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Home Archive by category Amazon Inc on Thursday reported its biggest profit ever as consumers turned to the online retailer for their shopping needs and businesses paid it more to warehouse and advertise their products.

Shares rose four per cent in after-hours trade.

Since the start of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, shoppers have relied increasingly on Amazon for delivery of home staples and supplies. While brick-and-mortar stores closed, Amazon has now posted four consecutive record quarterly profits, attracted more than 200 million Prime loyalty subscribers, and recruited over 500,000 workers to keep up with surging consumer demand.

Read more:
Amazon workers appear to reject union after half of votes counted

That has kept the world’s largest online retailer at the center of workplace tumult. Its warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, this winter became a rallying point for organized labour, hoping staff would form Amazon’s first U.S. union and inspire similar efforts nationwide.

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Workers ultimately rejected the union bid by a more than 2-to-1 margin, but Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said the saga showed how the company had to do better for employees.

The company meanwhile has been facing litigation in New York over whether it put profit ahead of worker safety in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amazon’s operation has been unfazed by these developments. Net sales rose 44 per cent to $108.52 billion in the first quarter ended March 31 from $75.45 billion, beating analysts’ average estimate of $104.47 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Bezos touted the results of the company’s cloud computing unit Amazon Web Services (AWS) in a press release, saying, “In just 15 years, AWS has become a $54 billion annual sales run rate business competing against the world’s largest technology companies, and its growth is accelerating.”

Click to play video: 'Peel Public Health rejected COVID-19 vaccines for Amazon employees'

Peel Public Health rejected COVID-19 vaccines for Amazon employees

Peel Public Health rejected COVID-19 vaccines for Amazon employees – Apr 8, 2021

Andy Jassy, who had been AWS’s CEO, is scheduled to succeed Bezos as Amazon’s chief this summer, said the unit continues to be a bright spot. Just last week, for instance, Dish Network Corp announced a deal to build its 5G network on AWS. The unit increased revenue 32 per cent to $13.5 billion, ahead of estimates of $13.2 billion.

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Adding to Amazon’s revenue was its growing chain of physical stores, including Whole Foods Market and its first overseas cashier-less convenience shop, opening last month in the London Borough of Ealing. Amazon delved further into healthcare as well with an online doctors-visit service for employers, representing another area it is aiming to disrupt after retail, enterprise technology and Hollywood.

Profit more than tripled to $8.1 billion.

Amazon, which saw its stock price nearly double in the first part of 2020 as it benefited from the pandemic, has this year underperformed the S&P 500 market index. Its shares were up about 8.5 per cent year to date versus the index’s 13 per cent gain.

Read more:
Amazon confirms drivers urinating in bottles, claims issue is ‘industry-wide’

At the same time, spending on COVID-19 and logistics has chipped away at Amazon’s bottom line. The company has poured money into buying cargo planes and securing new warehouses, aiming to place items closer to customers to speed up delivery. It said Wednesday it planned to hike pay for over half a million employees, costing more than $1 billion — and it is still hiring for tens of thousands more positions.

Amazon said it expects operating income for the current quarter to be between $4.5 billion and $8 billion, which assumes about $1.5 billion of costs related to COVID-19.

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While far behind ad sales leaders Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google, Amazon is winning business because advertisers’ placements often result directly in sales, reaching customers who are on Amazon with an intention to shop. Amazon said ad and other sales rose 77 per cent to $6.9 billion, ahead of analysts’ estimate of $6.2 billion.

© 2021 Reuters

On October 6, 1957, Russia’s Sputnik 1 made history as man’s first satellite to reach into space. Today, an estimated 6,000 satellites are making the rounds in Earth’s lower orbit, along what has become a busy satellite superhighway.

Private industry is driving a space boom. Over the next several years, companies like Amazon and SpaceX plan to launch tens of thousands of satellites.

Upcoming space missions to keep an eye out for in 2021

Canada, too, is investing more money in their own space fleet, and even some upcoming trips to the moon. In total, $9.9 million was included in last week’s federal budget for the Canadian Space Agency to start planning for the next generation of observational satellites.

That project is expected to replace the Radarsat Constellation Mission; three satellites worth over a billion dollars. Together, they track things like climate change, ice movements, precision agriculture, animal migration, natural disasters, and more. But they and others are facing an increasing threat.

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Click to play video: 'NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter successfully makes 1st flight on Red Planet'

NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter successfully makes 1st flight on Red Planet

NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter successfully makes 1st flight on Red Planet – Apr 19, 2021

On February 10, 2009, two communications satellites—the active commercial Iridium 33 and derelict Russian military Kosmos-2251—accidentally collided above Siberia. The impact released an estimated 3,500 pieces of debris into orbit. Add that to a satellite count expected to multiply to over 30,000 in the next decade and space is getting dangerously overcrowded.

“Back in the early days, there were not that many alerts,” said Michel Doyon, the manager of flight operation at the Canadian Space Agency.

The CSA currently supports over 70 satellites. Last year, it manually processed over 18,000 alerts for possible collisions.

“When the secondary object is pure debris, then there is no coordination. We will manage it. But if the other object is another satellite, then operators will work together to make sure that we don’t move in the same direction -that one goes up, one goes down, and so on.”

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READ MORE: Canadian military looking for ideas to shield satellites from ‘cyberattacks and lasers’

It’s an onerous job and one that space tech companies are eager to help manage.

Kayhan Space is one of them, offering advanced new systems to monitor and automate collision alerts – something of a traffic control service for Earth’s lower orbit.

“It takes one catastrophic accident, one collision, not only to end that mission, but also debris from that collision can make the entire orbit unusable for many, many years. So it’s a big problem. And it’s very prone to human error,” the company’s cofounder Araz Feyzi said.

Others, like Canada’s MDA, are launching new technology to assist from above.

“Using on-orbit servicing, to actively manage, inspect, repair, and refuel and extend the life of satellites, in addition to managing debris, and dealing with space junk – there’s a growing market for that, estimated in the $8 billion range,” MDA CEO Mike Greenly said.

“There will be opportunities in the future to put sensors on spacecraft to be able to see objects coming towards you, and have that programmed into the logic.”

Click to play video: 'Strange lights seen in skies over B.C., Washington and Oregon likely debris from SpaceX rocket'

Strange lights seen in skies over B.C., Washington and Oregon likely debris from SpaceX rocket

Strange lights seen in skies over B.C., Washington and Oregon likely debris from SpaceX rocket – Mar 26, 2021

And while technology can help, even tech companies recognize it’s a growing issue that will require extensive international cooperation in an increasingly chaotic atmosphere.

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“This problem is really a large problem,” said Dr. Siamak Hesar, an aerospace engineer who previously supported multiple NASA missions before co-founding Kayhan Space. “It’s not only Canada’s problem or another country’s problem, space belongs to everybody.”

“We believe that there’s a need for global collaboration on setting ground rules for space, traffic management,” added Feyzi.

Canada has been an active player in various international forums to address the issue. The most recent one was approval of the long-term sustainability guidelines by the United Nations General Assembly, where more than 80 nations agreed on guidelines for ways to responsibly use space.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

A man in a suit gestures during a presentation.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos used his final letter to Amazon shareholders to focus on employee well-being and the company’s significant carbon footprint.

Bezos’ new emphasis on employee well-being comes on the heels of a contentious unionization vote at one of its warehouses in Bessemer, Alabama. Though Amazon won, with 1,798 employees voting against unionizing out of 3,041 total ballots cast, participation was low, with just over half of eligible voters participating. Labor organizers have made it clear that even if unionization votes continue to go against them, they’ll keep pressuring Amazon through other means.

That strategy may be working. Bezos dedicates a significant portion of his letter to both the unionization vote and to employee well-being. Whereas Bezos wrote a single paragraph about a tuition reimbursement program three years ago, he wrote nearly 1,200 words about pay rates, employee satisfaction, and workplace safety this year.

“Does your Chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer? No, he doesn’t,” Bezos wrote. “I think we need to do a better job for our employees. While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees—a vision for their success.”

Among his proposals are new staffing rotations that he hopes will reduce repetitive stress injuries at warehouses. Injuries aren’t uncommon at warehouses—many actions are repeated hundreds of times per day—but Amazon’s fulfillment centers seem to be particularly prone to injuries, according to an investigation by Reveal. Because Amazon’s warehouse robots move quickly, workers move faster, too, giving their muscles less time to rest between repeated movements.

Bezos also touts the company’s decision to increase Amazon’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, a rate that labor groups have been advocating for since at least 2012. He cites a recent study that says that pay in low-wage areas increased by 4.7 percent when the company bumped rates to $15 per hour.

Climate Pledge

Amazon’s enormous carbon footprint has also drawn scrutiny in recent years, and Bezos again spills a fair number of bytes discussing the matter. The company’s carbon footprint surged in 2019 to over 51 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is only about 6 percent less than Peru’s annual emissions. 

Bezos points out that Amazon helped co-found the Climate Pledge, which commits companies to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. As part of that pledge, Amazon has installed or purchased 6.9 gigawatts of wind and solar capacity that produce 20 million gigawatt-hours of electricity per year. The company has also invested $1 billion in automaker Rivian and has placed an order with the startup for 100,000 electric delivery vans. By 2030, the EVs will shave the company’s footprint by an estimated 4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Amazon has also invested $2 billion in a climate tech fund, and Bezos himself has committed $10 billion in grants for climate-oriented companies and organizations.

The Climate Pledge also calls for companies to offset emissions “to compensate for economic activities where low-carbon alternatives don’t exist,” Bezos wrote. Offsets span a range of activities, from planting trees and protecting forests to burning methane from landfills, though most revolve around trees. As a whole, offsets are contentious because of a number of their shortcomings. Some offsets might end up being double-counted, others may not be as permanent as originally intended, and still others may count forests that were already protected, which won’t lead to any net reductions. The Nature Conservancy, for example, has recently come under fire for the way it was calculating offsets from its program, which includes many properties it already owned and protected.

End of an era

This letter is Bezos’ last, since he will be stepping down as CEO later this year, more than 20 years after founding the company that has changed e-commerce. He left an indelible mark on Amazon—one that isn’t likely to fade, as he’s not really leaving. Rather, he’ll be serving as executive chair, a role that will find him overseeing the board and advising the incoming CEO, current AWS head Andy Jassy.

“In my upcoming role as Executive Chair, I’m going to focus on new initiatives. I’m an inventor,” Bezos wrote.

A union supporter stands before sunrise outside the Amazon fulfillment center on March 29, 2021 in Bessemer, Alabama.
Enlarge / A union supporter stands before sunrise outside the Amazon fulfillment center on March 29, 2021 in Bessemer, Alabama.
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

A closely watched effort to unionize an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama appears to be headed for defeat. With about half the votes counted, 1,100 workers have voted against forming a union, while only 463 voted in favor.

The National Labor Relations Board is counting the 3,215 votes that were cast by workers at the Bessemer facility. The union needs to win at least half the votes in order to become the official representative of the roughly 6,000 workers at the Bessemer facility. Counting has ended for the evening and is scheduled to resume at 8:30 AM Central Time on Friday.

The stakes are high for both Amazon and the labor movement. Amazon has more than 1.1 million workers overall, with hundreds of thousands working in fulfillment centers. A successful vote in Bessemer would embolden labor organizers at other Amazon fulfillment centers around the country. An organized workforce could force dramatic changes in the way Amazon manages its warehouses.

“We first started to talk about unionizing one day during a break,” said Jennifer Bates, a worker at the Bessemer warehouse who helped organize the union drive, during March Senate testimony. “People were upset about the breaks being too short and not having enough time to rest, about being humiliated to have to go through security checks.”

Amazon mounted an aggressive campaign against unionization. The company posted anti-union literature all over its facilities, including in bathroom stalls. Employees were required to attend regular meetings where Amazon presented anti-union arguments.

Union elections are ordinarily held in person, but this one was held by mail due to coronavirus concerns. As a result, a close election could lead to months of legal wrangling over which ballots were cast by eligible workers. But if the current two-to-one margin holds up, the union may have to concede quickly.

That isn’t to say organizers are going to give up.

“Our system is broken,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union that led the organizing effort, in a statement to the Washington Post. “We will be calling on the labor board to hold Amazon accountable for its illegal and egregious behavior during the campaign.”

A dark blue van with multiple Amazon logos.

Amazon has posted an apology to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) for a tweet last week denying that it makes its workers urinate in water bottles.

The controversy started with a tweet by Pocan blasting Amazon for its treatment of workers—a topic of particular public interest as workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama were voting on whether to unionize.

“Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles,” Pocan wrote.

“You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?” Amazon responded on March 24. “If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

Recode’s Jason Del Rey reports that Amazon’s aggressive response was encouraged by CEO Jeff Bezos, who had been frustrated Amazon wasn’t pushing back hard enough against its critics.

But the tweet turned into a PR fiasco for Amazon. The next day, Vice published a story with the headline “Amazon Denies Workers Pee in Bottles. Here Are the Pee Bottles.” It included a photo of bottles with an Amazon worker’s urine in them.

Vice noted that this was a common topic of discussion on the r/AmazonDSPDrivers subreddit. There are “dozens of threads and hundreds of comments” with drivers lamenting their need to pee in bottles, hedges, and other things besides a toilet.

“The tweet was incorrect”

Now Amazon has changed its tune. “The tweet was incorrect,” Amazon admitted on its website. “It did not contemplate our large driver population and instead wrongly focused only on our fulfillment centers.”

Amazon says that “a typical Amazon fulfillment center has dozens of restrooms, and employees are able to step away from their work station at any time.”

However, the company acknowledged that this isn’t always true for its delivery drivers.

“We know that drivers can and do have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic or sometimes rural routes, and this has been especially the case during Covid when many public restrooms have been closed,” Amazon wrote.

“This is a long-standing, industry-wide issue and is not specific to Amazon,” the company added. Amazon says it wants to solve the problem: “We don’t yet know how, but will look for solutions.”

Amazon appears to be right about that. Drivers for Uber, Lyft, and food delivery services have reported trouble finding bathrooms while on the job. Drivers for UPS and FedEx have reported similar difficulties. The problem has gotten worse in the last year as the pandemic has closed a large number of stores and restaurants.

Amazon has been on the defensive in recent weeks as workers at its Bessemer fulfillment center vote on creating a union. Voting closed earlier this week, but the National Labor Relations Board has not yet announced the results. The stakes are high for Amazon, since a successful vote could give a boost to similar efforts in other segments of Amazon’s vast workforce. Amazon has more than 1.1 million workers.