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At least 30 of the fulfillment centers that power Amazon's e-commerce business have outbreaks of COVID-19, according to news reports and employee accounts. The most recent case in Los Angeles was reported Wednesday, when Amazon confirmed to City News Service that an employee at their warehouse in Atwater Village has tested positive for COVID-19. The mounting cases are sparking walkouts, frustration, and an unprecedented challenge for a tech company that finds itself at the center of the coronavirus pandemic.
Amazon says it is going to great lengths to protect employees on the front lines, but current and former workers who spoke with GeekWire for this story say its statements don't always match the experience on the warehouse floor. Employee concerns bubbled over in the form of walkouts at fulfillment centers in New York, Chicago, and Detroit this week, with workers demanding Amazon shut down facilities with confirmed cases for thorough cleaning.
The outbreaks and employee unrest come at a time when Amazon desperately needs all hands on deck. The company has been fielding a massive surge in orders in the weeks since the virus gained a foothold in the country. Many shipments are delayed, and consumers across the U.S. are unable to order groceries through the Amazon Fresh service.
Amazon executives are now navigating the responsibility of supplying thousands of Americans under isolation orders with items they need, mitigating virus outbreaks across their facilities, and keeping a worldwide delivery and logistics engine humming during a pandemic.
Meanwhile, workers in Amazon warehouses are facing difficult decisions and trade-offs of their own.
Frank Eliason works at an Amazon fulfillment center in New Jersey where two of his co-workers have tested positive for COVID-19. The 47-year-old is considered at-risk for the disease because he has diabetes. He also has two daughters at home who he worries about infecting.
"Employees are scared," he said. "I am scared. I do not want to bring this to my family. This is an unprecedented event. There is no playbook for employees or companies."
Amazon would not say how many warehouses have COVID-19 cases, but local news reports and a running list tracked in a private employee Facebook group indicate at least 30 of Amazon's 175 fulfillment centers are affected. Workers at several Amazon warehouses are organizing walkouts to demand that the company temporarily close facilities for cleaning. It's a position backed by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, an activism group created by mostly white-collar workers at the company's Seattle headquarters.
"To be honest, every facility that has positive cases in them need to be shut down and cleaned inside and out," said one Oklahoma City worker who asked not to be identified because he is concerned about retaliation from Amazon.
Amazon employees at a fulfillment center in Staten Island made the same demand when they walked off the job on Monday. Amazon fired the organizer of the demonstration, Christian Smalls, claiming he put his colleagues at risk by breaking quarantine. The New York protest was one of several around the country organized by increasingly uneasy Amazon warehouse workers.
"I am sitting here right now trying to decide if today is the day I will get sick," Eliason said. "Do I really want to go in? It is a question I ponder each day."
Eliason said he supports Amazon's decision to fire Smalls, "assuming the employee who was fired was asked to quarantine with pay. I worry each day of people coming in knowingly or unknowingly are sick."
Amazon consults with public health officials and medical experts when deciding whether to shut down a contaminated warehouse, according to spokesperson Timothy Carter.
"Our process also evaluates where the employee was in the building, for how long, how much time has passed since they were onsite, and who they interacted with, among other items," he said in a statement. "If someone hasn't been at the building for quite some time, they were onsite only briefly, or the area they were in was already deep cleaned several times as a regular course of business, we may not need to close."
Amazon has made more than 150 "significant process changes" in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a blog post by worldwide operations CEO Dave Clark.
On Sunday, Amazon started screening employee temperatures at warehouses in New York and the Seattle area, sending anyone who registers above 100.4 degrees home. Clark said Amazon will roll out temperature screening across its facilities, including Whole Foods stores, next week.
Amazon expanded its sick policies, providing two weeks paid time off for employees who test positive for COVID-19 or are asked to quarantine due to exposure. The company is also offering unlimited unpaid time off to all employees.Clark said that disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer are readily available in all fulfillment centers, though some workers say they do not have access to those supplies.
"They're not supplying us with the proper PPE or cleaning products to ensure that our areas are cleaned after every shift," said the Oklahoma City worker who asked to remain anonymous. "I have been bringing my own Lysol to ensure my area is cleaned. We were told each department and station would have their own products to clean. Nothing has shown up."
There is a global shortage of personal protective gear (PPE) that even Amazon's vast supply chain has struggled to fill. Amazon ordered millions of masks for fulfillment center employees weeks ago and those supplies are starting to arrive, according to Clark. Any N-95 masks that are critical for healthcare workers will be donated or sold to medical providers at cost. Amazon is requiring warehouse workers to maintain a distance of at least six feet from one another and has canceled daily stand-up meetings which bring employees into close proximity with each other.
It's difficult to conceptualize the sheer size of an Amazon fulfillment center, which can range from 400,000 to 1 million square feet. A typical Amazon warehouse is comparable to 10 football fields lined up.
"Cleaning and sanitizing of an entire warehouse (let alone multiple warehouses) seems incredibly daunting," said Scott Meschke, a microbiologist specializing in pathogens at the University of Washington's occupational health sciences department, in an email.
The Centers for Disease Control do not have specific cleaning guidelines for warehouses, but recommend other facilities close off areas visited by infected people, ventilate, and "wait 24 hours or as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfection."
"A potential problem with shutting a facility for cleaning is that in the absence of a more holistic plan to control spread, the likelihood is that contamination may be reintroduced by infected workers," Meschke said.
Washington, California, New York, and other jurisdictions across the country have implemented mandatory isolation orders, compelling thousands of consumers to turn to online shopping when they might've otherwise visited a store.
Last month, Amazon announced plans to hire 100,000 new warehouse workers to cover for sick employees and respond to the surge in orders from customers practicing social distancing. Clark said Thursday that the company has already hired 80,000.
Analysts at Jefferies conducted two surveys of about 630 U.S. adults on March 10 and March 27 that show how the pandemic is influencing demand for Amazon's products and delivery horsepower. Amazon was the only online retailer that saw consumers increasing their spending, according to the surveys. The percentage of consumers who said they are spending more on Amazon jumped from 14 percent to 34 percent. Consumers are spending less on other sites, like eBay, Chewy, and Etsy, according to the analysis.
Though the shift to online shopping is nothing new, its acceleration due to the pandemic has been disastrous for brick-and-mortar retail. Nordstrom, Macy's, Kohl's and others are shuttering stores and furloughing employees as traditional shopping grinds to a halt. The broad social distancing orders driving this trend are temporary, but the shift to online shopping may not be.
"This is not simply predicated on a one-time bump in the first and second quarter as consumers have been forced to stay home … we believe the current backdrop provides for incremental comfort and awareness of purchasing basic goods at home, which will have [a] lasting impact," write analysts at William Blair.
But the surge in demand may not be the financial buoy for Amazon that it appears to be at first glance. Amazon is spending more than $350 million on its response to the pandemic, according to Clark.
"We expect to go well beyond our initial $350 million investment in additional pay, and we will do so happily," he said.
Amazon increased its minimum warehouse wages by $2 to $17 per hour last month and fulfillment centers temporarily stopped accepting shipments of non-essential items so that the company can restock household goods and medical supplies.
"This could be a headwind for Amazon, partially offset by greater-than-expected demand in grocery items and other staples, including health-related items," wrote Mark Mahaney, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets. That firm lowered its revenue estimates for Amazon this year due to the impact of the coronavirus.
Still, Mahaney believes "Amazon is better positioned than most other names in our coverage universe to weather this macro uncertainty given the diversity of its business."
The sprawling Amazon empire includes its lucrative cloud arm, growing advertising business, and grocery store chain.
Amazon's relative resilience could reshape the e-commerce landscape when the coronavirus threat passes. Millions of Americans are reporting job losses at a time when Amazon is hiring. Retail stores are shutting down at a time when Amazon's demand is surging. Though the tech giant is not immune to economic turmoil, it could come out of the crisis in a more dominant position than before.
According to a Forbes report last April, both the viewership and dollars behind women’s sports at a collegiate and professional level are growing.
In 2022, the first 32 games of the NCAA tournament had record attendance levels, breaking records set back in 2004, and largely driven by the new and rapidly growing women’s NCAA tournament. WNBA openers this year saw a 21% spike in attendance, with some teams including the LA Sparks reporting triple-digit ticket sales growth, about 121% over 2022’s total. In 2023, the average size of an LA Sparks crowd swelled to 10,396 people, up from 4,701 people.
Women make up half the population, but “also 50% of the folks that are walking into the stadium at Dodger Stadium, or your NFL fans are just about 50% women,” noted Erin Storck, a panelist and senior analyst at Los Angeles-based Elysian Park Ventures.
Storck added that in heterosexual households, women generally manage most of the family’s money, giving them huge purchasing power, a potential advantage for female-run leagues. “There's an untapped revenue opportunity,” she noted.
In the soccer world, Los Angeles-based women’s soccer team Angel City FC has put in the work to become a household name, not just in LA County but across the nation. At an LA Tech Week panel hosted by Athlete Strategies about investing in sports, Angel City head of strategy and chief of staff Kari Fleischauer said that years before launching the women’s National Women’s Soccer League team, Angel City FC was pounding the pavement letting people know about the excitement ladies soccer can bring. She noted community is key, and that fostering a sense of engagement and safety at the team’s home venue, BMO stadium (formerly Banc of California Stadium), is one reason fans keep coming back.
Adding free metro rides to BMO stadium and private rooms for nursing fans to breastfeed or fans on the spectrum to avoid sensory overload, were just some of the ways ACFC tried to include its community in the concept of its stadium, Fleischauer said. She noted, though, that roughly 46% of Angel City fans are “straight white dudes hanging out with their bros.”
“Particularly [on] the woman's side, I'd like to think we do a better job of making sure that there's spaces for everyone,” Fleischauer told the audience. “One thing we realize is accessibility is a huge thing.”
L.A. Tech Week has brought venture capitalists, founders and entrepreneurs from around the world to the California coast. With so many tech nerds in one place, it's easy to laugh, joke and reminisce about the future of tech in SoCal.
Here's what people are saying about the fifth day of L.A. Tech Week on social:
#LATechWeek has been on 🔥🔥🔥. Yes the events are super cool at amazing venues. But, I’m blown away by the people. I’ve met so many founders building generative AI companies from the ground up. I’m so bullish on LA right now🥳. LA is for builders #longLA
Thanks @rpnickson 📸 pic.twitter.com/B6rT2jJYIs
— Dr. Kelly O'Brien (@Kvo2013) June 8, 2023
Successful LatinxVC Avanza Summit 2023 in LA! It’s been an amazing few days near the beach w great company. Thank you to our panelists & participants.
Huge thanks to our incredible sponsors SVB, Chavez Family Foundation, Annenberg Foundation, PledgeLA, Fenwick & West, Countsy! pic.twitter.com/oVuGIgFurk
— LatinxVC (@LatinxVCs) June 9, 2023
30+ gaming startups presented at the A16z Speedrun Demo Day in LA yesterday. Great thanks to the @a16zGames team for an awesome day of events! #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/DKq8IFo5QZ
— Grace Zhou (@graceminzhou) June 9, 2023
📣🤩 What’s the buzz? It’s #LATechWeek from @TechstarsLA & @TechstarsHealth joint demo day with the #Techstar HC team where our @fyelabs founder/CEO Suvojit Ghosh mentored both cohorts! #TechStars demo day highlighted 12 amazing emerging #startups in #healthtech #innovation. 🩺 pic.twitter.com/0RXClCtfDQ
— FYELABS (@fyelabs) June 9, 2023
Another successful Coffee On Slauson in the books for #LATechWeek.
Special thanks to the good people at Pledge LA, SVB and @GundersonLaw for the ongoing support and the @findyourhilltop staff for providing the space, eats & vibes. ♻️ pic.twitter.com/51cMDoEn30
— Slauson & Co. (@SlausonAndCo) June 9, 2023
The perfect combo to start #LATechWeek Day 5: pastries, coffee, and great convos with industry founders ✨
Fireside chats with @enriquealle, @wp, and @robynpark pic.twitter.com/booYPdekVV
— Tech Week (@Techweek_) June 9, 2023
Of course @designerfund has the most amazing pastries at their event. #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/PjyWlGTQI4
— Jesse Pickard (@jessepickard) June 9, 2023
My favorite event from @Techweek_ has to be "Modern Storytelling & Business Building." Hosted by @STHoward #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/SV1eexMJ4k
— JonnyZeller (@JonnyZeller) June 9, 2023
And the finale of the night was courtesy of the one and only @zedd for an unforgettable end to the "City of Games" party! Hosted by @a16zGames and @100Thieves #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/hliI9yLKse
— Tech Week (@Techweek_) June 9, 2023
Excited to be at the @a16zGames Speedrun Demo Day! Loved the energy and excitement from the companies that pitched there. It was also great to see @Tocelot and @ndrewlee at this amazing #LATechWeek event pic.twitter.com/NfLQO5lR27
— Andy Lee | andypwlee.bit (@andypwlee) June 9, 2023
Thank you to everyone who joined the Sony Venture Fund US team at #LATechWeek for our screening of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Last summer, we started building a presence in LA. Today, it's exciting to host such an event with the @Sony family and the LA VC community. pic.twitter.com/wdDm6qtHdL
— Sony Innovation Fund (@Sony_Innov_Fund) June 9, 2023
Time to eat, connect and build while @remi_rodney provided the vibes. 🙏🏽#LATechWeek @BuildOnBase @developer_dao @WeAreRazorfish pic.twitter.com/QIPh1gjvoA
— Hola Metaverso-Blockchain & New Web Tech Events 🎪 (@holametaverso) June 9, 2023
@Lux_Capital at #LATechWeek advancing the impossible to inevitable, from..
..defense primes partnering with cutting edge defense tech startups, to..
..hardware x LLMs improving mental health.
From the rich and diverse LA ecosystem stems generational companies: pic.twitter.com/v5S5r8JtbU
— Shahin Farshchi (@Farshchi) June 9, 2023
LA Tech Week has been a blast! Met some amazing creators, founders and investors from all over the world! #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/AAh9JFELhe
— Chris Germano (@netslayer) June 9, 2023
Had such a blast at LA Tech Week and hosting events for @brexHQ
Top highlights were collabing with @pulley on an Emerging Managers / Founder mixer at the @poplco House, rooftop event in Venice, creator panel with @thechangj & proper Korean food with in KTown.
Exhausted is an… pic.twitter.com/mGQnSYGPdg
— Τyler Robinson (@TyyRob3) June 9, 2023
Did you have fun at @sophiaamoruso’s launch party for @trustfundvc? #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/gbrbXRQ9Xx
— Kay (@KaySnels) June 9, 2023
y00tilty in every city with @KaylaLor3n & @cryptochrisg813.
Welcome to the LA @y00tsNFT fam! #LATechWeek #3XP week. pic.twitter.com/6wWKlsTacx
— VanG0xH (@CryptoVanGoghs) June 9, 2023
Really enjoyed #LATechWeek. Here are some observations I made 👇
— s.personal.ai (Suman Kanuganti) (@SumanPersonalAI) June 9, 2023
Thank you @TheKofiAmpadu for including me in #demoday with the latest @a16ztxo cohort! It was a real full circle moment to witness the brilliance of both @ChrisLyons & @ZMuse_ & #PledgeLA very own. She’s why we’re #LongLA 🚀💕 #LAtechweek pic.twitter.com/itkKXMxQRb
— Qiana Qiana! (@Q_i_a_n_a) June 9, 2023
@upfrontvc Gaming Founders Podcast #iLOVELA #LATechWeek @Techweek_ @KatiaAmeri @mucker @fikavc @bonfire_vc @TenOne10 @WatertowerGroup @ganasvc @IAmRobRyan @john_at_stonks @eva_ho @dereknorton pic.twitter.com/LCbaGXCoW7
— Sean Goldfaden (@seangoldfaden) June 9, 2023
Hosts Kevin Zhang, Partner at @upfrontvc, and Eden Chen, CEO of @pragmaplatform, interviewed two special guests from @raidbaseinc Stephen Lim, Co-Founder & Product Director, and Trevor Romleski, Co-Founder & Game Director. 🎙 #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/hxHEAoELZ6
— Tech Week (@Techweek_) June 9, 2023
Kicking off @a16zGames @100Thieves City of Games party at #LATechWeek 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/zQcZedG15f
— Jon Lai (@Tocelot) June 9, 2023
Yesterday at @socinnovation I got to have this AWESOME conversation with @iamwill — musician, producer, technology entrepreneur, and Founder & CEO of https://t.co/D60y1e2JOu #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/KBxK6rXyTG
— Anna Barber (@annawbarber) June 9, 2023
I absolutely love this game. Proud moment for the team @investwithatlas. #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/fPZvKXU7TC
— Tobias Francis (@TobiasFrancis) June 9, 2023
Had a blast at LA Tech Week this year with @brexHQ
From hosting & moderating my first creator panel featuring @BlakeMichael14, to a fun rooftop night in Venice, and to attending some amazing events such as Watertower’s emerging manager panel and a VC/founder tennis tournament pic.twitter.com/udjfmLHE0L
— Jonathan Chang (@thechangj) June 8, 2023
At Lowercarbon Capital’s LA Tech Week event Thursday, the synergy between the region’s aerospace industry and greentech startups was clear.
The event sponsored by Lowercarbon, Climate Draft (and the defunct Silicon Valley Bank’s Climate Technology & Sustainability team) brought together a handful of local startups in Hawthorne not far from LAX, and many of the companies shared DNA with arguably the region’s most famous tech resident: SpaceX.
Here’s a look at the greentech startups that pitched during the Tech Week event, and how they think what they’re building could help solve the climate crisis.
Arbor: Based in El Segundo, this year-old startup is working to convert organic waste into energy and fresh water. At the same time, it also uses biomass carbon removal and storage to remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in an attempt to avoid further damaging the earth’s ozone layer. At the Tech Week event Thursday, Arbor CEO Brad Hartwig told a stunned crowd that Arbor aims to remove about five billion tons of organic waste from landfills and turn that into about 6 PWh, or a quarter of the global electricity need, each year. Hartwig is an alumni of SpaceX; he was a manufacturing engineer on the Crew Dragon engines from 2016-2018 and later a flight test engineer at Kitty Hawk.
Antora: Sunnyvale-based Antora Energy was founded in 2017, making it one of the oldest companies on the pitching block during the event. Backed by investors including the National Science Foundation and Los Angeles-based Overture VC, Antora has raised roughly $57 million to date, most recently a $50 million round last February. Chief operating officer Justin Briggs said Antora’s goal is to modernize and popularize thermal energy storage using ultra-hot carbon. Massive heated carbon blocks can give off thermal energy, which Antora’s proprietary batteries then absorb and store as energy. It’s an ambitious goal, but one the world needs at scale to green its energy footprint. According to Briggs, “the biggest challenge is how can we turn back variable intermittent renewable electricity into something that's reliable and on demand, so we can use it to provide energy to everything we need.”
Arc: Hosting the panel was Arc, an electric boating company that’s gained surprising momentum, moving from design to delivering its first e-boats in just two years of existence. Founded in 2021, the company’s already 70 employees strong and has already sold some of its first e-boats to customers willing to pay the luxury price tag, CTO Ryan Cook said Thursday. Cook said that to meet the power needs of a battery-powered speedboat, the Arc team designed the vehicle around the battery pack with the goal of it being competitive with gas boats when compared to range and cost of gas. But on the pricing side, it’s not cheap. Arc’s flagship vessel, the Arc One is expected to cost roughly $300,000. During the panel, Cook compared the boat to being “like an early Tesla Roadster.” To date Arc Boats has raised just over $35 million, according to PitchBook, from investors including Kevin Durant, Will Smith and Sean “Diddy” Combs.
Clarity Technology: Carbon removal startup Clarity is based in LA and was founded by Yale graduate and CEO Glen Meyerowitz last year. Clarity is working to make “gigaton solutions for gigaton problems.” Their aim? To remove up to 2,000 billion pounds of carbon from the atmosphere through direct air capture, a process which uses massive fans to move chemicals that capture CO2. But the challenge, Meyerowitz noted in his speech, is doing this at scale in a way that makes an actual dent in the planet’s emissions while also efficiently using the electricity needed to do so. Meyerowitz spent nearly five years working as an engineer for SpaceX in Texas, and added he’s looking to transfer those learnings into Clarity.
Parallel Systems: Based in Downtown LA’s Arts District, this startup is building zero-emission rail vehicles that are capable of long-haul journeys otherwise done by a trucking company. The estimated $700 billion trucking industry, Parallel Systems CEO Matt Soule said, is ripe for an overhaul and could benefit from moving some of its goods off-road to electric railcars. According to Soule, Parallel’s electric battery-powered rail vehicles use 25% of the energy a semi truck uses, and at a competitive cost. Funded in part by a February 2022 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Parallel Systems has raised about $57 million to date. Its most recent venture funding round was a $49 million Series A led by Santa Monica-based VC Anthos Capital. Local VCs including Riot Ventures and Santa Monica-based Embark Ventures are also backers of Parallel.
Terra Talent: Unlike the rest of the startups pitching at the Tech Week event, Terra Talent was focused on building teams rather than technology. Founder Dolly Singh worked at SpaceX, Oculus and Citadel as a headhunter, and now runs Terra, a talent and advisory firm that helps companies recruit top talent in the greentech space. But, she said, she’s concerned that all the work these startups are doing won’t matter unless we very quickly turn around the current trendlines. “Earth will shake us off like and she will do just fine in 10,000 years,” she said. “It’s our way of living, everything we love is actually here on earth… there’s nothing I love on Mars,” adding that she’s hopeful the startups that pitched during the event will be instrumental in making sure the planet stays habitable for a little while longer.