Amazon Fires Two Employees Who Called for Better Warehouse Conditions
Amazon fired two highly visible employee activists who regularly criticize the company's position on climate change and conditions inside its fulfillment centers. The employees were terminated for "repeatedly violating internal policies," an Amazon spokesperson said.
User experience designers Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, two leaders of the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group, were let go Friday. They helped form the organization inside Amazon over a year ago.
Amazon has fired at least three employee activists this month who criticized the company's response to the coronavirus pandemic. The third employee, Christian Smalls, organized a walkout at a New York fulfillment center calling for broader safety precautions after several of his coworkers tested positive for the virus. Amazon says Smalls was fired for breaking quarantine, a claim several U.S. senators dispute. The string of firings come as Amazon faces immense pressure to keep up with a surge in orders and criticism for its handling of the crisis.
"We support every employee's right to criticize their employer's working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies," an Amazon spokesperson said. "We terminated these employees for repeatedly violating internal policies."
Cunningham spoke during Amazon's annual shareholder meeting last year, addressing CEO Jeff Bezos directly and calling on the company to implement a more aggressive strategy for reducing its carbon footprint.
After Amazon Employees for Climate Justice began agitating, Amazon unveiled the size of its carbon footprint for the first time and launched the Climate Pledge, programs the company says were already in the works before the activist group formed. The initiative is a promise to reach carbon neutrality by 2040, 10 years ahead of the deadline set by the Paris Agreement. Cunningham and her peers continued to push for broader environmental reforms.
More recently, Cunningham and Costa have been critical of conditions inside Amazon's warehouses, where a growing number of COVID-19 outbreaks have put the company under a microscope. Both said they would match donations up to $500 to support warehouse workers who choose to stay home to avoid exposure to the virus.
I'm matching donations up to $500 to support my Amazon warehouse worker colleagues. "The lack of safe and sanitary… https://t.co/sMJYGuLPQo— Emily Cunningham (@Emily Cunningham) 1585294645.0
Amazon is rolling out temperature screening across its warehouses and Whole Foods grocery stores to identify workers who may be ill. The company says it has implemented 150 other process changes to keep workers safe.
"Amazon is focused on protecting the health and safety of our employees while continuing to serve people who need our services more than ever," the company's COVID-19 website says. "Our employees are heroes helping people get the products they need delivered to their doorsteps, products they might not otherwise be able to get while maintaining social distancing."
Amazon fired me and @marencosta. As Mary Oliver wrote, "oh! how rich it is to love the world." It's a gift to be… https://t.co/NZV1PJYcgH— Emily Cunningham (@Emily Cunningham) 1586850671.0
Before the firings, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice sent out an invitation asking Amazon warehouse and tech workers to join a webcast discussion of the COVID-19 situation. Cunningham, Costa, and celebrity activist Naomi Klein plan to host the virtual event. Costa said Amazon deleted emails about the webcast in a statement released by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice.
"Why is Amazon so scared of workers talking with each other? No company should punish their employees for showing concern for one another, especially during a pandemic," Costa said in the statement.
Earlier this year, Amazon warned Costa and Cunningham that they could be fired for violating the company's external communications policy. Hundreds of employees responded by publicly criticizing Amazon in defiance of that policy. Cunningham and Costa discussed the threat of termination in a campaign video for Sen. Bernie Sanders.
In addition to scrutiny, Amazon is fielding a huge spike in demand for its products and grocery delivery services as thousands of people stay home to avoid exposure to COVID-19. The company appears largely immune to the economic headwinds plaguing so many other businesses. Amazon stock reached an all-time high Monday, hitting a record price of $2,262/share and eclipsing a previous mark set in February. The company has hired 100,000 new warehouse workers since the crisis began and plans to add an additional 75,000.
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The age of the creator is upon us.
After years of gaining momentum, the creator economy has gone mainstream. Payment processing platform Stripe estimates the number of individuals who now see themselves as full-time “creators”—those who use online tools to sell digital content—grew 48% in 2021, while earnings across the industry are expected to soon eclipse $10 billion.
Major brands have taken notice, as influencers can garner loyal social media followings that outpace those of many Hollywood celebrities. Meanwhile, some top-tier influencers now make more than S&P 500 CEOs. As more Gen Z creators enter the workforce—looking for opportunities beyond traditional models—the industry is poised to grow at a breakneck pace. We talked with Famous Birthdays founder Evan Britton, whose platform tracks and measures the industry, as well as several emerging influencers about what to watch for over the coming year.
1. Gaming Influencers Grow
There is more gaming content now than ever. According to TwitchTracker, which catalogs streamers, 2021 was the most popular year ever for Twitch, which averaged more than 3.1 million daily viewers at its peak in May 2021. January 2022's numbers (2.9 million) are not far behind.
“Twitch streamers have highly engaged fans,” said Britton. He pointed to Twitter as an example of a platform where many brands and personalities find it “hard to get engagement,” yet where many streamers routinely manage to draw “thousands of likes and comments.”
“Their fans are so engaged with them because they’re watching them for hours on end,” he added. “They just want more content.”
Even though demand for gaming content is up, expect gaming creators to become more strategic about repurposing content in 2022.
“As a streamer, one of the biggest things right now is finding ways to continue to grow while being efficient,” said gamer and Twitch streamer Nick Bartels. In the past, influencers in the gaming world would commit many hours to livestreaming their adventures—but when the game was over, traditionally, so was the stream, and few did anything with the resulting content.
Expect to see creators looking for ways to funnel growth into platforms even when they aren’t streaming. Bartels said he’s looking to work with an editor who can repurpose much of the live content he creates.
“One of the bigger concerns is burnout over air time,” said Bartels. “It’s part of the grind initially, but the last thing you’re going to want to do after you stream is edit. You want to have some life balance.”
TinaKitten/ Famous Birthdays
2. The Blockchain Provides a New Source of Income and Experimentation
In years past, influencers relied largely on advertising dollars to monetize their massive audiences and provide them with an income. More recently, however, the blockchain—including cryptocurrency and NFTs— have stepped in, providing a new way to create community while growing revenue.
“The growth of cryptocurrency followed by the explosion of NFTs was a big trend in 2021 that will continue into 2022,” said Britton. “Last year, creators sold digital art and communities sold limited edition collectables offering unique access and clout. This year, offerings will become even more creative.”
Britton said one driver of this trend is entertainment and engagement. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, provide a way for influencers to reward their most engaged users, as well as a way for audiences to literally invest in the creators they love. “I think it’s a fun way for people to get involved and be part of a community,” he noted. As creators build engaged communities of their own, NFTs could provide additional methods for them to monetize.
But there has been a dark side to influencers’ interest in crypto. Earlier this month, Kim Kardashian and Floyd Mayweather were among a number of influencers accused of taking part in an online pump-and-dump crypto scam. TikTok has since banned promotional content related to financial services, including cryptocurrency, by adding them to its list of “globally prohibited industries.”
While it remains to be seen just how effective NFTs will be as an investment tool, expect interest in the space to continue to grow.
Spencers/ Famous Birthdays
3. More Fun with Food
Food has emerged as a growing subset of the influencer economy, and several new platforms launched in 2021 looking to seize on that growing interest. Restaurants large and small have taken notice.
“One huge tailwind on TikTok has been creators offering up their unique recipes and fun takes on food,” said Britton, who expects this trend to build throughout 2022. “TikTok is about fun, short videos. Everybody loves food and a lot of people like making food. It just has a lot of natural product-market fit with TikTok.”
Videos showing food can be instrumental in convincing consumers to try new restaurants or menu items. In a survey by restaurant marketing firm MGH, 36% of TikTok users said they have visited or ordered food from a restaurant after seeing a TikTok video featuring that establishment.
Influencer Cassie Sharp found success in 2021 by creating bite-sized content around food challenges, like her popular “five random ingredients” challenge.
“I’m trying to find new challenges that garner similar engagement, and take short-form videos and turn them into long-form content so that I can take some of those views on my shorts and apply them on my long-form videos,” she said, highlighting a trend common among creators in all verticals: repurposing content.
“The greatest thing about short-form content is you can throw it out there and see what catches,” Sharp added. “If I get an audience for a specific short-form video, when I start making long-form videos people are already comfortable with it.”
Her biggest takeaway so far: Clear bowls are essential for creating engaging food videos. “It’s just more interesting to watch the butter and brown sugar melt together,” she said.
Lisa Nguyen/ Famous Birthdays
4. Social Shopping Upends Ecommerce
The pandemic helped cement ecommerce’s rapidly growing advantage over brick-and-mortar shopping. As more influencers take to livestreaming platforms, expect the nature of online shopping to change.
“Facebook, Instagram and TikTok each facilitate live-shopping and YouTube launched livestreams to promote shopping ahead of the 2021 holiday season,” noted Britton, who added that he expects live-shopping to become increasingly popular in 2022. “It took a while to get here, but it’s growing.”
Gen Z is certainly keen to buy in real time. Survey results from the 2022 Instagram Trend Report show 27% of users aged 13 to 24 shop directly on social media.
Instagram’s native affiliate tool is just one example of this trend in action. The platform began testing the tool in 2021, incentivizing creators to include shoppable content not just in their feeds but also in their Instagram Stories and livestreams.
Nathaly Cuevas/ Famous Birthdays
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Nick Bartels' last name.
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LA Venture: Plug and Play Founder Saeed Amidi on How His Real Estate Company Became One of Tech’s Most Prolific Investors
It started as a real estate company for startups. Today, Plug and Play operates what it calls an “innovation platform” that offers young companies office space, an accelerator program and — in some cases — invests in them.
On this episode of LA Venture, Plug and Play's CEO and founder Saeed Amidi talks about how he evolved the company into an accelerator and investment firm, and how he uses his platform to introduce many of the world’s largest corporations to startups that are re-envisioning their industries.
Amidi initially started Plug and Play as a space for startups to build the companies, providing them with office space, in-house servers and infrastructure that could help them expand. After talking to his startup clients, Amidi realized what they really needed was money. Amidi saw an opportunity to serve as an intermediary to help his real estate clients grow.
"When we find a great entrepreneur, team and technology, we generally show them to 10 VCs and 10 corporate partners, and we capture their thoughts" on where the startup could improve — and whether they might want to invest, said Amidi.
Plug and Play now has about 540 corporate partners, including Walmart, McDonald’s and Pepsi.
“They are some of the incredibly successful companies around the world that would like to use the [Plug and Play] platform to help them understand the future of commerce,” he adds.
Today, Plug and Play’s accelerator programs — there are 17 of them — host over a thousand startups in the United States alone, including one that recently launched in Downtown L.A. Internationally, that number is about double.
“We are really planning and hoping that with our location in L.A., we would have major content producers, major advertisers, join the platform,” he said.
Plug and Play invests in about 250 startups a year, many of them in the automotive industry.
"The whole world is going through digital transformation so fast, that all of these large companies may be Mercedes or Ford or Chrysler, they are all hunting startups that can help them electrify faster, you know, beat Tesla in their autonomous race," said Amidi.
Amidi said people always ask him whether he considers retiring.
"I tell them if I find something else to do that I will have more fun. I will do it. But, in general, what drives me is how many entrepreneurs or startups use the platform to build their dreams,” said Amidi.
dot.LA Engagement Intern Joshua Letona contributed to this post.