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Amazon warehouse workers begin historic vote to unionize – TechCrunch

On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board rejected Amazon’s attempt to delay a union vote set to begin on Monday, February 8. For many, the online giant’s bid was seen as a stalling tactic, including a motion to demand votes take place in-person — a clear health risk, as the COVID-19 virus still poses a […]

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On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board rejected Amazon’s attempt to delay a union vote set to begin on Monday, February 8. For many, the online giant’s bid was seen as a stalling tactic, including a motion to demand votes take place in-person — a clear health risk, as the COVID-19 virus still poses a major threat in the United States and globally.

“Once again Amazon workers have won another fight in their effort to win a union voice,” Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement regarding the NLRB’s decision. “Amazon’s blatant disregard for the health and safety of its own workforce was demonstrated yet again by its insistence for an in-person election in the middle of the pandemic. Today’s decision proves that it’s long past time that Amazon start respecting its own employees; and allow them to cast their votes without intimidation and interference.”

Amazon, however, said it was disappointed in the decision because it goes against the company’s goal of getting as many people as possible to vote in the election, Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox said in a statement to TechCrunch.

“Even the National Labor Relations Board recognizes that the employee participation rate for its own elections conducted with mail ballots is 20-30% lower than the participation rate for in-person voting,” Knox said. “Amazon proposed a safe on-site election process validated by COVID-19 experts that would have empowered our associates to vote on their way to, during and from their already-scheduled shifts. We will continue to insist on measures for a fair election that allow for a majority of our employee voices to be heard.”

Now, the mail-in voting process will continue as planned and ultimately determine whether Amazon’s Alabama warehouse — which employs around 6,000 — will join the RWDSU, an AFL-CIO affiliate in operation since 1937. The move would be a major watershed moment for Amazon’s blue-collar workforce — and could spur similar unionizing among the 110 or so fulfillment centers the company operates across the U.S.

The vote comes amid a sea change for both blue and white-collar workers in a tech sector that has traditionally rejected such movements. Notable recent examples include a group of Google contracts in Pittsburgh, followed by this year’s launch of an Alphabet Workers Union that includes more than 800 employees. Last February, Kickstarter voted to unionize its workforce, followed by developer platform Glitch the following month.

Unions, which act as an intermediary between workers and their employers, advocate on behalf of employees for better wages, working conditions and other benefits through collective bargaining. While it does cost money to join a union, unionized workers tend to make higher salaries than their non-unionized counterparts. Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median weekly earnings of $1,144, compared to $958 for non-union members in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Often times these unions are the product of months or years of planning behind the scenes — likely not a surprise for anyone possessing a basic knowledge of the history of labor in the United States. The formation of an Amazon union would present a historic move for labor and tech in the U.S. — a potential outcome the company has been looking to stop dead in its tracks.

Besides seeking to delay the vote, Amazon has also gone all-in on trying to persuade its workers in Bessemer not to vote to unionize. Amazon’s Do It Without Dues website encourages workers to keep things the way they are, instead of having to pay union dues.

“If you’re paying dues…it will be restrictive meaning it won’t be easy to be as helpful and social with each other,” the site states. “So be a doer, stay friendly and get things done versus paying dues.”

Meanwhile, workers have complained that Amazon’s anti-union tactics are too much. One worker told The Washington Post they were bombarded with anti-union messaging in the bathroom stall.

Amazon opened the Bessemer warehouse in March 2020 and says it has created more than 5,000 full-time jobs starting with a pay of $15.30 per hour, including healthcare, vision and dental insurance, and 50% 401(K) match, Knox said. She described the work environment as “safe” and “innovative,” and added, “We work hard to support our teams and more than 90% of associates at our Bessemer site say they would recommend Amazon as a good place to work to their friends.”

But Amazon’s labor history has been a spotty one. The company has often come under fire for its treatment of workers — particularly those in logistics and shipping, like the 6,000 currently employed in its Alabama fulfillment center. Many of those issues were amplified throughout 2020, as Amazon employees were deemed “essential workers” in the earliest days of the pandemic’s arrival in the States.

In November, former warehouse employee Christian Smalls filed a suit against the company, citing a failure to provide workers with proper PPE amid the pandemic.

“I was a loyal worker and gave my all to Amazon until I was unceremoniously terminated and tossed aside like yesterday’s trash because I insisted that Amazon protect its dedicated workers from COVID-19,” Smalls said at the time. “I just wanted Amazon to provide basic protective gear to the workers and sanitize the workplace.”

Smalls was fired last March after organizing a walkout at a Staten Island fulfillment center. A spokesperson for the company told TechCrunch that he was fired after “putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of employment.”

In April, employees Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa were fired for “repeatedly violating internal policies,” according to the company. The pair were vocal critics of the company’s treatment of warehouse employees — criticism that came to a head during the pandemic.

Then, in September, reports surfaced that Amazon was looking to hire an intelligence analyst. Specifically, Amazon in a job posting said it was seeking someone who would inform higher-ups and attorneys “on sensitive topics that are highly confidential, including labor organizing threats against the company.”

Amazon swiftly took down that job post, saying it was “not an accurate description of the role – it was made in error and has since been corrected,” Amazon spokesperson Maria Boschetti said in a statement to TechCrunch at the time.

While Amazon did not give a specific revised description, the company said the role is meant to support its team of analysts that focus on external events, like weather, large community gatherings or other events that have the potential to disrupt traffic or affect the safety and security of its buildings and the people who work at those buildings.

However, that same day, Vice reported Amazon had been spying on workers for years to monitor for any potential strikes or protests. Amazon has since said it will stop using its social media monitoring tool.

“We have a variety of ways to gather driver feedback and we have teams who work every day to ensure we’re advocating to improve the driver experience, particularly through hearing from drivers directly,” Boschetti said in a statement. “Upon being notified, we discovered one group within our delivery team that was aggregating information from closed groups. While they were trying to support drivers, that approach doesn’t meet our standards, and they are no longer doing this as we have other ways for drivers to give us their feedback.”

By unionizing, Amazon workers hope to gain the right to collectively bargain over their working conditions, like safety standards, pay, breaks and other issues. Unionizing would also enable workers to potentially become “just cause” employees versus at-will, depending on how the negotiations go.

“Amazon presents a threat to the very fabric of society and the social contract we work to uphold for all working people,” the union organizers state on their site. “Corporations like Amazon have built decades of increasingly bold and aggressive attacks on workers’ rights that have dramatically eroded union density, harmed working conditions, and lowered the standard of living for many workers. And it’s not stopping. The RWDSU has always stood against anti-worker and anti-union companies. Our union will not back down until Amazon is held accountable for these and so many more dangerous labor practices.”

Mail-in voting ends March 29, with the NLRB set to begin counting ballots the following day on a virtual platform. Each party will be allowed to have four people attend the count.

TechCrunch has reached out to Amazon and will update this story if we hear back.

“Even the National Labor Relations Board recognizes that the employee participation rate for its own elections conducted with mail ballots is 20-30% lower than the participation rate for in-person voting,” Knox said. “Amazon proposed a safe on-site election process validated by COVID-19 experts that would have empowered our associates to vote on their way to, during and from their already-scheduled shifts. We will continue to insist on measures for a fair election that allow for a majority of our employee voices to be heard.”

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/02/07/amazon-warehouse-workers-begin-historic-vote-to-unionize/

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Krafton announces return of PUBG Mobile in India – TechCrunch

PUBG Mobile developer said it will bring the title back as Battlegrounds Mobile India.

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Krafton, the South Korean video game developer of PUBG Mobile, said on Thursday that it is bringing back the popular gaming title to India under the brand name Battlegrounds Mobile India. The new title, which uses the color scheme of the Indian flag, will offer “a world class AAA multiplayer”, free-to-play gaming experience on mobile devices, it said.

The developer said it will open pre-registration for Battlegrounds Mobile India ahead of its launch in the country. The title is specifically designed for the world’s second largest internet market, Krafton said.

“Krafton will collaborate with partners to build an esports ecosystem while bringing in-game content regularly, starting with a series of India specific in-game events at launch, to be announced later.

Thursday’s announcement comes months after India banned PUBG Mobile alongside 200 other apps with links to China citing national security concerns. In recent months, to allay New Delhi’s concerns, PUBG Mobile has cut ties with its publishing partner Tencent, inked a global cloud deal with Microsoft, pledged a $100 million investment in India’s mobile gaming ecosystem, and earlier this year backed local startup Nodwin.

“With privacy and data security being a top priority, Krafton will be working with partners, to ensure data protection and security, at each stage. This will ensure privacy rights are respected, and all data collection and storage will be in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations in India and for players here,” it said in a statement.

The firm didn’t say whether it had any conversation with New Delhi and if it had received the approval to launch the new title.

Prior to being banned in India, PUBG Mobile was the most popular mobile game in the country. The app had amassed over 50 million monthly active users in the country. The app still had over 10 million users in India last month, according to a popular mobile insight firm. (Many have been using VPN tools and other workarounds to bypass the geo-restriction.)

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Thursday’s announcement comes months after India banned PUBG Mobile alongside 200 other apps with links to China citing national security concerns. In recent months, to allay New Delhi’s concerns, PUBG Mobile has cut ties with its publishing partner Tencent, inked a global cloud deal with Microsoft, pledged a $100 million investment in India’s mobile gaming ecosystem, and earlier this year backed local startup Nodwin.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/05/krafton-announces-pubg-mobile-india-return-under-battlegrounds-mobile-title/

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Twitch expands its rules against hate and abuse to include behavior off the platform – TechCrunch

Twitch will start holding its streamers to a higher standard. The company just expanded its hate and harassment policy, specifying more kinds of bad behavior that break its rules and could result in a ban from the streaming service. The news comes as Twitch continues to grapple with reports of abusive behavior and sexual harassment, […]

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Twitch will start holding its streamers to a higher standard. The company just expanded its hate and harassment policy, specifying more kinds of bad behavior that break its rules and could result in a ban from the streaming service.

The news comes as Twitch continues to grapple with reports of abusive behavior and sexual harassment, both on the platform and within the company itself. In December, Twitch released an updated set of rules designed to take harassment and abuse more seriously, admitting that women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community were impacted by a “disproportionate” amount of that toxic behavior on the platform.

Twitch’s policies now include serious offenses that could pose a safety threat, even when they happen entirely away from the streaming service. Those threats include violent extremism, terrorism, threats of mass violence, sexual assault and ties to known hate groups.

The company will also continue to evaluate off-platform behavior in cases that happen on Twitch, like an on-stream situation that leads to harassment on Twitter or Facebook.

“While this policy is new, we have taken action historically against serious, clear misconduct that took place off service, but until now, we didn’t have an approach that scaled,” the company wrote in a blog post, adding that investigating off-platform behavior requires additional resources to address the complexity inherent in those cases.

To handle reports for its broadened rules, Twitch created a dedicated email address (OSIT@twitch.tv) to handle reports about off-service behavior. The company says it has partnered with a third-party investigative law firm to vet the reports it receives.

Twitch cites its actions against former President Donald Trump as the most high-profile instance of off-platform behavior resulting in enforcement. The company disabled Trump’s account following the attack on the U.S. Capitol and later suspended him indefinitely, citing fears that he could use the service to incite violence.

It’s hard to have a higher profile than the president, but Trump isn’t the only big time banned Twitch user. Last June, Twitch kicked one of its biggest streamers off of the platform without providing an explanation for the decision.

Going on a year later, no one seems to know why Dr. Disrespect got the boot from Twitch, though the company’s insistence that it only acts in cases with a “preponderance of evidence” suggests his violations were serious and well corroborated.

To handle reports for its broadened rules, Twitch created a dedicated email address (OSIT@twitch.tv) to handle reports about off-service behavior. The company says it has partnered with a third-party investigative law firm to vet the reports it receives.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/07/twitch-off-platform-harassment-policy/

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Arm announces the next generation of its processor architecture – TechCrunch

Chip designer Arm today announced Armv9, the next generation of its chip architecture.

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Arm today announced Armv9, the next generation of its chip architecture. Its predecessor, Armv8 launched a decade ago and while it has seen its fair share of changes and updates, the new architecture brings a number of major updates to the platform that warrant a shift in version numbers. Unsurprisingly, Armv9 builds on V8 and is backward compatible, but it specifically introduces new security, AI, signal processing and performance features.

Over the last five years, more than 100 billion Arm-based chips have shipped. But Arm believes that its partners will ship over 300 billion in the next decade. We will see the first ArmV9-based chips in devices later this year.

Ian Smythe, Arm’s VP of Marketing for its client business, told me that he believes this new architecture will change the way we do computing over the next decade. “We’re going to deliver more performance, we will improve the security capabilities […] and we will enhance the workload capabilities because of the shift that we see in compute that’s taking place,” he said. “The reason that we’ve taken these steps is to look at how we provide the best experience out there for handling the explosion of data and the need to process it and the need to move it and the need to protect it.”

That neatly sums up the core philosophy behind these updates. On the security side, ArmV9 will introduce Arm’s confidential compute architecture and the concept of Realms. These Realms enable developers to write applications where the data is shielded from the operating system and other apps on the device. Using Realms, a business application could shield sensitive data and code from the rest of the device, for example.

Image Credits: Arm

“What we’re doing with the Arm Confidential Compute Architecture is worrying about the fact that all of our computing is running on the computing infrastructure of operating systems and hypervisors,” Richard Grisenthwaite, the chief architect at Arm, told me. “That code is quite complex and therefore could be penetrated if things go wrong. And it’s in an incredibly trusted position, so we’re moving some of the workloads so that [they are] running on a vastly smaller piece of code. Only the Realm manager is the thing that’s actually capable of seeing your data while it’s in action. And that would be on the order of about a 10th of the size of a normal hypervisor and much smaller still than an operating system.”

As Grisenthwaite noted, it took Arm a few years to work out the details of this security architecture and ensure that it is robust enough — and during that time Spectre and Meltdown appeared, too, and set back some of Arm’s initial work because some of the solutions it was working on would’ve been vulnerable to similar attacks.

Image Credits: Arm

Unsurprisingly, another area the team focused on was enhancing the CPU’s AI capabilities. AI workloads are now ubiquitous. Arm had already done introduced its Scalable Vector Extension (SVE) a few years ago, but at the time, this was meant for high-performance computing solutions like the Arm-powered Fugaku supercomputer.

Now, Arm is introducing SVE2 to enable more AI and digital signal processing (DSP) capabilities. Those can be used for image processing workloads, as well as other IoT and smart home solutions, for example. There are, of course, dedicated AI chips on the market now, but Arm believes that the entire computing stack needs to be optimized for these workloads and that there are a lot of use cases where the CPU is the right choice for them, especially for smaller workloads.

“We regard machine learning as appearing in just about everything. It’s going to be done in GPUs, it’s going to be done in dedicated processors, neural processors, and also done in our CPUs. And it’s really important that we make all of these different components better at doing machine learning,” Grisenthwaite said.

As for raw performance, Arm believes its new architecture will allow chip manufacturers to gain more than 30% in compute power over the next two chip generations, both for mobile CPUs but also the kind of infrastructure CPUs that large cloud vendors like AWS now offer their users.

“Arm’s next-generation Armv9 architecture offers a substantial improvement in security and machine learning, the two areas that will be further emphasized in tomorrow’s mobile communications devices,” said Min Goo Kim, the executive vice president of SoC development at Samsung Electronics. “As we work together with Arm, we expect to see the new architecture usher in a wider range of innovations to the next generation of Samsung’s Exynos mobile processors.”

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/03/30/all-hail-armv9-arm-launches-the-next-generation-of-its-processor-architecture/

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