With help from Leonie Cater and Doug Palmer
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— All eyes on Bessemer: Ballots are now being counted in Amazon warehouse workers’ unionization vote in Alabama — and no matter the final tally, the results will embolden tech critics in Washington and across the globe.
— ‘Collateral damage’ concerns: Etsy and eBay are part of a new coalition of Amazon rivals with a message for Congress: as you’re going after the big guys, be careful not to hurt the little ones.
— Sticker-shock for Silicon Valley: American internet companies face up to an estimated $880 million in digital services tax liability across the U.K., Austria, India, Italy, Spain and Turkey.
IT’S TUESDAY; WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine. Newly bookmarked on this fine spring morning: the National Mall’s #BloomCam. Cherry blossoms, but make ‘em virtual.
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ALABAMA SHAKES… WASHINGTON, AND THE WORLD — The ballots are in; cue the counting. The nearly 6,000 Bessemer, Ala., warehouse workers who wrapped up voting Monday on whether to form Amazon’s first union in the U.S. could soon transform how the most powerful e-commerce company on the planet operates — no matter the outcome. That’s because the saga down South has only heightened scrutiny of the tech giant in Washington and around the world, and it promises to feed into concerns about more than labor practices alone.
— Timing is everything: The action in Alabama comes during a stretch when Amazon has, relative to its Silicon Valley neighbors, been flying somewhat under the radar in Washington. Jeff Bezos escaped a congressional grilling last week when the CEOs of other prominent players in the tech world — Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey — spent hours testifying before the House.
And Amazon had in recent weeks been collaborating with the White House on Covid vaccine distribution, earning at least some brownie points. Amazon opened a new vaccination clinic in the Beltway on Monday, via its headquarters in Crystal City, and also touted it’s doling out the shots to workers at several fulfillment centers across the country.
— But the brief respite in Washington is unlikely to last: The company’s new PR strategy is already antagonizing leaders in both chambers of Congress. (Gizmodo flagged further questions about Amazon’s activity on Twitter.) The union drive in Alabama could also embolden the firm’s critics on the House antitrust panel in particular; that subcommittee has long raised alarm about Amazon’s power more broadly and targeted the company as part of its lengthy tech competition probe that wrapped last year. That could make Amazon low-hanging fruit at potential hearings the panel could hold on predatory pricing and the global response to Big Tech in the U.S. Amazon has been under antitrust scrutiny by the European Commission for about 18 months now.
— The world is watching: “In Europe, Amazon deals with unions and if they can deal with unions in Europe, they sure as hell can deal with unions in the United States of America,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said at a recent pro-union rally in Alabama.
Yet despite the picture he painted of Amazon-union cooperation in the EU, recent strikes across the bloc suggest that even on that side of the Atlantic, trade unions are far from satisfied with Amazon’s commitment to social dialogue, my colleague Leonie Cater reports from Brussels.
Sandwiched between a major strike by Amazon workers in Italy last week and the high stakes union drive in Alabama, German trade union ver.di called on Amazon employees in six warehouses across Germany to stop work from Monday through Thursday this week. The union wants the online retailer to recognize collective agreements for the retail sector in addition to a collective agreement for “good and healthy work.” The company has yet to sign a collective agreement in Germany and is under no legal obligation to do so. More on that push here, from Leonie and POLITICO’s Antonia Zimmerman.
“We have a well-established cooperation with the works councils, elected by all associates, representing all — unlike the union, who represents a minority only,” an Amazon spokesperson said in the company’s defense. “We already offer excellent pay, excellent benefits and excellent opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern work environment.”
— The results in Alabama, and how this bodes for other large tech companies: This could take a minute. And by that, we mean days — potentially longer. (More here from POLITICO’s Morning Shift on how the ballots will, very meticulously, be processed.) No matter the outcome, the results will reverberate through the Capitol and are likely to raise pressure on other top tech companies when it comes to union and labor issues — as it already has with Tesla.
As my colleague Rebecca Rainey summed it up: “If the push in red-state Alabama is successful, it could galvanize more organizing efforts at Amazon and other large retailers across the country. If it fails, it could become a lightning rod for Democrats’ efforts to push through one of the broadest expansions of collective bargaining rights in nearly a century — yet, at the same time, embolden a triumphal business community to harden its stance against organized labor.”
— Further reading: “Amazon is becoming the face of American inequality,” via The Verge.
AS WASHINGTON GOES AFTER AMAZON, DON’T FORGET THE LITTLE GUYS — Amazon rivals are banding together to launch a new coalition that will urge lawmakers to think twice about how legislative reforms targeting Big Tech could harm smaller players.
The Coalition to Protect America’s Small Sellers — launched today by online marketplaces eBay, Etsy, Poshmark, Mercari and Offer Up — aims to represent entrepreneurs and small- and medium-sized businesses on competition, consumer protection and other tech policy issues. The members are concerned that some new regulation in these areas could inadvertently create more burdens for sellers and threaten their ability to do business on those sites, potentially feeding even more power to the very giants Congress is trying to rein in.
They want to “avoid becoming collateral damage as policymakers go after bad actors,” Etsy spokesperson Marissa Tarabocchia wrote in an email. Poshmark’s vice president of communications, Amber McCasland, added that “we believe it is possible to achieve policy solutions that both consider and protect the interests of America’s small online sellers.”
TALLYING THE COST OF DIGITAL SERVICES TAXES — U.S. internet companies face a combined tax liability of as much as $880 million in the six countries that USTR re-targeted last week for potential tariffs of up to 25 percent. The estimated tax liability in the U.K. alone could be as high as $325 million, USTR said in a Federal Register notice asking for comment on a preliminary retaliation list that includes cosmetics, clothing, footwear, jewelry, furniture and merry-go-rounds.
— USTR, in five other Federal Register notices, also estimated the digital services tax liability for U.S.-based companies as follows: Austria, $45 million; India, $55 million; Italy, $140 million; Spain, $155 million; and Turkey, $160 million.
— What’s next: USTR will hold hearings in each of the investigations, starting May 4 with the U.K.
Bipartisan Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) re-launched the Congressional Smart Cities Caucus. … Julie Kearney has joined Twilio as vice president of communications for regulatory affairs and policy. … Amazon’s Virginia Boney and Facebook’s Catherine Eng have been selected to be part of the class of 2021 for Aspen Strategy Group’s Rising Leaders Program; check out the full list here.
Facebook’s top political spenders right now: Pro-gun control groups, POLITICO reports.
Location, location, location: “Washington, Texas and Florida are the best states to launch a technology startup, beating California’s Silicon Valley,” WSJ reports.
In profile: The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, the little-known federal agency “at the center of America’s tech fight With China,” via NYT.
On that cheery note: “China’s tech giants have chip ambitions, too,” WSJ reports.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected], @bkingdc), Heidi Vogt ([email protected], @HeidiVogt), John Hendel ([email protected], @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima ([email protected], @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected], @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen ([email protected], @leah_nylen).