Business News Roundup, Nov. 19

Published 4:53 pm, Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The bus drivers who cart Facebook employees to and from Silicon Valley will vote Wednesday on whether to unionize, following driver complaints that they are underpaid, overworked and unfairly compensated for time on the job.

The Facebook shuttle drivers announced in October that they wished to join the Teamsters, which sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to throw the company's support behind a union for the drivers.

Facebook's shuttle drivers, like drivers for other tech companies in Silicon Valley, work for a third-party contractor. The Facebook drivers say that their employer, Loop Transportation, has consistently put the needs of tech companies over its employees, forcing drivers to work long split shifts on wages that can barely cover the cost of living in Bay Area communities where drivers work.

Most of Loop Transportation's 45 drivers on the Facebook route have already signed cards saying they want Teamsters Local 853 to represent them. The Teamsters pressed Loop to grant union recognition based on those cards, but the company has not cooperated. The election will seek to prove that a majority favors joining the Teamsters.

Silicon Valley has come under increased pressure in recent months for relying on low-wage contract workers to fill positions ranging from security to food preparation.

Google has said it will create an in-house security force and end its relationship with one contractor that has long been a target of union activists.

Facebook shuttle drivers say they hope that a union will help them negotiate improved conditions, like higher pay, shorter wait times between trips to and from the valley, and better places to rest when off the clock between trips.

Nokia is back in the fray.

Just months after selling its ailing handsets business to Microsoft, the Finnish company is planning to go back into the consumer market with a new tablet.

The former top mobile phone maker, which has a history of reinventing itself since it began as a paper maker in the 19th century, said Tuesday it will sell a 7.9-inch device early next year in China, the world's biggest market, before selling it elsewhere.

The device will be manufactured by Foxconn, which makes Apple's handsets. And it will operate Android instead of the Windows software Nokia used on its cell phones when it began a partnership with Microsoft in 2011. That partnership ended unsuccessfully - in April Nokia sold its mobile phone unit to Microsoft for $7.2 billion.

Sebastian Nystrom, head of at Nokia's technologies unit, described the N1 tablet as 'a new beginning for Nokia.'

He noted that about 80 percent of the world's mobile consumers use Android, compared with just 2.5 percent using Windows mobile devices. The aluminum-cased tablet uses the latest version of Android, and will retail for $250.

It won't be an easy shift.

'It's pointing in the right direction, but there are some real challenges,' said Neil Mawston from Strategy Analytics, near London. 'It doesn't have the distribution channels that others like Samsung and Apple enjoy, and nobody is making any profits in Android tablets at the moment.'

Facebook is releasing a free mobile app for its popular Groups feature that let users create and interact with communities on the site, whether they're based on hobbies, geography or culture.

Facebook has been working to expand its presence on mobile devices by creating - and buying - apps such as Messenger, Paper, Instagram and WhatsApp. The apps Facebook created from scratch through its Creative Labs have faced varying levels of success.

Paper, a mobile news reader, hasn't really caught on. Slingshot was released as a rival to ephemeral messaging service Snapchat, but it hasn't been much of one.

Messenger, which is not from Creative Labs, has fared much better, though it helped that Facebook essentially forced users to download it after it removed the messaging function from its main app.

Unlike with Messenger, though, the company says it won't require people to use the stand-alone app if they want to use Facebook Groups. They will be able to access Groups through the Facebook app or for free on the website.

More than 700 million of Facebook's 1.35 billion members use Groups, according to the company. People use the groups to talk to others who share their religion, to plan holiday dinners, or to discuss hobbies or health issues, for example. Shirley Sun, product manager at Facebook, said there are 'hundreds of millions' of groups on Facebook.

The new app lets people manage their groups or discover new ones, either based on recommendations or by searching for topics.

Home Depot's third-quarter profit rose 14 percent as comparable-store sales climbed in the U.S., suggesting that a huge data breach revealed two months ago has not shaken the faith of its customers.

The nation's biggest home improvement retailer said that it could not account for all possible losses from a data breach it revealed in September that affected 56 million debit and credit cards. For now, the company is putting those costs at $28 million pretax for the most recent quarter, and $34 million for 2014.

Home Depot earned $1.54 billion ($1.15 per share) for the three months that ended Nov. 2. That compares with $1.35 billion (95 cents) a year earlier.

Revenue climbed 5 percent to $20.52 billion from $19.47 billion.

Revlon is looking for love to spice up its brand recognition.

The beauty products maker is launching its global 'Love Is On' marketing campaign, hoping to regain its lofty spot in the pecking order of cosmetic brands.

The campaign features television, print and digital ads, a social media push and an interactive Times Square billboard that lets people share 'love moments.'

The campaign, announced Tuesday, arrives with the retailer facing growing competition from companies like L'Oreal and Estee Lauder.

There also have been a number of new faces in executive offices at Revlon over the past year or so, as the New York company has attempted to re-energize growth. Lorenzo Delpani was named CEO last fall.

Last year, the company said it would leave China and trim more than 1,000 jobs.

Besides its namesake brand of makeup and hair dye, Revlon also makes cosmetics under its Almay and SinfulColors brands.

Chronicle News Services


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