SGV Tribune

Coronavirus biz news: Amazon fires 3 workplace critics; small business loans running out

Also: The $349 billion program to help small businesses reeling from the COVID-19 outbreak could be exhausted by Thursday.

The battle to thwart the spread of coronavirus has throttled many businesses and changed operations in many industries. Here’s a summary of the latest news around Southern California… is hitting back at activists within its own ranks, terminating three employees who had criticized working conditions in its warehouses.

The retailer confirmed on Tuesday that it had fired Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa for violating company policy. The two employees, who worked at Seattle headquarters, had taken to Twitter recently to voice concerns about the treatment of workers during the coronavirus pandemic; they’ve also long been involved in an employee campaign urging Amazon to do more to fight climate change. A third employee, Bashir Mohamed, who worked in a warehouse in Minnesota, was also fired. The Washington Post and BuzzFeed News reported earlier on the firings, which took place last week.

U.S. senators, labor leaders and some of Amazon’s own workers have expressed concern that the company hasn’t been doing enough to keep employees safe as COVID-19 cases pop up in dozens of facilities in the U.S. and Europe. Groups of workers have staged walkouts at Amazon warehouses in New York, Illinois and Michigan.

Amazon said the two employees at its headquarters had been terminated for violating its policy prohibiting employees from speaking publicly about company matters. “We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We terminated these employees for repeatedly violating internal policies.”

The company has also defended its work to keep warehouses safe, saying it’s following public-health guidance to limit employee contact in its facilities and supporting employees diagnosed with the disease. Amazon has offered temporary raises and more lucrative overtime to warehouse employees working during the pandemic.

Amazon on Tuesday also confirmed it had dismissed Mohamed. Kristen Kish, a company spokeswoman, said Amazon respected his right to protest. “This individual was terminated as a result of progressive disciplinary action for inappropriate language, behavior and violating social distancing guidelines.”

Small business loan funds running out

The $349 billion program to help small businesses reeling from the COVID-19 outbreak could be exhausted by Thursday, a top White House adviser said, but negotiations in Congress to replenish it remain stalled.

“At the present run-rate, we’re going to be out of money,” Larry Kudlow, President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser, said Tuesday on Fox Business Network.

As of mid-day Tuesday, almost 1.1. million applications, totaling more than $257 billion, had been approved since the Small Business Administration program launched April 3.

Trump and the GOP want to add another $250 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, but Democrats have been holding out to expand the stimulus to include aid for state and local governments and hospitals.

Local gas prices lowest since 2016

Southern California gasoline prices are at a low last seen in December 2016.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said gasoline at the pump in the five-county region was an average $2.77 a gallon for regular gasoline as of April 13. That’s down 12 cents over seven days and 43 cents cheaper than a year ago.

Prices are down as efforts to battle coronavirus throttle the global economy. Fewer drivers are buying fuel, and the slowdown has slashed prices for gasoline’s key ingredient, crude oil. Since gasoline’s local recent peak of $3.41 on Feb. 24, this price index has declined for seven consecutive weeks, dropping 64 cents or 19%.

Nationally, gas was $1.85 a gallon, down 7 cents over seven days and down 57 cents in a year.