Blue-Collar Women, Amazon’s Automated Firings, and the Raisin Industry’s Dilemma

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The Verge has uncovered evidence that Amazon uses artificial intelligence to fire workers: “The documents also show a deeply automated tracking and termination process. ‘Amazon’s system tracks the rates of each individual associate’s productivity,’ according to the letter, ‘and automatically generates any warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors.’ (Amazon says supervisors are able to override the process.) …

“The system goes so far as to track ‘time off task,’ which the company abbreviates as TOT. If workers break from scanning packages for too long, the system automatically generates warnings and, eventually, the employee can be fired. Some facility workers have said they avoid bathroom breaks to keep their time in line with expectations.

“Amazon says retraining is part of the process to get workers up to standards and that it only changes rates when more than 75 percent of workers at a facility are meeting goals. The bottom five percent of workers are placed on a training plan, according to the company. An appeal system is also part of the termination process.”


The share of women who are truck drivers, electricians, plumbers, and mechanics recently touched the highest level its been in 25 years: “Kenyette Godhigh-Bell dismissed any thought of becoming a truck driver years ago when it appeared too daunting to break into a job where more than 90 percent of workers are men. ‘You’ve got this cowboy-boot wearing, cigarette-smoking, tattooed or whatever white guy’s job,’ she recalled. Now Ms. Godhigh-Bell, a 46-year-old black woman in sleek high-heeled boots, regularly pulls her 18-wheeler to Nebraska slaughterhouses so she can pick up beef and chicken for transport to grocery warehouses.

“She is among a growing number of women taking jobs in blue-collar roles that have long been—and still are—mostly men, including police officers, construction laborers and electricians. A number of factors are driving the trend, including companies broadening recruiting efforts in a tight labor market to workers being drawn by better-paying jobs to women recognizing they won’t be alone. The increase has been especially pronounced in transportation and material-moving, a field that includes truck drivers, delivery people and warehouse workers.”

The gig economy is distorting economic data: “Online shopping and the gig economy haven’t just disrupted traditional brick-and-mortar business, they’re disrupting the way US job growth, wage data and inflation are tracked, asserts a new paper from the Dallas Federal Reserve. There has been an increase in the number of workers in the gig economy who are either working as contractors or are self-employed, but report themselves as employed. These workers often have less bargaining power and lower wages than full-time employees.”


Startups founded by a single person are more likely to survive and succeed than those founded by a team: “Over the seven-year period of the study, ventures founded by solo entrepreneurs had a better chance of survival than companies with two or more founders. Most notably, solo ventures were nearly 2.6 times more likely to remain in business than companies with three or more founders. What’s more, solo founders were 54 percent less likely than teams of three or more to dissolve or suspend business functions without actually closing, and about 41 percent less likely to do so than two-person teams.”


Concerned that Millennials were not eating raisins, Sun-Maid sent Harry Overly to California’s Central Valley to talk to key stakeholders in the raisin industry about what they could do. It did not go well: “As he tried to make changes in the raisin industry and at his own company, Mr. Overly said he faced intimidation, harassing phone calls and multiple death threats. With his spouse in the last trimester of a pregnancy, Mr. Overly found a note shoved into a crack of his front door that warned: ‘you can’t run.’ …

“As rumors about Mr. Overly’s motives swirled among raisin farmers, raisin packers and raisin bureaucrats, he became increasingly concerned about the safety of the raisins themselves. He feared that the current crop, drying from grapes to a wrinkly, shrunken state in bins on the Sun-Maid campus, would be set ablaze. … ‘What I figured out fast was that this was not an industry which was interested in figuring out how you grow the size of the pie,’ he said. ‘It is one where they figure out how they just steal different slices of the pie from each other.’”

Snap is partnering with Shopify to entice more small businesses to advertise on Snapchat: “Though brands and agencies can already use Snapchat Ads Manager, this move lets hundreds of thousands of small merchants who want a quick and easy ad campaign do so from Shopify. It opens Snap’s door, for example, for a small business that may not have the budget for an agency or the marketing know-how to do more sophisticated campaigns. … The campaigns are conducted within the Shopify platform, where merchants manage their stores, with things like payments, store analytics, sales channels and inventory management.”


Generac Holdings Inc. has acquired Pika Energy, a solar-power energy company. “The deal is the second acquisition Generac has made this year with an eye toward expanding into new markets. The company acquired Vancouver-based Neurio Technology Inc., which makes energy-use monitoring software and hardware, in March. Jagdfeld announced earlier this year that Generac would move to add connectivity elements to its business.”

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To avoid high rental payments in big cities, some people are now living on boats. “In marinas outside San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City, living on boats can cut costs while keeping people close to the urban action. One urban mariner in the Bronx paid $10k for the sailboat he lives on, paying an average of $233 per month to keep his boat at a local marina. The average rent for an NYC apartment, in contrast, is more than $3k.”


Marine Layer recycles T-shirts into new T-shirts and tries to make the customer part of the recycling process. “For the Re-Spun collection, Marine Layer relied on customers to provide the raw materials, so it was important to make them feel invested in the process. Data suggests that consumers are increasingly concerned about the fate of the planet and are looking for ways to decrease their environmental footprint. … people sent in more than 5,000 shirts within the first 48 hours after Marine Layer put out the call.”


WeWork lost $1.9 billion last year, so of course it’s the latest “decacorn” to announce it’s going public: “The company helped take the idea of co-working—where it leases out commercial real estate, redesigns it for shared office space and sells memberships—to a new level of popularity. The business model gained cachet with trendy décor and, in many locations, beer and coffee on tap. But those ambitions have come at a steep cost. The company’s revenue doubled last year, to $1.8 billion. But its losses more than doubled, to $1.9 billion—and show no signs of reversing anytime soon.”


The black market for marijuana is getting worse, not better, in Californiaand, ironically, prompting calls for more prosecution: “The struggles of the licensed pot market in California are distinct from the experience of other states that have legalized cannabis in recent years. Sales in Colorado, Oregon and Washington grew well above 50 percent for each of the first three years of legalization, although Oregon now also has a large glut of pot.

“But no other state has an illegal market on the scale of California’s, and those illicit sales are cannibalizing the revenue of licensed businesses and in some cases, experts say, forcing them out of business. Entrepreneurs in the industry, which spent decades evading the law, are now turning to the law to demand the prosecution of unlicensed pot businesses.”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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