April 2021 Live Report

Oh, my… oh, my… April was packed with Corporate Rule News -- check out our monthly Live Report to hear all the most relevant Corporate Rule News we've been tracking!

Let's start with the trial and verdict that had the attention of the whole nation… 

Of course we’re talking about the trial of former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who a jury found guilty on all the counts he faced over the death of George Floyd.

Chauvin, age 45, has been found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

Chauvin remains in custody, and his sentencing is set for June 16. 

State sentencing guidelines recommend 12.5 years in prison for a conviction on unintentional second-degree murder for someone with no criminal history. But prosecutors could seek a sentence up to the maximum of 40 years on that count if the Judge determines there were aggravating factors.

It is not an exaggeration to say that this trial has been one of the most closely watched cases in recent memory, setting off a national reckoning on police violence, systemic racism, and how we should reimagine policing in the US, even before the trial commenced.

But as we have this national discussion, it is important to remember that -- 

We can turn this into an opportunity to finally push beyond the sort of conversations that we've always had to start actively engaging in the process of what it looks like to build systems that actually have the values and the self-determination that Black people and other people who have been abused and killed by this system deserve.

And I’m not talking about "reimagine policing" -- We don't need that.

What we need is to examine the meaning of “Public Safely.” 

Billions upon millions of taxpayer money are spent on policing and we are NOT safe! 

182 Black People -- including Andrew Brown Jr-- have been Killed by Police since George Floyd's death! 

Black people account for 18.7 percent of police killings, despite making up 13 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau.

Housing is safety; Healthcare is safety; funding things that actually prevent social instability and conflict is safety. 

Raising the minimum wage to a livable $15 per hour wage is safety -- and Newsflash: raising the min. wage won’t hurt business!

That’s what CEOs from McDonald’s, Denny’s and other Big restaurant chains are telling investors: a national minimum wage hike wouldn't be a big deal — even as their corporate lobbying groups in Washington fight plans for a $15 minimum wage.

The National Restaurant Association, for example, has been saying that restaurants—because they operate on tight margins, rely on tips, and have been hit hard by the pandemic—can't handle a $15 minimum wage and the elimination of the tipped minimum wage.

However, on recent earnings calls, executives at restaurant chains that belong to the association have explicitly debunked these talking points.

Domino's Pizza CEO, Ritch Allison, even disputed the idea that $15 an hour is an unaffordable labor cost: 

“We've been able to manage our way through a lot of minimum wage increases across the country. And I'll tell you, quite honestly, in our corporate store business, we're not paying the federal minimum wage anyway. You can't go out there and hire people at that rate anyway,” 

said Allison.

And, in fact, California's law raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2023 has actually been good for the diner chain's business, according to Denny's chief financial officer, Robert Verostek.

Denny's is another one of several publicly-traded restaurant chains whose executives have told investors in recent months that Democrats' proposed minimum wage hike is not a real threat to their business and may even be a net positive.

Additionally, In January, McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski (Kem-p-cz-in-ski) told investors the company "developed quite a bit of experience" with minimum wage hikes at the state level, and they haven't been a problem. 

And it shouldn't be a problem! Especially if these CEO’s followed the steps of Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments who cut his own annual salary to give his employees a $70k minimum salary -- but anyways, that won’t happen… 

Back to the story… 

Other top executives from DiamondRock Hospitality, Kroger, HCA Healthcare, Hilton and Six Flags all downplayed the negative effects of a prospective minimum wage increase, and some have argued it would boost consumer spending. 

The statements from leaders across various service industry sectors undercut corporate lobbying groups in Washington that have pretended such a wage increase would destroy the economy.

"Many including me are supportive over time that the minimum wage needs to move up," said Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta in a February earnings call. "I think we should all assume that the minimum wage is going to be going up over time. In fact, because it needs to."

That is exactly right -- it NEEDS to be increased because the federal minimum wage has flatlined at $7.25 an hour — or $15,080 annually — for 12 consecutive years...

Since its implementation in 1938, the federal minimum wage has increased 22 times since its inception, inching its way up from cents on the dollar to today’s $7.25 rate. 

And through the 1940s-1960s, the wage increases kept pace with productivity growth (meaning more goods and services are produced per hour) and inflation.

But then, the pace of wage growth started slowing after 1968, and the minimum wage stopped rising with inflation.

Had the minimum wage of 1968 simply stayed even with inflation, it would be more than $10 an hour today.

And if it had grown at the same rate as Wall Street bonuses, it would be $44 an hour today!

But of course, Greedy Mega Corporations and Businesses started pouring money -- and some continue to do so -- into think-tanks and lobbying groups like The National Restaurant Association and others, to try to fight plans for a $15 minimum wage. 

But President Biden might’ve just given the movement a really big boost when he signed an executive order this past Tuesday raising the minimum wage paid by federal contractors to $15 an hour.

The move would affect hundreds of thousands of workers, according to a senior administration official.

Biden’s order would also phase out the tipped minimum wage, which stands at $7.25 by 2024, and set minimum wages for workers with disabilities on par with the standard minimum wage for contractors.

This sure is a good first step in the right direction, and it signals that the minimum wage is going to be going up over time -- despite Corporate Greed trying to prevent it.

But not all fights for more fair workplaces are going well -- 

Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama vote not to form a union in what many view as a major blow to the organized labor movement.

Of the some 3,117 votes cast in the closely watched union election, a total of 1,798 votes were against unionization, compared to 738 in favor of it, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

Even accounting for the 505 challenged ballots, Amazon has enough "no" votes to defeat the organizing efforts.

It seems like Amazon’s Union-Crushing-tactics paid off -- and they really tried about everything at their disposal: from trying to surveil employees, stall postings, which circulated on social media, that read: “Where will your dues go?” and another proclaiming: “Unions can’t. We can,” setting up a website to tell workers that they would have to skip dinner and school supplies to pay their union dues, and even changing a traffic signal to prevent organizers from approaching warehouse workers as they left the site.

“We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The unionizing efforts might have failed in Bessemer, but if the history of unions has taught us something, it's that it’s always about failing forward -- workers trying, workers losing, workers trying again. 

This fight is not over. And the workers in Bessemer brought national attention to issues that many non-union workers face -- now Staten Island Amazon Workers Begin Union Drive, Drawing Lessons from Bessemer. 

The outcome in Bessemer, union organizers say, has solidified the choice as the best option for Staten Island’s more than 5,000 workers, especially since other unions have tried and failed to unionize facilities in New York.

We wish these folks the best of luck, and we will bring you more information on this issue as it develops...

Moving on to another story that we’ve been closely following -- 

Several Federal agencies have taken advantage of legal loopholes to collect massive amounts of personal information from cell phone and internet users without congressional or judicial authorization for years. 

The list of agencies that have abused the flimsy loophole to bypass the 4th Amendment and spy on all of us includes the US military, ICE, CBP, the Secret Service and even the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service, which has been quietly running a program that tracks and collects Americans’ social media posts

Yes, you heard that right -- the US Postal Service has been running a surveillance effort, known as iCOP, or Internet Covert Operations Program, which involves having analysts trawl through social media sites to look for what the document describes as “inflammatory” postings and then sharing that information across government agencies.

But that practice is being challenged by a bipartisan and bicameral group of lawmakers who introduced the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act  that would prevent the U.S. government from buying individuals' information from data brokers without a court order, protecting everyone in the U.S. from unlawful searches and seizures, one of the key civil liberties spelled out in the Bill of Rights.

Currently, phone companies like AT&T and Verizon and tech companies like Google and Facebook—loopholes in the law currently permit data brokers and other firms without a direct relationship to consumers to sell Americans' private information to the government without a court order.

And reports revealed that a data broker named Venntel is selling location data collected from Americans' smartphones to government agencies.

Another controversial data broker, Clearview.AI, has compiled a massive database of billions of photos, which it downloaded in bulk from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube, in violation of their terms of service, and uses these illicitly obtained photos to power a facial recognition service it sells to government agencies, which they can search without a court order.

And if you need more reasons to watch what you post online -- there is a brutal fight going on to mine your data and sell it to your boss! 

The feud is between LinkedIn and HiQ, a “people analytics” firm that creates software tools such as a Keeper service which identifies when employees are at risk of leaving for another job drawing the overwhelming majority of their data from the material that is posted—with varying degrees of timeliness, detail, accuracy, and self-awareness—by the 500 million people on the social networking site LinkedIn.

LinkedIn, which is owned by Facebook (another known data collector and seller) accused HiQ back in 2017 of using processes to improperly, and without authorization, access and copy data from LinkedIn’s website.

hiQ sued back, alleging  that LinkedIn does not have monopoly rights to personal data made publicly available by its users, and that by scraping its website, hiQ did not violate users’ privacy rights (what LinkedIn alleges).

Then, on Aug. 14, 2017 a judge from the Northern District of California issued an emphatically ruling in favor of HiQ.

LinkedIn appealed, but the appeal was denied. The Ninth Circuit determined that “scraping” publicly available information from LinkedIn likely is not a violation of the CFAA because the LinkedIn computers are publicly accessible.  As such, hiQ did not access the computers “without authorization” as required by the CFAA.  

LinkedIn then filed its petition for certiorari to the SCOTUS, which is currently pending.

Depending on whom you ask, the sides are arguing about free speech or privacy, the scourge of data scraping or the danger of digital monopolies.

What’s for sure is that, the outcome will determine who gets to control the wealth of information about ourselves that, often unwittingly, we’ve put at the disposal of anyone with a professional curiosity and an internet connection. We will keep you updated as this case moves forward.

So stay tuned to future episodes of the Live Report or Making Sense…

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