News & Commentary

April 7, 2022

William Greenlaw

William Greenlaw is a student at Harvard Law School.

In the wake of the first-ever successful unionization vote at Amazon, which President Biden has alluded to supporting, the e-commerce giant continues to find innovative ways to mitigate against organizing. A recent report suggests that Amazon intends to release a new internal app with strict blocks on what can be messaged. Words and phrases including “union,” “pay raises,” and “grievance” would not be allowed. Even further, “living wage,” “plantation,” and “restrooms” would not be allowed either. Restrooms, presumably, refers to reports that because of strict requirements on production and little time for breaks, that workers have been forced to relieve themselves in bottles on the warehouse floor. Other banned words will include “ethics,” “unfair,” “freedom,” “diversity,” “injustice,” “fairness,” and “this is concerning.” “Our teams are always thinking about new ways to help employees engage with each other,” said Amazon spokeswoman Barbara M. Agrait. The spokeswoman says the program has not yet been approved. Amazon historically has had banned other words elsewhere in its ecosystem. When Amazon released its new online video game, players were tellingly unable to name their characters “Jeff Bezos.” In this instance, it is clear that Amazon intends to stifle terms that might encourage dialogue on workers’ rights and disseminate that sentiment more widely. The app’s planning document states, “With free text, we risk people writing Shout-Outs that generate negative sentiments among the viewers and the receivers. . . . We want to lean towards being restrictive on the content that can be posted to prevent a negative associate experience.”

Six state attorneys general, led by New York State Attorney General Letitia James, have expressed “grave concern” to the N.F.L. amid reports of a workplace culture that is “overtly hostile to women.” Unless the League takes steps to assuage these concerns, the attorneys general have indicated the League will be subject to a much broader investigation. This saga stems in part from a New York Times investigative report from February describing “more than 30 former employees . . . experiencing a demoralizing culture” in the organization. The allegations include “female staff members saying they had been forced to watch a video showing the former running back Ray Rice knocking unconscious his then-fiancée; being asked to publicly declare if they had been victims of domestic violence; and being marginalized or pushed out of their jobs if they questioned the N.F.L.’s handling of sexual harassment issues.” The attorneys general wrote about the unlawfulness of the allegations and threatened to utilize “the full weight of our authority to investigate and prosecute allegations of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation by employers throughout our states, including the National Football League.”

The McDonald’s Corporation’s shareholders plan to vote this spring whether to initiate a civil rights audit of the company’s restaurants. After rejecting the company’s claims to the contrary, the SEC allowed the vote to continue amid accusations that the company also discriminated against Black franchisees. The initiative began last year when an adviser to union pension funds called on the company to investigate how it may potentially propagate social and economic inequality. A group of investors called the SOC Investment Group should conduct a third-party audit because the company’s existing diversity disclosures exclude hundreds of thousands of staff at franchised locations. The SOC Investment Group put out a statement yesterday, saying, “This audit would encompass a review of policies on racial justice and sexual harassment — issues that are front-and-center for workers, consumers, and shareholders alike.”

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