Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.
Image: Element 5 Digital

What Amazon’s union vote means for tech

Voting

Good morning! This Tuesday, the Alabama Amazon union vote gets counted, Big Tech continues to dominate the conversation about regulating Big Tech, Google Maps wants you to take the eco-friendly route, the White House is working on vaccine passports, and Niantic wants you to build it a metaverse.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day. And you can text with us, too, by signing up here or texting 415-475-1729.)

The Big Story

Amazon's union vote is done

Anna Kramer writes: Today's a big day for Amazon. The counting of votes in the month-long mail-in union election for warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama could end as early as this afternoon, and Amazon's active and sometimes bananas opposition has blown this vote into something like a day of reckoning.

  • This is the first serious unionization effort for the country's second-largest employer since a failed attempt in 2014, so a win or a loss today could carry big consequences for everyone at Amazon.
  • The 5,800 or so warehouse workers have been able to mail in their election ballots since early February, when the election began. Amazon opposed the mail-in election, arguing instead for an in-person one. (In-person elections tend to be easier for employers to monitor, and give workers less time to think about their choice.)

There may not be a clear winner today. We all adjusted to the slow counting of mail-in votes, the recounting, the challenges in November. On a much smaller scale, that's what to expect here.

  • The National Labor Relations Board will begin counting the votes this morning, with representatives from both parties in attendance to observe.
  • But once the votes are tallied, Amazon and union reps can file objections to the vote count and to specific ballots for a whole host of reasons.
  • If enough ballots are challenged ahead of time to affect the vote count in either direction, there may be no official tally or winner until the NLRB can schedule and host a hearing. Which is a pretty common occurrence in union elections.

If the union members win the election, they'll have a slog ahead of them; they'll need to start the long process of collective bargaining with Amazon, a brutal fight that could take years. But if these workers can prove that a campaign works in Bessemer, they might provide a formula and inspiration for similar campaigns in other Amazon warehouses, or for workers across the tech industry.

And if they lose? It will certainly be a setback for all the political leaders who have invested themselves in this vote, and for the workers leading the movement on the ground. But unionization momentum has been building across the industry and organizers across the sector told me they doubt a loss here could fully quash it.

We'll be following the vote count and any challenges closely here at Protocol today, so stay tuned.

More Regulation

Big Law loves Big Tech

It's a running joke on Wall Street that the people who work at banks, the people who regulate banks and the people who oversee the people who regulate banks are all best friends. Except for when they're all the same person.

Big Tech also enjoys a cozy relationship with the people who stand to influence its future, a number of members of the American Bar Association told Protocol | Policy's Emily Birnbaum. The association's lawyers have a direct line to the government officials at the FTC and DOJ working out how to regulate Big Tech; many of those same lawyers have also made a career representing companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.

  • Almost half of the authors of the ABA antitrust section's recent presidential transition report, which top policymakers and government officials look to for guidance, either represent Big Tech firms or hold partner positions at law firms that do.

It's hard to overestimate the influence that the four Big Tech companies have in driving the conversation and framing the debate about how they should be regulated. Some say the ABA doesn't matter now that Congress is taking a more serious interest in the space. Others say the FTC isn't likely to pick a fight with the ABA. The question is, who's listening? And who matters?

Google

My way or the eco way

Google is launching a bunch of new features inside Maps, including layers for weather and air quality, an AR view for walking around indoors and a way to get pickup and delivery info from search results.

Two new changes stick out, both for the same reason: Google is rethinking its UX to incentivize users to make good decisions.

  • "Eco-friendly routes" show users the directions with the lowest carbon emissions, taking things such as traffic, incline and distance into account. (Assuming the ETA is the same, anyway.) Even if the environmentally-friendly way is the longer way, Google will still show it, with a note on how much more efficient it would be.
  • And Maps will also show travel times for all modes of transport — biking, driving, transit, the works — on a single screen. The goal, Google's Russell Dicker said, is to nudge people to get out of their routines and try new stuff.

Google said these features are all part of its sustainability goals, one of which is to "offer 1 billion people new ways to take actions to reduce their environmental footprint by 2022." It's all a clever bit of light-pattern design, trying to subtly nudge users in the right direction. And given how many people use Google Maps, it's likely to hit that 1 billion goal pretty quickly.

Users can change their settings to stop seeing the eco-friendly routes. But it's nice to see tech companies force users to opt out of doing the right thing, not into it.

A MESSAGE FROM GODADDY

Greg Goldfarb, who is VP of Products and Commerce at GoDaddy, admires the resilience and ingenuity of small business owners. "It is amazing to see entrepreneurs figuring out the new context really quickly to adapt and survive." We sat down with Goldfarb to talk about the rise in ecommerce, the impact of COVID-19, the major trends emerging this year and more.

Read the interview

People Are Talking

On Protocol | Policy: Section 230 reform won't accomplish what some people think it will, said former Google policy director and Chamber of Progress creator Adam Kovacevich:

  • "The big companies have plenty of content reviewers and lawyers, and they would survive 230's revocation just fine. Who's really threatened is the next Google, the next Facebook, the startup, the small website."

T-Mobile is shutting down its live TV service, TVision, and replacing it with a discounted YouTube TV offering. But Mike Sievert tried to spin it as good news:

  • "With our TV software provider encountering some financial challenges and with our broader, strategic partnerships with Google and Philo, we saw an opportunity to deliver unique value to our customers and strengthen the TVision initiative with the best partners."

The White House is reportedly pitching a coordinated vaccine passport program, and warning against a multi-prong strategy:

  • "A chaotic and ineffective vaccine credential approach could hamper our pandemic response by undercutting health safety measures, slowing economic recovery, and undermining public trust and confidence."

Making Moves

Rahul Roy-Chowdhury is Grammarly's new global head of product, joining from Google.

Kevin Martin has a new role at Facebook, leading the company's global team for economic policy. Facebook is hiring a new U.S. policy chief, which seems like a super fun, totally low-stakes gig right now.

Niantic is hiring a Head of AR OS Engineering, "to help build an AR operating system for HMDs and enable applications for millions of Niantic players." Metaverse alert!

Elliott Wilke is GameStop's new chief growth officer, joining from Amazon.

Armin Zerza got a promotion at Activision Blizzard, and is now CFO. Current CFO Dennis Durkin is retiring.

Sameer Singh is TikTok's new head of global business solutions for Southeast Asia. He'd been doing the same job in India before the country kicked TikTok out.

Volkswagen is almost certainly not changing its name to "Voltswagen," no matter what you read yesterday. And hey, Herbert Diess: If that wasn't an April Fool's Joke, just pretend it was. Nobody has to know.

In Other News

One More Thing

Lindsay Lohan

NFT of the day

The music industry continues to do more interesting NFT things than anyone else. This time it's Lindsay Lohan's new single, "Lullaby." You can listen to it with your ears for free, but it's going to cost you at least 500,000 Tron (which is about $32,000) to buy it as an NFT and go "on a trip down memory lane and experience nostalgia all over again as you glance through the visuals, be prepared to get lost in it for a never before experience." What does that mean? Who knows. Buy it and let me know.

A MESSAGE FROM GODADDY

Greg Goldfarb, who is VP of Products and Commerce at GoDaddy, admires the resilience and ingenuity of small business owners. "It is amazing to see entrepreneurs figuring out the new context really quickly to adapt and survive." We sat down with Goldfarb to talk about the rise in ecommerce, the impact of COVID-19, the major trends emerging this year and more.

Read the interview

Tell Your Friends, Get A Mug

Are you tired of explaining the tech news of the day to your co-workers every morning? Let us do the heavy lifting and refer them to Source Code.

Send them your referral link via Slack, text, email, or carrier pigeon and we'll send you your very own Protocol mug after you refer 10 friends!

Your referral link: *|RH_REFLINK|*

Share on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare via email

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Adam Kovacevich's Chamber of Progress. This story was updated on March 30, 2021.

Recent Issues

The Slack revolution

How to fix Facebook