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    Published on: February 3, 2022

    An update on the grand ambitions of Amazon and Google for their personal voice assistant technologies, compared with those of Apple, which seems to have more modest, and yet maybe more acceptable aspirations.  KC thinks the current state of affairs offers a lesson in how to compete.

    Published on: February 3, 2022

    CNBC reports that "Amazon workers at a second warehouse on New York’s Staten Island have filed a petition to form a union, according to a labor group behind the effort.

    "Workers at one of the company’s Staten Island facilities, which is known as LDJ5, are seeking to be represented by the Amazon Labor Union, a labor group made up of current and former Amazon employees. ALU on Wednesday electronically filed a petition to form a union with the National Labor Relations Board, said Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee who is a leader of the group.

    "ALU is also in the process of organizing another Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, which is called JFK8 and located less than a mile away from LDJ5."

    This move is in addition to the unionization vote that will start taking place at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama;  this is actually the second time around at this facility, after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the first vote - which organized labor lost - was inappropriately influenced by Amazon (which denied any improprieties).

    CNBC points out that "major unions have been trying to organize Amazon workers for years, to no avail. The RWDSU, the United Food & Commercial Workers Union and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have all approached Amazon workers in recent years about their interest in organizing."

    KC's View:

    Unionization movements at various companies have taken on a life of their own, and it is hard to imagine that the toothpaste is going to be put back in the tube anytime soon.

    The question is whether the organized labor forces will actually be able to get the ball over the goal line.  They've scored from time to time in the case of Starbucks, but for the most part it has been more sound, less fury.

    It would be a mistake to overstate the degree to which unionization is seeing new traction.  But .. it also would be a mistake to underestimate the degree - and the legitimacy - of worker discontent.

    Published on: February 3, 2022

    USA Today has an interesting story about what businesses in general can learn from the lawsuit filed yesterday by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, accusing the National Football League and three specific teams - the New York Giants, Denver broncos, and Dolphins - of systemic racism.

    At issue is something called the "Rooney Rule," which was instituted in 2002, requiring every team to interview at least one minority candidate for open head coaching positions.  The rule was implemented to address a clear disparity between the percentage of Black players - roughly two out of three - and the small number of Black head coaches.  USA Today writes that  "the rule has evolved over time, with the NFL approving changes in 2021 requiring every team to interview at least two external minority candidates for open head coaching positions and at least one external minority candidate for a coordinator position. It also requires that a woman be interviewed for every business front-office position that opens in the league."

    USA Today writes that "Flores described his interview with the New York Giants for a head coaching position as a 'sham'  … The suit alleges that before interviewing Flores, the Giants had already made a decision to hire Brian Daboll, offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills … The rule, the suit claims, is 'not working because management is not doing the interviews in good faith. It creates a stigma that interviews of Black candidates are only being done to comply with the Rooney Rule rather than in recognition of the talents that the Black candidates possess'."

    Perhaps even more explosively, the suit alleges that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered Flores a $100,000 bonus-per-game if the team would lose enough games to guarantee it the number one draft pick in the 2019 draft.

    For the record, the NFL, Giants, Broncos and Dolphins have denied all the allegations.

    USA Today writes that outside professional sports, a number of companies have implemented their version of the Rooney Rule, but the problem is that the bar often is set too low.  And, here's a line  from an expert worth considering:

    "A rule is only as good as the intention of the leadership to actually realize diversity."

    You can read the piece here.

    KC's View:

    I don't want to pre-judge the suit, though certainly the paucity of lack head coaches would suggest that Flores is going to be able to make a compelling argument.  And when it comes to both intention and implementation, I think there is a lot to be learned by companies where leadership may not reflect the workforce or the customer base.

    What makes me suspicious is the fact that the NFL instantly responded to the suit by saying that the claims were "without merit."  Seems to me that the league should've actually conducted an investigation before making such a knee-jerk declaration.

    It also is interesting that Flores' move was prompted by a text message sent to him by his former boss, New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, congratulating him for getting the Giants job - a text that Belichick later said was meant for Brian Daboll, who got the Giants job and who apparently was a lock even before Flores interviewed.  I keep thinking that this could be Belichick being Belichick … that he likes nothing better than sowing discord on other teams.

    Published on: February 3, 2022

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The United States now has had a total of 76,882,290 cases of Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 917,600 deaths and 47,112,620 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 385,910,363 total cases, with 5,721,140 resultant fatalities and 305,793,041 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 75.4 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine … 63.9 percent is fully vaccinated … and 41.8 percent has received a vaccine booster shot.  The CDC also says that 50.6 percent of the total US population is eligible for a vaccine booster shot but has not received one.

    •  The New York Times reports that the next big thing in Covid-19 vaccines may not be shots, but a nasal spray.

    "Currently available vaccines produce powerful, long-lasting immunity against severe illness, as several studies have recently shown," the Times writes.  "But their protection against infection from the coronavirus is transient, and can falter as new variants of the virus emerge — a failing that has prompted talk of regular booster shots.

    "Nasal vaccines may be the best way to prevent infections long term, because they provide protection exactly where it is needed to fend off the virus: the mucosal linings of the airways, where the coronavirus first lands … Immunizing entire populations with a nasal or oral vaccine would be faster in the middle of a surge than injections, which require skill and time to administer. A nasal vaccine is likely to be more palatable to many (including children) than painful shots, and would circumvent shortages of needles, syringes and other materials."

    The Times says that India-based "Bharat Biotech is among the world’s leading vaccine manufacturers. Its best known product, Covaxin, is authorized to prevent Covid in India and many other countries. But its experimental nasal vaccine may prove to be the real game changer."

    Published on: February 3, 2022

    •  From the Washington Post this morning:

    "Facebook parent Meta’s quarterly earnings report on Wednesday revealed a startling statistic: For the first time ever, the company’s growth is stagnating around the world.

    "Facebook lost daily users for the first time in its 18-year history — falling by about half a million users in the last three months of 2021, to 1.93 billion logging in each day. The loss was greatest in Africa and Latin America, suggesting that the company’s product is saturated globally — and that its long quest to add as many users as possible has peaked."

    Published on: February 3, 2022

    •  The Washington Post this morning reports that "private payrolls tumbled by 301,000 in January, posting their biggest drop-off since the onset of the pandemic, as the omicron variant set off a spike in coronavirus cases, according to data released Wednesday.

    "The unexpected findings by ADP — which had forecast a gain of 200,000 jobs for the month — represent the first time the payrolls processing firm has reported negative employment growth since December 2020 and the biggest decline in employment since spring 2020. They also cut against federal data showing more moderate losses. The wide variance suggests the labor market was more chaotic last month than previously thought."

    The federal government is scheduled to release its own January jobs data tomorrow.

    •  The US Department of Labor this morning said that first-time unemployment claims last week dropped 23,000 from a revised 261,000 in the prior week, a reflection, MarketWatch says, of the fact that the omicron wave is receding and "more people were able to go back to work."

    •  Meijer said yesterday that it is partnering with the EVgo public fast charging network to open "the first EVgo public fast charging station at Meijer stores. EVgo’s latest stations with Meijer are part of EVgo and the retailer's previously announced partnership, and are capable of 100 kW to 350 kW fast charging.

    "EVgo and Meijer's first sites under the partnership are in key Midwestern cities across Michigan and Ohio. The stations will add to the over 800 fast charging locations in EVgo’s network and build on its growing base of over 310,000 customer accounts – reflecting the company’s continued leadership in building out charging infrastructure and its mutually rewarding collaborations with retail site host partners."

    •  Albertsons announced that Curtis Mann, the companies’ group vice president of alcohol, is the first-ever US based retail executive to be recognized as a winner of the prestigious Taransaud Tonnellerie Award.

    The award was presented to Mann at the 2021 Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) Awards Ceremony, hosted in London, and is given to the Master of Wine who exhibits a deep understanding of the production and handling of wine.

    Published on: February 3, 2022

    •  In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that Kamau Witherspoon, Target's senior vice president of Operations, will move over to become CEO of the company's Shipt grocery delivery business.  Witherspoon succeeds Kelly Caruso, who announced she was leaving Shipt after three years there and, before that, 22 years with Target.

    •  Save A Lot announced that it has  named Leon Bergmann at its new CEO, succeeding interim CEO Craig Herkert.

    Bergmann most recently served as CEO of Harvest Sherwood Food Distributors, and also has held leadership roles with a number of retailers and wholesalers, including C&S Holdings, Unified Grocers, and SuperValu, where he was President of the SuperValu West Region from 2017 to 2018.

    Published on: February 3, 2022

    Yesterday we took note of a Fast Company piece about Parkland, described as "a Canada-based gas station operator with 3,000 locations in 25 countries," which recently teamed up with an organization called Electric Autonomy Canada to sponsor a design competition focused on creating a vision for what gas stations will look like when they no longer are selling gasoline.

    One MNB reader responded:

    Great article that really makes you wonder what is going to happen to the Wawa’s, Royal Farm’s etc. with their limited space.

    From another MNB reader:

    Kevin, I saw on CBS Sunday Morning a piece about Buc-ee’s in Texas which holds the world record for most gas pumps (120, I believe) at a travel center.  They are now expanding outside Texas to other states such as South Carolina with their big concept travel centers.  How does this look to you in the age of electric vehicles?  Just wonder what your take on this would be.  Maybe they will soon have 120 charging stations at their centers.  If not, they would seem to fall into your buggy whip manufacturer scenario.

    And another:

    The charging times seem to be one of the greatest challenges for this technology in this immediate response society.  Agreed, 40 mins in a E-store location and I’m scratching the roof liner.

    I still don’t see the application, as much as people want it to be, for long distance driving.  If you are driving over 300 miles, the last thing you want is another hour added to your trip.  Although trying to make the stay palatable and pleasant is at least an attempt to ease the charge time issue.  I am curious as to how these battery cars will fair in the very cold temps of the north.  I know cold flashlights don’t work so well.

    The retail graveyard is filled with the carcasses of companies that underestimated both the degree and pace of change.

    Does it make sense right now to build gas stations with 120 gas pumps?  Maybe … but I would hope that the folks at that company would be actively plotting out a future when they instead will have 120 fast-charging stations.

    Will the issue of long-distance trip be addressed by the technology?  Of course.  Will issues of temperature be solved?  Of course.

    The worst thing that any retailer - or any consumer - should say is that "this can't happen."