More stories

  • in

    Silicon Valley’s Best Pandemic Ever

    As the world reeled, tech titans supplied the tools that made life and work possible. Now the companies are awash in money — and questions about what it means to win amid so much loss.SAN FRANCISCO — In April 2020, with 2,000 Americans dying every day of Covid-19, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive and the world’s richest man, announced he was focusing on people rather than profits. Amazon would spend about $4 billion in the next few months “providing for customers and protecting employees,” he said, wiping out the profit the retailer would have made without the virus.It was a typically bold Amazon announcement, a shrewd public relations move to sacrifice financial gain at a moment of misery and fear. Mr. Bezos said this was “the hardest time we’ve ever faced” and suggested the new approach would extend indefinitely. “If you’re a shareowner in Amazon,” he advised, “you may want to take a seat.”At the end of July 2020, Amazon announced quarterly results. Rather than earning zero, as Mr. Bezos had predicted, it notched an operating profit of $5.8 billion — a record for the company.The months since have established new records. Amazon’s margins, which measure the profit on every dollar of sales, are the highest in the history of the company, which is based in Seattle.After stepping aside as chief executive early this month, Mr. Bezos flew to suborbital space for 10 minutes this week. Upon returning, he expressed gratitude to those who had fulfilled this lifelong dream. “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, ’cause you guys paid for all this,” he said.Mr. Bezos, who was not available for comment for this article, was the only chief executive of a tech company to enter zero gravity in his own spaceship in the past year. But Amazon’s pandemic triumph was echoed all over the world of technology companies.Even as 609,000 Americans have died and the Delta variant surges, as corporate bankruptcies hit a peak for the decade, as restaurants, airlines, gyms, conferences, museums, department stores, hotels, movie theaters and amusement parks shut down and as millions of workers found themselves unemployed, the tech industry flourished.The combined stock market valuation of Apple, Alphabet, Nvidia, Tesla, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook increased by about 70 percent to more than $10 trillion. That is roughly the size of the entire U.S. stock market in 2002. Apple alone has enough cash in its coffers to give $600 to every person in the United States. And in the next week, the big tech companies are expected to report earnings that will eclipse all previous windfalls.Silicon Valley, still the world headquarters for tech start-ups, has never seen so much loot. More Valley companies went public in 2020 than in 2019, and they raised twice as much money when they did. Forbes calculates there are now 365 billionaires whose fortunes derive from tech, up from 241 before the virus.Silicon Valley made the tools that allowed Americans, and the American economy, to survive the pandemic. People got their jigsaw puzzles, air purifiers and digital thermometers delivered by Amazon instead of picking them up two blocks or two miles away. The consumer economy swerved from local to national.Tech is triumphant in a way that even its most evangelical leaders couldn’t have predicted. No single industry has ever had such power over American life, dominating how we communicate, shop, learn about the world and seek distraction and joy.What will Silicon Valley do with this power? Who if anyone might restrain tech, and how much support will they have? Wealth and the ability to command and control tend to produce hubris more than modesty. As algorithms and artificial intelligence rearrange people into marketing groups, it’s uncertain — to put it politely — how aware the tech industry is of the potential for abuse, especially when it generates profits.With the House Judiciary Committee’s recent vote to advance a series of bills that aim to reduce the power of the most dominant tech companies, and with President Biden appointing regulators who have sharp views of Big Tech, these issues are finally set for a wider debate.It has been a tumultuous 18 months, and even the tech companies are having trouble absorbing what happened.PayPal, the digital payments company, had 325 million active accounts before the pandemic. It reported 392 million in the first quarter. “The winds were blowing in our direction, but we had to set the sails,” said Dan Schulman, the chief executive.The wind was so strong it blew tech into another universe of wealth and influence.The Pandemic’s TailwindIn March 2020, Redfin shut down its 78 offices around the country. Its stock lost two-thirds of its value. Shortly after, demand for real estate started rising again. Jordan Strauss/Associated PressOn March 13, 2020, Glenn Kelman, the chief executive of the online real estate broker Redfin, was biking to work when he got a call from Henry Ellenbogen, a longtime investor in Redfin who had started his own fund.At Harvard, Mr. Ellenbogen majored in the history of technology. One big thing he learned, he has said, was that technology is developed well in advance of people’s ability and willingness to use it.“Tell me something,” Mr. Ellenbogen asked Mr. Kelman, according to an account the chief executive posted on Redfin’s website. “When people start touring homes via an iPhone, won’t a lot of them decide, even after this whole pandemic ends, that this is just a better way to see houses? And if this whole process of buying and selling homes mostly goes virtual, how will other brokerages compete with you?”Mr. Kelman, a little preoccupied by how Seattle’s normally bustling streets were eerily empty, said he didn’t know.“I do,” Mr. Ellenbogen said. “The world is changing in your favor.”This was not a general view then, and it certainly was not what Mr. Kelman was experiencing. The first confirmed coronavirus death in the United States was a nursing home resident in a Seattle suburb on Feb. 29. Within hours, home sellers decided that maybe they did not want strangers breathing in their living room and bedrooms. Buyers began to pull out as well.For Redfin, that was the beginning of a crisis. Within a few days, it shut down its 78 offices around the country. Its stock plunged, losing two-thirds of its value.“The magnitude of the decline was increasing every day,” Mr. Kelman said. He agreed to sell Mr. Ellenbogen more stock for $110 million, thinking Redfin might need cash to make it through a long drought. In early April, Mr. Kelman furloughed 41 percent of the company’s agents, who were salaried employees. More than 1,000 people were affected.By that point, real estate was already turning around. Instead of killing demand for housing, the pandemic fueled it.“The economy split in two on about April 7, 2020,” Mr. Kelman said. “One part of the economy suffered greatly, but another did just fine — the people who said, ‘If the world is going to end in the virus-filled streets of New York, I’m going to Connecticut or Vermont or Maine and I need a house there.’ What we thought was a headwind was a tailwind.”The pandemic as a whole, it became clear, was a tailwind for tech in very basic ways.When tens of millions of people were urged and sometimes ordered to stay put in their homes, naturally companies whose very existence involves facilitating virtual lives benefited. The rise of the teleconferencing company Zoom as both a verb and stock market winner was perhaps the easiest call of the year.“Call it half luck — being in the right place at the right time — and half strategic tactics by companies recognizing this was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Dan Ives, a managing director at Wedbush Securities. “What for most industries were hurricane-like headwinds was a pot of gold for tech.”Even companies that might have seemed vulnerable to stay-at-home mandates did well. Airbnb is a company whose whole existence was about going to stay in strangers’ homes. The pandemic should have killed the buzz for its long-awaited public offering in December. But its stock price doubled on the first day of trading, giving the company a value of $100 billion.Tech companies like Redfin that reacted defensively in March risked being left out of the recovery in April. The 2020 housing market, pushed by pandemic demand and negligible interest rates, turned out to be the best since 2006.Those furloughed at Redfin were soon hired back. Mr. Ellenbogen’s deal proved extremely lucrative. But an estimated 10 million people are behind on the rent even as eviction moratoriums start to expire.Mr. Kelman, more introspective than most tech executives, feels a little queasy.“Tech used to be delivering these wonders to the world, and all of us in the industry felt the human uplift of general progress,” he said. “With the pandemic, fortunes have really diverged and at least some people in tech are really uncomfortable about that.”Pushing Back“We went from being pirates to being the Navy,” said Marc Andreessen. “People may love pirates when they’re young and small and scrappy, but nobody likes a Navy that acts like a pirate.”Steve Jennings/Getty ImagesThe biggest, and perhaps the only, threat to tech now is from government.Tech antitrust reformers say the government response to the pandemic, including the national eviction moratorium, repudiated decades of entrenched belief in a hands-off economic approach. Now, the activists say, they will have their moment.“When the government moved in a robust way to keep everybody afloat, free-market ideologies died,” said Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a research and advocacy organization that fights corporate control. “People now appreciate that the government can either make choices that centralize power and wealth or it can structure markets and industries in way that deliver benefits more broadly.”There are signs of pushback against tech that would have been unimaginable a few years ago, beyond the House bills. Ohio sued Google, saying it should be regulated like a public utility. The Teamsters, one of the biggest labor unions, passed a resolution to supply “all resources necessary” to help organize workers at Amazon. Lina Khan, who made her reputation as a critic of Amazon, was appointed Federal Trade Commission chair. On Tuesday, the White House said it would nominate Jonathan Kanter, a tech critic, to be the Justice Department’s top antitrust official.But there are signs of movement in the other direction, too. The F.T.C. and a coalition of state attorneys general saw their antitrust lawsuits against Facebook dismissed by a Washington judge last month. The F.T.C. can refile an improved suit by the end of this month.Any measures restricting tech will ultimately need public sentiment behind them to succeed. Even some of tech’s biggest supporters see the potential for worry here.“We went from being pirates to being the Navy,” Marc Andreessen, a central figure in Silicon Valley for a quarter-century, told the Substack writer Noah Smith in a recent interview. “People may love pirates when they’re young and small and scrappy, but nobody likes a Navy that acts like a pirate. And today’s technology industry can come across a lot like a Navy that acts like a pirate.”Beyond the threat of misuse of tech lurks an even darker possibility: a misplaced confidence in the ability of one loosely regulated sector to run so much of the world.Weeks before the pandemic, the RAND Corporation published a study on systemic risk and how a problem with one company can imperil others in its network. Systemic risk was a big issue in the 2008 financial collapse, when the government propped up some companies because their downfall might imperil the whole system. They were too big to fail.The research group investigated whether tech companies had supplanted financial firms as a key node in the economy, and if the economy was growing too dependent on them. Amazon, whose AWS cloud division has millions of customers, was highlighted.In December, RAND’s point was made when SolarWinds, which makes software that allows other companies to manage their networks, was revealed to have been infiltrated by Russian hackers. Since SolarWinds had so many clients, including Fortune 500 companies and federal agencies, the breach became one of the worst on record.Tech’s dominance means the risks are more concentrated than ever. There were problems at the security firm Cloudflare in July 2020, at Amazon in November, at the cloud provider Fastly last month and at the content distribution network Akamai on Thursday, all of which took down other sites at least briefly.These outages caused little concern.That’s typical of systemic issues, said Jonathan Welburn, a lead author on the RAND study. “Before 2008, when house prices kept rising and rising, no one wanted to hear how they were being artificially propped up and why that could be a problem,” he said.Pushing Forward“When people are remote, I worry about what their career trajectory is going to be,” IBM’s chief executive, Arvind Krishna, recently told the BBC.Brian Ach/Getty ImagesThe pandemic gave tech companies the power and the cash to make aggressive bets on their individual destinies. Buying another company was one way to do this. Global deal values in tech soared 47.3 percent in 2020 from a year ago.Zillow, a digital real estate company in Seattle, spent $500 million in February to buy ShowingTime, a scheduling platform for home showings. A few weeks later, Zillow said it would hire 2,000 people, increasing its work force by 40 percent.But its biggest bet will take longer to play out. Before the pandemic, Zillow discouraged working from home, like most companies. Then last summer, it said 90 percent of its employees could work remotely forever if they chose.At the time, Zillow was in the vanguard of a movement. Now the idea of the non-virtual office is re-exerting its pull with managers.Amazon says its plan “is to return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.” Google asserted the same thing, although it backed off after workers rebelled. IBM says 80 percent of its employees will be in the office at least three days a week.“When people are remote, I worry about what their career trajectory is going to be,” IBM’s chief executive, Arvind Krishna, told the BBC.Zillow is something of an outlier. Even after a year of working from home, 59 percent of its employees told the company they planned to go into the office once a month or less.This may be the pandemic’s ultimate tailwind: not just the future coming much faster to your company, but actively pushing your company faster into the future. It is a risk that might be easier to undertake if your market value has suddenly tripled the way Zillow’s did.If Zillow is wrong about the future and employees are less bound to an office they visit only virtually, the company will stumble. If it is right, it will increase its workers’ loyalty and outdistance earthbound competitors.“The pandemic forced change on all of us,” said Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow’s chief operating officer. “We didn’t wish for it but now we’re learning from it.”More than a third of Zillow employees moved in the year that began in March 2020. Many moves were from one part of Seattle’s metro area to another, indicating a general reluctance not to get so far away from the office you could not drive there. But other employees dispersed to New Mexico, Mississippi and Alabama. Nine moved to Hawaii.“They liked their job but wanted to go somewhere else. That used to be a problem. Now it’s not,” said Viet Shelton, a Zillow spokesman who, as it happens, just moved to Manhattan from Seattle because he always wanted to live in New York.Now that employees no longer have to live where Zillow has an office, interest has swelled. More than 55,000 applied to work at Zillow in the first quarter, up 51 percent from the prepandemic level and about 10 applicants for every person employed there. Zillow has hired more recruiters to deal with the onslaught.Over at Redfin, the stock is up 400 percent from its pandemic bottom. Redfin paid $608 million in February to acquire a publisher of rental listings, its biggest deal ever. But while the company seems so rich, so successful, so lucky from the outside, it feels different within. Managing growth is almost as hard as managing a downturn.“Customers are clamoring for service and we can’t hire fast enough,” said Mr. Kelman. “Redfin never had a moment when it was absolutely and totally killing it, but I always imagined when we did that it would be more fun than this.” More

  • in

    Job-Hunters, Have You Posted Your Résumé on TikTok?

    “Calling all recruiters!” Makena Yee, 21, a college student in Seattle, shouted into her camera in a recent TikTok video. “These are the reasons why you should hire me!”Ms. Yee went on to outline her qualifications. “I’m driven with confidence, I love keeping organized, I’m adaptive and I’m a team player,” she said, as images of companies she had worked for flashed up on a green screen behind her.The 60-second video quickly racked up over 182,000 views and hundreds of comments. Users tagged potential employers. “Someone hire herrrr!” one commenter implored. Ms. Yee said she had received more than 15 job leads, which she plans to pursue after a summer internship.In modern job searches, tidy one-page résumés are increasingly going the way of the fax machine. That may be accelerated by an app known for viral lip-syncing and dance videos, which is popularizing the TikTok résumé.

    Here are the reasons why YOU should hire me! Don’t be shy, let’s get in touch. #tiktokresumes #tiktokpartner ♬ original sound – MAKENA As more college students and recent graduates use TikTok to network and find work, the company has introduced a program allowing people to apply directly for jobs. And employers, many facing labor shortages, are interested. Chipotle, Target, Alo Yoga, Sweetgreen and more than three dozen other companies have started hiring people via the app.The TikTok résumé is central to these efforts. Job applicants submit videos with the hashtag #TikTokResumes and through to show off their skills, something like a personal essay of old. They include their contact information and, if they want, their LinkedIn profile. Employers review the videos, which must be set to public, and schedule interviews with the applicants they find the most compelling.The résumés are an effort to help young people “get the bag” and get paid, Kayla Dixon, a marketing manager at TikTok who developed the program, said in a statement.They are also an outgrowth of a part of TikTok called careertok, where people share job-hunting advice, résumé tips and job opportunities. Videos with the hashtag #edutokcareer have amassed over 1.2 billion views since TikTok was introduced in the United States in 2018.But the video résumés have also raised concerns. The format strips away a level of anonymity, allowing employers to potentially dismiss candidates based on how someone looks or acts. Much of the networking on TikTok also depends on amassing views, which can be hard for those who aren’t adept at creating content or who have struggled to get equal distribution in the app’s feed.TikTok is not the first social platform that companies have sought to leverage for recruiting. LinkedIn, the professional networking site owned by Microsoft, is heavily used by both job seekers and recruiters. In 2015, Taco Bell advertised internship opportunities on Snapchat, and in 2017, McDonald’s let people apply for jobs through a Snapchat tool known as “Snaplications.” That same year, Facebook began allowing companies to post job openings to their pages and to communicate with applicants through Facebook Messenger.TikTok is now taking it further with video applications, rather than a swipe up to a more traditional application page. Though TikTok résumés are open to people of all ages, top videos submitted through the hashtag are from Gen Z users, most of whom are in college. The app said over 800 applicants had submitted TikTok résumés in the past week.“Hiring people or sourcing candidates through video just feels like a natural evolution of where we are in a society,” said Karyn Spencer, global chief marketing officer of Whalar, an influencer company that recently hired an employee off TikTok. “We’re all communicating more and more through video and photos, yet so many résumés our hiring team receives feel like 1985.”

    @kallijroberts @tiktokplease accept this as my formal elle woods-style video application to be one of your interns! #fyp #internship #legallyblonde ♬ motive x promiscuous – elfixsounds Kalli Roberts, 23, a student at Brigham Young University in Utah, said the 2001 movie “Legally Blonde” had inspired her TikTok résumé. She recreated the famous application video that the main character, Elle Woods, played by Reese Witherspoon, submitted in a bid to attend Harvard Law School.“Please accept this as my formal Elle Woods style video application,” Ms. Roberts wrote in the caption. Her TikTok went viral, and she is now interning in TikTok’s global business department.“I didn’t feel like my personality or who I actually am was captured in my paper résumé,” Ms. Roberts said. TikTok let her showcase skills, like video editing and public speaking, that might have been line items on a written application, she said, adding, “I had 10 other companies outside of TikTok say, ‘If they don’t want you, we do.’”Many recruiters are looking beyond standardized applications online or through networking sites like LinkedIn, said Sherveen Mashayekhi, co-founder and chief executive of Free Agency, a start-up focused on hiring in the tech industry.“Cover letters aren’t being read and résumés aren’t predictive, so alternative formats are necessary,” he said. “Over the next five to 10 years, it won’t just be video. There will be these other assessments like games for the early stage of the hiring process.”TikTok’s headquarters in Culver City, Calif. The company said it had recruited several employees through videos submitted on the platform.Rozette Rago for The New York TimesSome companies said TikTok résumés were a useful way to evaluate candidates for public-facing roles. Chipotle has posted over 100 open positions to the app so far to hire restaurant team members, said Tressie Lieberman, the chain’s vice president for digital marketing.“We do real cooking in our restaurants,” she said. “We’re excited to see people’s cooking skills, whether it’s putting chicken on the grill, knife skills or people making guacamole at home and bringing those capabilities into the restaurant.”World Wrestling Entertainment is also using TikTok to recruit, said Paul Levesque, the WWE executive vice president for global talent strategy and development, who is better known as the wrestler Triple H. He said video résumés offered a better sense of an applicant’s personality, which is something the company values.“For us, it’s slightly different than a regular office position where you’re looking at someone’s background,” he said. “We’re really looking for charisma.”Shopify, an e-commerce platform, said it had started turning to TikTok to find engineers.“There are smart entrepreneurial technical people everywhere,” said Farhan Thawar, Shopify’s vice president for engineering. “We have this thing where if you can’t explain a technical topic to a 5-year-old, then you probably don’t understand the topic. So having a medium like TikTok is perfect.”Other employers raised questions about relying on virality to determine a candidate’s worthiness. Adore Me, a lingerie company, began experimenting with recruiting through TikTok in January. Chloé Chanudet, Adore Me’s chief marketing officer, said she worried about who got the most distribution in the feed.“Plus size or women of color are much more likely to not have their videos published or be under review for several days,” she said. “We have the same worry that their TikTok résumés may be biased from the algorithm.”TikTok said it “does not moderate content on the basis of shape, size or ability.”

    Tiktok do your thing! Check out ➡️ #TikTokResumes #TikTokPartner #productmanagment#jobsearch #graduated
    ♬ original sound – Christian �� Some Gen Z job hunters said they weren’t deterred. Christian Medina, 24, an aspiring product manager who graduated from college last year, said he had gotten six job leads since posting a TikTok video last month seeking a product management role.“Finding a job for a recent grad is almost impossible, and LinkedIn was not the most helpful for me,” he said. “I will definitely continue to use TikTok résumés.” More

  • in

    Tech Workers Who Swore Off the Bay Area Are Coming Back

    SAN FRANCISCO — Last year, Greg Osuri decided he’d had enough of the Bay Area. Between smoke-choked air from nearby wildfires and the coronavirus lockdown, it felt as if the walls of his apartment in San Francisco’s Twin Peaks neighborhood were closing in on him.“It was just a hellhole living here,” said Mr. Osuri, 38, the founder and chief executive of a cloud-computing company called Akash Network. He decamped for his sister’s roomy townhouse in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, joining an exodus of technology workers from the crowded Bay Area.But by March, Mr. Osuri was itching to return. He missed the serendipity of city life: meeting new people, running into acquaintances on the street and getting drinks with colleagues. “The city is full of that — opportunities that you may never have expected would come your way,” Mr. Osuri said. He moved back to San Francisco in April.The pandemic was supposed to lead to a great tech diaspora. Freed of their offices and after-work klatches, the Bay Area’s tech workers were said to be roaming America, searching for a better life in cities like Miami and Austin, Texas — where the weather is warmer, the homes are cheaper and state income taxes don’t exist.But dire warnings over the past year that tech was done with the Bay Area because of a high cost of living, homelessness, crowding and crime are looking overheated. Mr. Osuri is one of a growing number of industry workers already trickling back as a healthy local rate of coronavirus vaccinations makes fall return-to-office dates for many companies look likely.“I think people were pretty noisy about quitting the Bay Area,” said Eric Bahn, a co-founder of an early-stage Palo Alto, Calif., investment firm, Hustle Fund. “But they’ve been very quiet in admitting they want to move back.”Bumper-to-bumper traffic has returned to the region’s bridges and freeways. Tech commuter buses are reappearing on the roads. Rents are spiking, especially in San Francisco neighborhoods where tech employees often live.Twitter reopened its headquarters in San Francisco on Monday. The company plans to open more offices in the Bay Area.Cayce Clifford for The New York TimesAnd on Monday, Twitter reopened its office, becoming one of the first big tech companies to welcome more than skeleton crews of employees back to the workplace. Twitter employees wearing backpacks and puffy jackets on a cold San Francisco summer morning greeted old friends and explored a space redesigned to accommodate social-distancing measures.London Breed, San Francisco’s mayor, said she welcomed the return of tech workers, though she acknowledged that it also brought challenges. “Yes, we need to do the work to build more housing and address the many challenges that big cities face, but San Francisco is successful when we have a growing economy, and that includes tech,” she said in a statement.No one is quite ready to declare that things have returned to normal. Ridership on Bay Area Rapid Transit remains low, and nearly half of San Francisco’s small businesses are still closed. Office vacancy rates are high. The city’s downtown is still largely empty on weekdays.But recent data supports the notion that tech workers are coming back. In an area near San Francisco’s Financial District, where tech workers tend to cluster, average apartment rental prices dropped more than 20 percent in 2020, according to census and Zillow data compiled by the city. That area saw the biggest price jumps in the city in the first five months of 2021.In the bayside ZIP code surrounding the San Francisco Giants’ Oracle Park, where nearly 15 percent of residents worked in tech, average monthly rental prices dropped from $3,956 in February 2020 to about $3,000 a year later. They rose to $3,312 in May, according to Zillow data.“This could mean that tech workers are coming back, although it could also mean that other people, who also value those areas, are taking advantage of the lower rents to move in,” said Ted Egan, San Francisco’s chief economist.Median San Francisco home prices, which bottomed out at a still-jarring $1.58 million for a single-family home in December, recently hit $1.9 million, according to the California Association of Realtors. That’s higher than before the pandemic.Traffic this month on a highway leading toward downtown San Francisco and the Bay Bridge.Cayce Clifford for The New York TimesNearly 1.4 million cars drove across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco in May, the most since February 2020, and afternoon freeway speeds have dropped to about 30 miles per hour, which was the prepandemic norm, according to city data. Some types of crime are close to prepandemic levels.Rizal Wong, a junior associate at the tech and business communications firm Sard Verbinnen and Company, left the Bay Area in December, trading a studio apartment in Oakland for a cheaper one-bedroom in his hometown, Sacramento, close to his family. But after getting vaccinated, he moved to San Francisco in April.“I felt like I was getting back to my life,” said Mr. Wong, 22. “Meeting up with co-workers who were also vaccinated and getting drinks after work, it definitely makes it feel more normal.”Mr. Wong, like many who left the Bay Area, didn’t go very far. Of the more than 170,000 people who moved from the vicinity of San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland in 2020, the vast majority relocated elsewhere in California, according to United States Postal Service change-of-address data analyzed by CBRE, a real estate company.About 20,000 moved to the San Jose area, for example. A further 16,000 went to Los Angeles, nearly 15,000 to Sacramento and 8,000 to Stockton, in California’s Central Valley. The more than 77,000 people who left the San Jose metro area, a proxy for Silicon Valley, went to similar places: San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles. In February, The San Francisco Chronicle reported similar numbers using Postal Service data.The net migration out of the San Francisco and San Jose regions — that takes into account people who moved in — was about 116,000 last year, up from about 64,000 in 2019, according to the analysis of the Postal Service data.Nearly every year for several decades, thousands more residents have left Silicon Valley and San Francisco than moved in, according to state data. Often, this movement is offset by an influx of immigrants from other countries — which was limited during the pandemic.Greg Osuri, center, and his employees meeting in their co-working space, Shack15.Cayce Clifford for The New York TimesThe majority of those who left the Bay last year, the real-estate firm’s analysis found, were young, affluent and highly educated — a demography that describes many tech workers. It’s a group that wants urban amenities like bars, restaurants and retail shopping, said Eric Willett, CBRE’s director of research.“That’s the group that left urban centers in large numbers,” he said. It is also the group “that we are increasingly seeing move back.”.css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-9s9ecg{margin-bottom:15px;}.css-uf1ume{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;}.css-wxi1cx{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;-webkit-align-self:flex-end;-ms-flex-item-align:end;align-self:flex-end;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}There were some prominent industry defections from the Bay Area over the last 18 months. Oracle and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise moved their headquarters to Texas. The software maker Palantir moved its headquarters from Palo Alto to Colorado. Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, said he was moving to Austin.“CA has the winning-for-too-long problem,” Mr. Musk wrote on Twitter in October. “Like a sports team with many championships, it is increasingly difficult to avoid complacency & a sense of entitlement.”Miami’s mayor, Francis X. Suarez, campaigned to lure tech workers to his city, and he was joined by some high-profile investors who said they had found a better life in South Florida. But the analysis of Postal Service data found that Austin was the 13th-most-popular destination for people leaving San Francisco. Miami was 22nd.Also not as well noticed in the exodus headlines: Oracle and HPE told most Bay Area employees that they would not need to leave.Now some companies are expanding their Bay Area footprints. Google said in March that it would spend $1 billion on California developments this year, including two office complexes in Mountain View. The company is also building a massive, mixed-use development that includes a 7.3-million-square-foot office space in San Jose. In September, Google will reopen its doors to employees. Most will come in three days a week.Twitter is also opening a 30,000-square-foot office in San Jose’s Santana Row this fall and an Oakland building next year, said Jennifer Christie, the company’s chief human resources officer.The share of Twitter’s work force in San Francisco declined to 35 percent last month, from 45 percent a year earlier, as the company grew quickly elsewhere, Ms. Christie said. But the total number of Bay Area employees is similar: about 2,200, compared with 2,300 last year.About 45 percent of employees at Twitter said they wanted to return to the office at least part time, Ms. Christie said, but she expects that number to grow. “I do think there’s a good number of people who still want to be in the San Francisco area,” she said.At Cisco Systems, a tech gear maker that is one of San Jose’s biggest employers, just 23 percent of employees want to return to the office three or more days each week. But many who prefer to work remotely will do so from nearby, said Fran Katsoudas, the company’s chief people officer. People have expressed a desire for work flexibility “more than a desire to have a different location,” she said.San Francisco’s Embarcadero, along the waterfront.Cayce Clifford for The New York TimesSome tech workers have found compromises — or at least a way to avoid long commutes. Annette Nguyen, 23, who works for Google’s ad marketing team, appreciated the outdoor space and lack of a commute when she moved from San Francisco last year to live with her parents in Irvine, Calif. She plans to return to the Bay Area in August, but will live near her office in Silicon Valley.“I couldn’t imagine spending three hours a day commuting anymore like I used to,” she said.Of course, some of the people who moved away are gone for good. Others are still in the process of leaving.Steve Wozniak, who founded Apple with Steve Jobs, said he and his wife had recently bought a house in a Denver suburb, Castle Pines, and would likely live there at least part time. He was eager, he said, to fulfill a lifelong dream of living close to the Colorado snow and away from the California crowds.“I don’t think people want to go back full time when they have the sort of job that can work well from home,” Mr. Wozniak, who currently lives in Los Gatos, Calif., said in an interview. “We’ve learned something that you really can’t take back.” More

  • in

    Work at Home or the Office? Either Way, There’s a Start-Up for That.

    As more Americans return to an office a few days a week, start-ups providing tools for hybrid work are trying to cash in.SAN FRANCISCO — Before the pandemic, Envoy, a start-up in San Francisco, sold visitor registration software for the office. Its system signed in guests and tracked who was coming into the building.When Covid-19 hit and forced people to work from home, Envoy adapted. It began tracking employees instead of just visitors, with a screening system that asked workers about potential Covid symptoms and exposures.Now as companies begin reopening offices and promoting more flexibility for employees, Envoy is changing its strategy again. Its newest product, Envoy Desks, lets employees book desks for when they go into their company’s workplace, in a bet that assigned cubicles and five days a week in the office are a thing of the past.Envoy is part of a wave of start-ups trying to capitalize on America’s shift toward hybrid work. Companies are selling more flexible office layouts, new video-calling software and tools for digital connectivity within teams — and trying to make the case that their offerings will bridge the gaps between an in-person and remote work force.The start-ups are jockeying for position as more companies announce plans for hybrid work, where employees are required to come in for only part of the week and can work at home the rest of the time. In May, a survey of 100 companies conducted by McKinsey found that nine out of 10 organizations planned to combine remote and on-site working even after it was safe to return to the office.Providing tools for remote work is potentially lucrative. Companies spent $317 billion last year on information technology for remote work, according to the research company Gartner. Gartner estimated that spending would increase to $333 billion this year.An Envoy employee demonstrating how to use the software to book a desk.Lauren Segal for The New York TimesHybrid and remote work have the potential to benefit workers for whom office environments were never a good fit, said Kate Lister, president of the consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics. This includes women, racial minorities, people with caregiving responsibilities and those with disabilities, along with introverts and people who simply prefer to work at odd hours or in solitude.But she and others also warned that the move to hybrid work could make remote workers “second-class citizens.” Workers who miss out on the camaraderie of in-person meetings or the spontaneity of hallway chats may end up being passed over for raises and promotions, they said.That, start-up founders argue, is where their products come in.Rajiv Ayyangar, the chief executive and co-founder of Tandem, leads one of several software start-ups that have created desktop apps that help teams better collaborate with one another and that recreate the feeling of being in an office. He said Tandem’s product was trying to help with “presence” — the ability to know what one’s teammates are doing in real time, even if the worker is not with their colleagues in the office.Tandem’s desktop program, which costs $10 a month for each user, shows what teammates are working on so colleagues know if they are available for a spontaneous video call within the app. The list of user statuses automatically updates to let people know if their co-workers are on a call, writing in Google Docs or doing some other task.Pragli and Tribe, two software start-ups that have been around since 2019, also offer similar products. People can use Pragli’s product to create standing audio or video calls that others can join. It is free, though the company plans to introduce a paid product. Tribe’s software uses busy and available statuses to facilitate in-platform video calls; it is currently only accessible with an invitation.Owl Labs, a start-up founded in 2017, is also trying to tackle “presence.” It makes a 360-degree video camera, microphone and speaker that sits in the middle of a conference table and automatically zooms in on the person who is speaking.Owl’s 360-degree camera, microphone and speaker system is intended to remote workers to attend meetings seamlessly.Owl LabsThe company, which said its customers quadrupled to more than 75,000 organizations over the pandemic, said the $999 camera was a way for remote workers to participate in office meetings by being able to see everyone who is speaking, rather than the limited view enabled by a single laptop camera.Other start-ups, such as Kumospace and Mmhmm, said they were working on improving video communications for hybrid work. Kumospace, a video-calling start-up, structures calls so that users enter a virtual room. They then navigate the room using arrow keys and can talk to people when they are close to them.The design is meant to replicate in-person socializing, where people can mill around and have multiple conversations in the same room. That contrasts with a service like Zoom, where everyone is by default in the same conversation as soon as they enter the video call.Mmhmm, which was created by the founder of the note-taking and productivity app Evernote, Phil Libin, offers a variety of interactive video backgrounds, tools for sharing slideshows and other features for live conversations and asynchronous presentations. It has a free version and a premium version, which costs $8.33 per employee a month.Some companies said their products can help businesses understand their space usage as fewer workers come in needing desks. Density, a start-up in San Francisco, makes a product that uses custom depth sensors to measure how many people are entering an area or use an open space. Companies can then analyze that data to understand how much of their office space they are actually using, and downsize as necessary.Density also plans to offer other tools for hybrid work. Last month, it acquired a software start-up that provides a system for desk and space reservation.Envoy said its new Desks product had attracted 400 companies, including the clothing retailer Patagonia and the film company Lionsgate.Larry Gadea, chief executive of Envoy, at the company’s headquarters.Lauren Segal for The New York Times“The companies that use us get much more accurate data that’s standardized across all their offices globally,” said Larry Gadea, Envoy’s chief executive. “And then it’s around using that data to inform space planning things. Do we need more floors? Do we need more meeting rooms? Do we need more desks? Do we need more desks for this one team?”Lionsgate said it had used Envoy’s products since before the pandemic. When the coronavirus arrived, it turned to Envoy’s employee-screening software to provide health checks to those entering the office.Now, as more employees return to in-person work, the company is using Envoy to manage where everyone sits, as well as to track who is coming in. Lionsgate said the information can help determine how often teams will need to be in the office.“We’ll be able to know really how much space we need,” said Heather Somaini, Lionsgate’s chief administrative officer. “So I think it’ll be really useful.” More

  • in

    ‘A Perfect Positive Storm’: Bonkers Dollars for Big Tech

    The dictionary doesn’t have enough superlatives to describe what’s happening to the five biggest technology companies, raising uncomfortable questions for their C.E.O.s.In the Great Recession more than a decade ago, big tech companies hit a rough patch just like everyone else. Now they have become unquestioned winners of the pandemic economy.The combined yearly revenue of Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook is about $1.2 trillion, according to earnings reported this week, more than 25 percent higher than the figure just as the pandemic started to bite in 2020. In less than a week, those five giants make more in sales than McDonald’s does in a year.The U.S. economy is cranking back from 2020, when it contracted for the first time since the financial crisis. But for the tech giants, the pandemic hit was barely a blip. It’s a fantastic time to be a titan of U.S. technology — as long as you ignore the screaming politicians, the daily headlines about killing free speech or dodging taxes, the gripes from competitors and workers, and the too-many-to-count legal investigations and lawsuits.America’s technology superpowers aren’t making bonkers dollars in spite of the deadly coronavirus and its ripple effects through the global economy. They have grown even stronger because of the pandemic. It’s both logical and slightly nuts.The wildly successful last year also raises uncomfortable questions for tech company bosses, the public and elected officials already peeved about the industry: Is what’s good for Big Tech good for America? Or are the tech superstars winning while the rest of us are losing?Americans have more money in their pockets thanks to government stimulus checks and pandemic savings, and the tech giants are getting a significant share. Their combined revenue is equivalent to roughly 5 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States.Big Tech’s pandemic big bucks have an understandable root cause: We needed its services.People gravitated to Facebook’s apps to stay in touch and entertained, and businesses wanted to pay Facebook and Google, which Alphabet owns, to help them find customers who were stuck at home. People preferred to buy diapers and deck chairs from Amazon rather than risk their health shopping in stores. Companies loaded up on software from Microsoft as their businesses and work forces went virtual. Apple’s laptops and iPads become lifelines for office workers and schoolchildren.Before the pandemic, America’s technology superpowers were already influential in how we communicated, worked, stayed entertained and shopped. Now they are practically unavoidable. Investors have scooped up Big Tech shares in a bet that these companies are nearly invincible.“They were already on the way up and had been for the best part of a decade, and the pandemic was unique,” said Thomas Philippon, a professor of finance at New York University. “For them it was a perfect positive storm.”Times weren’t so good for these companies in the last economic rough patch. In the downturn from 2007 to 2009, Microsoft’s sales dropped slightly, and its stock price fell 60 percent from the fall of 2008 to March 2009, a low point for U.S. stocks. Google and Amazon each lost as much as two-thirds of their market value.One sign of how this time is different: Amazon’s revenue is growing much faster in 2021 than it did in 2009, when the company was one-fifteenth its current size. Sales in the first quarter rose 44 percent from a year earlier, and Amazon’s profits before taxes — which have never been exactly robust — more than doubled to $8.9 billion. Businesses are addicted to Amazon’s cloud computer services, where sales rose 32 percent, and shoppers can’t live without Amazon’s delivery. Investors love Amazon, too. The company’s stock market value has nearly doubled since the beginning of 2020 to $1.8 trillion.For the other tech giants, it’s as if their brief pandemic nosedive never happened. Advertising sales typically rise and fall with the economy. But as other types of ad spending shrank when the U.S. economy contracted last year, ad sales rose for Google and Facebook. The growth was even better for them in the first three months of this year.A year ago, analysts worried that Apple would be crippled as the pandemic gripped China, which is the hub of the company’s manufacturing operations and its most important consumer market. The fears didn’t last long. In the first three months of 2021, Apple’s revenue from selling iPhones increased at the fastest rate since 2012. Sales in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong nearly doubled from a year earlier.Apple’s revenue from iPhone sales in the first three months of the year rose at the fastest pace since 2012.Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe tech giants are not the only companies rallying in dark times. America’s big banks have also been on a tear. So have some younger technology companies, such as Snap and Zoom, the maker of the pandemic-favorite videoconferencing app. The crisis forced all sorts of businesses to go digital fast in ways that could help them thrive. Restaurants invested in online sales and delivery, and doctors went full bore into telemedicine.But the dictionary doesn’t have enough superlatives to describe what’s happening to the five biggest technology companies. It’s all a bit awkward, really. It’s rocket fuel for critics, including some regulators and lawmakers in Europe and the United States, who say the tech giants crowd out newcomers and leave everyone worse off.Big Tech companies say they face stiff competition that leads to better products and lower prices, but their bank statements might suggest otherwise. Facebook’s profit margins are higher now than they were before the pandemic.Some of their success is explained by the peculiarities of the pandemic economy. Some people and sectors are doing awesome, while other families are lining up at food banks and while companies like airlines are begging for cash. Unlike the stock market clobbering in the Great Recession, stock indexes in the United States have reached new highs.The tech superstars have also capitalized on this moment. Alphabet and Facebook have used the pandemic to cut back in places that matter less, such as promotional costs and travel and entertainment budgets. And the tech giants have generally increased spending in areas that extend their advantages.Alphabet is now spending more on big-ticket projects, like building computer complexes, than Exxon Mobil spends to dig oil and gas out of the ground. Amazon’s work force has expanded by more than 470,000 people since the end of 2019. That deepens the moat separating the tech superstars from everyone else.Big Tech is emerging from the pandemic lean, mean and ready for a U.S. economy expected to roar back to life in 2021. Meanwhile, there are still long lines at food banks. Some American workers who lost their jobs last year may never get them back. Housing advocates are worried that millions of people will be evicted from their homes. And being Big Tech is an invitation for everyone to hate you — but you do have towering piles of money. More

  • in

    Amazon Workers Defeat Union Effort in Alabama

    The company’s decisive victory deals a crushing blow to organized labor, which had hoped the time was ripe to start making inroads.Amazon workers at a giant warehouse in Alabama voted decisively against forming a union on Friday, squashing the most significant organizing drive in the internet giant’s history and dealing a crushing blow to labor and Democrats when conditions appeared ripe for them to make advances.Workers cast 1,798 votes against a union, giving Amazon enough to emphatically defeat the effort. Ballots in favor of a union trailed at 738, fewer than 30 percent of the votes tallied, according to federal officials.The lopsided outcome at the 6,000-person warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., came even as the pandemic’s effect on the economy and the election of a pro-labor president had made the country more aware of the plight of essential workers.Amazon, which has repeatedly quashed labor activism, had appeared vulnerable as it faced increasing scrutiny in Washington and around the world for its market power and influence. President Biden signaled support for the union effort, as did Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent. The pandemic, which drove millions of people to shop online, also raised questions about Amazon’s ability to keep those employees safe.But in an aggressive campaign, the company argued that its workers had access to rewarding jobs without needing to involve a union. The victory leaves Amazon free to handle employees on its own terms as it has gone on a hiring spree and expanded its work force to more than 1.3 million people.Margaret O’Mara, a professor at the University of Washington who researches the history of technology companies, said Amazon’s message that it offered good jobs with good wages had prevailed over the criticisms by the union and its supporters. The outcome, she said, “reads as a vindication.”She added that while it was just one warehouse, the election had garnered so much attention that it had become a “bellwether.” Amazon’s victory was likely to cause organized labor to think, “Maybe this isn’t worth trying in other places,” Ms. O’Mara said.The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the drive, blamed its defeat on what it said were Amazon’s anti-union tactics before and during the voting, which was conducted from early February through the end of last month. The union said it would challenge the result and ask federal labor officials to investigate Amazon for creating an “atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals.”“Our system is broken,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the union’s president. “Amazon took full advantage of that.”Amazon said in a statement, “The union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true.” It added, “Amazon didn’t win — our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union.”About half of the 5,876 eligible voters at the warehouse cast ballots in the election. A majority of votes, or 1,521, was needed to win. About 500 ballots were contested, largely by Amazon, the union said. Those ballots were not counted. If a union had been voted through, it would have been the first for Amazon workers in the United States. More

  • in

    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