business news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to our story about the Amazon warehouse hit hard by the tornado, and the questions being raised about some Amazon policies, one MNB reader wrote:

This is a tough one! I was on duty (Full disclosure: I am in Southeast Missouri, so we were in the bullseye too) I am the store manager. I was glued to the weather forecast, my phone and had teammates throughout the store looking at their phones with my blessing. We have an emergency plan, and location in the store. I made sure everyone that was working was refreshed on the action plan and location. Here is the caveat; because of my job I religiously watch the weather forecast. Be it storms, heavy rain, snow, whatever. It all affects my business. It also affects the safety of our teammates. We didn't close the store because of impending weather, we were watchful. Would our emergency location protect us in a catastrophic tornado? Seriously doubt it, and I hope we never put it to the test. I refuse to be an armchair quarterback on this, nobody knows how they would respond in those situations. All you can do is be prepared. My heart goes out to the stricken areas.

One MNB reader had a thought about Kellogg's decision to start hiring replacement workers to replace a labor force that has gone out on strike and rejected  a recent contract proposal:

Bold statement by Kellogg on hiring permanent workers for vacated positions by strikers.  I wonder if Starbucks would look to the same direction if need be?  The only loser in these situations is the employee.

I'm not sure that Starbucks would do that;  such a move would seem to be contrary to its hard-won image.

Another MNB reader pulls on this string, however:

Just a question.  What happens if Starbucks determines that these 3 baristas are no longer profitable?  Buffalo is the second largest city in NY, however, it is the 11 poorest city in NY.  If you add villages and Burroughs they drop into the 30’s.  I would hate to see the 100 people be out on the street because of unforeseen repercussions from a positive union vote.

Continuing the discussion about Starbucks' union issues, one MNB reader wrote:

I wouldn’t be surprised if the SEIU seeded the staffing of the Starbucks with a few union oriented employees over time to work this from the inside.   I am also surprised that

Starbucks couldn’t win the argument with NLRB that the appropriate voting unit was a bigger geographic area than just one store. 

If this is NLRB stance across the country, that is not good news for Starbucks, which needs to invest in some very competent consultants like yesterday.  

Or, maybe it needs to figure out what the problem is and address it.

From another reader:

While I applaud the efforts of the Buffalo area Starbucks stores and their bid to go Union, I have two points I would like to bring up. 

1. The are hundreds of not thousands of SB that are already Union. Any SB inside a grocery store, at an airport, etc. are all run by union employees that are part of that locations local. As someone who was a supervisor for multiple locations that fall into this category, I can’t tell you how many times I had baristas get just enough training and time in with us so they could then go get hired on at a better wage with less rules and union oversight at a corporate SB store. Having to be union was always stated as a factor to their leaving. 

Which leads me to point 2.

2. I hope the new union can negotiate a better deal then what the current SB union associates get because it’s not great! Lower wages, longer apprentice hours between pay increases, no ability to accept tips, etc.

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side and if we are to really bring our country into a new era of union pride and sense of ownership they will need to do better then what we’ve seen from the UFCW’s and Teamsters over the last 20+ years. 

On another subject, from an MNB reader:

Interesting the announcement regarding Giant launching Ship2Me digital marketplace at the same time AHOLD / USA struck an agreement with Instacart.  Hmmm.  Is anyone talking to each other over there???  Silos at their best.

I expressed a certain skepticism the other day about CVS being able to deliver on its stated goal of being part of the primary healthcare continuum, prompting one MNB reader to write:

Saw your comment about CVS’ customer service and wanted to share a story from the other day. My wife and I were getting our Covid booster shots at a local CVS and while the pharmacist was taking my information he was having an expletive filled, ranting discussion with one of the pharmacy techs-F***this and F*** that with a few of the other words you can’t say on TV. Now, I know all of the bad words and have used them myself on occasion, but never at work in front of a customer.  I was also told to wait 15 minutes after the shot to make sure I didn’t have a reaction and no one checked on me or released me. They have a long way to go if they want to push further into being a primary care provider.

MNB reader Mitch Hill had a comment on our Covid coverage:

In less than a year the US has lost in excess of 800,000 lives to COVID-19. This exceeds the total number of people lost to AIDS since its inception.  The saddest part is that there is a vaccination that will keep people from dying.  Yet influential members of our society make outlandish and untruthful claims and seem perfectly happy to watch their fellow citizens die from this terrible infection.  What will historians think 100 years from now?

Probably that we are the opposite of the Greatest Generation, and that we put the lie to the popular definition of American Exceptionalism.

In another pandemic-related story, we reported yesterday that the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) said that it "sent a letter to CEOs of top U.S. retail and grocery companies - including Amazon, Walmart, Kroger, Whole Foods and many others - calling for immediate action to protect workers and customers amid the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and the growing winter surge of virus infections."

One MNB reader responded:

The hypocrisy of this demand is laughable! How about if the retailers demand vaccinations for all of their teammates!  What would be the union's stance? We support your right of self governance? Or hey we asked that the retailers better protect you, so we support them demanding the vaccinations! It truly is amazing that stuff makes it public. Common sense is so uncommon. Full disclosure:  I've been vaccinated 3 times. 

Another MNB reader agreed:

The union wants a stronger response, how about mandatory vaccinations?  Oh wait, when the union members balk at that, the union will run to their defense, citing overreach.

Some of those chains already require mandatory masks.  I see their workers wearing them under their nose or worse on their chin only.

This is a two way street.  

I am totally on board with mandatory vaccinations for retail employees - and it ought to be part and parcel of any moves by retailers to make workplaces more safe for workers and customers.

Then again, I'm a hard-ass on this.  As far as I am concerned, insurance companies ought to tell people that if they don't get vaccinated and get Covid, their medical expenses will not be covered.  And the government ought to tell people that they can't claim unemployment benefits or any other government benefits of they're not vaccinated.  

This is about us all having a responsibility to each other, and to doing what we can to maintain the public health.  If you don't like up to that responsibility, you don't get benefits.

Yesterday we took note of a Bloomberg report that Amazon said that "automated processes in its cloud computing business caused cascading outages across the internet this week, affecting everything from Disney amusement parks and Netflix videos to robot vacuums and Adele ticket sales.

"In a statement Friday, Amazon said the problem began Dec. 7 when an automated computer program - designed to make its network more reliable - ended up causing a 'large number' of its systems to unexpectedly behave strangely. That, in turn, created a surge of activity on Amazon’s networks, ultimately preventing users from accessing some of its cloud services."

MNB reader Jeff Williams responded:

The Amazon statement is so indicative of a tech response.  Thats a non-answer in my opinion.  "Some code made something happen and people couldn’t do stuff.”  It is either bravado that they think they can just make statements like that because we won’t understand tech and folks will shrug it off or they really don’t know.  Not sure which is scarier.  Doing the right thing is never wrong, and transparency is always the right thing.

Keep up the great work KC!  Been loyal for 20yrs and you have helped guide my knowledge throughout my career along many stops.  Congrats on 20!!

Thanks, Jeff.

And, regarding my continuing criticisms of retailers doing business with Instacart, MNB reader Rickard Werner wrote:

Tell us how you really feel!  I'm with you:  IC looks like a classic Trojan Horse:  A convenient solution to a complex problem with lots of long-term downside.

That's what I think … and what I'm going to keep saying, at least until the current structure of retailer-Instacart relationships goes the way of Priceline for Groceries, which I also said was the dumbest idea I'd ever heard.  (And was right.)