With help from Cristiano Lima, John Hendel and Leah Nylen
Editor’s Note: Morning Tech is a free version of POLITICO Pro Technology’s morning newsletter, which is delivered to our subscribers each morning at 6 a.m. The POLITICO Pro platform combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.
— Lifeline on the line: As demands for groceries and other household essentials surge, so do demands from the workers on the front lines of retail. Employees of Whole Foods (owned by Amazon) are going on strike today, building on protests from Instacart shoppers and Amazon warehouse workers.
— MT scoop: Democratic senators want answers from Google sister company Verily on what it will do with the data it collects from running a coronavirus screening site in California.
— FCC meets (by phone) today: Don’t expect virtual fireworks, but pay attention to Chairman Ajit Pai’s separate proposal for a new telehealth program that would use the $200 million sent by Congress as part of coronavirus relief.
IT’S TUESDAY; WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Alexandra Levine.
Got a news tip? Write Alex at [email protected] or @Ali_Lev. An event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. Anything else? Full team info below. And don’t forget: add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
STRIKES CONTINUE: FIRST GROCERY DELIVERIES, NOW GROCERY STORES — Whole Foods workers are going on strike today on the heels of a nationwide strike by Instacart shoppers and a walkout by Amazon warehouse workers on Monday. (Whole Foods, owned by Amazon, also offers delivery among its services.) What these labor movements have in common are their demands for employers to provide better protections for workers — many of whom (including food workers and cashiers) are among those at greatest risk during the pandemic.
— These protests, which could domino in the coming days and weeks, raise the question: What will happen if a combination of labor unrest and risk of infection shuts down the same delivery platforms and retail avenues that people are relying on to get through the crisis as they self-quarantine?
“Amazon, Instacart, and Whole Foods workers are sending a powerful message that it’s time to stop putting corporate profits ahead of the health and safety of the men and women who are critical to our food supply,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which has led efforts to unionize Amazon warehouse workers in New York and recently unionized Instacart workers in Chicago.
— Happening today: The Whole Worker’s National Organizing Committee is calling for “a mass sick-out,” urging Whole Foods employees and retail workers at other companies to call in sick and stay home from work. Citing incidents in which Amazon kept open an Amazon warehouse and two Whole Foods stores where employees tested positive for Covid-19, the grass-roots labor group said in a statement that “[w]e are working harder than we have ever worked. We are putting our lives at risk. We deserve to have our needs met” — especially “while being owned by the richest man on the planet.” (A Whole Foods spokesperson told MT the company could not address those incidents without context on the specific locations.)
Their asks: Whole Worker wants “guaranteed paid leave for all workers who isolate or self-quarantine instead of coming to work,” “increased FSA funds to cover coronavirus testing and treatment,” “guaranteed hazard pay in the form of double pay during our scheduled hours,” and “immediate shutdown of any location where a worker tests positive for COVID-19.” Read their full list of requests here.
— Whole Foods Market reiterated to MT that workers diagnosed with the coronavirus or quarantined have up to two weeks of paid time off, and that workers are receiving increased overtime and an additional $2 per hour on top of hourly base pay. (More on those policies here.) “We have taken extensive measures to keep people safe, and in addition to social distancing, enhanced deep cleaning and crowd control measures, we continue rolling out new safety protocols in our stores to protect our Team Members who are on the front lines serving our customers,” a spokesperson said.
— Presidential candidates, past and present, weigh in: “Corporations like Whole Foods have a moral obligation to take this pandemic seriously and stop putting profits over people,” Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted on Monday, linking to a Whole Worker petition and criticizing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted in support of Instacart shoppers, who she said “are providing an essential service to those who cannot leave their homes now.” (She also circulated a petition.) Sen. Cory Booker called on Amazon and Instacart to “take care of their workers, especially now.”
— Attorney general momentum: More than a dozen state attorneys general called on Bezos and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey to broaden their paid sick leave policies during the crisis, both for employees and for independent contractors. “By limiting paid sick leave to only those employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who have been placed into quarantine, the Companies are placing their other employees, their customers, and the public at large at significant risk of exposure to COVID-19,” the group wrote in a letter.
PLUS: AMAZON WALKOUT ORGANIZER FIRED — Amazon worker Chris Smalls, an organizer of Monday’s walkout at the company’s JFK8 facility in New York, was allegedly terminated after the protest — prompting New York Attorney General Letitia James to call for a federal investigation of the firing.
— “In New York, the right to organize is codified into law, and any retaliatory action by management related thereto is strictly prohibited,” James said Monday night. She added that her office is considering “all legal options” and called on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate.
FIRST IN MT: DEMS STILL WANT ANSWERS ON CORONAVIRUS SCREENING SITE — Democratic senators say they remain concerned that Verily, the Google sister company that launched a coronavirus screening site in California, has yet to provide a full accounting of what it plans to do with the data it collects from the portal. In a letter dated today, lawmakers led by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) say that “several questions remain” about whether Verily will use the information for commercial purposes, sell it to third parties or to comply with privacy laws.
— “As Verily moves forward with the Baseline COVID-19 Pilot Program and test screening websites in California, it is essential that you address these critical privacy concerns,” wrote Menendez, Booker and Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Kamala Harris of California. The missive follows a pair of letters in which the group grilled Google and the White House about plans for the website.
— In the latest letter, the senators additionally press Verily to spell out a timeline for its plans to roll out the tool in other states and to say whether it will provide protections afforded under California’s landmark data protection law, the California Consumer Privacy Act, to users that access the portal in various regions. They are seeking answers by April 6.
TODAY: FCC MEETS … BY PHONE — The FCC is holding its statutorily required monthly meeting for March at 10:30 a.m. this morning in the form of a teleconference — but it may not have much to vote on. A senior FCC official, speaking to reporters Monday, conveyed optimism that all agenda items would be adopted by the meeting’s start time (see the full lineup here; one big one that MT readers probably recall is a proposal codifying a recent robocall law specifying that carriers must adopt call authentication technology by the end of June 2021).
— Pai on Monday separately proposed a new telehealth program using the $200 million that Congress just sent as part of coronavirus relief, as John reported for Pros. Its first vote of support: GOP Commissioner Brendan Carr. The FCC hopes the proposal will be adopted soon, receive emergency approval from the Office of Management and Budget and then be published in the Federal Register in short order, which could mean telehealth money flowing out in as soon as a month, the senior FCC official said.
— MT is tracking how commissioners handle the unconventional setup for today’s meeting. Commissioners are trying out new ways to do what they used to do in the analog world. Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, for instance, is fielding reporters’ questions on Zoom after the meeting.
— Another telecom tidbit: Pai is not planning to issue regular updates on the state of U.S. telecom networks’ connectivity during the pandemic, John also reported. The networks seem to have mostly held up, and the FCC instead is leaning on industry trade groups to release data. But Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel countered that “in any other disaster — like a hurricane or power outage — the agency reports daily on how our networks are faring.” She added: “A little transparency can go a long way at putting the public at ease when so much of modern life has headed online.”
FTC SHOULD IMPROVE ITS RECORD-KEEPING, GAO SAYS — The FTC needs to update its systems to keep better track of what email and electronic records it maintains for transparency and historical purposes, the Government Accountability Office said in a report published Monday.
— The GAO — which provides nonpartisan information to Congress — looked into the record-keeping of 17 agencies, including the FTC, to determine how well they are complying with a 2014 law on maintaining electronic data for the National Archives. While the FTC met the requirements for electronic and email retention, the agency needs to do a better job on keeping documentation about what those records contain, the GAO said. In a 2018 self-assessment, the FTC gave itself a 79 out of 100 — meaning the agency was at moderate risk for not meeting government record-keeping requirements.
Christopher Hooton, chief economist and head of research at the Internet Association, will join Facebook on Monday as a senior research scientist in the Demography and Survey Science Group. … Craig Minerva, a former trial attorney for the Justice Department’s antitrust division, joins Axinn’s antitrust group as counsel in the law firm’s D.C. office.
Disappearing act: Oscar Health, a health insurance company closely tied to Jared Kushner and co-founded by his brother, Joshua, built a coronavirus website like the one President Donald Trump said Google was working on before scrapping it, The Atlantic reports.
Attn, Airbnb hosts: “Airbnb said on Monday it was allocating $250 million to help offset losses by hosts around the world whose guests have canceled bookings in the face of the coronavirus pandemic,” Reuters reports.
Teamsters vs. the Valley: Teamsters Joint Council 7, which represents more than 1,000 shuttle bus drivers working for Silicon Valley tech giants, is pressing Apple and Tesla to do more to protect drivers during the health crisis; read the letter here.
Tech for good, ICYMI: Facebook pledged $100 million to support news organizations enduring major declines in ad revenue during the pandemic, Cristiano reports for Pros.
In memoriam: The New York Times launched “Those We’ve Lost,” a series documenting the stories and celebrating the lives of individuals who have died of the coronavirus.
Know before you Zoom: The term “Zoombombing.” Here’s what it is and why it can be dangerous. (h/t Anti-Defamation League)
And: The teleconferencing platform is under scrutiny by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, over Zoom’s privacy and security practices, NYT reports.
Headline OTD: “How to Invite a Goat to Your Next Zoom Meeting,” via KQED.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected], @bkingdc), Nancy Scola ([email protected], @nancyscola), Steven Overly ([email protected], @stevenoverly), John Hendel ([email protected], @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima ([email protected], @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected], @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen ([email protected], @leah_nylen).
TTYL and go wash your hands.