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the industry #7 // a bold new clown car union evolution, wind industry collapse, instacart disaster, tech links, dispatch from san francisco
Last Friday, in a “targeted strike,” 13,000 members of the 150,000-member United Auto Workers union shut down several major auto plants, partially impacting each of Detroit’s “Big Three” automakers — General Motors, Ford Motors, and Stellantis (Chrysler, Jeep, and Ram).
While this is the first time in UAW history all three automakers were hit simultaneously, they also each remain in operation. Their demands: a four-day work week, overtime for anything beyond 32 hours a week, paid work following any potential plant shutdowns (which is to say pay forever, no matter what?), a “significant” increase in retiree pay, and every temporary worker made permanent (and also made a member of the union, we presume). Notions of the four-day work week have particularly captured America’s imagination, and have been favorably ‘contextualized’ in every mainstream press outlet I’ve found. This idea you’ve never heard of but from the most coddled tech employees in human history? It’s not radical or crazy at all, insists NPR, a news outlet I am for some reason forced by law to pay for. No, the four-day workweek is “steeped in UAW history,” and a “continuation of a very long term struggle.” You are the one, actually, who is radical and crazy for thinking a two-day weekend is not, in the words of the UAW president, a “human rights issue.”
In response to union demands, automakers are holding strong. Hours after the strike began, Ford laid off 600 workers (FT). It’s clear the strike is being viewed as an altogether new, and possibly existential, class of labor threat. From Reuters:
“[Ford CEO] Farley said if the UAW proposal had been in effect since 2019, instead of making about $30 billion in profits over four years, the company would have lost about $15 billion ‘and gone bankrupt by now.’”
There are a handful of important elements to this story, from worker unease concerning technological advance — reasonable, I think, given the reality of electric vehicle entanglement with China — to Biden’s icy reception among working class union members despite his outspoken defense of their cause (if the Democrats don’t successfully jail him, Trump is definitely winning the next election btw). But I’m especially interested in our nation’s strange, new, clownish union moment, the vital role of the media in keeping it alive, and what this trend means for the technology industry.
First, there’s the white-collar component of the recent union movement, which began as a larp of blue-collar workers, but ultimately shaped a real, and significant, blue-collar union approach. This chain of events stemmed naturally from media prompts, and is presently evolving in accordance with relatively obvious media incentives.
While the writers’ strike is often framed as a reaction to “AI,” it has plainly been argued in terms of housing costs for some of the wealthiest people in the country attempting to make a go of it in Los Angeles, where the policies these people voted for led directly to some of the planet’s most expensive real estate. Still, the writers’ strike is a far more understandable cause than the sort of thing we’ve seen from tech; last week, we talked about the Grindr union — which doesn’t want the gay sex company “extracting wealth” from “queer people” — and the trend among a small class of politically obsessed tech employees attempting to seize strategic decision making from their leadership for purposes not of pay or benefits, but of broader social control. What is this stuff tethered to, if anything?
The “labor desk” trend in media, now considered vital to the overall business of “news,” only began a few years ago. In 2021, wrote the New York Times:
“Steven Greenhouse, a former labor reporter for The New York Times, told me that for a time in the 2000s, he was the ‘the only full-time daily labor reporter.’ Now, there are at least a dozen at legacy outlets and digital ones like Vice and HuffPost.”
For what are ostensibly “news” outlets, the trend toward labor coverage always seemed strange given it began at an all-time low in actual union membership. Almost from nothing we were told this was a critical press innovation, but from its inception writers scrambled for stories that did not meaningfully exist. In an attention economy, however, with so much guaranteed, glowing press on the table, a noticeable uptick in union histrionics was inevitable, and has naturally extended from the most online people alive (writers, tech employees) to the rest of the country. Now, once understandable, if not always reasonable labor demands are morphing into something much more, shall we say, TikTok-ready.
With the press itself collapsing into a union death spiral precisely at the moment the average writer’s work has been thrust into competition — first with hundreds of millions of casual online posters, and increasingly with artificial intelligence — there is nothing but incentive for writers to continue telling this story. As the internet surfaces the most polarizing, ridiculous dramas by design, the US labor movement will continue to grow in this direction. Demands will become crazier, and crazy demands will become common. This is, of course, the purpose of a “labor desk.” It has been a tremendous success. Brace for impact.
THE FIFTH ESTATE
NOTABLE INDUSTRY TRENDS
Wind energy blows (you’re welcome). While we’ve begun poking around the solar conversation, the great writer Doomberg has tackled wind. The entire industry is on the verge of collapse, he argues, due to a combination of inflationary pressures, high interest rates, and disappearing tax incentives, all of which are compounded by wind’s fundamental unreliability. Most recently, wind developers who already agreed to fixed rate contracts for projects not yet even built are asking to renegotiate MWh prices as much as 60% upward. Orsted, the largest wind supplier in the world, declared $2.3 billion in impairments related to its US business, and has seen its stock price drop 30%. (Doomberg)
Mistakes were made (controversial). Instacart’s IPO, despite that company’s tremendous, almost heroic rebound, is an unambiguous major L for the industry. First, a reasonable note on the company’s efforts from The Information:
“You can see this most obviously in Instacart’s filing, which revealed that it produced free cash flow—cash from operations, less capital expenditures—of $253 million in 2022, about 10% of revenue. A year earlier the company had burned more than $200 million in cash, so it’s quite the turnaround. Even better, free cash flow surged to $220 million in the first half of this year, or 15% of revenue.”
With a set share price of $30 a share, the stock ultimately popped a (relatively speaking) impressive 40%. But a roughly $10 billion IPO following a $39 billion private valuation in 2021 is, I am sorry to say, impossible to ignore. Everyone knew these valuations were insane, with the fundamentals of many tech companies actually unworkable in anything but a delirious venture bull run. Nonetheless, the well-earned L is not really resonating as any kind of important lesson given the ongoing AI smokescreen. That Arm IPO murdered, right? (Not really) And isn’t everything an AI company now? (Still no)
We’re so back. (Are we though?)
Make sure to watch the latest episode of our pod, We Need Nuclear NOW & Grindr Union Goes Wild, and rate, like, subscribe:
Yoel Roth, who was for a few years at Twitter one of the most powerful censors in American history, just penned an opinion piece for the Times in which he framed his work as vital, and himself as a victim of power. In fact, his career culminated in the deplatforming of a sitting president. Was that not power? It was certainly more power than I’ve ever had, and I’m a billionaire media mogul. Bye.
After updating its app with its Shop tab last week, TikTok will launch a months-long campaign for its online marketplace in the ramp up to the holiday shopping season, taking aim at competitors such as Amazon. (Bloomberg)
TrueMed, a startup founded by Justin Mares and Calley Means that makes “it easy for consumers to pay for healthy food, exercise and supplements using their tax-free health savings accounts or flexible spending account dollars,” launched on Monday (TechCrunch). Read Justin’s piece for Pirate Wires, NIH Funded “Food Pyramid” Rates Lucky Charms Healthier Than Steak.
eVTOL company Joby Aviation has selected Dayton, Ohio as the location for its first electric air taxi factory. Its founder says it will manufacture 500 yearly. (TechCrunch)
“If China wants to hack your company, it will do it. They will employ more people more money more intelligence assets, they will socially engineer your people, they will plant assets inside your company or flip ones that are already there.” Interesting thread on the state of cyberwar and geopolitics by Bryan Beal in the wake of the MGM cyberattack on MGM resorts international.
Jack Dorsey is taking over Square next month — current Square CEO Alyssa Henry is out. (CNN)
X CEO Yaccarino announced on Thursday that she hired four former colleagues from NBCUniversal and Turner into leadership positions at Twitter. (The Information)
Microsoft Chief Product Officer Panos Panay, who led the Surface team and most recently the Windows team, is resigning from the company. (Bloomberg)
Salesforce CEO and San Francisco Architect of Misery Marc Benioff announced on Thursday that his company will hire 3,300 people in sales, engineering, and data cloud services. (Bloomberg)
Bloomberg reported on signs of life at Meta’s Menlo Park HQ, where return to office seems to finally be setting in, along with the return of some perks; morale is better, an anonymous source indicated. (Bloomberg)
TikTok is making many of its employees use an app that tracks office badge swipes in an effort to enforce its three-day-a-week work from the office rule; employees aren’t happy about it. (NYT)
Last week, ‘low code’ software company Airtable laid off 237 employees, or 27% of the company, citing a misguided Covid hiring frenzy, and a pivot to fewer, but larger clients. In December of last year, the company laid off 254 people. (Forbes)
Google laid off hundreds of employees on its recruiting team last Wednesday, which at one point numbered 3,000 members. This has been framed, by both Google and the New York Times, as a necessary redirection of resources to AI (NYT). But the company is sitting on over $100 billion in cash, and my sense is this has at least something to do with evoking the appearance of brutal competition in the middle of the century’s first major tech antitrust battle.
G/O leadership, who own and operate Gizmodo, apparently replaced the four Spanish-language translators behind Gizmodo Español with an AI translator. (@gmgunion)
Game engine developer Unity announced a new fee for games made using its software that stipulates companies will have to pay per game installation after a threshold of sales/downloads is reached. This scandalized the gaming community to such a degree that Unity was forced to close its offices last Thursday after it received a ‘credible’ death threat, which turned out to be made by a WFH employee in another state. (Bloomberg)
Google Calendar’s Twitter account posted a defense of ‘work from home’ culture that seems to imply the average Google employee working from the office only clocks in something like two hours of work a day. (@googlecalendar)
A New York pay “transparency” law that requires NY companies to list salary range in job listings, even for out-of-state remote workers if they report to a New York manager, went into effect on Sunday. (Bloomberg)
Chip designer ARM made its hotly anticipated stock market debut on Thursday, popping 25% above its $51 target price to end the day at $63.59, and raising $5 billion for its owner Softbank, who has retained 90% ownership in the company. In the intervening trading days, the stock has come back down to earth amidst a broader market slide, though as of Tuesday was still above its initial target. (WSJ)
Crypto VC Blockchain Capital raised $580 million across two funds, and plans to deploy the capital into DeFi, crypto gaming, and crypto infrastructure. (Bloomberg)
Thrive Capital will raise $300 million from the California Public Employees Retirement System. (The Information)
AI copywriting startup Writer raised $100 million at a $500 million valuation in a round led by Iconiq. Clients of the company already include Spotify, L’Oréal, and Vanguard among others. (Bloomberg)
Last week, Adobe reported its revenue grew 10% YoY, and released its AI image generator Firefly after beta testing it for several months. (The Information)
Softbank is seeking to invest “tens of billions of dollars” in AI, people familiar with chief Masayoshi Son told the Financial Times. (NOT a bubble)
Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings became majority owner of Utah ski resort Powder Mountain after making a $100 million investment in the venture. (Forbes)
Litigation and regulation:
A federal judge blocked the enforcement of California’s attempt to censor the entire internet with its Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, which, per NetChoice’s complaint, would force social media companies “to identify and ‘mitigate’ speech that is ‘harmful or potentially harmful’ to users under 18 years old, and to ‘prioritize’ speech that promotes such users’ ‘well-being’ and ‘best interests.’ If firms guess the meaning of these inherently subjective terms wrong — or simply reach different conclusions than do government regulators — the State is empowered to impose crushing financial penalties” to the tune of $7,500 per violation. (Reuters)
Monday marked the start of the second week of the DoJ’s antitrust lawsuit against Google. This week’s witnesses include Verizon exec Brian Higgins, Google VP and ads manager Jerry Dischler, and former Google financial analyst John Yoo. (The Verge)
The Senate Armed Services Committee is “aggressively probing” Elon’s decision to not assist a foreign country, in a foreign offensive, into another foreign country’s territory, in the middle of a war the United States is not officially engaged in, “from every angle,” Chairman Jack Reed said on Thursday. In the committee’s ominous letter to the DoD, cosigned by Elizabeth Warren, the group makes it clear they want this man destroyed: “what [are the] actions the DoD will take” to address Musk’s “meddling,” it asks (Bloomberg). This election season is going to be insane.
A cold wind blows on crypto: on the heels of a September 14 court filing in which the SEC accused crypto exchange Binance of a “lack of transparency” during its investigation into the company, a judge granted the SEC’s request to unseal key documents related to the complaint, and they’re not looking good. The documents show that the SEC found it "very difficult to ensure the company was fully collateralized at specific points in time," for example. (Decrypt)
Amazon on Monday began publicly defending what Washington State labor regulators allege to be unsafe conditions in their warehouses (this comes after federal agency OSHA opened a national investigation last year) (WaPo). A common theme this week, as has been the case for over two years: assault on every one of our nation’s major companies remains a chief focus of our national government. Elsewhere, China remains mercantilist af.
The EU slapped the Chinese spy app with a $368 million dollar fine for not doing enough to protect children’s privacy (for example, newly created childrens’ accounts were not automatically set to private during the regulator’s 2020 investigation) (CNN Business). All parties in this specific Chinese spy app chapter suck, it should be noted.
Google has begun giving some companies access to Gemini, its ChatGPT competitor, as it gears up to release the multimodal LLM to the public. (The Information)
After Elon and other industry execs went to DC for closed door talks on AI, he told a reporter that he doesn’t see the government “jumping into the deep end” on regulation. Watch the clip here.
Watch him discussing AI with Max Tegmarck, Greg Brockman, and Israeli PM Benjamin Netenyahu, which aired live on X on Monday. (@netanyahu)
Worry no more about AI risk, the EU is here to save us. “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority. And Europe should lead the way,” the European Commission tweeted last week. It remains unclear if any actual companies, let alone companies working on artificial intelligence, exist in Europe.
Eight more tech companies have joined the White House’s voluntary AI pledge, including Salesforce, Nvidia, and Palantir (this brings the total to 15 companies) (NYT). Should Pirate Wires sign? Fuck it, Pirate Wires is signing the pledge.
Pirate Wires has pledged
From the capital:
For weeks, news circulated about a Cruise AV that blocked ambulances transporting a dying man in San Francisco. Well, turns out that was a lie based on a false eyewitness account, repeated by journalists, and tacitly supported by the fire chief — the latest distortion in SF’s ongoing war with self-driving cars. Definitely check out Sanji’s A Bus Driver Killed A Man, The City Blamed Tech for the full story.
San Francisco formally asked the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to reconsider its decision to allow the rollout of self-driving Waymo and Cruise taxis across the city. The city’s most recent request — to temporarily halt the expansion — was simply, and hilariously, ignored by the CPUC (TechCrunch). Catch up on our coverage of the war over self-driving taxis in SF. As the rollout continues, this will absolutely become a major, national story.
The SF office market is “showing signs of life,” although the WSJ conceded this is largely because sellers are finally “accepting prices that would have been laughable four years ago.” (WSJ)
More than 2,700 housing units could be created by converting twelve SF office buildings to residential use, according to a local architecture firm (SF Chronicle). This will of course never happen.
SF’s “overpaid executive tax,” which targets businesses where the highest-paid position makes 100x or more than the median salary of its SF employees, brought in $206 million in the 2022-23 fiscal year (SF Chronicle). And thank God for that money: the local government has granted the “Dream Keeper Initiative” $100 million — ONE HUNDRED MILLION — to spread “black joy.”
We didn’t blast this one over email, so be sure to check out River’s Open Borders for Thee, Not for Me. Biden’s proposed “remain in Texas” policy would punish his enemies, River argues, and keep the migrant crisis hidden — just in time for election season. It’s a must read if you want to understand the frustrating political dynamics at work in our current immigration crisis.
After Walmart and Whole Foods closed stores in Chicago, the city’s mayor Brandon Johnson announced his team is “exploring” opening up a city-owned grocery store to address “inequity” in access to groceries. What could go wrong? (Fox Business)
Presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy, once a Chinese spy app skeptic, has publicly changed course following dinner with Jake Paul, who insisted TikTok was important for the youngs. And remember, Vivek argued on Twitter, what’s the difference between a hostile foreign government owning your data, while running what could soon be the largest media platform in our country, and Airbnb handing American user data to the Chinese government (another thing that should absolutely, and simply, not be legal)? (@VivekGRamaswamy)
Netflix social justice comedian Hasan Minhaj was the subject of a well-reported New Yorker piece by Five Thirty Eight alum Clare Malone. Turns out Minhaj completely fabricated almost every one of his stories, including the one about the girl who dumped him on prom night because he was “a brown boy.” Turns out she actually dumped him a couple days earlier, and while we don’t know why, it probably has something to do with the fact that he is the kind of person who — many decades later — invents a story of racism to punish a woman for rejecting his advances. She has been harassed for years because of this, and, not that it should matter, remains happily married to an Indian man. Minhaj argues all of his stories are “emotional truths.” (New Yorker)
And finally… wow. On Sunday, an USMC F-35B went missing in South Carolina after the pilot safely ejected, leaving the plane to continue flying (relevant plot details: the plane is a stealth fighter, and locals say that “there probably aren’t two murkier lakes in South Carolina,” speaking of the two lakes that authorities are searching). On Monday afternoon, military personnel announced they found crash debris from the abandoned jet two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston, where the plane took off. (Politico)
Oh wait last thing, that Mexican alien was not an ancient, mummified little boy with fetal alcohol syndrome. It was a cake.
(Jk that’s also a lie (the truth is out there))