WASHINGTON, June 16 (Reuters) – Liquidity troubles at crypto lending platform Celsius Network, which have left its 1.7 million customers unable to redeem their assets, will increase U.S. regulatory pressure on the sector, which was already on the defensive amid other crises this year.
The industry has been battling scrutiny over concerns that digital assets are being used to evade sanctions on Russia and the May collapse of cryptocurrency TerraUSD, which sent the market plunging and raised systemic risk worries. read more
New Jersey-based Celsius’s move this week to freeze withdrawals, citing “extreme” market conditions, has spotlighted other problems with the crypto sector: weak investor safeguards.
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Securities regulators in Alabama, Kentucky, New Jersey, Texas and Washington have opened an investigation into the Celsius decision, the director of enforcement for the Texas State Securities Board told Reuters on Thursday. read more
Crypto executives say recent problems show U.S. regulators have been too slow to provide the clarity necessary to protect everyday Americans, but they expect that to change fast.
“We are now seeing the consequences of regulators failing to provide clarity,” said Perianne Boring, founder and CEO of the Chamber of Digital Commerce. “I am hopeful that recent events will accelerate efforts to deliver clearer policies to the industry and certainty to those who invest in digital assets.”
Recent turmoil in the cryptocurrency market underscores the “urgent need” for regulatory frameworks that reduce digital asset risks, a U.S. Treasury official said on Thursday.
Crypto lenders gather crypto deposits from retail customers and re-invest them. Sometimes touting double-digit returns, such products have attracted tens of billions of dollars in assets. As its investments soured amid the crypto market slump, however, Celsius was unable to meet redemptions. read more
Unlike traditional financial firms, crypto lenders operate in a regulatory grey area which means their deposits are not insured by the government, a risk Celsius discloses on its website. Like many peers, Celsius has not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), meaning it was subject to few risk management, capital and disclosure rules.
As a result, its customers had little visibility over how it was investing their assets, and it’s unclear if they will get them back.
“At bare minimum, depositors/investors need to understand the risks they are taking,” said Todd Phillips, director of financial regulation at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank.
Celsius CEO Alex Mashinsky tweeted on Wednesday that the company was focused on customer concerns.
While bank regulators believe they need Congress to give them oversight of crypto companies, securities regulators had begun cracking down on lending products over the past year or so.
To be sure, Celsius has been on their radar. In September, regulators in Kentucky, New Jersey and Texas hit Celsius with a cease and desist order, arguing its interest bearing products should be registered as a security.
The SEC meanwhile last year blocked a Coinbase Global Inc plan to launch a lending product and sued lending platform BitConnect for fraud.
In February, the SEC and state regulators fined BlockFi $100 million for failing to register its crypto lending product. The SEC said the deal should provide a roadmap for other crypto lenders to register their products, although its unclear how many companies are poised to follow. read more
The SEC and regulators in Kentucky, New Jersey, and Texas did not immediately respond to request for comment on Thursday. On Tuesday, SEC chair Gary Gensler warned that some crypto product returns my be “too good to be true.”
Registering crypto lending products would not eliminate all risks to investors, but would increase transparency around such products and ensure some risk management controls, said experts.
Many companies, though, want to avoid that burden, putting the onus on regulators to bring enforcement actions, which take years to build. Still, lawyers said the SEC would likely increase such efforts. read more
“Given the SEC’s general aggressiveness under Gensler…the agency is likely combing through the statutes to find claims that can be brought regarding crypto lending,” said Howard Fischer, a partner at law firm Moses & Singer.
Some industry executives welcome more regulation, which would see the best companies rise to the top. In February, rating agency Fitch said increased disclosures and requirements would be “credit positive” for the lending sector.
“Investors wants to know that their assets are secure,” said Mike Belshe, CEO of BitGo, a digital asset trust company. “We’re going to see a shakeout of healthy companies that manage risk well.”
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Writing by Michelle Price; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington;
Editing by Nick Zieminski
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WASHINGTON, June 16 (Reuters) – State securities regulators in Alabama, Kentucky, New Jersey, Texas and Washington are investigating crypto lender Celsius Network’s decision this week to suspend customer redemptions, Joseph Rotunda, enforcement director at the Texas State Securities Board told Reuters on Thursday.
Officials met and began investigating the matter first thing Monday morning, Rotunda said, adding he considered the probe to be a “priority.”
Celsius said that due to extreme market conditions, it was pausing withdrawals, swaps and transfers between accounts. The company said that doing so would put it “in a better position to honor, over time, its withdrawal obligations.” read more
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“I am very concerned that clients – including many retail investors – may need to immediately access their assets yet are unable to withdraw from their accounts. The inability to access their investment may result in significant financial consequences,” he said.
Alabama Securities Commission Director Joseph Borg also told Reuters that Alabama, Texas, New Jersey and Kentucky securities regulators were probing the matter. Celsius has been responsive to questions from the regulators, but that the investigation is in the initial stages, he said.
Borg added that U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has also been in communication with Celsius.
The SEC declined to comment. The New Jersey and Washington state securities regulators did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Financial Institutions said it was their policy to not comment on ongoing enforcement actions and investigations.
Celsius and CEO Alex Mashinsky did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rotunda said he and his team learned of the move by New Jersey-based Celsius to freeze user withdrawals from the company’s blog post and announcement on Twitter on Sunday night, which said the company needed to take action to “stabilize liquidity.”
In September, regulators in Kentucky, New Jersey and Texas hit Celsius with a cease and desist order, arguing its interest-bearing products should be registered as a security. In February, the SEC and those same state regulators fined BlockFi $100 million for failing to register its crypto lending product.
Similar to a bank, Celsius gathers crypto deposits from retail customers and invests them in the equivalent of the wholesale crypto market, including “decentralized finance,” or DeFi, sites that use blockchain technology to offer services from loans to insurance outside the traditional financial sector. read more
Celsius promises retail customers huge returns, sometimes as much as 18.6% annually. The lure of big profits has led individual investors to pour assets into Celsius and platforms like it.
Mashinsky said in October Celsius had $25 billion in assets. That figure had fallen to around $11.8 billion as of last month, the Celsius website showed.
Celsius appears to have stumbled on some of its wholesale crypto investments, according to public blockchain information and analysts who track such data. As those investments soured, the company was unable to meet redemptions from customers fleeing amid the broader crypto market slump, analysts said. read more
Cryptocurrencies have lost more than $400 billion since TerraUSD, a major stablecoin pegged to the U.S. dollar, collapsed in May. Bitcoin sank to an 18-month low on Wednesday to $20,079.72. It has slumped about 70% from its record high of $69,000 in November. read more
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Reporting by Hannah Lang; Editing by Richard Chang, Nick Zieminski, Michelle Price and Diane Craft
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Justin Nelson’s letter, one of the thousands that arrived at the White House this month, said he was proud to vote for President Biden back in 2020. Now he had a request: Would the president please honor a campaign promise and use the enclosed pen to wipe out thousands of dollars he owes in student loans?
The letter-writing campaign — #PensForBiden — is the latest attempt to sway Mr. Biden on a high-stakes dilemma as the midterm elections approach and much of his domestic agenda remains stalled: What to do about the $1.6 trillion that more than 45 million people owe the government?
So far, Mr. Biden has extended the pandemic pause on student loan payments four times, most recently until Aug. 31. Payments have now been on hold for more than two years, over two presidential administrations.
But all that time poses problems. Many of the issues that have long bedeviled the loan system have only grown more complicated during the pause, and receiving bills again will infuriate and frustrate millions of people who feel trapped by a broken system and crushing debt.
progressive wing of his Democratic Party. He backed the idea on the campaign trail in 2020. “I’m going to make sure that everybody in this generation gets $10,000 knocked off of their student debt as we try to get out of this God-awful pandemic,” he told an audience in Miami.
Senate Democrats lack the votes to help make good on that promise, leaving executive action as the only possible pathway. But close allies say some influential members of Mr. Biden’s team have been reluctant for him to do it — some because they disagree with the idea of forgiveness and some because they don’t believe he has the authority.
“He’s got lawyers telling him he shouldn’t,” said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat and a key supporter of Mr. Biden. But Mr. Clyburn, the most senior Black lawmaker in Congress, said presidential actions had brought sweeping changes before, including Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Harry Truman’s order banning segregation in the military.
“If executive orders can free slaves and integrate the armed services, it can eliminate debt,” Mr. Clyburn said.
analysis released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last week. A separate study by the bank found that surveyed borrowers reported a 16 percent chance of quickly missing a payment if the moratorium ended.
Mr. Nelson, a 32-year-old bank operations associate in Minneapolis, said the pause had freed up $120 a month for home repairs and other expenses.
recent Morning Consult poll found that more than 60 percent of registered voters were in favor of some level of student debt cancellation. But despite Mr. Biden’s campaign promise, his advisers have been divided, three people with knowledge of the discussions said.
Some view debt cancellation as relief for critical constituencies, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Others oppose it as bad policy or because they fear the economic effects of putting more money in consumers’ pockets when inflation is soaring.
But the pressure on Mr. Biden to act has only grown.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whose pledge to cancel up to $50,000 per borrower was a centerpiece of her 2020 presidential primary bid, and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, led more than 90 congressional Democrats in sending Mr. Biden a letter last month asking him to “provide meaningful student debt cancellation.”
voting rights protections and Mr. Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, as reason for the president to take matters into his own hands.
The New Georgia Project, a group focusing on voter registration founded by the gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, has cast debt relief as an action that would serve Mr. Biden’s pledge to put racial equity at the forefront of his presidency.
“Much of your administration’s legislative priorities have been stymied by obstructionist legislators,” the group wrote in a joint letter with the advocacy group the Debt Collective that was reviewed by The New York Times. “Student debt cancellation is a popular campaign promise that you, President Biden, have the executive power to deliver on your own.”
announcing the latest pause extension last month, Mr. Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said he “hasn’t ruled out” the idea.
But Mr. Biden’s power to act unilaterally remains an open legal question.
Last April, at Mr. Biden’s request, the Education Department’s acting general counsel wrote an analysis of the legality of canceling debt via executive action. The analysis has not been released; a version provided in response to public records requests was fully redacted.
Proponents of forgiveness say the education secretary has broad powers to modify or cancel debt, which both the Trump and Biden administrations have leaned on to carry out the payment freeze that started in March 2020.
Legal challenges would be likely, although who would have standing is unclear. A Virginia Law Review article this month argued that the answer might be no one: States, for example, have little say in the operation of a federal loan system.
scathing criticism from government auditors and watchdogs, with even basic functions sometimes breaking down.
Some problems are being addressed. The Biden administration has wiped out $17 billion in debt for 725,000 borrowers by expanding and streamlining forgiveness programs for public servants and those who were defrauded by their schools, among others. Last week, it offered millions of borrowers added credit toward forgiveness because of previous payment-counting problems.
But there’s much still to do. The Education Department was deluged by applicants after it expanded eligibility for millions of public servants. And settlement talks in a class-action suit by nearly 200,000 borrowers who say they were defrauded by their schools recently broke down, setting up a trial this summer.
will be restored to good standing.
Canceling debt could make addressing all this easier, advocates say. Forgiving $10,000 per borrower would wipe out the debts of 10 million or more people, according to different analyses, which would free up resources to deal with structural flaws, proponents argue.
“We’ve known for years that the system is broken,” said Sarah Sattelmeyer, a higher-education project director at New America, a think tank. “Having an opportunity, during this timeout, to start fixing some of those major issues feels like a place where the Education Department should be focusing its attention.”
Voters like Ashleigh A. Mosley will be watching. Ms. Mosley, 21, a political science major at Albany State University in Georgia, said she had been swayed to vote for Mr. Biden because of his support for debt cancellation.
Ms. Mosley, who also attended Alabama A&M University, has already borrowed $52,000 and expects her balance to grow to $100,000 by the time she graduates. The debt already hangs over her head.
“I don’t think I’m going to even have enough money to start a family or buy a house because of the loans,” she said. “It’s just not designed for us to win.”
It was a union organizing campaign that few expected to have a chance. A handful of employees at Amazon’s massive warehouse on Staten Island, operating without support from national labor organizations, took on one of the most powerful companies in the world.
And, somehow, they won.
Workers at the facility voted by a wide margin to form a union, according to results released on Friday, in one of the biggest victories for organized labor in a generation.
Employees cast 2,654 votes to be represented by Amazon Labor Union and 2,131 against, giving the union a win by more than 10 percentage points, according to the National Labor Relations Board. More than 8,300 workers at the warehouse, which is the only Amazon fulfillment center in New York City, were eligible to vote.
The win on Staten Island comes at a perilous moment for labor unions in the United States, which saw the portion of workers in unions drop last year to 10.3 percent, the lowest rate in decades, despite high demand for workers, pockets of successful labor activity and rising public approval.
including some labor officials — say that traditional unions haven’t spent enough money or shown enough imagination in organizing campaigns and that they have often bet on the wrong fights. Some point to tawdry corruption scandals.
The union victory at Amazon, the first at the company in the United States after years of worker activism there, offers an enormous opportunity to change that trajectory and build on recent wins. Many union leaders regard Amazon as an existential threat to labor standards because it touches so many industries and frequently dominates them.
likely to be a narrow loss by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union at a large Amazon warehouse in Alabama. The vote is close enough that the results will not be known for several weeks as contested ballots are litigated.
The surprising strength shown by unions in both locations most likely means that Amazon will face years of pressure at other company facilities from labor groups and progressive activists working with them. As a recent string of union victories at Starbucks have shown, wins at one location can provide encouragement at others.
Amazon hired voraciously over the past two years and now has 1.6 million employees globally. But it has been plagued by high turnover, and the pandemic gave employees a growing sense of power while fueling worries about workplace safety. The Staten Island warehouse, known as JFK8, was the subject of a New York Times investigation last year, which found that it was emblematic of the stresses — including inadvertent firings and sky-high attrition — on workers caused by Amazon’s employment model.
“The pandemic has fundamentally changed the labor landscape” by giving workers more leverage with their employers, said John Logan, a professor of labor studies at San Francisco State University. “It’s just a question of whether unions can take advantage of the opportunity that transformation has opened up.”
Standing outside the N.L.R.B. office in Brooklyn, where the ballots were tallied, Christian Smalls, a former Amazon employee who started the union, popped a bottle of champagne before a crowd of supporters and press. “To the first Amazon union in American history,” he cheered.
asked a judge to force Amazon to swiftly rectify “flagrant unfair labor practices” it said took place when Amazon fired a worker who became involved with the union. Amazon argued in court that the labor board abandoned “the neutrality of their office” by filing the injunction just before the election.
Amazon would need to prove that any claims of undue influence undermined the so-called laboratory conditions necessary for a fair election, said Wilma B. Liebman, the chair of the N.L.R.B. under President Barack Obama.
President Biden was “glad to see workers ensure their voices are heard” at the Amazon facility, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters. “He believes firmly that every worker in every state must have a free and fair choice to join a union,” she said.
The near-term question facing the labor movement and other progressive groups is the extent to which they will help the upstart Amazon Labor Union withstand potential challenges to the result and negotiate a first contract, such as by providing resources and legal talent.
“The company will appeal, drag it out — it’s going to be an ongoing fight,” said Gene Bruskin, a longtime organizer who helped notch one of labor’s last victories on this scale, at a Smithfield meat-processing plant in 2008, and has informally advised the Staten Island workers. “The labor movement has to figure out how to support them.”
Sean O’Brien, the new president of the 1.3 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said in an interview on Thursday that the union was prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars unionizing Amazon and to collaborate with a variety of other unions and progressive groups.
said he became alarmed in March 2020 after encountering a co-worker who was clearly ill. He pleaded with management to close the facility for two weeks. The company fired him after he helped lead a walkout over safety conditions in late March that year.
Amazon said at the time that it had taken “extreme measures” to keep workers safe, including deep cleaning and social distancing. It said it had fired Mr. Smalls for violating social distancing guidelines and attending the walkout even though he had been placed in a quarantine.
After workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., overwhelmingly rejected the retail workers union in its first election last spring, Mr. Smalls and Derrick Palmer, an Amazon employee who is his friend, decided to form a new union, called Amazon Labor Union.
While the organizing in Alabama included high-profile tactics, with progressive supporters like Senator Bernie Sanders visiting the area, the organizers at JFK8 benefited from being insiders.
For months, they set up shop at the bus stop outside the warehouse, grilling meat at barbecues and at one point even passing out pot.(The retail workers said they were hamstrung by Covid during their initial election in Alabama.)
nationwide agreement to allow workers more access to organize on-site.
At times the Amazon Labor Union stumbled. The labor board determined this fall that the fledgling union, which spent months collecting signatures from workers requesting a vote, had not demonstrated sufficient support to warrant an election. But the organizers kept trying, and by late January they had finally gathered enough signatures.
Amazon played up its minimum wage of $15 an hour in advertising and other public relations efforts. The company also waged a full-throated campaign against the union, texting employees and mandating attendance at anti-union meetings. It spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants nationwide last year, according to annual disclosures filed on Thursday with the Labor Department.
In February, Mr. Smalls was arrested at the facility after managers said he was trespassing while delivering food to co-workers and called the police. Two current employees were also arrested during the incident, which appeared to galvanize interest in the union.
The difference in outcomes in Bessemer and Staten Island may reflect a difference in receptiveness toward unions in the two states — roughly 6 percent of workers in Alabama are union members, versus 22 percent in New York — as well as the difference between a mail-in election and one conducted in person.
But it may also suggest the advantages of organizing through an independent, worker-led union. In Alabama, union officials and professional organizers were still barred from the facility under the settlement with the labor board. But at the Staten Island site, a larger portion of the union leadership and organizers were current employees.
“What we were trying to say all along is that having workers on the inside is the most powerful tool,” said Mr. Palmer, who makes $21.50 an hour. “People didn’t believe it, but you can’t beat workers organizing other workers.”
The independence of the Amazon Labor Union also appeared to undermine Amazon’s anti-union talking points, which cast the union as an interloping “third party.”
On March 25, workers at JFK8 started lining up outside a tent in the parking lot to vote. And over five voting days, they cast their ballots to form what could become the first union at Amazon’s operations in the United States.
Another election, brought also by Amazon Labor Union at a neighboring Staten Island facility, is scheduled for late April.
Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, declared a state of emergency for the entire province on Friday, as the police in Ottawa braced for thousands of protesters to descend for the third consecutive weekend of a crisis that has disrupted international supply chains.
“With a protest, you make your point and you go back home. I know that’s what the vast majority did,” Mr. Ford said at a news conference. “My message to those still in Ottawa, those still in our border crossing, to those who brought their children: Please take them home. And it’s time to do so peacefully.”
Otherwise, “there will be consequences, and they will be severe,” he said, adding that the maximum penalty for noncompliance would be $100,000 and a year in prison, plus potentially the revocation of personal and commercial licenses. “Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the right of thousands of workers to make a living.”
Hundreds of miles away, along the border with the United States, Mayor Drew Dilkens of Windsor, Ontario, sought a court order to let him remove protesters from the Ambassador Bridge, which carries roughly a third of U.S.-Canada trade. A hearing was set for noon on Friday.
“The individuals on site are trespassing on municipal property,” Mr. Dilkens said Thursday, and if necessary “will be removed to allow for the safe and efficient movement of goods across the border.”
The crisis began two weeks ago, when loosely organized groups of truck drivers and others converged on Ottawa to protest vaccination requirements for truckers entering Canada. It has swelled into a broader battle cry, largely from right-wing groups, against pandemic restrictions and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handling of the pandemic.
Automakers have been particularly affected by the partial shutdown of the Ambassador Bridge, which links Windsor and Detroit. Trucks cross it thousands of times a day carrying $300 million worth of goods, about a third of which are related to the auto industry. The blockades have left carmakers short of crucial parts, forcing companies to shut down some plants from Ontario to Alabama on Friday.
The Teamsters union — which represents 15,000 long-haul truck drivers in Canada, but generally not the ones protesting — denounced the blockade, which threatens thousands of jobs.
In Ottawa, the Canadian capital, the scene on Thursday resembled a raucous party, with hundreds of people milling between the cabs of giant trucks parked in the middle of the street. The song “Life Is a Highway” pumped from loudspeakers on an empty trailer that has been converted into a stage. But the crowd had thinned somewhat, with empty spaces where trucks had been.
“Some guys had to go back to work, and the police wouldn’t let us refill those spots,” said Johnny Neufeld, 39, a long-haul trucker from Windsor.
On Thursday, Ontario secured an order from the Superior Court of Justice barring the distribution or use of donations collected through the Christian fund-raising platform GiveSendGo, including more than $8.5 million raised by a campaign called “Freedom Convoy 2022,” a reference to the protesters’ slogan. But the company, which is based in the United States, indicated that it planned to defy the court order.
“Canada has absolutely ZERO jurisdiction over how we manage our funds here at GiveSendGo,” it tweeted. “All funds for EVERY campaign on GiveSendGo flow directly to the recipients of those campaigns, not least of which is The Freedom Convoy campaign.”
The protests have attracted the attention of far-right and anti-vaccine groups globally, raising millions of dollars and inspiring copycat protests in at least two countries, New Zealand and Australia. Organizers of a U.S. convoy announced a protest in Washington, D.C., on March 5.
Marco Mendicino, Canada’s minister of public safety, said Thursday that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were sending additional officers to Ottawa and Windsor. Mr. Trudeau has ruled out sending in the army; there are few precedents for doing so in Canada, which does not have provincial equivalents of a national guard.
Late Thursday, he said he had convened an “incident response group” and briefed Canada’s opposition parties on the situation.
Some protesters have clearly been on the fringe, wearing Nazi symbols and desecrating monuments. Others describe themselves as ordinary Canadians driven by desperation.
In declaring a state of emergency, Mr. Ford, the Ontario premier, called the protesters occupiers and hostage takers.
“As a province, as a nation, we must collectively draw a line,” he said.
Shashank Bengali and Allison Hannaford contributed reporting.
During the first union election at Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., warehouse, early last year, organizers largely avoided visiting workers at home because Covid was raging and few Americans were vaccinated.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union believed the precaution was prudent even if it made persuading workers harder and may have contributed to the union’s lopsided defeat.
On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board will mail out ballots to workers at the same warehouse in a so-called re-run election, which the agency ordered after finding that Amazon behaved improperly during the last campaign.
But for this election, which runs through March 25, the labor movement is pulling few punches. Several national unions have collectively sent dozens of organizers to Bessemer to help rally workers. And organizers and workers have spent the past several months going door-to-door to build support for the union.
far more than half of all elections during that time, according to data from the National Labor Relations Board.
“In cases where the margin of victory is pretty significant one way or the other, the outcome often doesn’t change the second time,” said David Pryzbylski, a management-side lawyer at Barnes & Thornburg.
Those odds may be longer still at a company like Amazon, which has the resources to hire consultants and saturate workers with anti-union messages, as it did during the last election.
Turnover at Amazon is high — over 150 percent a year even before a recent surge of quitting nationwide — and could introduce uncertainty because it’s unclear how new workers will respond to arguments on either side.
previously said that its performance targets take into account safety and employees’ experience.
For Amazon, which is facing challenges to its labor model on multiple fronts, there is little incentive to ease its resistance to the union. Last year, California approved a law that would restrict the company’s use of productivity targets, and the roughly 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters elected a new president who promised a large investment in unionizing the company.
determined that organizers at JFK8, a massive warehouse on Staten Island, had submitted enough signatures to warrant a vote. The organizers are trying to form a new union, called Amazon Labor Union, rather than working with established groups. The labor board will hold a hearing in mid-February to determine how many workers could be eligible to vote, as well as the timing and terms of the election.
This week, the same union filed a petition for an election at a neighboring Amazon facility on Staten Island.
pressed for in-person voting, albeit at an off-site location in the union’s case, the labor board decided to run another mail-in election because of the pandemic.
Variations on practices that the labor board cited when invalidating the last election also remain in place, prompting the union to urge changes to the way the new election will be conducted. Not least is a so-called collection box that Amazon lobbied the U.S. Postal Service to install last year near the warehouse entrance, where workers were urged to deposit their ballots.
Amazon has said it sought the collection box to help workers vote safely, and that it did not have access to ballots deposited inside of it. But a regional director of the labor board found that Amazon had “essentially hijacked the process” by procuring the box. “This dangerous and improper message to employees destroys trust in the board’s processes and in the credibility of the election results,” the regional director wrote.
Yet in the run-up to the revote, the regional director allowed the Postal Service merely to move the box to a “neutral location” at the warehouse, rather than remove it entirely. The union argued in a request for an appeal that there is no neutral location on the site, and that the new location is still in view of Amazon’s surveillance cameras. A decision on the appeal could come during or after the election.
Some employees also say that despite reaching a nationwide settlement with the labor board in December to give union supporters more access to colleagues while at work, Amazon is still making it difficult for them to plead their case where they work.
Isaiah Thomas, a ship dock worker at the warehouse, recently received a letter from management saying he had violated the company policy against solicitation by talking to co-workers about the union during his break, though the company did not officially discipline him over the alleged violation.
“You were interfering with fellow associates during their working time, in their work areas,” the letter said. The union has filed an unfair labor practice charge arguing that the letter violates the company’s settlement with the labor board.
Yet the circumstances of the second election do appear to differ from those of the first election in some key respects. There is, for one thing, the fact of the finding by the labor board that Amazon violated union election rules, which organizers say comes up regularly in conversations with workers.
Mr. Appelbaum, the union president, said the on-the-ground presence of other unions was substantially higher than last year, thanks partly to the urging of Liz Shuler, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., of which the retail workers union is a part.
Even non-A.F.L. unions like the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters have dispatched organizers to Alabama, underscoring the high stakes for labor.
“I think there’s a recognition of the importance and transcendent nature of this fight,” Mr. Appelbaum said. “People throughout the labor movement understand that we cannot let Amazon go unchallenged or else it’s going to set the model for what the future of work is going to look like.”
He said that workers felt less intimidated by Amazon this time, with more of them speaking up during mandatory anti-union meetings. Pro-union workers also now wear T-shirts advertising their support for the union twice each week in a show of solidarity.
One group of workers recently delivered a petition with over 100 signatures to managers complaining of undignified treatment, low pay and insufficient breaks and break room equipment. Ms. Agrait, the Amazon spokeswoman, said the company encouraged constant communication between workers and managers.
Mr. Thomas, the ship dock worker, spends two days each week knocking on the doors of colleagues and said in an interview that many workers who voted against the union last year say they are supportive this time because the company hasn’t followed through on promises to act on their feedback.
“A lot of folks said they wanted to try to give Amazon a chance, but they didn’t meet their end of bargain,” he said. “Now they actually want to help form this union.”
Jan 26 (Reuters) – A group of Amazon.com workers has met the requirements to hold a union election at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Labor Relations Board confirmed on Wednesday, paving the way for another high-profile labor battle at the online retailer.
NLRB spokesperson Kayla Blado wrote in an email that group of workers, known as the Amazon Labor Union, had “reached a sufficient showing of interest.” In order to hold an election supervised by the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, unions must show that they have gathered signatures of support from at least 30% of workers who are eligible to vote.
“We are jumping for joy,” said Chris Smalls, president of the group and a former employee at the Staten Island warehouse. “We know it’s a long battle ahead of us, but to get over this hump, the show of interest, it’s definitely historic for us.”
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The Amazon Labor Union, which is not affiliated with a major U.S. union, withdrew its petition in November after the NLRB notified them that they had not collected enough signatures. But on Wednesday afternoon, the NLRB told the group that they had cleared the hurdle, Smalls said.
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the company was seeking more information about how the signatures were verified.
“We’re skeptical that there are a sufficient number of legitimate signatures,” Nantel said in a statement. “Our employees have always had a choice of whether or not to join a union, and as we saw just a few months ago, the vast majority of our team in Staten Island did not support the ALU.”
The NLRB will hold a hearing regarding the upcoming election on Feb. 16.
Amazon is facing a growing volley of campaigns to organize its vast workforce. Next month, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama will vote again on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Amazon handily defeated the union campaign last year, but the NLRB called for another vote after finding the company improperly interfered in the first contest.
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Reporting by Julia Love; additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin; Editing by Leslie Adler and Aurora Ellis
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In the United States, over 204 million people are fully vaccinated, but that’s still only 62 percent of the population, much lower than in most other wealthy countries.
At the county level, vaccination rates range from about 83 percent in places like Montgomery County, Md., a populous area just outside Washington, D.C., to around 15 percent in rural places like McPherson County in northern South Dakota.
As the Omicron variant surges, and experts say that vaccinations strongly protect against severe illness, U.S. public health officials are closely examining ways to reach the least-vaccinated areas. But the roadblocks are not the same everywhere. Some clearly have to do with politics: Republican-leaning areas have generally been vaccine laggards. But pockets of the country can have their own quirks unrelated to partisanship.
Here is a look at the challenges faced by three counties where, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, vaccination rates are among the lowest in the nation. (State figures for those counties may vary from the C.D.C. data because of differences in methodology, reporting lags and other factors.)
LaGrange County, Ind.
Resistance to vaccines is not new in LaGrange County, a rural area along Indiana’s border with Michigan. Just 22 percent of residents are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and, according to Dr. Tony Pechin, the county health officer, only 15 percent of children in the county are up-to-date on standard vaccines by the age of 2.
Dr. Pechin said that he had encountered the usual conspiracy theories about vaccines, and that even some longtime patients would not heed his advice to get the shots.
But the most important factor, he said, is that about half the county’s 40,000 residents are Amish, a group that overwhelmingly rejects the vaccines. Among non-Amish residents, he said, the vaccination rate is 45 to 48 percent.
Dr. Pechin said that a pharmacy frequented by Amish residents was among the first in LaGrange County to receive doses but had vaccinated just eight people in six months.
The state health commissioner sent a delegation to meet with Amish leaders in the spring, and the C.D.C. sent another over the summer.
“When they were done,” Dr. Pechin said of the envoys, “they called me and just said, ‘Good luck, Tony.’”
Cameron Parish, La.
When Hurricane Laura made landfall near Cameron Parish in August 2020, many residents left damaged homes behind and took refuge inland — and have yet to return.
According to the C.D.C., the vaccination rate is just 17 percent. But Louisiana health officials say that those figures do not take account of the population shift.
“Although the numbers look awful, they’re not as bad as they appear, because of an outflux of people due to the natural disasters,” said Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh, a regional health officer for the Louisiana Department of Health.
But if the statistics were calculated to reflect the current populations of Cameron Parish and others ravaged by recent storms, she said, they would probably still show vaccination rates below national averages. Laura destroyed much of the parish’s limited health infrastructure, so for months, health officials administered vaccines in a tent in a hospital parking lot. And for residents consumed by the work of repairing homes and businesses, getting vaccinated fell low on the priority list.
State health officials have worked to bring vaccines directly to disaster recovery events, and advised residents that getting sick with Covid-19 could make the road back even harder.
“Once you’re protected” from the virus, Dr. Cavanaugh said, “that’s one less thing for you to worry about.”
Winston County, Ala.
A rural county with a history of going its own way — it refused to join Alabama in seceding from the Union during the Civil War —faces many of the challenges that have hampered the state’s vaccine uptake.
Vaccine misinformation is still spreading on social media, said Dr. Karen Landers, a regional officer with the state’s Public Health Department, despite months of efforts with local leaders, faith-based organizations and pharmacies. The county’s vaccination rate has stalled at around 21 percent, according to the C.D.C.
Persuading young people that they are vulnerable to the disease and need a vaccine can be a particularly acute problem, she said. But Dr. Landerssaid she remained determined: “We know that not everyone will listen to us, but that does not alleviate our responsibility.”
SEATTLE — Amazon, which faces mounting scrutiny over worker rights, agreed to let its warehouse employees more easily organize in the workplace as part of a nationwide settlement with the National Labor Relations Board this month.
Under the settlement, made final on Wednesday, Amazon said it would email past and current warehouse workers — likely more than one million people — with notifications of their rights and give them greater flexibility to organize in its buildings. The agreement also makes it easier and faster for the N.L.R.B., which investigates claims of unfair labor practices, to sue Amazon if it believes the company violated the terms.
Amazon has previously settled individual cases with the labor agency, but the new settlement’s national scope and its concessions to organizing go further than any previous agreement.
Because of Amazon’s sheer size — more than 750,000 people work in its operations in the United States alone — the agency said the settlement would reach one of the largest groups of workers in its history. The tech giant also agreed to terms that would let the N.L.R.B. bypass an administrative hearing process, a lengthy and cumbersome undertaking, if the agency found that the company had not abided by the settlement.
on a hiring frenzy in the pandemic and is the nation’s second-largest private employer after Walmart, has faced increased labor pressure as its work force has soared to nearly 1.5 million globally. The company has become a leading example of a rising tide of worker organizing as the pandemic reshapes what employees expect from their employers.
This year, Amazon has grappled with organizing efforts at warehouses in Alabama and New York, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters formally committed to support organizing at the company. Other companies, such as Starbucks, Kellogg and Deere & Company, have faced rising union activity as well.
Compounding the problem, Amazon is struggling to find enough employees to satiate its growth. The company was built on a model of high-turnover employment, which has now crashed into a phenomenon known as the Great Resignation, with workers in many industries quitting their jobs in search of a better deal for themselves.
it would spend $4 billion to deal with labor shortages this quarter alone.
“This settlement agreement provides a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers across the United States that it will not interfere with their right to act collectively to improve their workplace by forming a union or taking other collective action,” Jennifer Abruzzo, the N.L.R.B.’s new general counsel appointed by President Biden, said in a statement on Thursday.
Amazon declined to comment. The company has said it supports workers’ rights to organize but believes employees are better served without a union.
Amazon and the labor agency have been in growing contact, and at times conflict. More than 75 cases alleging unfair labor practices have been brought against Amazon since the start of the pandemic, according to the N.L.R.B.’s database. Ms. Abruzzo has also issued several memos directing the agency’s staff to enforce labor laws against employers more aggressively.
threw out the results of a failed, prominent union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, saying the company had inappropriately interfered with the voting. The agency ordered another election. Amazon has not appealed the finding, though it can still do so.
Other employers, from beauty salons to retirement communities, have made nationwide settlements with the N.L.R.B. in the past when changing policies.
well established, said Matthew Bodie, a former lawyer for the N.L.R.B. who teaches labor law at Saint Louis University.
“The fact that you can hang around and chat — that is prime, protected concerted activity periods, and the board has always been very protective of that,” he said.
Mr. Miin, who is part of an organizing group called Amazonians United Chicagoland, and other workers in Chicago reached a settlement with Amazon in the spring over the 15-minute rule at a different delivery station where they had worked last year. Two corporate employees also settled privately with Amazon in an agreement that included a nationwide notification of worker rights, but the agency does not police it.
Mr. Goldstein said he was “impressed” that the N.L.R.B. had pressed Amazon to agree to terms that would let the agency bypass its administrative hearing process, which happens before a judge and in which parties prepare arguments and present evidence, if it found the company had broken the agreement’s terms.
“They can get a court order to make Amazon obey federal labor law,” he said.
In internal correspondence, company administrators warned of “inadequate service levels,” “deficient processes” and systems that are “prone to delay and error.”
The extent of the problem puts in stark relief how Amazon’s workers routinely took a back seat to customers during the company’s meteoric rise to retail dominance. Amazon built cutting-edge package processing facilities to cater to shoppers’ appetite for fast delivery, far outpacing competitors. But the business did not devote enough resources and attention to how it served employees, according to many longtime workers.
“A lot of times, because we’ve optimized for the customer experience, we’ve been focused on that,” Bethany Reyes, who was recently put in charge of fixing the leave system, said in an interview. She stressed that the company was working hard to rebalance those priorities.
The company’s treatment of its huge work force — now more than 1.3 million people and expanding rapidly — faces mounting scrutiny. Labor activists and some lawmakers say that the company does not adequately protect the safety of warehouse employees, and that it unfairly punishes internal critics. This year, workers in Alabama, upset about the company’s minute-by-minute monitoring of their productivity, organized a serious, though ultimately failed, unionization threat against the company.
In June, a Times investigation detailed how badly the leave process jammed during the pandemic, finding that it was one of many employment lapses during the company’s greatest moment of financial success. Since then, Amazon has emphasized a pledge to become “Earth’s best employer.” Andy Jassy, who replaced Mr. Bezos as chief executive in July, recently singled out the leave system as a place where it can demonstrate its commitment to improve. The process “didn’t work the way we wanted it to work,” he said at an event this month.
In response to the more recent findings on the troubles in its leave program, Amazon elaborated on its efforts to fix the system’s “pain points” and “pay issues,” as Ms. Reyes put it in the interview. She called the erroneous terminations “the most dire issue that you could have.” The company is hiring hundreds of employees, streamlining and connecting systems, clarifying its communications and training human resources staff members to be more empathetic.
But many issues persist, causing breakdowns that have proved devastating. This spring, a Tennessee warehouse worker abruptly stopped receiving disability payments, leaving his family struggling to pay for food, transportation or medical care.