“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

“…privacy is worth protecting even if it turns out most people don’t care about their own privacy.”

Reputation, reputation, reputation

“…privacy is worth protecting even if it turns out most people don’t care about their own privacy.” Yup.

It feels like there are more and more folks trying to figure out how to make a social network that allows users to share in the profits of their contributions to the community—first Tsu, then Reddit, now Reveal. Will one of them ever get to the point of user profitability?

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

“It’s like drawing in the air.” Robots may get disoriented during testing, but they aren’t getting the prevailing wage. Watch this 3D printer, which is about to “print” a bridge in Amsterdam.

“There’s no economic law ensuring that as technological progress makes the pie bigger, it benefits everyone equally.” Great interview with Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee, authors of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress & Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. No law, until we make one, of course.

Geeking Out

Yup, it’s 2015, and the only way we know how many Americans are killed by law enforcement every year is through crowdsourced data and incredible volunteerism.

“Oh my God, I can pinch again!” How a robotic glove is helping restore dexterity to people with limited mobility.

It’s certainly possible that Los Angeles has the coolest dashboard for any big city mayor in America.

Organizing Theory

Is all your think tank’s content locked up on non-mobile friendly delivery systems like PDFs? You might want to read this piece from digital strategist Mike Connery on how to get more page-views for your work.

Do you really know where you stand, when it comes to the distribution of wealth? If not, Harvard’s Wealthometer’s got your back. And while we’re measuring things that maybe make you happy, how was your week at work?

From Partners

David Rolf and Nick Hanauer wonder how workers in the on-demand economy can ever get ahead—and propose a Shared Security Standard that would help replace the benefits that people lose when they don’t have traditional employment.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“It is clear that the transition to a post-capitalist, sustainable economy will not happen overnight, or even in a few years.” What he said. Michel Bauwens, grandfather (?) of the peer-to-peer movement, on what he sees happening first.

Organizing + apps = a bigger, better union?

Organizing Theory

Could organizing a union be done by an app? It seems like there’s a lot of interest in it, both here and across the pond.

Five Nation writers take on the task of envisioning new ways to structure tech work platforms like AirBnB, TaskRabbit or Uber. Think coops?

Geeking Out

There’s been a lot of talk about civic tech on this blog—some researchers from the World Bank recently took a look at whether it is impacting the people who need it most.

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

Bots can’t practice law in North Carolina…yet. h/t to friend of the blog Thomas Beckett for this one.

“All of these suppliers are desperately trying to find ways to cut costs. The only thing they have substantial control over is labor.” And that, my friends, is why we can’t have nice things. Like clothing that was produced without human trafficking.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Bike sharing is an area of public policy that feels good all around. Here are some up and coming trends.

Interested in planning local alternative economies? This one-day conference in July could help you connect with like-minded folks.

Are micropayments the wave of the future for news services? One Dutch startup just signed up every national newspaper in Germany, on that premise.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

What’s the most embarrassing thing your search history might reveal? The folks at Nice 2 Hack You want you to know.


“Change is hard and we shouldn’t be naive about it.”

Original Content

Last week, I was on Al-Jazeera’s The Stream, talking about the oncoming robot apocalypse (joking! kind of), along with Vivek Wadhwa from Stanford, the founder of Automated Insights (aka, the robot journalist platform), and a man who wrote a book comparing humans in the digital age to cockroaches… You know you NEED to watch this.

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

“Change is hard and we shouldn’t be naive about it.” Will software bots result in large scale white collar unemployment?

Last week, Tesla software principal—this week, partner at Union Square Ventures (a VC firm) tells you why this time, technological unemployment is real. Key point: “The question is can you get *paid* for whatever it is that you do.”

The problem with the techno utopians…is they have no plan for the messy problems between now and Xanadu.”

Do 40% of US workers have contingent jobs? It’s not just the Freelancers’ Union that thinks so. It’s also the US Government.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

“In order not to be tracked, you have to be constantly paying attention to what every page is doing.” The ineffable Quinn Norton, on how every journalist is contributing to surveillance. On you.

I’ve been known to not be the biggest fan of Facebook. So I thought I’d give them credit for doing something good—enabling Open PGP encryption, for user emails.

Organizing Theory

Don’t say the system is broken. The Knight Foundation has a new report, studying why millennials don’t vote in local elections.

Geeking Out

“Any time you put your phone into your pocket, you have a smart jacket…the only problem is they don’t talk to each other.” I dunno, if my phone starts talking to my bra, we’re going to have issues. Google, I’m not in favor of wearables with underwire. Just sayin’.

“They’ve got this great stuff sitting in the can that they can’t use…”

Organizing Theory

“They’ve got this great stuff sitting in the can that they can’t use.” So you want to kickstarter a Republican ad? Have we got a new superPAC site for you…

Change.org is revising their data collection to capture more information about voters—so they can better target elected officials, not just companies.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Tech coops are on the rise in Silicon Valley.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Do you use Facebook Messenger? Maybe you want to turn off the location data. Or maybe you’re a really big Harry Potter fan, in which case, don’t.

Geeking Out

Finnish computer scientists write an algorithm that can compose rap lyrics. What’s up with that, West Coast?

h/t to reader & friend of the blog, Matt Richards, for this new website, which tracks robotics projects in the developing world.

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

A lesson about what happened to working class America, through the lens of Windows and Onions.

Interesting debate about whether we need to create a new legal class of workers that are neither independent contractors nor traditional employees.

Hospital bots deliver pills, linens, food and more.

The first test of Uber’s self-driving car has been spotted in Pittsburgh.

Here’s Tesla’s principal software engineer, making the case that this time, it really IS different, when it comes to technological unemployment.

Al-Jazeera has a new two-part documentary series out about The Tech Threat—watch it here.

“My belief is that ‘union 2.0’ will be a platform, more than an organization…”

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

“My belief is that ‘union 2.0’ will be a platform, more than an organization, and its power will derive from the data leverage it’s able to attain over the platforms that employ its workers.” Nick Grossman has some interesting ideas about how to source the sharing economy—with venture capital, or community capital? Or maybe both?

The Standing O wants to be the Spotify that pays its artists (& songwriters!) fairly. Check out their video about why they pay songwriters and artists per play, on their new music streaming service.

Can you pick up where the math leaves off? Harvard Biz Review thinks that augmentation will be the next wave of humanity’s employable future.

Organizing Theory

As a union organizer, I have known some workers with interesting workplace issues. But this one kind of takes the cake.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

“People have a really hard time articulating their feelings. And sometimes there is a subtle fleeting little emotion that people aren’t even aware is happening.” Good thing we’ve got ad companies using facial recognition software, so we can see how we really feel about their ads.

“…a computer model with 250 “likes” (to compare) is better than your own wife or husband at judging your personality.” What can a kind of algorithm I can’t even spell figure out about you from your FB profile? And who is that information useful to? Check out this new video to find out.

Geeking Out

One step beyond making campaign finance data more accessible? Getting it in the hands of journalists that can use it to make public the connections between money & legislative votes. Kick in to this Kickstarter.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“…a bossless organization is a burden of itself.” But these Turkish textile workers wouldn’t go back to a non-coop life, after occupying their plant when the owners left them jobless.

Don’t buy face wash with little floating things in it. If you need to know why, watch this.