniswap and former legal advisor to Google, Apple and Dropbox.

Between the lines: There's no shortage of tech industry coalitions and lobbying groups in Washington, many of them bipartisan. Lobbies follow power, so the emergence of a center-left group makes sense at a moment when that ideology dominates the capital.

4. Effort to recall California governor splits VCs

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A campaign to recall California Gov. Gavin Newson has split Silicon Valley's venture capital world, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

Driving the news: Famed investor and San Francisco political player Ron Conway, along with 74 other tech and business leaders, have signed an open letter urging Californians to oppose the recall of the governor.

  • Newsom, they argue, has been making strides in leading the state through the pandemic.
  • Other signatories include: Laurene Powell Jobs, Eric Schmidt, Reid Hoffman, Sean Parker, Jeff and Erica Lawson, Joe Gebbia, Evan Williams, Zachary Bogue and Marissa Mayer, Jessica Livingston, and Paul Graham.
  • The letter comes a couple of months after other prominent investors began donating and publicly backing efforts to recall Newsom. The earlier letter also cited his handling of the pandemic, including stronger restrictions than many other states and a vaccine rollout that got off on a slow start. One investor, Chamath Palihapitiya, even briefly flirted with challenging Newsom in the race.

What they're saying:

"The vast majority of people in the tech community agree: replacing Governor Newsom with a Trump Republican, which is what this recall effort is really all about, would reverse our progress against COVID and would be bad for California."
Ron Conway

What's next: Organizers for the recall campaign say they submitted more than 2.1 million signatures for verification by the March 17 deadline, though the state is not expected to release a final tally until late April.

  • The campaign will need 1.5 million verified signatures to move to the next step.
5. Take note

On Tap

  • Today is the final day for voting in a mail-in election among Amazon workers at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. (See above)

Trading Places

  • Inmarsat named former Nokia marketing chief Barry French as chief marketing & communications officer.


6. After you Login

Well, this is hardly reassuring.