“Power is the opposite of dependency.”

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

“Power is the opposite of dependency.” How has the replacement of tipping with “rating” affected the way we think of ourselves as consumers? Interesting post on the power dynamics of the sharing economy.

Five-Thirty-Eight looks at how the jobs of the future may be better suited for women than men.

Is the Uber endgame just to replace mass transit with a privatized system?

Google wants to have its self-driving cars commercially available in 4 years. Their first (non-Silicon Valley) tests are being done right now in Austin. On a related note, they’ve also filed a patent to create a system for tracking—and creating a giant data set about—drivers.

From Partners

In NYC? Come over to the New School on November 13th & 14th, and check out the Platform Cooperativism conference.

In Baltimore? Why not head to UB on September 19th, for a one-day conference that will explore the New Economy.

I’m super sad to see this announcement from Contributoria, and hope there will be some analysis of what worked—and what didn’t—as they tried to build a crowd-funding model for journalism.

Geeking Out

New York Public Libraries have embarked on a year-long program to help close the digital divide, by lending out hotspots to people with no internet at home.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Freelancers who share a common work space (coworking or other) might want to check out Cotivation—which helps people set goals and hold each other accountable, when they’re working for themselves.

This activist is calling on co-ops throughout the world to hold a one-day strike in December, to bring attention to the climate crisis.

Here’s a new startup that wants to connect people who want to learn how to do something with people who want to teach it.

“Does the problem you are trying to solve really matter to anyone?”

Organizing Theory

Need policy ideas on how to make your state or city more responsible for keeping black lives safe, or to track what presidential candidates have proposed, as far as police reform? Start here.

Mobilisation Lab takes a look at how distributed organizing has evolved in groups like Hollaback! & 350.org.

“Does the problem you are trying to solve really matter to anyone? Is the solution you propose realistic and effective?” On how activist tactics are being disrupted, in the 21st century.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

If you’re in the Bay Area, Fresno or Boston & are thinking about going solar, check out this new tool to let you know how much sun your roof might collect.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Apple is building a new AI into iOS 9, that will actually learn things about you and then keep them private (as all the work gets done on your phone, not some server in the cloud).

Could Google rig the 2016 election, through use of their search algorithm?

From Partners

In Philly? Why not come to this co-op brunch get-together, Saturday September 5th.

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

There may be storm & drang in the Washington Post about fast food restaurants installing robots…but here’s a Kebob shop in London that is cutting its meat with a machine.

Business for Social Responsibility issued a report this summer about the challenges of providing good jobs, in the age of automation.

“It’s not about the tool. It’s about the threat model.”

Organizing Theory

“It’s not about the tool. It’s about the threat model.” How can you keep your direct action organizing on track, when police are monitoring social media?

Really interesting interview about how the ethos of hacking has spilled over into other parts of the world, including the economy. “I don’t think the misfit economy is a blueprint for the new economy. I would have loved if it had been, but I think it’s really a set of skills for an economy in transition, which is where we’re at right now.”

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

Bob Solow, on how the Treaty of Detroit is being eroded by the casualization of the labor force.

“The prospect of being able to pay off the cost of a robot in slightly more than a year, Goldman Sachs says, has brought industrial automation to within the reach of China’s millions of small and medium-sized manufacturers, creating the conditions for a productivity surge.” Yep, the cost of buying an industrial robot can now be recouped in about 1.3 years.

This security bot is roaming the grounds of corporate campuses, and it only costs $6.25 per hour. Now that’s something to be scared about.

From Partners

Shout out to Keystone Research Center’s Steve Herzenberg, for this blog post he wrote after watching last week’s interview with Michelle Miller.

In SF? This Thursday, political startup Brigade is hosting a panel discussion with presidential candidate Martin O’Malley.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Microsoft has a bot that millions of Chinese users chat with, daily or more frequently. What’s unclear, is how long the server hangs on to both sides of the conversation.

“Web publishers and advertisers cannot be trusted with the amount of access that today’s browsers give them by default, and people are not obligated to permit their web browsers to load all resources or execute all code that they’re given.” On the ethics of online ads.

Geeking Out

I’m pretty sure the Musicians’ Union isn’t going to be happy about this—but the Pentagon is trying to teach an AI project to play jazz.

“Every day, I come to work scared and I leave work scared. That shouldn’t be my job or my life.”

Original Content

This week, I talked to coworker.org’s Michelle Miller, about her piece “The Union of the Future.” (Like our original content? Be sure to support us on Patreon!)

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

“Every day, I come to work scared and I leave work scared. That shouldn’t be my job or my life.” What it’s like to work in a Ladbroke’s gaming parlor in the UK.

Enjoy has invented a new approach to service jobs, combining elements of the gig economy with elements of full-employment.

Can Uber drivers game the app to create more surge pricing? Maybe.

Pacific & Standard Mag has just launched a new series on the Future of Work, which will run online between now and their November/December issue.

I confess, I don’t know anything about Scripted, whose CEO just wrote this piece. But who doesn’t need a comprehensive guide to starting online labor marketplaces?

From Partners

In development stage still, but looking for partners—HourVoice is launching a platform to empower workers and inform consumers about what companies are like to their employees.

Kudos to our friends from Amalgamated Bank, who just became the first bank in the country to guarantee every employee a $15/hour wage. (On a related note—isn’t it in my self-interest, as a bank customer, to have my bank tellers well compensated?)

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Political opinion app Brigade just announced that you will now be able to claim your voting record, and prove to elected officials that you’re a verified voter.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

A pilot project in LA is aiming at bringing low-pollution shared car service to low-income communities.

“Uber is now doing its best to look like Wal-Mart.” On the fight to deny Uber drivers class-action status in California.

Organizing Theory

Provo, Utah launched an experiment in online civic participation that successfully produced policy recommendations for their city council.

Geeking Out

A new iPhone accessory replaces a $20,000 piece of equipment used by eye doctors—and can allow people without access to an optometrist’s office analysis of their vision problems.

New online mag White Hot intends to cover “Capitalism with a Conscience,” among other things.

“It is a wonderful thing that machines can do our monotonous chores.”

Robot of the Week

dead hitchbot

Way back in July of 2014, I wrote about the robot hitchhiking across Canada. Sadly, this week, Hitchbot came to Philly, and it did not end well…

So long, Hitchbot, we hardly knew ye.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Google has launched a new way for you to support the sites you use every day—without being subjected to lots of ads.

Are you a tech worker who wants to start a co-op? Here’s your guide.

A university president becomes an Uber driver, and discovers that his city’s lack of public transit is the major force behind his riders’ needs.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

At what point do we get to disrupt the advertising industry? Former Guardian editor Charles Arthur points out that we didn’t all sign up to get tracked by advertisers on our phones, every time we click on an article.

From Partners

Anil Dash and Gina Trapani’s ThinkUp has a new site up today—it’s makerba.se, for tracking the things that people make online, and what tools they use to make them. I don’t think I yet understand how cool this will be, but I know it’s cool.

Geeking Out

Why yes, I would like a robot that can make me an egg sandwich in the morning…

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

“It is a wonderful thing that machines can do our monotonous chores.” Yup. Until they automate all the jobs you’ve ever had.

A factory in China has just launched with a workforce of more robots than humans. Let’s replace our fear of “Made in China” with a fear of “Made by Robots.” Except for egg sandwiches. I’m okay with those being made by robots, especially if they wash out the pan.

Silicon Ventures’ Nick Grossman, on some of the companies that are starting to try to solve the problems of the on-demand economy. Peers CEO Shelby Clark also weighs in on the need to figure out a way for on-demand economy workers to have security.

Cathy O’Neill takes on the real reasons we have a trucker shortage in the US. Hint—the solution is not to allow 18 year-olds to start driving long-haul routes.

The thorny world of salary transparency in Silicon Valley.

“We should be talking about ‘good work’ not about ‘good jobs’.”

This is going to be the last Hack the Union in July, as the kids and I will be off visiting the land of many robots… Console yourselves with the thought that there may be many cool pics in the August newsletters…

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

“We should be talking about ‘good work‘ not about ‘good jobs’.” Yup.

Is it still called “undercover journalism” if you’re investigating behind the anonymity of an app? What it’s like to work as an Invisible Boyfriend.

Fetch & Freight might sound like a cute new Pixar film, but they’re actually a pair of complementary robots that are coming to a warehouse near you. And includes an emergency stop, to “avoid the robot uprising,” which is awesome.

“When engineers create a robot that can engineer other robots, will they lay themselves off and declare victory?” Let’s hope. In other news, AI robots are going to eat the lunch of manufacturing robots, any day now.


Geeking Out

Indivisible hopes to make you really understand and appreciate what government does.

From Partners

Some good best practices & suggestions for live-streaming activist events, from Greenpeace’s Mobilization Lab.

New Yorkers, and those who live close-ish to New York! Starting this Friday, through August 2nd, go see the production of Romeo & Juliet that will be appearing at Bryant Park! I can guarantee that it will be the only one you ever see that features a cry for “15 Ducats & a Union!” The #classwar is everywhere…

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

The Dutch city of Utrecht is about to start a basic income experiment.

It belies the title “sharing economy” if your app starts charging customers 3X of normal, during a workplace action by competitors.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

In a beautiful world, every thing we buy online would be fairly priced. Sadly, we live in the ugly world. But $heriff is here to help, if you use IE or Firefox to shop online. (Oh wait, you thought all your searches would resolve in exactly the same results received by someone else using the exact same search terms? Think again.

Organizing Theory

What is a robot, anyway? Under the eyes of the law, it’s not that clear (nor is, who will regulate the bots?) One Stanford professor thinks they ought to be regulated by the FTC.

“Our phones make us more productive while we wait, and yet we don’t ever want to wait.”

Original Content

Last week’s interview with Rolf & Hanauer got me thinking about how the on-demand economy owns worker’s reputations–and what that might mean.

Like our original content? Support us on Patreon.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“Our phones make us more productive while we wait, and yet we don’t ever want to wait.” Om Malik, on the fight against Uber.

A car-sharing non-profit in Buffalo, NY that served lots of low-income folks and people of color, is being forced to shut down after their insurance was canceled.

Will a “thinner” on-demand economy help us build a more equal distribution of income? This venture capitalist says yes.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Ello, committed to delivering an ad-free social network where users control their privacy, just put out a bill of rights.

Organizing Theory

“We need a stakeholder, rather than a shareholder, model.” US Labor Secretary Tom Perez, on the need to build conscious capitalism.

Geeking Out

Bree Newsome is a hero, IMO.

“In the lingo of the economist the 10 commandments talk about property rights.” Two bots start a conversation, and it gets weird, pretty quickly.

From Partners

SEIU 32BJ is working with cleaners at the largest co-working space owner in New York City, to demand that they be treated with respect.

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

Some on-demand companies don’t train their drivers very well. Cue on-demand training, developed by drivers.

The New Yorker’s James Suriewicki chimes in on the “we need a third type of employment law for the on-demand economy” meme.

Daimler has rolled out a self-driving long-haul tractor trailer that is now licensed for road tests.

On-demand company Shyp has just converted all its couriers to W-2

Because it is my name…

The notion that any ordinary worker might build a career is a relatively recent one. In the centuries of agricultural work, before the Industrial Revolution, the closest thing we had to a career path was the trajectory craft workers took from apprenticeship to becoming a master craftsmen (or in some rare cases, craftswomen). Similarly, lawyers, doctors and scholars had long periods of training that built their knowledge base before they were allowed to practice on their own. But most workers—whether they were laborers on a farm, or sold bread in a bakery—didn’t have any hopes of significant changes in their work circumstances. Because most workers spent their entire lives in a single village, they were well-known in the community—the farmer in search of a new milkmaid probably knew the extended family of every available candidate. People trusted each other, in part, because they literally knew each other’s life histories.

Even in institutions with large numbers of employees it was difficult to work your way from the bottom to the top. Take the military for example; most generals did not work their way up from the bottom ranks—officers tended to come from the higher classes, while working class soldiers might at best aspire to become non-commissioned officers. For foot soldiers, advancement within the military relied on job performance more than just about anything.

During the Industrial Revolution, a massive diversification in occupations occurred, and with that diversification, the concept of building a career became much more widespread. Large firms needed many managers, and increasing mechanization meant there were many more kinds of machines that required a specialized knowledge base. Bookkeeping and accounting blossomed, Human Relations became a thing, and bankers begat hedge fund managers, analysts, and of course, lobbyists who fought for deregulation. While the ability to build what we currently think of as a “career” was almost exclusive to white men, there was an increasing sense that one might work one’s way up to the highest heights, from relatively modest beginnings.

The ability to build a reputation has been a crucial element of advancing in a career. Moving from a less responsible to a more responsible job requires some kind of skill validation—whether through certification by a state agency, by the personal knowledge of the person doing the hiring, or by validators that can attest to an individual’s capacity (think about all those times you’ve been asked for references, when applying for a new job—or to give a reference for someone you used to work with).

For what it’s worth, when it comes to my career, I own my reputation. My ability to get jobs, or consulting work, has been predicated on the work I’ve done before, and the people who noticed it—either because they worked directly with me, or someone else told them. When I left my job at SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania in 2013, I took my reputation with me—the union didn’t own it, though part of it was built while I worked there.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about reputation and the on-demand economy. It has occurred to me that a lack of reputation ownership is a key attribute of the on-demand economy in its current form. A recent paper by David Rolf & Nick Hanauer imagined a woman named Zoe, who cobbles together an income through Task Rabbit gardening, renting her apartment on AirBnB, giving rides on Uber, and yes, having a part-time job. In only one of those gigs—the traditional part-time job—does she own her own reputation.

The platform itself, in these cases, is the thing that allows Zoe’s customers to feel secure in hiring her. The more positive reviews she racks up on AirBnB, the more likely it is that I will feel comfortable staying at her apartment. Similarly, the more ratings I have as a clean, respectful houseguest—the more likely Zoe is to accept my reservation to stay in her home. Software platforms rely on having many users with good reputations—both as service providers and consumers—in order to provide the economies of scale that make them profitable.

Unfortunately, at the moment, any platform that an on-demand worker uses to secure work can fold tomorrow, and take with it the workplace reputations of hundreds of thousands of workers, maybe even millions. What recourse will workers have, when their reputation disappears overnight? Additionally, what worker, having spent countless hours building an online store with Etsy, will find it easy to leave that platform behind if the company decides to radically change their terms of service in a way that significantly disadvantages sellers?

Will I be able to sue Uber, to recover my five star rating as a driver, if that platform suddenly goes out of business? Can I take my reputation as an Etsy seller, and transfer it to Ebay? Sadly, that recourse seems out of reach.

There is a diversification of occupations going on in the Digital Revolution, that will, without question, be as transformative as the diversification that occurred during the Industrial Revolution. If Rolf and Hanauer’s vision is right, we might all be evolving to have multiple income streams, and little that is recognizable as a career, in today’s terms.

When we’re contemplating new ways to provide benefits for the future of work, it is incumbent on us to think about ways to protect people’s reputation on online platforms. The security of owning one’s reputation will be a critical one for both consumers and workers—but for workers, the urgency to protect one’s “work” reputation seems more urgent, since it is directly tied to one’s ability to earn a living. As people rely more and more on gig economy platforms to get to work, portability of reputation will become important as well. If you want a better understanding of how people might feel trapped in seemingly commitment-free ‘gigs’ when communities arbitrarily change the terms of service for their users, check out the forums that Mechanical Turkers have set up to talk about it, at places like Reddit or mturkgrind.com, or the discussion in posts about various on-demand driver apps at the Rideshare Guy’s blog.

Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!
~Arthur Miller, The Crucible

If we’re envisioning new ways of creating benefits for workers who lack them, we should also be thinking about the new kinds of benefits that workers in non-traditional jobs need. While there have been considerable efforts to build tools for companies to track their brand’s reputation, and even some which incorporate the idea of tracking reputation by individuals (what’s my Klout score today, anyway?), we have yet to see a way for gig-economy workers to be able to track their reputation collectively, across a number of platforms.

Of course, as pointed out here, reputation as a host on AirBnB doesn’t automatically translate to mean that a person might be a reliable carpenter, as they advertise themselves on Task Rabbit. Similarly, in the world of my offline work reputation, my skill as a political organizer doesn’t automatically translate to success as a writer of thought pieces. However, there are certain traits that are necessary to success in both fields that cross over—for example, do I generally deliver work on time? Are my communication skills clear, in establishing & maintaining relationships with collaborators? Am I able to prioritize multiple competing demands?

One might similarly ask—what are the qualities that signal a successful worker can be relied upon to work in a new setting, providing a different service. Might Zoe’s landscaping clients care that she’s always late to her hotel desk job? If her Uber rides complain about the fact that her car is never clean, might that not be of interest to her AirBnB guests? And on the flip side—might Zoe be able to start a new gig economy gig more easily, if she has a sterling reputation for timeliness, clear communication, and attention to detail on all the other platforms that she offers services?

As Rolf & Hanauer have pointed out—in the digital age, it is possible to envision a world where every ‘employer’ who wants part-time or on-demand ‘employees’ in the gig and traditional economy are responsible for providing pro-rated contributions to benefits—so Zoe will earn a fraction of an hour’s paid time off, for every hour that she drives with Uber, works at the hotel, or hires out to be a gardener on Task Rabbit. It is similarly possible to envision a world where, along with that financial contribution, Zoe’s ‘employers’ also regularly rate on her work on that same shared platform—some of it on basic job skills like timeliness or communication skills, some of it on job skills that are specific to that platform like driving history, understanding of computer software, or ability to make plants flourish.

If the transition from the Industrial Revolution to the Digital Era means that we’re moving away from having the kinds of careers that workers have enjoyed in the 20th century, we need to design structures that will allow us to have the kinds of deeply well-known reputations that existed for workers in the pre-Industrial era. But the commons, as we know it now, is no longer the village square—the new reputation engine for workers will have to be built in the cloud.

“The technology is going to beat the law.” (Doesn’t it always?)

Original Content

Earlier this week, I talked to David Rolf & Nick Hanauer about their new paper, “Shared Security, Shared Growth.” Check it out here. And if you like our original content? Support us on Patreon.

Geeking Out

“The technology is going to beat the law.” (Doesn’t it always?) For all my “I can’t believe self-driving cars are a threat” readers—here’s a magazine pitched to drivers, telling you that you’re right.

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

Can face-scanning robots someday replace TSA agents?

I think I’m just going to get a tattoo that says, “You can program for tone,” so I can just show it to people who think that computers can’t replace human interaction. Like, for example, the kind that happens in customer service centers.

Pretty thoughtful discussion about the prospect of driverless trucks at mines in Canada—includes a long interview with a union truck driver.

It seems that NYU’s Arun Sundararajan agrees with Nick Hanauer & David Rolf—the on-demand economy needs to get better at providing benefits, but in its own way.

Can a bot help automate your meetings, so they can be more efficient? Please, let the answer be “yes.”

Organizing Theory

Did you change your Facebook profile to a rainbow-colored picture last Friday, or over the weekend? If so, you may have helped FB learn more about how online activism moves and spreads.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

When the sharing economy actually does… Here are three sharing economy apps that allow you to donate profits (yours and theirs) to charity.

Coops in the UK have developed a dashboard to track the cooperative economy in all of the UK’s countries.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Demographic microtargeting: or how Facebook might be influencing your credit score, in ways that would be illegal offline.

And your church might be tracking your attendance through facial recognition. If you attend a megachurch. Which is unlikely, for readers of this blog, but not impossible I suppose. Facebook, meanwhile, is working on figuring out how to recognize your face in photos, even if it’s hidden or obscured.

Final Thoughts

I would argue that “free trade” is the wrong lens through which to view offshoring. Instead, it is much more akin to virtual immigration. Suppose, for example, that a huge customer service call center were to be built south of San Diego, just across the border from Mexico. Thousands of low-wage workers are issued “day worker” passes and are bused across the border to stay the call center every morning. At the end of the workday, the buses travel in the opposite direction. What is the difference between this situation (which would certainly be viewed as an immigration issue) and moving the jobs electronically to India or the Philippines? In both cases, workers are, in effect, “entering” the United States to offer services that are clearly directed at the domestic US economy. The biggest difference is that the Mexican day worker plan would probably be significantly better for the California economy. There might be jobs for bus drivers, and there would certainly be jobs for people to maintain the huge facility located on the US side of the border. Some of the workers might purchase lunch or even a cup of coffee while at work, thus injecting consumer demand into the local economy. The company that owned the California facility would pay property tax. When the jobs are off-shored, and the workers enter the United States virtually, the domestic economy receives none of these benefits. I find it somewhat ironic that many conservatives in the United States are adamant about securing the border against immigrants who will likely take jobs that few Americans want, while at the same time expressing little concern that the virtual border is left completely open to higher-skill workers who take jobs that Americans definitely do want.

Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots