U.S. Justice Department to propose changes to internet platforms immunity: source

By David Shepardson and Ayanti Bera

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department will unveil later on Wednesday a proposal that seeks to limit legal protections for internet platforms on managing content, a person briefed on the matter confirmed.

The proposal, which takes aim at Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google, would need congressional approval and is not likely to see action until next year at the earliest.

President Donald Trump in May signed an executive order that seeks new regulatory oversight of tech firms’ content moderation decisions and backed legislation to scrap or weaken the relevant provision in the 1996 Communications Decency Act, Section 230.

Trump will meet on Wednesday with a group of state attorneys general amid his criticism of social media companies. Twitter has repeatedly placed warning labels on Trump tweets, saying they have included potentially misleading information about mail-in voting.

Trump will meet with state attorneys general from Texas, Arizona, Utah, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Missouri – like Trump, all Republicans – according to a person briefed on the matter.

“Online censorship goes far beyond the issue of free speech, it’s also one of protecting consumers and ensuring they are informed of their rights and resources to fight back under the law,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said on Monday.

Trump directed the Commerce Department to file a petition asking the Federal Communication Commission to limit protections under Section 230 after Twitter warned readers in May to fact-check his posts about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting. The petition is still pending.

A group representing major internet companies including Facebook, Amazon.com Inc and Google urged the FCC to reject the petition, saying it was “misguided, lacks grounding in law, and poses serious public policy concerns.”

The Wall Street Journal reported the planned Justice Department proposal earlier.

Amazon plans to add 10,000 jobs in Bellevue, Washington

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc is planning to create 10,000 more jobs in the next few years in Bellevue, Washington, the e-commerce giant said on Friday.

The company has been setting up new offices across U.S. cities on the back of a meteoric rise in its business, thanks to a surge in online orders during coronavirus-induced lockdowns.

Amazon had earlier said it would create 15,000 jobs in Bellevue, located 10 miles from its Seattle headquarters.

In April and May, Amazon hired for 175,000 jobs ranging from warehouse staff to delivery drivers to keep up with the demand.

(Reporting by Nilanjana Basu in Bengaluru)

Amazon bucks UK labor market gloom with 7,000 new jobs

LONDON (Reuters) – Amazon brought a little cheer to Britain’s troubled labor market on Thursday, saying it will create a further 7,000 permanent jobs in 2020, taking total new hires this year to 10,000.

Last month the number of people in work in Britain suffered the biggest drop since 2009 and the coronavirus is expected to take a much heavier toll on unemployment when the government winds down its huge job-protection scheme.

The one bright spot however has come from online retail and logistics as orders surged during lockdown. Amazon’s latest recruitment will take its total UK workforce to over 40,000 by the end of the year.

The U.S. internet giant said the 7,000 new roles will be for warehouse workers, as well as engineers, HR and IT professionals and health and safety and finance specialists.

The jobs will be in over 50 sites, including two new distribution centers in the north east and central England and at corporate offices.

It said it needed more staff to meet growing customer demand for its services and to enable small and medium sized enterprises selling on Amazon to scale their businesses.

Amazon has also started recruiting for more than 20,000 seasonal positions across the UK for the festive period.

Last month the Confederation of British Industry said British retailers had cut the most jobs since the depths of the financial crisis and expected the pace of losses to accelerate.

Well-known British retailers Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, Debenhams, WH Smith and Dixons Carphone have all announced job cuts in recent weeks, reflecting the rapid shift in demand to online sales.

Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket, said it would create 16,000 permanent roles to meet the surge in home deliveries.

(Reporting by James Davey; editing by Kate Holton)

Brazil vice president invites DiCaprio to see reality of Amazon rainforest

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao on Wednesday called on actor Leonardo DiCaprio to visit the Amazon to see the reality of the situation there, as the government faces criticisms for rising destruction in the world’s largest rain forest.

Mourao invited DiCaprio, an environmental campaigner, to go with him personally on a journey along a notoriously ill-maintained road in the remote far western Amazon near the town of Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira.

“I would like to invite our most recent critic, Leonardo DiCaprio, to go with me to Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira to do an eight-hour ride through the jungle between the Sao Gabriel airport and the Cucui highway,” Mourao said

“He will learn with each big pothole that he has to pass that the Amazon is not a flat land and understand better how things work in this vast region.”

Representatives for DiCaprio did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Last year, as surging fires in the Amazon provoked global outcry, Brazilian right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro accused DiCaprio of funding fires in the Amazon, without presenting any evidence. DiCaprio denied the allegation.

This year, the number of fires rose in June and July compared to a year ago, but in the first 15 days of August, fires were down 17% compared to a year ago, according to government data.

Deforestation is up 34.5% in the 12 months through July, compared to the same period a year ago, preliminary government data shows.

DiCaprio has a foundation dedicated to the environment and has called for Amazon preservation. Scientists say the Amazon is vital to curbing climate change, because of the vast amount of greenhouse gas that the forest absorbs.

In July, DiCaprio on Twitter praised the Brazilian government’s 120-day ban on fires in the Amazon, an attempt to rein in the destruction.

(Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Jake Spring; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Amazon to use AI tech in its warehouses to enforce social distancing

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc on Tuesday launched an artificial intelligence-based tracking system to enforce social distancing at its offices and warehouses to help reduce any risk of contracting the new coronavirus among its workers.

The unveiling comes as the world’s largest online retailer faces intensifying scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers and unions over whether it is doing enough to protect staff from the pandemic.

Monitors set up in the company’s warehouses will highlight workers keeping a safe distance in green circles, while workers who are closer will be highlighted in red circles, Amazon said.

The system, called Distance Assistant, uses camera footage in Amazon’s buildings to also help identify high-traffic areas.

Amazon, which will open source the technology behind the system, is not the first company to turn to AI to track compliance with social distancing.

Several firms have told Reuters that AI camera-based software will be crucial to staying open, as it will allow them to show not only workers and customers, but also insurers and regulators, that they are monitoring and enforcing safe practices.

However, privacy activists have raised concerns about increasingly detailed tracking of people and have urged businesses to limit use of AI to the pandemic.

The system is live at a handful of buildings, Amazon said on Tuesday, adding that it planned to deploy hundreds of such units over the next few weeks.

(Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M. and Sriraj Kalluvila)

Amazon to offer permanent roles to 70% of 175,000 new U.S. hires

By Jeffrey Dastin

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc plans to offer permanent jobs to about 70% of the U.S. workforce it has hired temporarily to meet consumer demand during the coronavirus pandemic, the company told Reuters on Thursday.

The world’s largest online retailer will begin telling 125,000 warehouse employees in June that they can keep their roles longer-term. The remaining 50,000 workers it has brought on will stay on seasonal contracts that last up to 11 months, a company spokeswoman said.

The decision is a sign that Amazon’s sales have increased sufficiently to justify an expanded workforce for order fulfillment, even as government lockdowns ease and rivals open their retail stores for pickup.

Amazon started the hiring spree in March with a blog post appealing to workers laid off by restaurants and other shuttered businesses, promising employment “until things return to normal and their past employer is able to bring them back.”

Seattle-based Amazon did not disclose how much it was spending to make the positions permanent and whether that cost would be in addition to the $4 billion it has forecast for virus-related expenses.

The permanent roles come with benefits that seasonal workers lack, such as employer-offered health insurance and retirement plans.

Some Amazon staff, unions and elected officials have said the company has put employees’ health at risk by keeping nearly all its warehouses operational during the pandemic. At least 800 U.S.-based workers have tested positive for the highly contagious virus, according to figures compiled by one employee, which Amazon has not commented on.

The company has increased cleaning, added social distancing measures and offered face masks, fever checks and virus tests in response.

Amazon said it had 840,400 full and part-time staff at the end of last quarter while it still was in the process of hiring. It has not reported an updated number.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

A day in the life of an Amazon courier on the frontlines of the U.S. pandemic

By Nathan Frandino and Shannon Stapleton

DUBLIN, Calif. (Reuters) – Excelso Sabulao delivers groceries for Amazon.com Inc in California so he can help provide his parents an income. Now, with endless interactions at stores and at homes during a pandemic, he worries his work will kill them.

“I’m just putting my faith in God that, you know, somehow while doing this, I’m going to be spared,” he said. “Once I get it, I’m going to spread it at home. And you know, it’s like bringing (a) death sentence to my parents.”

Sabulao, 35, is one of countless Amazon contractors shuttling food and staples that consumers depend on to their doorsteps, with nearly all of the U.S. population under government stay-at-home orders. Yet he and other drivers say they feel short-changed by Amazon for not giving them more pay or protections, as frontline workers in a global pandemic.

On Monday morning, Sabulao commuted about an hour to Dublin, a city in the San Francisco Bay Area, to pick up grocery orders from Amazon-owned Whole Foods. He lives in Stockton with his mother, who suffered a mild stroke three years ago, and his father, who is on a virus-related leave from Walmart Inc. For Sabulao, taking care of his parents – vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus, he said – is part of Filipino culture.

Donning a white face mask, Sabulao towed two shopping carts overflowing with brown paper bags that were stamped with a logo for Amazon’s loyalty club Prime. He started loading his car in a parking spot for Amazon Flex, a program that lets contractors like himself sign up for delivery times with their own vehicles. He quickly filled up the trunk and began lining bags and other packages along the back seat of his car.

The harrowing part of the shift was over. What Sabulao had feared most, he said, was having to fetch those orders from the Whole Foods staging area where other drivers stood side by side, disregarding health officials’ recommendation to stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart. Sabulao had to open the same storage coolers that they did, and he generally has no time to use a wipe, he said.

“It’s making me paranoid,” said Sabulao. “You’re handling stuff that other people already put their hands into, and maybe if they have coughed – I don’t know.”

Amazon said gloves, masks and sanitizer are available at the Dublin Whole Foods store and across its facilities. “We remain committed to keeping our teams healthy and safe,” the company said, adding that it was requiring social distancing among staff and telling delivery workers to stay further apart from customers.

Sabulao took off his mask and started driving. At his destination, he scanned a code on grocery packages using his smartphone and took those to the shopper’s doorstep.

He has wanted to minimize customer contact as much as possible. Amazon’s app lets him text shoppers to inquire where to leave the items and share his estimated time of arrival.

Still, across 21 deliveries Monday, there was no avoiding face time. One woman was in her driveway when Sabulao arrived, so he put the groceries down next to her car. At another home, a customer opened the door, got on her knees and started wiping down the items she had ordered.

The work at times has been worth the trouble. Sabulao recalled how around the start of the pandemic, one shopper’s generous tip bumped his $10 pay up to $83 for a delivery that lasted less than 30 minutes. He earned $289 in over seven hours Monday, more than half of which came from tips. Earning $200 is typical for that amount of time, he said.

Increasingly he feels the reward is changing. Now rare surge pay for warehouse deliveries means he may make less than before, and he fears his personal supply of wipes will run out. He wishes Amazon would give him and other contractors sanitizer.

“We’re risking our lives, literally, risking our life delivering packages,” he said. But quitting is not an option.

“I have bills to pay. That’s it,” he said.

(Reporting by Nathan Frandino and Shannon Stapleton in Dublin, California; Writing and additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Amazon testing disinfectant fog at New York warehouse after coronavirus protests

By Jeffrey Dastin

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc is testing the use of disinfectant fog at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York starting on Tuesday, the company told Reuters, following worker protests over the risk of coronavirus infection at the site.

The measure shows how the world’s largest online retailer is aiming to increase safety cleaning without closing facilities essential to its operation, as some workers and elected officials have demanded.

Amazon said it is trying out disinfectant fog as used by airlines and hospitals to further sanitize its facilities. The pilot program follows an announcement last week that the company would check workers’ temperature and make masks available at all U.S. and European sites in its operations network.

“We continue to explore even more preventative measures to support the health and safety of employees, who are providing a critical service in our communities,” Amazon said in a statement.

The New York warehouse, known internally as JFK8, is one of several locations where small groups of Amazon employees have walked out to highlight the risks they face from working where colleagues have become infected with the virus, which causes the sometimes deadly COVID-19 respiratory illness.

The virus has led to at least 80,000 deaths globally and infected more than 1.4 million people – including workers at more than 50 Amazon facilities, according to a New York Times report. New York is currently the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak with by far the most confirmed COVID-19 cases and related deaths.

The company has said it is requiring staff to keep safe distances from each other.

The Staten Island warehouse drew particular attention after Amazon fired an employee on paid quarantine for participating in a protest last week that he helped organize.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union called on company executives to resign after an internal document leaked, in which Amazon’s general counsel described that employee as “not smart, or articulate.”

The general counsel then issued a statement saying frustration over the health risks created by the employee had clouded his judgment.

(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Chris Reese and Bill Berkrot)

Amazon warehouse workers protest near Detroit

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc on Wednesday said a handful of workers staged a demonstration at one of its warehouses near Detroit, reflecting the ongoing concerns among its staff about contracting the coronavirus on the job.

Less than 15 of Amazon’s more than 4,000 employees at its Romulus, Michigan fulfillment center participated, following confirmation that a worker based there had tested positive for the virus, the company said.

Those protesting have demanded Amazon shut down the facility for additional cleaning and cover all medical bills for associates and their family members who contracted COVID-19 from the site, according to a Facebook live stream of the demonstration.

(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Chris Reese)

Factbox: Coronavirus cases reported at 13 of Amazon’s U.S. warehouses

Factbox: Coronavirus cases reported at 13 of Amazon’s U.S. warehouses
(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc is at the front line of responding to outbreaks of the novel coronavirus in the United States, delivering essential goods while about half the population faces government stay-at-home orders.

However, news reports that a handful out of Amazon’s hundreds of thousands of U.S. warehouse workers have contracted the virus raise the potential of future site closures and operational disruptions at the world’s largest online retailer.

The following is a list of 13 company warehouses across the United States where one or more instances of COVID-19 have been reported. Amazon, which did not respond to Reuters requests that it confirm all the cases, said in a statement that it has taken preventive action and that workers’ health and safety is its top priority.

According to logistics consultancy MWPVL International Inc, Amazon has 519 facilities in its U.S. distribution infrastructure — including fulfillment centers, delivery stations and warehouses.

QUEENS, NEW YORK – On March 19, Amazon said it was temporarily closing delivery station DBK1 after an associate there tested positive for the virus. It was the first known case at an Amazon warehouse in the United States.

SHEPHERDSVILLE, KENTUCKY – Amazon said it shut a warehouse until April 1 at the direction of the state’s governor. Several workers at the site, known as SDF9, had contracted COVID-19. The facility handles apparel and footwear, according to MWPVL.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA – A worker at Amazon’s OKC1 fulfillment center said until he had tested positive, he needed to keep working to pay his bills. “I hope I didn’t spread it,” he told local television station News 4.

BROWNSTOWN, ROMULUS and SHELBY CHARTER TOWNSHIP, MICHIGAN – Three facilities near Detroit have had cases of the virus, including an Amazon sortation center and two Amazon fulfillment centers , the company said in local media reports.

WALLINGFORD, CONNECTICUT – Amazon told local broadcaster WTNH last week  that it was supporting a now-quarantined individual at its facility here who had the coronavirus. The site has stayed open, the report said.

JOILET, ILLINOIS – A worker, who was last at a fulfillment center in this city southwest of Chicago on March 18 and now is in quarantine, caught the virus, Amazon said to the Herald-News.

KATY, TEXAS – Amazon told local news  that a management team member at a delivery station outside Houston had tested positive for the disease.

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA – A fulfillment center employee tested positive for the virus, Amazon told local news , which quoted an anonymous worker as saying the person was “upset, angry, scared — basically in fear for my safety, in my own immediate (family’s) safety.”

MORENO VALLEY, CALIFORNIA – Amazon notified employees at its “ONT8” fulfillment center that a worker had contracted COVID-19. Last at the facility on March 18, the person has since received medical care and has gone into quarantine, the Desert Sun reported.  The warehouse is continuing operations, the report said.

STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK – CNN has reported  that a worker at a fulfillment center in New York City’s least-populated borough had the virus.

EDISON, NEW JERSEY – Local news reported  that an employee at the facility southwest of New York had tested positive for the virus.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Leslie Adler)