IF ANY ONE thing launched Tesla’s meteoric rise from a small Silicon Valley startup to one of the world’s most famous and exciting companies, it’s Elon Musk. Every scrap of news about the company now makes headlines, as its outspoken, tweeting CEO struggles to turn a profit. But, whew, even by his standards, this week was a biggie for Musk … again. After a questionable announcement via Twitter that he’s considering taking Tesla private, the Securities and Exchange Commission is reportedly investigating him. Investors have filed four lawsuits, so far. Rapper Azealia Banks is somehow involved, and furious.
None of that, though, stopped Musk’s Boring Company from announcing plans to build a tunnel to LA’s Dodger Stadium. And amid the noise, Google sister company Sidewalk Labs revealed more details about its scheme for building the city of the future, starting with Toronto. It was a doozy of a week, and not just for Elon. Let’s get you caught up.
Why Some Amazon Workers Are Fuming About Their Raise
Last week, Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president in charge of operations, stood on a ladder in a warehouse near Los Angeles and announced to employees that Amazon was raising pay for its vast blue-collar work force.
As soon as he said “new Amazon minimum wage of $15 an hour,” Mr. Clark was drowned out by more than 10 seconds of cheers and high-fives.
Mr. Clark posted a video of the meeting on Twitter, where it has since been viewed more than 400,000 times. Senator Bernie Sanders, who had repeatedly criticized Amazon for how it treated its workers, praised the raise and shared the clip, adding another half-a-million views.
But in Amazon warehouses across the country, many longtime workers are fuming that — based on the information they have received so far — they may end up making thousands of dollars less a year.
Yes, Amazon is increasing wages, which will benefit most employees. But it will no longer give out new stock grants and monthly bonuses. Some workers believe that means their total compensation will shrink.
Whether Amazon finds a way to close that gap will be closely watched in Washington. On Thursday, Mr. Sanders, an independent from Vermont, sent a letter to Jay Carney, who runs Amazon’s public policy, “asking Amazon to confirm how the total compensation of employees who would have received stock options — those with the company for two or more years — will be affected as a result of the recent changes,” according to a copy provided to The New York Times.
Mr. Sanders, who was alerted to the issue by workers, has not yet received a response from Amazon, a spokesman for the senator said.
The New York Times spoke to about a half-dozen workers around the country, from Texas to Kentucky, and viewed numerous employee discussions on Facebook. All of the workers shared their pay stubs, but few would allow their names to be used.
Near Minneapolis, Katy Iber, who handles returned products at an Amazon warehouse, works the night shift. Her region has a tight local labor market, so she already makes more than $15 an hour.
In an “all hands” meeting at the start of her shift on Thursday — her first day at work after the pay raise was announced — she learned Amazon was raising her base pay by $1 an hour.
But it was also ending monthly attendance and productivity bonuses, known as the Variable Compensation Plan, or V.C.P. And she would no longer be granted valuable Amazon shares. The trade-off meant she’d be losing money, she said.
It was as though the company were saying: “‘Thanks, we appreciate you going into the holidays. Here’s less money,’” Ms. Iber said. The Times reached Ms. Iber through the Awood Center, a nonprofit that is organizing East African workers in the region.
Amazon maintained in a statement that the higher hourly wage “more than compensates for the phaseout” of the stock and incentive bonuses. A traditional pay raise, the company said, is “more immediate and predictable.”
Amazon said more than 250,000 employees and an additional 100,000 seasonal workers would benefit from the pay changes, and announced similar changes for workers in Britain. Deutsche Bank estimated that Amazon’s pay increase “represents less than 1 percent of its projected 2019 revenue.”
For many workers, including those who work part time and were never eligible for stock and bonuses, the raises in base pay will certainly put more cash in their pockets.
Amazon officials said that over the next week they would adjust the pay of some employees to make sure workers did not end up losing money with the changes.
The difference between what some employees believe is their total compensation and what the company believes they are being paid also may come down to accounting rules. Amazon said that if employees in 2018 get stock that was granted to them two years ago, that legally counts as compensation this year. But some employees believe that was compensation for work done two years ago.
The difference — whether because of miscommunication or incomplete information given to employees — has resonated in Amazon warehouses around the country, particularly with employees with a longer tenure at the company.
The dispute is over two compensation programs that will end on Nov. 1. The first, the Variable Compensation Plan, is paid out each month. It offered up to a 4 percent bonus for attendance, and an additional 4 percent if a worker’s building met certain production goals.
Ms. Iber said someone in her warehouse wrote “BRING BACK VCP!!!!” on a whiteboard where employees are encouraged to communicate with management.
In the three months around the holiday season, known as “double down,” the bonus doubles, meaning employees could earn as much as 16 percent on top of their regular wages.
The second program gave employees shares in Amazon stock each year. They get to keep the shares if they’re still working at the company after two years. Recently, employees have been getting two shares, worth about a combined $3,725 at the current market value. With the changes, workers get to keep the stock granted in previous years but will not earn new shares.
Documentation that Ms. Iber provided showed that her bonus amounted to $1.28 an hour in August. In the three months around the holidays, that could be more than $2.50 an hour, far more than the $1-an-hour increase in base pay she’s getting.
She is down even more when stock grants are taken into account. She will keep old shares but will not be granted new ones.
In a Facebook group popular with employees, workers fumed over the changes, according to screenshots from the page that were viewed by The Times.
There were so many negative pending posts on the day Amazon announced the $15 wage that a moderator wrote that she had deleted them and pleaded with workers to write to the corporate offices in Seattle rather than vent online.
Another poster wrote that her co-workers were contemplating a walkout on Black Friday, the big shopping day after Thanksgiving, and others said they were saddened to lose the sense of ownership that the stock compensation provided.
Workers said the timing of the change, just as bonuses double for the holiday season, stings. Ms. Iber said a co-worker had told her that he regretted paying down some credit card debt in anticipation of the extra holiday bonus. He worried that without the extra holiday pay, he won’t be able to cover his regular monthly bills.
She could sympathize. Last year, Ms. Iber used the holiday season bonuses to pay for insulation in her attic. She was going to get a new water heater this year, but now she’s holding off. She said that she would wait for the heater to break, and that when it did, she’d put the repairs on a credit card.
Rally Rd., the app that lets you invest in classic cars, raises $7M Series A
What happens when you bring together an entrepreneur, a product designer and an investment banker who all really love collector vehicles? You get Rally Rd., an app for buying and selling equity shares in classic cars.
Launched in 2016, the company’s SEC-compliant platform lets users purchase shares in Ferraris, Porsches, Lamborghinis and other classic models for as little as $50 per share. The company says it has 50,000 members that have invested millions. Currently, there are just 10 cars available to purchase stakes in, though Rally Rd. expects to have 100 available on the app by the end of 2019.
The New York-based startup has just closed its second round of funding, a $7 million Series A led by Upfront Ventures, with participation from Anthemis Group, Social Leverage, WndrCo, Nas, Betterment co-founder Eli Broverman and Acorns co-founder Jeff Cruttenden. Earlier this year, it announced a $3 million seed round led by Columbus Nova.
Rally Rd.’s co-founders Chris Bruno and Rob Petrozzo told TechCrunch the crypto boom and bust really put digital asset investing in the mainstream, helping to bolster business that would have seemed pretty odd just a few years ago.
The pair plan to use the investment to open what they call a “live investing ecosystem,” a vehicle showroom where users can go to participate in initial car offerings in-person. The first will be in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, with other locations to follow in Los Angeles, South Florida and possibly Texas, where they have a strong user base.
“We want to create that Apple Store atmosphere where anyone can come in and learn about equity investing on the spot,” said Petrozzo, Rally Rd.’s chief product officer.
Through a subsidiary company, Rally Rd. purchases collector vehicles and holds the cars’ titles. The startup then hosts SEC-registered offerings, essentially an IPO for a car, where investors can buy one or more of 2,000 equity shares. The vehicles are registered for sale through a registered broker-dealer available in 32 states; the company is still working on obtaining licenses for the remaining 18 states.
Just like the regular stock market, after the initial offering, Rally Rd. holds regular trading windows for each vehicle where users can buy or sell their shares in an app-based secondary marketplace.
“They’ve literally recreated the NASDAQ or NYSE experience for these assets on the Rally Rd. platform,” Upfront partner Greg Bettinelli, who has joined Rally Rd.’s board of directors, told TechCrunch.
Bettinelli added that the reaction he has seen from Rally Rd. customers is similar to what he saw in the early days of the Amazon-acquired smart doorbell company Ring, mobile sneaker marketplace GOAT and ThredUp, an online consignment store that’s raised more than $125 million to date.
For now, Rally Rd. isn’t making money. They don’t take any management fees or share of the offering. Bruno says their plan to generate revenue is to adopt the Robinhood model and are building out a subscription service for those interested in premium access.
In early 2019, Rally Rd. expects to announce expansions into other verticals, including art and sports memorabilia. At some point, they plan to make the app available around the globe, beginning with Australia, Europe and Canada.
AutoNation’s Outspoken Chief Executive to Step Down Next Year
Chief Executive Mike Jackson, who stood out in the tight-lipped auto industry for his outspoken personality and willingness to challenge auto makers publicly, will step down in 2019 after leading the U.S.’s largest dealership chain for nearly two decades.
Mr. Jackson, 69 years old, will stay on as executive chairman, and AutoNation’s board will conduct a search for a new CEO.
A New Jersey native who got his start fixing cars at a Mercedes dealership, Mr. Jackson is known in the industry for his bluntness. A frequent commentator on CNBC, his outspokenness has served as a contrast to most auto executives, who tend to steer clear of controversy.
As CEO, Mr. Jackson slimmed down operations, added more imported and luxury brands and led AutoNation’s push into the digital era. The company’s stock price has more than quadrupled since he took over in October 1999. The shares closed at $43.09 Tuesday, giving AutoNation a market capitalization of nearly $4 billion.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve built here,” Mr. Jackson said in an interview. “Next year, I’m 70 years old, and with 20 years as CEO, it’s a good time to hand the baton to the next CEO. I’m kicking myself upstairs.”
His transition comes as U.S. auto sales are starting to cool, following a seven-year growth streak that lifted profits for both car makers and dealers.
AutoNation, with more than 325 locations coast-to-coast, is in the midst of expanding its business beyond traditional new-car sales, aiming to reduce its dependence on auto companies for profits.
In 2017, the dealership chain opened its first stand-alone used-car center, AutoNation USA, aiming to build a chain of preowned stores to compete with CarMax Inc. The company has also launched a line of AutoNation-branded car parts, auctions and collision centers, and has joined with Alphabet Inc.’s driverless car unit Waymo LLC to service robo-vans that are being tested in Arizona and California.
Mr. Jackson, who grew up in a large Irish-American family, quickly rose through the auto retailing ranks, eventually owning his own Mercedes dealership and later joining the German luxury brand to run sales and marketing in the U.S. By 1992, he was president of Mercedes’s U.S. operations.
AutoNation hired Mr. Jackson in 1999 to revive the company’s stock price and boost its credibility with Wall Street. In the next few years, he sold underperforming dealerships, shut the retailer’s chain of used-car megastores and expanded its offerings from mostly domestic brands to include imports such as Toyota, BMW and Mercedes. Mr. Jackson was an early proponent of the dealership chain having a strong digital presence as more buyers migrated to the internet to do their car shopping.
Over the years, Mr. Jackson developed a reputation for speaking his mind, even if his views weren’t always popular with his colleagues.
He has been pointed in his criticisms of President Trump, citing his ascent to the White House as a reason he quit the Republican Party. Mr. Jackson also has come out in favor of higher gasoline prices, arguing they are needed to spur innovation on fuel-saving technologies, such as hybrids and electric cars.
In the years leading up to the 2008 economic crisis, Mr. Jackson criticized U.S. car makers for overbuilding their inventory and then using steep discounts to move cars off dealer lots, a practice that erodes profits and damages a brand’s image. More recently, he has chided car manufacturers for inciting a pricing war that has hurt dealer businesses.
Mr. Jackson said he feels it is his duty to speak out on behalf of consumers and dealers who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice in the auto industry. It is a role he intends to maintain as executive chairman.
“That came from my father, who said ‘Mike, always do the right thing,’” Mr. Jackson said. “’If you always do the right thing, at the end of the day they will respect you, and respect is more important than likability.’”
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