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    Amazon’s Clashes With Labor: Days of Conflict and Control

    Amazon was built on an underdog philosophy, but its workers are finding a voice. That presents a problem for the company that goes far beyond the union vote in Alabama.It has been Day 1 at Amazon ever since the company began more than a quarter-century ago. Day 1 is Amazon shorthand for staying hungry, making bold decisions and never forgetting about the customer. This start-up mentality — underdogs against the world — has been extremely good for Amazon’s shoppers and shareholders.Day 1 holds less appeal for some of Amazon’s employees, especially those doing the physical work in the warehouses. A growing number feel the company is pushing them past their limits and risking their health. They would like Amazon to usher in a more benign Day 2.The clash between the desire for Day 1 and Day 2 has been unfolding in Alabama, where Amazon warehouse workers in the community of Bessemer have voted on whether to form a union. Government labor regulators are getting ready to sort through the votes in the closely watched election. A result may come as soon as this week. If the union gains a foothold, it will be the first in the company’s history.Attention has been focused on Bessemer, but the struggle between Day 1 and Day 2 is increasingly playing out everywhere in Amazon’s world. At its heart, the conflict is about control. To maintain Day 1, the company needs to lower labor costs and increase productivity, which requires measuring and tweaking every moment of a worker’s existence.That kind of control is at the heart of the Amazon enterprise. The idea of surrendering it is the company’s greatest horror. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, wrote in his 2016 shareholder letter: “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”For many years, Amazon has managed to maintain control and keep Day 1 going by dazzling with delivery and counted on the media, regulators and politicians to ignore everything unpleasant. The few stories about workers rarely got traction.But it is now the second-largest private employer in the country. There is widespread pro-worker sentiment in the United States and a pro-union president. In Bessemer, many of the pro-union workers are Black, which makes this a civil rights story as well.Amazon needs to measure and tweak every moment of a worker’s existence to maintain its edge, but it is facing more pushback against its control.Bob Miller for The New York TimesSo the costs associated with Day 1 are finally coming into view. And it is showing up not only in Alabama, but in the form of lawsuits, restive workers at other warehouses, Congressional oversight, scrutiny from labor regulators and, most noisily, on Twitter.In recent weeks, a heated discussion about whether Amazon’s workers must urinate in bottles because they have no time to go to the bathroom — a level of control that few modern corporations would dare exercise — has raged on Twitter.“Amazon is reorganizing the very nature of retail work — something that traditionally is physically undemanding and has a large amount of downtime — into something more akin to a factory, which never lets up,” said Spencer Cox, a former Amazon worker who is writing his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Minnesota about how the company is transforming labor. “For Amazon, this isn’t about money. This is about control of workers’ bodies and every possible moment of their time.”Amazon did not have a comment for this story.Signs that Amazon is facing more pushback against its control have started to pile up. In February, Lovenia Scott, a former warehouse worker for the company in Vacaville, Calif., accused Amazon in a lawsuit of having such an “immense volume of work to be completed” that she and her colleagues did not get any breaks. Ms. Scott is seeking class-action status. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on the suit.Last month, the California Labor Commissioner said 718 delivery drivers who worked for Green Messengers, a Southern California contractor for Amazon, were owed $5 million in wages that never made it to their wallets. The drivers were paid for 10-hour days, the labor commissioner said, but the volume of packages was so great that they often had to work 11 or more hours and through breaks.Amazon said it no longer worked with Green Messengers and would appeal the decision. Green Messengers could not be reached for comment.An Amazon warehouse in the Canadian province of Ontario showed rapid spread of Covid-19 in March. “Our investigation determined a closure was required to break the chain of transmission,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh, the regional medical officer. “We provided our recommendation to Amazon.” The company, he said, “did not answer.” The health officials ordered the workers to self-isolate, effectively shutting the facility for two weeks. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on the situation.And five U.S. senators wrote a letter to the company last month demanding more information about why it was equipping its delivery vans with surveillance cameras that constantly monitor the driver. The technology, the senators wrote, “raises important privacy and worker oversight questions Amazon must answer.”Amazon has presented a different opinion of what Day 1 means for workers. The first thing it mentions in its official statement on Bessemer is the starting pay of $15.30 per hour, double the federal minimum wage.Mr. Cox, who worked in an Amazon warehouse in Washington state, said the higher pay has paradoxically fueled the discontent. The pay “is better than working at a gas station, so people naturally want to keep these jobs,” he said. “That’s why they want them to be fair. I saw a lot of depression and anxiety when I worked for Amazon.”(Mr. Cox said he was fired by Amazon in 2018 for organizing. Amazon told him he had violated safety protocol).The confrontation between Day 1 and Day 2 has been sharpest over bladders.The topic erupted last month when Representative Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin, tweeted at the company, “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles.”Amazon’s social media account fired back: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”This isn’t the way corporations usually talk to members of Congress, even on Twitter. On Friday, after days of being pummeled on the issue, Amazon apologized to Representative Pocan, saying: “The tweet was incorrect. It did not contemplate our large driver population and instead wrongly focused only on our fulfillment centers.” Amazon blamed Covid and “traffic,” not its punishing schedules.Representative Pocan responded on Saturday with a sigh. “This is not about me, this is about your workers — who you don’t treat with enough respect or dignity,” he wrote.The bathroom question is one on which the company has long been vulnerable. Enforcement files from regulators in Amazon’s home state of Washington indicate that questions about whether the company had an appropriate number of bathrooms in its Seattle headquarters have arisen over the past dozen years.The company has “insufficient lavatory facilities for male employees” according to a 2012 complaint received by the state’s Department of Labor and Industries. “Employees routinely traverse multiple buildings in search of available facilities.”A 2014 complaint filed by an Amazon employee to the same department said employees got 12 minutes a day for “bathroom, getting water, personal calls, etc.” outside of normally scheduled breaks. Those who needed further toilet time had to provide a doctor’s note “explaining why the need to void more than usual.”The complaints went beyond Amazon’s white-collar offices. A warehouse worker told Labor and Industries in 2009 that a manager and a human resources representative had told her that “there would be disciplinary action against me if I continue to use the bathroom on company time” — she meant unscheduled breaks. The employee added that the H.R. representative told her that “it was not fair to the company that I was getting paid when I’m not working because I’m in the bathroom.”Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle. Some employees have filed bathroom-related complaints, including saying some of the offices have too few restrooms.Miles Fortune for The New York TimesAmazon did not respond to questions about the enforcement reports. A spokesman for the Department of Labor and Industries declined to comment, except to note that outside of Amazon, “We really don’t get a lot of bathroom-related complaints.”Other technology companies have prided themselves on overriding mere bodily needs. Marissa Mayer, an early Google employee, attributed the search company’s success to working 130 hours a week — entirely possible, she said in a 2016 interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, “if you’re strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom.”When Google was a start-up, the notion was that you gave up everything — family, sleep, diversion — so you might become successful and rich. But former workers at Amazon warehouses said that under the Day 1 philosophy, they suffered merely to stay employed.“I believe many employees have indirectly lost their job for going to the bathroom. You’re like, can I hold it to break time?” said John Burgett, who blogged for several years about working in an Amazon warehouse in Indiana.His conclusion on his last entry, in 2016: Amazon was “testing the limits of human beings as a technical tool.” More

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    Google Aims to Be the Anti-Amazon of E-Commerce. It Has a Long Way to Go.

    Google presents itself to independent sellers as cheaper and less restrictive. But it is not clear whether it can change people’s habits of going straight to Amazon.OAKLAND, Calif. — Google tried to copy Amazon’s playbook to become the shopping hub of the internet, with little success. Now it is trying something different: the anti-Amazon strategy.Google is trying to present itself as a cheaper and less restrictive option for independent sellers. And it is focused on driving traffic to sellers’ sites, not selling its own version of products, as Amazon does.In the last year, Google eliminated fees for merchants and allowed sellers to list their wares in its search results for free. It is also trying to make it easier for small, independent shops to upload their inventory of products to appear in search results and buy ads on Google by teaming up with Shopify, which powers online stores for 1.7 million merchants who sell directly to consumers.But like Google’s many attempts during its two-decade quest to compete with Amazon, this one shows little sign of working. Google has nothing as alluring as the $295 billion that passed through Amazon’s third-party marketplace in 2020. The amount of goods people buy on Google is “very small” by comparison — probably around $1 billion, said Juozas Kaziukenas, the founder of Marketplace Pulse, a research company.Amazon is a fixture in the lives of many Americans. It has usurped Google as the starting point for shoppers and has become equally essential for marketers. Amazon’s global advertising business grew 30 percent to $17.6 billion in 2020, trailing only Google and Facebook in the United States.But as the pandemic has forced many stores to go online, it has created a new opening for Google to woo sellers who feel uneasy about building their businesses on Amazon.Christina Stang, 33, opened Fritzy’s Roller Skate Shop near Pacific Beach in San Diego last March. Shelter-in-place orders forced her to set up an online storefront on Shopify.She got lucky. She was sitting on a huge supply of skates when demand surged as skating videos became popular on TikTok during the pandemic.Christina Stang, the owner of Fritzy’s, avoided selling on Amazon because of its fees, but now Google has suspended her account because of a discrepancy in shipping costs.John Francis Peters for The New York TimesShe linked her Shopify account to Google’s retail software and started buying so-called smart shopping ads. Working within an allotted budget, Google’s algorithms pick where to place ads and what products to feature. In 2020, she spent $1,800 on the ads, which were viewed 3.6 million times and led to $247,000 in sales, she said.She considered selling her products on Amazon’s marketplace, but she worried what Amazon’s fees would mean for her already-thin profit margins. She also liked that Google redirected people to her carefully curated website rather than keeping them inside its own store, as Amazon does.“I could sell on Amazon and not make any real money but have a bigger online presence,” Ms. Stang said. “It didn’t seem like a great idea.”Recently, however, she has experienced one of the drawbacks of being stuck in the middle of the partnership between Google and Shopify. Her shop has been unable to list any products since January because Google suspended her account. It said her shipping costs appeared more expensive on Google than on her Shopify-powered website, even though they were no different.Shopify told her that it was a Google issue. Google’s customer service representatives recommended that she hire a web designer. She continues to manage without Google, but it has tainted her largely positive experience.“This has completely cut me off at the knees,” she said. “I’m a small business, and I don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to resolve this.”Sellers often complain about Amazon’s fees, which can account for a quarter of every sale, not including the cost of advertising, and the pressure to spend more to succeed. Merchants on Amazon do not have a direct relationship with their customers, limiting their ability to communicate with them and to generate future business. And because everything is contained within the Amazon world, it is harder to create a unique look and feel that express a brand’s identity the way companies can on their own websites.But since 2002, when it started a price comparison site called Froogle, a confusing play on the word “frugal” that required a rebranding five years later, Google has struggled to chart a cohesive vision for its shopping experience.It tried to challenge Amazon directly by piloting its own same-day delivery service, but it shuttered the project as costs ballooned. It tried to forge partnerships with traditional retail giants, only to see the alliances wilt from a lack of sales. It built its own marketplace to make it easier for shoppers to buy the things they find on Google, but was not able to break consumers from their Amazon habit.Last year, Google brought in Bill Ready, a former chief operating officer at PayPal, to fill a new senior position and spearhead an overhaul of its shopping strategy.Around the time of his hiring, Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, warned senior executives that the new approach could mean a short-term crimp in advertising revenue, according to two people familiar with the conversations, who requested anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss them publicly. He asked teams to support the e-commerce push because it was a company priority.When the pandemic spurred huge demand for online shopping, Google eliminated fees, allowing retailers to list products for free and walking back a 2012 decision to allow only advertisers to display goods on its shopping site.Three months after hiring Mr. Ready, Google said the free listings would show up on its main search results. Then Google said customers could buy products directly from merchants on Google with no commissions. It also said Google would open its platform to third parties like Shopify and PayPal so that sellers could continue to use their existing tools to manage inventory and orders and processing payments.Google brought in Bill Ready to spearhead an overhaul of its shopping strategy.Kendrick Brinson for The New York TimesThe partnership with Shopify was especially meaningful because hundreds of thousands of small businesses have flocked to the software platform during the pandemic. About 9 percent of U.S. online shopping sales took place on storefronts powered by Shopify as of October, according to research firm eMarketer. That was up from 6 percent the prior year and second only to Amazon’s share of 37 percent.Harley Finkelstein, Shopify’s president, said Google and Shopify were developing new ways for merchants to sell through Google services, such as experiments to allow customers to buy items directly on YouTube and to display what products stores are carrying in Google Maps.Mr. Ready walked a fine line when it came to Amazon, which is a big buyer of ads on Google, but he made it clear he believed Amazon’s dominance in e-commerce posed a threat to other merchants.“Nobody wants to live in a world where there is only one place to buy something, and retailers don’t want to be dependent on gatekeepers,” he said in an interview.Google said it had increased the number of sellers appearing in its results by 80 percent in 2020, with the most significant growth coming from small and midsize businesses. And existing retailers are listing more products.Overstock.com, a seller of discount furniture and home bedding, said it had paid to list products on Google in the past. But now that listings are free, Overstock is adding low-margin products, too.“When all shopping starts and stops at Amazon, that’s bad for the industry,” said Jonathan E. Johnson, Overstock’s chief executive. “It’s nice to have another 800-pound tech gorilla in this space.”What remains unclear is whether increasing the number of merchants and listings on Google will ultimately change online shopping habits.BACtrack, a maker of breathalyzers, has more than doubled its advertising spending on Amazon in the last two years because that is where the customers are, it said, while it has spent 6 percent less advertising its products on Google.“It seems like more and more people are skipping Google and going straight to Amazon,” said Keith Nothacker, the chief executive of BACtrack. More

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    How Amazon Crushes Unions

    Amazon’s warehouse in Chester, Va., where a union effort tried to organize about 30 facilities technicians in 2014 and 2015.Credit…Carlos Bernate for The New York TimesHow Amazon Crushes UnionsIn a secret settlement in Virginia, Amazon swore off threatening and intimidating workers. As the company confronts increased labor unrest, its tactics are under scrutiny.Amazon’s warehouse in Chester, Va., where a union effort tried to organize about 30 facilities technicians in 2014 and 2015.Credit…Carlos Bernate for The New York TimesSupported byContinue reading the main storyMarch 16, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ETRICHMOND, Va. — Five years ago, Amazon was compelled to post a “notice to employees” on the break-room walls of a warehouse in east-central Virginia.The notice was printed simply, in just two colors, and crammed with words. But for any worker who bothered to look closely, it was a remarkable declaration. Amazon listed 22 forms of behavior it said it would disavow, each beginning in capital letters: “WE WILL NOT.”“We will not threaten you with the loss of your job” if you are a union supporter, Amazon wrote, according to a photo of the notice reviewed by The New York Times. “We will not interrogate you” about the union or “engage in surveillance of you” while you participate in union activities. “We will not threaten you with unspecified reprisals” because you are a union supporter. We will not threaten to “get” union supporters.Amazon posted the list after the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers accused it of doing those very things during a two-year-long push to unionize 30 facilities technicians at the warehouse in Chester, just south of Richmond. While Amazon did not admit to violations of labor laws, the company promised in a settlement with federal regulators to tell workers that it would rigorously obey the rules in the future.The employee notice and failed union effort, which have not previously been reported, are suddenly relevant as Amazon confronts increasing labor unrest in the United States. Over two decades, as the internet retailer mushroomed from a virtual bookstore into a $1.5 trillion behemoth, it forcefully — and successfully — resisted employee efforts to organize. Some workers in recent years agitated for change in Staten Island, Chicago, Sacramento and Minnesota, but the impact was negligible.Bill Hough Jr., a machinist at the Chester warehouse who led the union drive. Amazon fired him in 2016.Credit…Carlos Bernate for The New York TimesIn an employee notice, Amazon listed behavior it said it would disavow.The arrival of the coronavirus last year changed that. It turned Amazon into an essential resource for millions stuck at home and redefined the company’s relationship with its warehouse workers. Like many service industry employees, they were vulnerable to the virus. As society locked down, they were also less able to simply move on if they had issues with the job.Now Amazon faces a union vote at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. — the largest and most viable U.S. labor challenge in its history. Nearly 6,000 workers have until March 29 to decide whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. A labor victory could energize workers in other U.S. communities, where Amazon has more than 800 warehouses employing more than 500,000 people.“This is happening in the toughest state, with the toughest company, at the toughest moment,” said Janice Fine, a professor of labor studies at Rutgers University. “If the union can prevail given those three facts, it will send a message that Amazon is organizable everywhere.”Even if the union does not prevail, “the history of unions is always about failing forward,” she said. “Workers trying, workers losing, workers trying again.”The effort in Chester, which The Times reconstructed with documents from regulators and the machinists’ union, as well as interviews with former facilities technicians at the warehouse and union officials, offers one of the fullest pictures of what encourages Amazon workers to open the door to a union — and what techniques the company uses to slam the door and nail it shut.The employee notice was a hollow victory for workers. The National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that negotiated the settlement with Amazon, has no power to impose monetary penalties. Its enforcement remedies are few and weak, which means its ability to restrain anti-union employers from breaking the law is limited. The settlement was not publicized, so there were not even any public relations benefits.Amazon was the real winner. There have been no further attempts at a union in Chester.The tactics that Amazon used in Chester are surfacing elsewhere. The retail workers union said Amazon was trying to surveil employees in Bessemer and even changed a traffic signal to prevent organizers from approaching warehouse workers as they left the site. Last month, the New York attorney general said in a lawsuit that Amazon had retaliated against employees who tried to protest its pandemic safety measures as inadequate.Amazon declined to say whether it had complied with labor laws during the union drive in Chester in 2014 and 2015. In a statement, it said it was “compliant with the National Labor Relations Act in 2016” when it issued the employee notice, and “we continue to be compliant today.” It added in a different statement that it didn’t believe the union push in Alabama “represents the majority of our employees’ views.”The labor board declined to comment.The Chester settlement notice mentions one worker by name: Bill Hough Jr., a machinist who led the union drive. The notice said Amazon had issued a warning to Mr. Hough that he was on the verge of being fired. Amazon said it would rescind the warning.Six months later, in August 2016, Amazon fired him anyway.Mr. Hough (pronounced Huff) was in a hospital having knee surgery when Amazon called and said he had used up his medical leave. Since he couldn’t do his job, he said he was told, this was the end of the line.“There was no mercy, even after what they had done to me,” Mr. Hough, now 56, said. “That’s Amazon. If you can’t give 110 percent, you’re done.”Amazon declined to comment on Mr. Hough.No ConstraintsA truck at the warehouse in Chester. Amazon has been fending off attempts to unionize since at least 1999. Credit…Carlos Bernate for The New York TimesAmazon was founded on notions of speed, efficiency and hard work — lots of hard work. Placing his first help wanted ad in 1994, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, said he wanted engineers who could do their job “in about one-third the time that most competent people think possible.”Amazon managers openly warned recruits that if they liked things comfortable, this would be a difficult, perhaps impossible, job. For customer service representatives, it was difficult to keep up, according to media accounts and labor organizers. Overtime was mandatory. Supervisors sent emails with subject headings like “YOU CAN SLEEP WHEN YOU’RE DEAD.”In 1999, the reps, who numbered about 400, were targeted by a grass-roots group affiliated with the Communications Workers of America. Amazon mounted an all-out defense.If workers became anything less than docile, managers were told, it was a sign there could be union activity. Tipoffs included “hushed conversations” and “small group huddles breaking up in silence on the approach of the supervisor,” as well as increased complaints, growing aggressiveness and dawdling in the bathroom.Amazon was in sync with the larger culture. Unions were considered relics of the industrial past. Disruption was a virtue.“Twenty years ago, if you asked whether the government or workers should be able to put any constraints on companies, the answer always was ‘No constraints,’” said Marcus Courtney, a labor organizer on the 1999 Amazon campaign. “If companies wanted to push people 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, hats off to them.”When the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, Amazon lost some of its glow. For a time, its very existence was in question.This caused problems for the activists as well. The company reorganized and closed the customer service center, though Amazon said there was no connection with the union drive. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Prewitt Organizing Fund, an independent group, made no inroads organizing Amazon’s 5,000 warehouse workers.A decade later, in 2011, came a low point in Amazon’s labor history. The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pa., revealed that Amazon was hiring paramedics and ambulances during summer heat waves at a local warehouse. Workers who collapsed were removed with stretchers and wheelchairs and taken to hospitals.Amazon installed air conditioning but otherwise was undaunted. After the Great Recession in 2008, there was no lack of demand for its jobs — and no united protest about working conditions. In Europe, where unions are stronger, there were sporadic strikes. In the United States, isolated warehouse walkouts drew no more than a handful of workers.The MachinistMr. Hough said he had felt pressured to cut corners to keep conveyor belts running.Credit…Ruth Fremson for The New York TimesMr. Hough worked as an industrial machinist at a Reynolds aluminum mill in Richmond for 24 years. He once saw a worker lose four fingers when a steel roller fell unexpectedly. Incidents like that made a deep impression on him: Never approach equipment casually.Reynolds closed the plant in the Great Recession, when Mr. Hough was in his mid-40s. Being in the machinists guild cushioned the blow, but he needed another job. After a long spell of unemployment, he joined Amazon in 2013.The Chester warehouse, the size of several aircraft carriers, had opened a year earlier, part of Amazon’s multibillion-dollar push to put fulfillment centers everywhere. Mr. Hough worked on the conveyor belts bringing in the goods.At first, he received generally good marks. “He has a great attitude and does not participate in negative comments or situations,” Amazon said in a March 2014 performance review. “He gets along with all the other technicians.”But Mr. Hough said he had felt pressured to cut corners to keep the belts running. Amazon prided itself on getting purchases to customers quickly, and when conveyor belts were down that mission was in jeopardy. He once protested restarting a belt while he was still working on it.“Quit your bitching,” Mr. Hough said his manager, Bryon Frye, had told him, twice.“That sent me down the wrong road,” Mr. Hough said.Bryon Frye’s tweet about Amazon union campaigns.Credit…TwitterMr. Frye, who declined to comment, no longer works for Amazon. On Twitter last month, he responded to a news story that said Amazon was hiring former F.B.I. agents to deal with worker activism, counterfeiting and antitrust issues.“This doesn’t shock me,” he wrote. “They do some wild things.”The Union DriveMembers of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union distributed literature outside the Alabama warehouse where Amazon workers are voting on whether to join the union.Credit…Bob Miller for The New York TimesIn 2014, Mr. Hough and five other technicians approached the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. A unionization effort was already taking place with the technicians at an Amazon warehouse in Middletown, Del. If either succeeded, it would be the first for Amazon.The elections for a union would be conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. The first step was to measure interest. At least 18 of the 30 technicians in Chester returned cards indicating their willingness to be represented by the union.“It was not too difficult to sign people up,” said Russell Wade, a union organizer there. “But once the word leaked out to Amazon, they put the afterburners on, as employers do. Then the workers started losing interest. Amazon spent oodles of money to scare the hell out of employees.”The board scheduled an election for March 4, 2015. A simple majority of votes cast would establish union representation.Amazon brought in an Employee Resource Center team — basically, its human resources department — to reverse any momentum. A former technician at the warehouse, who declined to be named for fear of retaliation, said the reps on the team followed workers around, pretending to be friendly but only seeking to know their position on the union drive.If safety was the biggest issue for the technicians, there were also concerns over pay equity — machinists said they were paid different amounts for doing the same job — and about their lack of control over their fate. Part of Mr. Hough’s pitch was that a union would make management less arbitrary.“One guy, all I remember is his name was Bob,” he said. “They paged Bob to the control room, and the next thing I saw was Bob coming down the steps. He had taken off his work vest. I said, ‘Bob, where are you going?’ He said, ‘They terminated me.’ I didn’t ask why. That’s the way it was.”Several technicians said they recalled being told at a meeting, “You vote for a union, every one of you will be looking for a job tomorrow.” At another, the most outspoken union supporters were described as “a cancer and a disease to Amazon and the facility,” according to Mr. Hough and a union memo. (In a filing to the labor board, Amazon said it had investigated the incident and “concluded that it could not be substantiated.”)Mr. Hough, a cancer survivor, said the reference had offended him. He declined to attend another meeting run by that manager. He said he had known in any case what she was going to say: that the union was canceling the election because it thought it would lose. Amazon had triumphed.On March 30, 2015, Mr. Hough received a written warning from Mr. Frye, his manager.“Your behavior has been called out by peers/leaders as having a negative impact,” it said. Included under “insubordination” was a refusal to attend the Amazon victory announcement. Another incident, Amazon said, could result in termination.The machinists union filed a complaint with the labor board in July 2015 alleging unfair labor practices by Amazon, including surveilling, threatening and “informing employees that it would be futile to vote for union representation.” Mr. Hough spent eight hours that summer giving his testimony. While labor activists and unions generally consider the board to be heavily tilted in favor of employers, union officials said a formal protest would at least show Chester technicians that someone was fighting for them.In early 2016, Amazon settled with the board. The main thrust of the two-page settlement was that Amazon would post an employee notice promising good behavior while admitting nothing.Wilma Liebman, a member of the labor board from 1997 to 2011, examined the employee notice at the request of The Times. “What is unusual to my eye is how extensive Amazon’s pledges were, and how specific,” she said. “While the company did not have to admit guilt, this list offers a picture of what likely was going on.”Amazon was required to post the notice “in all places where notices to employees are customarily posted” in Chester for 60 days, the labor board said.From the machinists union’s point of view, it wasn’t much of a punishment.“This posting was basically a slap on the wrist for the violations that Amazon committed, which included lies, coercion, threats and intimidation,” said Vinny Addeo, the union’s director of organizing.Another reason for filing an unfair labor practices claim was that the union hoped to restart its efforts with a potentially chastened company. But most of the employees who supported the Chester drive quit.“They were intimidated,” Mr. Wade, the union organizer, said.Mr. Hough was beset by ill health during his years at Amazon. Radiation treatment for his cancer prompted several strokes. His wife, Susan, had health problems, too. Mr. Hough said he wondered how much the unionization struggle contributed to their problems. He added that he didn’t know whom to trust.After leaving Amazon, Mr. Hough began driving trucks, at first long haul and later a dump truck. It paid less, but he said he was at peace.Maximum Green TimesNearly 6,000 workers in Bessemer have until March 29 to decide whether to join the union.Credit…Wes Frazer for The New York TimesWhen Amazon vanquished the 2014 union drive in Delaware, the retailer said it was a victory for “open lines of direct communication between managers and associates.”One place Amazon developed that direct communication was in its warehouse bathrooms under what it called its “inSTALLments” program. The inSTALLments were informational sheets that offered, for instance, factoids about Mr. Bezos, the timing of meetings and random warnings, such as this one about unpaid time off: “If you go negative, your employment status will be reviewed for termination.”Amazon’s “inSTALLments” program used postings in warehouse bathrooms to communicate with workers.Credit…The New York TimesAs the union drive heated up in Bessemer, the direct communication naturally was about that. “Where will your dues go?” Amazon asked in one stall posting, which circulated on social media. Another proclaimed: “Unions can’t. We can.”Amazon also set up a website to tell workers that they would have to skip dinner and school supplies to pay their union dues.In December, a pro-union group discovered, Amazon asked county officials to increase “maximum green times” on the warehouse stoplight to clear the parking lot faster. This made it difficult for union canvassers to approach potential voters as they left work. Amazon declined to comment.Last month, President Biden weighed in.“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” he said in a video that never mentioned Amazon but referred to “workers in Alabama” deciding whether to organize a union. “You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice.”Owning 25 HatsMr. Hough, in an interview before the pandemic, said part of him wanted to forget what had happened at Amazon. Why dwell on defeat? He threw away all the papers from the union drive. He never saw the employee notice because he was recovering from a stroke.But he has not forgiven the retailer.“You’re only going to step on me one time,” he said, sitting in his home in the outskirts of Richmond.Amazon’s customers just don’t know how miserable a job there can be, he suggested.“I guarantee you, if their child had to work there, they’d think twice before purchasing things,” he said.Ms. Hough, sitting next to him, had a bleaker view.“The customers don’t care about unions. They don’t care about the workers. They just want their packages,” she said.As if on cue, their son, Brody, came in. He was 20, an appliance technician. His mother told him there was a package for him on his bed. It was from Amazon, a fishing hat. It cost $25, Brody said, half the price on the manufacturer’s website.“I order from Amazon anything I can find that is cheaper,” Brody said. That adds up to a lot of hats, about 25. “I’ve never worked for Amazon. I can’t hate them,” he said.Ms. Hough looked at her husband. “If your own son doesn’t care,” she asked, not unkindly, “how are you going to get the American public to care?”The pandemic helped change that, bringing safety issues at Amazon to the forefront. In a Feb. 16 suit against Amazon, the New York attorney general, Letitia James, said the company continued last year to track and discipline employees based on their productivity rates. That meant workers had limited time to protect themselves from the virus. The suit said Amazon retaliated against those who complained, sending a “chilling message” to all its workers. Amazon has denied the allegations.Last week, regional Canadian authorities also ordered thousands of workers at an Amazon warehouse near Toronto to quarantine themselves, effectively closing the facility. Some 240 workers recently tested positive for the virus there, a government spokeswoman said, even as the rate of infection in the area fell. Amazon said it was appealing the decision.Alabama is now the big test. Mr. Hough worries the union supporters will be crushed.“They will fall to threats or think, ‘I won’t have a job, Amazon will replace me,’” he said by phone this month. “When a company can do things to you in secret, it’s real hard to withstand.”Still, he added, “I’m hoping for the best. More power to them.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Robinhood's C.E.O., Vlad Tenev, Is in the Hot Seat

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }GameStop vs. Wall StreetCharting the Wild Stock SwingsWhat’s GameStop Really Worth?Your TaxesReader’s GuideAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyRobinhood’s C.E.O. Is in the Hot SeatVlad Tenev has incited the fury of the trading app’s fans amid a stock market frenzy. His lack of preparedness on nuts-and-bolts issues was part of a pattern, former employees and analysts said.Vlad Tenev, co-founder of Robinhood, at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters in 2015.Credit…Winni Wintermeyer/ReduxNathaniel Popper, Kellen Browning and Feb. 2, 2021Updated 3:06 p.m. ETSAN FRANCISCO — Vlad Tenev, the chief executive of the online brokerage Robinhood, has had practice doing damage control.Last March, he told customers that “we owe it to you to do better” after Robinhood’s app suffered lengthy outages, leaving many people unable to trade.In June, he wrote in a blog post that he was “personally devastated” and wanted to improve the “customer experience” after a 20-year-old who had a negative $730,000 balance on the app killed himself.And in December, when federal regulators fined his company $65 million for misleading users about how it made money, he said the accusations “don’t reflect Robinhood today.”Mr. Tenev, 33, is now in the hot seat again after Robinhood abruptly curtailed its customers’ trading last week amid a frenzy in stocks such as GameStop, which were driven sky high by an army of online investors. The limits infuriated Robinhood’s users, who were locked out of the action, and the seven-year-old start-up was blasted by lawmakers and others, accused of acting unfairly toward ordinary investors.For days, Robinhood was slow to fully explain why it had curbed people from trading the stocks. Only later did Mr. Tenev disclose that Robinhood had put in restrictions because it did not have enough of a cash cushion to hedge against the risky trades. To increase that cushion and avoid further problems, Robinhood raised an emergency $1 billion last week, followed by an additional $2.4 billion this week.On Sunday, Mr. Tenev told Elon Musk in an impromptu interview on the online conversation app Clubhouse that he knew that Robinhood’s trading curbs were “a bad outcome for customers.” He said the entire experience had been challenging, “but we had no choice in this case.”It was no surprise that Robinhood got caught unawares over the past week, current and former Robinhood employees and analysts said. While Mr. Tenev has helped revolutionize online trading for a younger generation with an app that makes investing easy and fun, his start-up has repeatedly been ill prepared to deal with issues as commonplace as technology glitches and trading hiccups, they said.Many start-ups go through growing pains. But “there’s a consistent pattern which makes one question whether he knows what is going on inside his company,” Vijay Raghavan, an analyst at Forrester Research who covers Robinhood and other brokers, said of Mr. Tenev. Lawmakers and some of Robinhood’s users have been even harsher on the chief executive. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, and Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, have slammed Robinhood for freezing users’ ability to buy GameStop stock. Mr. Tenev has agreed to testify about the issue in Congress on Feb. 18.Even some of Robinhood’s biggest promoters have turned against Mr. Tenev. Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports and a high-profile Robinhood supporter, wrote over a picture of Mr. Tenev on Twitter last week: “Fraud, liar, Scumbag.”Robinhood, a privately held company in Menlo Park, Calif., declined to make Mr. Tenev available for an interview. But Jason Warnick, the chief financial officer, said Mr. Tenev had widespread support internally.“When I watched Vlad, there is absolutely no one else I would want to be with,” Mr. Warnick said about the events of the last week. “He mobilized us in an incredibly effective way.”Venture capitalists who have backed Robinhood, which is valued at nearly $12 billion and is likely to go public this year, also said they had confidence in Mr. Tenev. Rahul Mehta, a partner at the venture firm DST Global, said the speed with which Mr. Tenev had raised the emergency $3.4 billion over the past few days “shows you the support around the table and the belief people have, in particular, for Vlad.”Mr. Tenev, who moved to the United States from Bulgaria when he was 5 and grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, founded Robinhood with Baiju Bhatt in 2013. The two met while studying math at Stanford University.After graduating from Stanford in 2008, Mr. Tenev attended the University of California, Los Angeles, to pursue a Ph.D. in math but dropped out to work with Mr. Bhatt. The pair initially had two other business ventures, including a Wall Street trading firm.But those were short-lived. Instead, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 — which took aim at the power of the big banks — they began talking about how to “democratize finance” for everyone by ending the fees that most brokerages charged to trade stocks. They named Robinhood after the English outlaw of legend who stole from the rich and gave to the poor.In particular, Mr. Tenev and Mr. Bhatt wanted an app that a younger generation could easily use. “People in my age group, the millennials, weren’t getting into the markets and were openly distrustful of the institutions that were providing financial services,” Mr. Tenev said on CNBC in 2015.Mr. Tenev with his Robinhood co-founder, Baiju Bhatt.Credit…Aaron Wojack for The New York TimesMr. Tenev and Mr. Bhatt, who were co-chief executives, made Robinhood simple. Users were able to begin trading stocks with nothing more than an iPhone app and with no fees. The app also made trading feel like a game. New customers were given a free share of stock after scratching off what looked like a digital version of a lottery ticket.The men sought out celebrity investors like the actor Jared Leto and the rapper Snoop Dogg. The co-C.E.O.s often showed up at the office with matching Tesla sport utility vehicles, one black and one white, two former employees said.Inside Robinhood, Mr. Tenev was known as the cerebral coder in charge of operations, said six current and former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He was known for sitting down at lunch with employees to talk about books or his latest theories from science fiction. Mr. Bhatt was more fun-loving and handled design, they said.Both were active on social media, with Mr. Tenev tweeting emoji-filled, jokey replies to Mr. Musk. Mr. Bhatt broadcast pictures of themselves from floor seats at Golden State Warriors basketball games.As Robinhood grew quickly, though, so did the blunders. In 2018, the company announced that it would begin offering bank accounts. But it had not secured approval from financial regulators, which is standard practice, earning the start-up a swift rebuke.That same week, Robinhood released software that erroneously reversed the direction of customer trades, which meant that a bet on a stock going up was turned into a bet that it would go down. Mr. Tenev oversaw technology.Technological issues continued piling up. In 2019, customers discovered that Robinhood’s software accidentally allowed them to borrow almost infinite amounts of money to multiply their stock bets. Last March, as the pandemic hit the United States and the stock market gyrated wildly, Robinhood’s app seized up for almost two days, leading some customers to lose more than $1 million.That was when Mr. Tenev said in a blog post that “we owe it to you to do better.” By then, Robinhood had more than 13 million customers.Mr. Warnick and other employees said Mr. Tenev had a knack for staying calm during difficult situations. “He doesn’t get emotional,” Mr. Warnick said.But five current and former Robinhood employees said Mr. Tenev moved quickly to new projects without fixing the previous problems. After the March outages, they said, Mr. Tenev told the company that it would significantly ramp up its infrastructure and customer support. Yet almost a year later, the start-up does not offer a customer service phone number, unlike its competitors.Robinhood did not respond to a request for comment on the customer service issues.Last year, Mr. Bhatt stepped down as co-chief executive after returning from paternity leave, leaving Mr. Tenev in charge. Mr. Bhatt remains an executive and is on the company’s board of directors.Robinhood’s technical outages have continued. Last month, the site went down 19 times, more than twice as often as Charles Schwab or Fidelity, according to data from the web tracking company DownDetector. Mr. Tenev has recently kept a low profile. Last year, he said in a podcast interview that he keeps his phone out of his bedroom at night to avoid being tempted to check social media.But over the last week, as the mania over GameStop stock grew and Robinhood was forced to react, Mr. Tenev had little choice but to step out more. He has appeared on television at least eight times from the sparsely decorated living room of the home where he lives with his wife and children.In most of the appearances, Mr. Tenev used technical language and shifted quickly to talk about Robinhood’s moving forward to another stage of expansion.“This is just a standard part of practices in the brokerage industry,” he told Yahoo Finance last Friday, referring to the decision to temporarily halt some purchases. “We’re very confident about our future.”Kitty Bennett contributed research.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Robinhood, in Need of Cash, Raises $1 Billion From Its Investors

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }GameStop vs. Wall StreetBeating Wall Street4 Things to KnowUnderstanding Stock OptionsA Long Time ComingAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyRobinhood, in Need of Cash, Raises $1 Billion From Its InvestorsThe no-fee trading app, which is popular with young investors, has been strained by the high volume of trading this week in stocks such as GameStop.Increased trading has forced Robinhood to seek additional funding.Credit…Amy Lombard for The New York TimesøKate Kelly, Erin Griffith, Andrew Ross Sorkin and Jan. 29, 2021Updated 6:07 a.m. ETFacing an onslaught of demands on its cash amid a stock market frenzy, Robinhood, the online trading app, said on Thursday that it was raising an infusion of more than $1 billion from its existing investors.Robinhood, one of the largest online brokerages, has grappled with an extraordinarily high volume of trading this week as individual investors have piled into stocks like GameStop. That activity has put a strain on Robinhood, which has to pay customers who are owed money from trades while posting additional cash to its clearing facility to insulate its trading partners from potential losses.On Thursday, Robinhood was forced to stop customers from buying a number of stocks like GameStop that were heavily traded this week. To continue operating, it drew on a line of credit from six banks amounting to between $500 million and $600 million to meet higher margin, or lending, requirements from its central clearing facility for stock trades, known as the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation.Robinhood still needed more cash quickly to ensure that it didn’t have to place further limits on customer trading, said two people briefed on the situation who insisted on remaining anonymous because the negotiations were confidential.Robinhood, which is privately held, contacted several of its investors, including the venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and Ribbit Capital, who came together on Thursday night to offer the emergency funding, five people involved in the negotiations said.“This is a strong sign of confidence from investors that will help us continue to further serve our customers,” Josh Drobnyk, a Robinhood spokesman, said in an email. Sequoia and Ribbit declined to comment.Investors who provide new financing to Robinhood will receive additional equity in the company. The investors will get that equity at a discounted valuation tied to the price of Robinhood shares when the company goes public, said two of the people. Robinhood plans to hold an initial public offering later this year, two people briefed on the plans said.Robinhood’s emergency fund-raising is the latest sign of how trading in the stock market has been upended this week.An online army of investors, who have been on a mission to challenge the dominance of Wall Street, rapidly bid up the price of stocks like GameStop, entrapping the big-money hedge funds that had bet against the stocks. Some of these individual investors have reaped huge profits, while at least one major hedge fund had to be bailed out after facing huge losses.Robinhood, which is based in Silicon Valley, has been key to empowering the online investors. Adoption of the app has soared in the pandemic as the stock market surged and people took up day trading in the void of other pastimes. The company has drawn in millions of young investors who have never traded before by offering no-fee trading and an app that critics have said makes buying stocks feel like an online game.Without fees, Robinhood makes money by passing its customer trades along to bigger brokerage firms, like Citadel, who pay Robinhood for the chance to fulfill its customer stock orders.In May, Robinhood said it had 13 million users. This week, it became the most-downloaded free app in Apple’s App Store, according to Apptopia, a data provider.Critics have accused the company of encouraging people to gamble on stock market movements and risk big losses. Brokerages including T. Rowe Price, Schwab and Fidelity have imitated Robinhood by lowering their trading fees to zero. Many of them were also hit by the crush of trading this week.Robinhood has had no trouble raising money over the last year, drawing $1.3 billion in venture capital backing and boosting its valuation to nearly $12 billion. Its other investors include the venture capital firm DST Capital, New Enterprise Associates, Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.Yet the company has faced many issues, including fines from regulators for misleading customers. Last March, it raised more money after its app went down and left customers stranded and nursing big losses, leading to a still ongoing lawsuit.In recent weeks, many online investors have used Robinhood to make bets that pushed up the price of GameStop, AMC Entertainment and other stocks that had been widely shorted — or bet against — by hedge funds. That changed on Thursday after the company curbed customer trading in the most popular stocks. “As a brokerage firm, we have many financial requirements,” Robinhood said in a blog post Thursday. “Some of these requirements fluctuate based on volatility in the markets and can be substantial in the current environment.”In protest, hundreds of thousands of users joined a campaign to give Robinhood’s app the lowest one-star review and drive the company’s rating down. Some investors also sued Robinhood for the losses they sustained after the company cut off trading in certain stocks and several lawmakers urged regulators to exercise more scrutiny of the company.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    The ‘Roaring Kitty’ Rally: How a Reddit User and His Friends Roiled the Markets

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }GameStop vs. Wall StreetBeating Wall Street4 Things to KnowUnderstanding Stock OptionsA Long Time ComingAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyThe ‘Roaring Kitty’ Rally: How a Reddit User and His Friends Roiled the MarketsA Massachusetts man who goes by ‘Roaring Kitty’ on social media helped fuel the frenzy around GameStop. His $53,000 investment in the company briefly reached $48 million in value.Credit…Max-o-maticNathaniel Popper and Jan. 29, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ETIn mid-2019, a Reddit user — known as “Roaring Kitty” on some social media accounts — posted a picture on an online forum depicting a single $53,000 investment in the video-game retailer GameStop.The post attracted little attention, except from a few people who mocked the bet on the struggling company. “This dude should sell now,” a Reddit user named cmcewen wrote at the time.But Roaring Kitty was not deterred. Over the next year, he began tweeting frequently about GameStop and making YouTube and TikTok videos about his investment. He also started livestreaming his financial ideas. Other Reddit users with monikers like Ackilles and Bowlerguy92 began following his every move and piling into GameStop.“IF HE IS IN WE ARE IN💎💎💎,” one user wrote on a Reddit board called WallStreetBets on Tuesday.Roaring Kitty — who is Keith Gill, 34, a former financial educator for an insurance firm in Massachusetts — has now become a central figure in this week’s stock market frenzy. Inspired by him and a small crew of individual investors who gathered around him, hordes of young online traders took GameStop’s stock on a wild ride, pitting themselves against sophisticated hedge funds and upending Wall Street’s norms in the process.Their actions — pushing up GameStop’s price by buying so-called options contracts that offer a cheap way to bet on a stock’s direction — have shocked established investors because Mr. Gill and his online comrades are the antithesis of the Wall Street titans who have long ruled the stock market.A screenshot of Keith Gill from his Roaring Kitty’s YouTube channel.Credit…via YoutubeWorking far from well-heeled financial offices, Mr. Gill and his fans socialized on Reddit and YouTube and used no-fee online trading platforms like Robinhood and WeBull. Many were so devoted to their GameStop investment that they spent hours each week chatting in the comments section of Mr. Gill’s videos, delving into the company’s financial filings and arcane details about free-cash flow and video game consoles.Their show of force this week underlines how the financial markets have changed by merging with the world of social media and a younger generation of traders who have been empowered by online platforms. It has also made some in this new generation wildly wealthy.On Tuesday, Mr. Gill posted a picture on Reddit that showed his $53,000 bet on GameStop had soared in value to $48 million. (His holdings could not be independently verified.) The post was “upvoted” — the equivalent of being liked — more than 140,000 times by other users. GameStop, which traded at $4 a year ago, closed on Thursday at $193 after reaching more than $480 earlier in the day.“Your example has literally changed the lives of thousands of ordinary normal people,” a Reddit user named reality_czech wrote this week to Mr. Gill. “Seriously thank you.”Larry Tabb, the head of market structure research at Bloomberg Intelligence, said the rise of traders like Mr. Gill “would have been impossible even a few years ago” because every trade came with a fee and there was less focus on the markets on social media. But with people now stuck at home in the pandemic with easy access to free trading at online brokerages, “these guys saw an opportunity and they took it,” he said.Mr. Gill did not respond to requests for comment. His online accounts and email addresses were tied to his old office in New Hampshire and his Massachusetts home. Mr. Gill’s mother, Elaine, confirmed in a brief phone call that her son was Roaring Kitty.“I’m proud,” she said, before hanging up.Mr. Gill’s life as Roaring Kitty began in 2014 when he started a limited liability company with that name. Before that, he was an All American runner in college who could cover a mile in 4 minutes 3 seconds, according to local newspapers. After graduating, he worked as a chartered financial accountant and a financial wellness educator, a recently deleted LinkedIn profile showed.In August 2019, he began posting on Reddit. Like many other Reddit users, he showed familiarity with memes and internet expressions like YOLO (you only live once) and exhibited a love for profanity. The middle letter of the acronym of his Reddit username, DFV, refers to an expletive. On YouTube, TikTok and Twitter, he went by Roaring Kitty.Mr. Gill’s first posts on WallStreetBets showed the screenshot of his E-Trade portfolio with the options trades he had made on GameStop, all of them betting the stock would go up. In the comments, he explained that Wall Street did not appreciate how much GameStop would benefit as new video game consoles were released.Shortly after Mr. Gill placed his trades, Michael Burry, an investor made famous by the Michael Lewis book “The Big Short,” also expressed interest in GameStop. On Reddit, Mr. Gill pointed to Mr. Burry’s post as validation. When others questioned the investment, Mr. Gill held firm.“Dude everyone thinks I’m crazy, and I think everyone else is crazy,” he responded to a commenter when GameStop announced sales had dropped 30 percent in late 2019.Last summer, Mr. Gill started a Roaring Kitty channel on YouTube where he talked for hours about GameStop. He had 418 YouTube subscribers through last November, according to the web tracking firm SocialBlade.In one of his first YouTube videos, he wondered aloud, “Maybe there’s going to be no one tuning in, so this is silly.”He explained that to avoid disturbing his 2-year-old daughter, he was filming in a basement room called the “Kitty Corner,” with a stuffed animal cat on the doorknob.Fast-talking and cracking jokes in between analyzing stocks, Mr. Gill sipped beer, brandished cigars and told viewers he sometimes used a Magic 8-Ball to guide his investments. He often wore a baseball cap over his long hair and a T-shirt with a cat in sunglasses.The comments section of his videos soon became a gathering place for a small group of other GameStop fans. One YouTube follower, Joe Fonicello, known as Toast on Twitter, said he tuned in from an old van that he was traveling across the country in with his girlfriend.Mr. Gill often posted pictures of his GameStop investment.Credit…via Youtube“She thought I was crazy until she heard the thesis” for what GameStop could be worth, said Mr. Fonicello, 21, who said he and his girlfriend’s investment in the stock has grown to over $250,000 this week from less than $10,000 originally.Mr. Fonicello said chatting with Mr. Gill and others online was not just about money. “What went from a great few hours of stock analysis turned into a few hours of just spreading positivity,” he said.Last August, Ryan Cohen, the founder of the pet food site Chewy.com, announced that he had taken a big stake in GameStop. A few weeks later, Mr. Gill’s investment hit $1 million, according to pictures he posted of his portfolio.Through financial filings, Mr. Gill’s crew also discovered that hedge funds such as Point72 and Citron Capital were betting that GameStop’s price would fall, in a maneuver known as short-selling. That angered them.“That’s your ignition switch. A common enemy, so to speak,” said Rod Alzmann, 31, a corporate strategist in Florida who has bet on GameStop for even longer than Mr. Gill and posted online as Uberkikz11. “The speculation is a rush, plus fighting the man.”In December, Mr. Gill’s wife made a cameo on YouTube when her hand appeared on a livestream to clink glasses with him to celebrate GameStop’s stock reaching $20. Mr. Gill wore a pink party hat and sunglasses and sipped what appeared to be champagne.“I certainly do not drive a Lambo,” he said in the video, referring to a Lamborghini. “We rent this house that you see, so it’s been a wild ride for us as a family.”Earlier this month, Mr. Cohen joined GameStop’s board. That caused the company’s stock to rise, enriching Mr. Gill and others. When Mr. Gill showed another picture of his investment on Jan. 13, some of the 44,200 people who looked at the post said his decision not to cash out even a penny of GameStop kept them going.“Daddy’s still in!” said a Reddit user named freehouse_throwaway. “Feels so good.”Late last week, 190,000 viewers tuned in to the Roaring Kitty YouTube channel, which now has more than 74,000 subscribers, as Mr. Gill, in a red bandanna and sunglasses, said he would be stepping away “for a bit.” That day, he livestreamed for seven hours while watching a chart of GameStop’s surging stock, laughing and calling out to longtime comrades in the comments.On Thursday, several online brokerages shut down trading in GameStop, causing the company’s price to plunge by almost two-thirds before steadying. Even ardent supporters wondered if Mr. Gill had finally caved and sold.Mr. Gill then posted another picture on Reddit showing he had stayed firm — and had lost $15 million. His fans cheered.“IF HE’S STILL IN, I’M STILL IN,” over 100 different followers responded in quick succession.Kitty Bennett contributed research.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Uber, After Buying Postmates, Lays Off More Than 180 Employees

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesVaccine InformationTimelineWuhan, One Year LaterAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyUber, After Buying Postmates, Lays Off More Than 180 EmployeesThe layoffs include most of the executive team at Postmates, the food delivery app that Uber bought last year.Uber bought Postmates last year for $2.65 billion. Food delivery has been crucial to Uber as its ride-hailing business has been hurt in the pandemic.Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesJan. 23, 2021, 7:42 p.m. ETSAN FRANCISCO — Uber on Thursday laid off roughly 185 people from its Postmates division, or about 15 percent of Postmates’ total work force, said three people with knowledge of the actions, as the ride-hailing giant consolidates its food delivery operations to weather the pandemic.The layoffs affected most of the executive team at Postmates, including Bastian Lehmann, the founder and chief executive of the popular food delivery app, said the people, who spoke on condition they not be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Uber bought Postmates last year for $2.65 billion.Some Postmates vice presidents and other executives will leave with multimillion dollar exit packages, the people said. Some employees may also see reduced compensation packages, the people said, while others will be asked to leave or serve out the end of their contract positions, which could lead to more exits in coming months.The cuts are part of a larger integration of Uber’s food delivery division, Uber Eats, with Postmates. While the Postmates brand and app will remain separate, much of the behind-the-scenes infrastructure will be melded with Uber Eats and supported by Uber Eats employees. Pierre Dimitri Gore-Coty, the global head of Uber Eats, will continue running the combined food delivery business, the people said.An Uber spokesman, Matt Kallman, confirmed the cuts. “We are so grateful for the contributions of every Postmates team member,” Mr. Kallman said. “While we are thrilled to officially welcome many of them to Uber, we are sorry to say goodbye to others. We are so excited to continue to build on top of the incredible work this remarkable team has already accomplished.”Food delivery has been crucial to Uber as its ride-hailing business has been severely weakened by the pandemic’s effects on travel. Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, has pointed to food delivery as a bright spot; last year, Uber Eats’ revenue overtook the revenue from the ride-hailing business for the first time as people ordered more meals delivered to their homes.Uber, which loses money, laid off hundreds of employees in 2019 as it tried to get costs under control. The company currently has more than 21,000 full-time employees; its drivers are independent contractors.While Uber has been strong in food delivery, it has had to fend off deep-pocketed rivals that have sought to gain market share by subsidizing delivery costs with promotions and discounts.DoorDash, which went public in December, has rapidly expanded over the past few years and has acquired the smaller food delivery start-up Caviar. Other significant competitors include Just Eat Takeaway, which beat out Uber to acquire Grubhub last year for more than $7 billion, and Deliveroo, a delivery company that is popular in Europe.Uber has trimmed other businesses in hopes of becoming profitable by the end of this year. In December, it shed its autonomous vehicles division, Uber ATG, and jettisoned its flying car operation, Uber Elevate. Both efforts were costly.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More