Federal Lawmakers Press Bezos on Amazon’s Firing of Employee Activists as Antitrust Probe Looms
Nine Senate Democrats asked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to explain the rationale for firing four employees who spoke out about the company's workplace safety policies in a letter sent to the executive Wednesday.
The lawmakers added their voices to a chorus of criticism over Amazon's response to the coronavirus crisis and decision to fire the employee activists.
What's new: Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and several of their colleagues asked Bezos to explain Amazon's policies for employee discipline and termination "to understand how the termination of employees that raised concerns about health and safety conditions did not constitute retaliation for whistleblowing" by May 20. "Given the clear public history of these four workers' advocacy on behalf of health and safety conditions for workers in Amazon warehouses preceding their terminations, and Amazon's vague public statements regarding violations of 'internal policies,' we are seeking additional information to understand exactly what those internal policies are," the letter says.
Background: Last month, Amazon fired user experience designers Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, outspoken leaders of the activist group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. They spent more than a year pressuring their employer to enact stronger sustainability policies before turning their attention to the COVID-19 outbreaks at Amazon fulfillment centers. Two warehouse workers who called for broader safety measures were also terminated last month. An influential Amazon engineer and VP resigned from the company last week in response to the firings.
Amazon's side: "These individuals were not terminated for talking publicly about working conditions or safety, but rather, for violating — often repeatedly — policies, such as intimidation, physical distancing and more," an Amazon spokesperson told GeekWire. "We support every employees' right to criticize or protest their employer's working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies. We look forward to explaining in more detail in our response to the Senators' letter."
In context: Federal lawmakers aren't just scrutinizing Amazon for its labor practices. The House subcommittee on antitrust sent a separate letter to Bezos earlier this month asking him to testify before Congress. They want Bezos to explain apparent inconsistencies between the testimony of one of his deputies last year and recent news reports that indicate Amazon uses third-party seller data to compete with those vendors in its marketplace. Rep. David Cicilline suggested Thursday that Bezos is reluctant to testify in a live-streamed interview with Politico.
Big picture: Amazon is waging war against the pandemic on two fronts. Seemingly overnight, Amazon became a lifeline for thousands of people sheltering at home around the world. Demand for Amazon products and services surged, compelling the company to hire an additional 175,000 workers to keep up. Amazon is managing customer demand but struggling to contain COVID-19 outbreaks in its warehouses, creating a logistical and PR nightmare for the company. The virus has broken out in more than 130 warehouses, according to internal employee counts and local news reports. Amazon has not disclosed the number of employees or warehouses with the virus. At least three Amazon workers have died from COVID-19, according to the letter senators sent to Bezos this week.
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It's never been a better time to "murder your thirst."
Seven months after raising more than $9 million in Series A funding, Santa Monica-based canned water startup Liquid Death has raised $23 million in Series B funding.
The round was led by an unnamed consumer-focused family office and participated in by Convivialité Ventures, Fat Mike (NOFX), Pat McAfee, existing investor in Velvet Sea Ventures and others.
Eliminating battery waste, developing new hair growth therapy, fixing carbon dioxide. These are among some of the ambitious problems that companies are trying to solve at the First Look SoCal Innovation Showcase beginning Tuesday.
Hosted by nonprofit Alliance for SoCal Innovation, the online event connects early-stage tech and life science companies with investors and serial entrepreneurs.
BioZen Batteries Aims to Solve Our Energy Storage Issues<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDI0Nzg5MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTg3OTYyNn0.y9dSMjovB1GtsQ1SZhKiPTIJY3VW0XOE2YXd-JN1xYU/image.jpg?width=980" id="95064" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3ad9197ad70005802e6d34d6da3c29d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Left to right: BioZen Batteries' co-founders Zach Rengert, Nate Kirchhofer and Eric Brigham.<p>Nate Kirchhofer, co-founder and CEO of <a href="https://biozenbatteries.com/" target="_blank">BioZen Batteries</a>, wants to make batteries that will outlive him.</p><p>Santa Barbara-based BioZen creates organic electrolytes, the active material inside a specific type of battery called a "redox flow battery." It's a different type of technology that differs from the lithium batteries often used in mobile applications like cars and phones. Only 5% of those get recycled.</p><p>BioZen's batteries are well suited for green, large-scale energy storage, Kirchhofer said. For example, batteries that help solar panels connect to the grid or provide backup during disasters when the power goes out.</p><p>Kirchhofer, an electrochemist, founded the company in June of 2019 with Zach Rengert, a materials chemist, and Eric Brigham, the company's CFO. Kirchhofer and Rengert met while getting their doctorate at UC Santa Barbara.</p><p>There hasn't yet been a push for sustainable batteries because it isn't economically incentivized, Kirchhofer told dot.LA. He said that his batteries are cheaper than competitors.</p><p>Kirchhofer's product fits into a growing renewable energy market and a social movement in which individuals want to do their part. He's worked for four startups but says this one is poised to make the biggest impact.</p><p>"If it's not our generation that solves climate change, there's not another chance. There's not another Earth." he said. "If we can make these batteries happen, we can truly integrate renewable energy and stop the petroleum-dominated energy paradigm we're part of."</p>
Amplifica's founder Dr. Maksim Plikus
Amplifica Treats Baldness with Mole Molecules<p>Back in 2013, Amplifica's founder Dr. Maksim Plikus began studying hairy moles. Though some find the growths unsightly, his work showed promise for baldness treatment.</p><p>He, along with colleagues at UC Irvine, discovered that molecules from moles that grow excessive hair can induce follicle growth when administered anywhere on the skin.</p><p>"As long as you can tease it out and replicate it in the form of purified molecules, you can achieve essentially what we think would be a novel, revolutionary solution to baldness," Plikus told dot.LA.</p><p>Plikus said his company is the first to solve hair loss by replicating cells from hairy moles to stimulate hair growth. At the moment, hair follicle research has emerged as a leading experimental model for studying stem cells.</p><p>By 2025, hair-loss products are projected to surpass $12 billion, Plikus said. But only two drugs are FDA approved and require daily treatment in the form of pills, which he said come with long-term side effects.</p><p>Amplifica says it's poised to put a more effective and convenient solution on the market. Pinkus' proposed product is a topical solution requiring less frequent application, like getting Botox injections a few times per year.</p>
FixingCO2 Aims to Recycle Fuel from the Air<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDI0ODM4My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzA1ODA4MH0.9RqwD9zUN1et1kor8zNPj8WH2kOX6SrysdpRDFT5QMc/image.jpg?width=980" id="daa89" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9851b177139c4b5e06bd9c96fb395083" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
FixingCO2's team. CEO Eldar Akhmetgaliyev is at right.<p><a href="https://fixingco2.com/" target="_blank">FixingCO2</a> got its start on Mars. Like the name says, the company aims to fix the global carbon problem that's fueling climate change.</p><p>In 2018, co-founder Alma Zhanaidarova's professor and research group at UC San Diego received a grant from NASA to build out a reactor that makes renewable fuels and chemicals from carbon dioxide, often a byproduct of industrial waste. The technology was being developed in anticipation of a one-day human mission to Mars, where 95% of the atmosphere is carbon dioxide.</p><p>Now, the San Diego-based startup is commercializing their product for earthlings.</p><p>"It's a different application but the same core technology," co-founder Eldar Akhmetgaliyev told dot.LA. "Instead of making fuels from oil or any other fossil sources, we can make them essentially from air."</p><p>The team is developing the hardware to capture industrial emissions blamed for much of the Earth's warming. The product has significant application for the aviation industry, where planes are built to burn jet fuel that produces carbon emissions.</p><p>"These kinds of technologies provide them a pathway to decarbonization," he said. "They can use fuels made from CO2 so they're not contributing to climate change."</p><p>As fires burn through California and the Pacific Northwest, Akhmetgaliyev said there's urgency for innovators in the carbon tech market. "We're pretty much turning our planet into Mars," he said.</p><p>He said that by 2050, about 14% of overall carbon reduction will come from carbon capture and utilization (CCUS) technology like his.</p><p>"The market hasn't met its opportunity and with the effects of climate change being seen everyday, there's going to be more drive towards these low carbon technologies."</p>
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