The Barista Revolution

Original Content

I continue to be impressed by the work of the small but mighty team at Coworker.org—here’s how they empowered Starbucks baristas to push back on a scheduling disaster, last summer.

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The Perils of Trumpism

Trump’s cuts to the Department of Labor budget will—quelle surprise!—hit low-wage workers the hardest.

Events

h/t to reader Hannah Sassaman for sending me this Philly event about the Robot City (Automation & Low Wage Workers).

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Well, no matter where you come down on the question of the Oxford Comma, there’s no doubt that these bosses wish their legislature had used one.

“Alexa, can you find me a job?” 250,000 retail workers have already lost their jobs, and about 12 million other retail positions are threatened by Amazon and other online shopping entities.

Meanwhile, in the actual Amazon, another industry has been revealed to be using slave labor.

Uber, predictably, is communicating in their app with Seattle drivers about how they don’t want them to join a union.

Two Australian unions have just negotiated a new contract that creates a direct hire policy for casual workers, pushing back against precarious work at Parmalat.

From Partners

Fight for the Future launches a funding strategy to kickstart lots of activist groups.

Friend-‘o-the-blog Beth Becker has teamed up with Organize 2.0 to host two weeklong Digital Organizing boot camps this summer—in New York and Denver.

Geeking Out

Two students have created a campaign to point out all the things in the US that have been made by refugees.


Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“The work ethic is a death sentence…” Looking for a basic overview of all the potential solutions to the changing nature of work? Look no further.

14% of community college students are homeless. Do better, America.

Will baristas bring a revolution in worker organizing?

In June of 2016, Starbucks baristas began to notice a change in the way their stores were being scheduled all across the US. More and more of them were working short-staffed, and it soon became apparent that the company had changed its scheduling algorithm to allow stores fewer hours, especially during peak times.

Worker leader Jaime Prater launched a Coworker.org petition calling on Starbucks to improve morale by re-staffing the stores, and in less than a month, that petition had reached 10,000 signatures, most of them from Starbucks workers. These workers (who were both front-line baristas and store managers) didn’t just leave signatures—many of them left substantial comments about their complaints: “As a store manager, it really hurts to write a schedule knowing that it’s going to feel understaffed,” or “Ive (sic) been a partner for over nine years, and this is the worst I have ever seen it. Lines to the door, drinks wrapping around the bar, and they just keep coming.”

Coworker.org organizers have been building relationships with thousands of baristas since they saw the launch of their first Starbucks-related petition back in August of 2014. That petition, which asked Starbucks to change their dress code to allow baristas to have visible tattoos, took off when a handful of baristas posted it to private Facebook groups. As Coworker staff saw the petitions signatures rising, they stepped in to help workers develop a press strategy that would move the campaign forward. “There is a sense that things move forward quickly online,” said Coworker co-founder Michelle Miller, “but that’s not true with this. We’re moving at a human scale—this is run by workers. We could have pushed things from the top, but we want workers to learn things on their own, and to lead the campaign.”

Tim Newman, a Coworker organizer told me, “We knew we would need press to win, so we had to find workers that would talk to the press. There was a committee, and people stepped up in their own ways and connected with each other.” The tattoo petition campaign was covered by national news outlets, and in October 2014, workers got their first taste of victory when Starbucks announced that they were changing the policy, and that workers who had tattoos on their arms would be able to wear short sleeves.

Coworker’s Starbucks network continued to grow over the next two years, as workers started petitions on wages, paid sick leave, and other dress code issues, and at this point, fully 10% of Starbucks employees have joined one or more of these campaigns. Coworker also started a curated email newsletter that directly reflects the experience of baristas inside the workplace—and connected the petitions on issues that had been started by baristas. When petitions are started on similar issues, staff will connect the petition generators to see if they want to work together, but “one worker might be in a better position to promote it, there are so many variables, it’s much more an art than a science,” says Miller.

As the traditional labor movement struggles to develop new models of organizing that reflect the way work has changed from the Twentieth Century, there are a few bright spots in figuring out new ways of building worker power that meet the needs of workers today, many of them being innovated by women- and people-of-color-led organizations. Coworker, along with organizations like the National Domestic Worker Alliance, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, the Taxi Workers’ Alliance, and my own employer, the National Guestworker Alliance, are pioneering new methods of building power for workers.

Baristas who work at the whim of a global corporation are emblematic of a much larger class of US workers that the labor movement has struggled to meaningfully engage with—those who have precarious employment, and often lack power in society—and as their numbers grow, their problems increasingly affect us all. For organizers who are used to building power through intensive one-on-one conversations conducted in workers’ kitchens, and who’ve fought to get back workers’ jobs after they were fired for organizing, the idea that real power can be built without a fight can seem like a stretch.

In discussing the challenges of their work, Coworker’s Miller says, “sometimes the momentum of workers inside the network is faster than we have the capacity to keep up with. If they are taking risks, we want to be able to support them to succeed—we don’t want people to try a bunch of things and fail at all of them.” Currently, Coworker has three staff—not nearly enough to support the 30,000 baristas who have signed petitions on their site, much less all the other workers who have started petitions there.

One important thing to keep in mind, as people develop pilots and experiments in the worker organizing space, is that platform unions will invariably not look exactly like traditional unions. Platform unions might, for example, be able to create some kind of grievance-like intervention—but it is more likely that platform unions will be successful at winning class-action grievances, than that they will have the resources to spend on winning hundreds of individual grievances in a year, as a typical union local might.

Coworker.org and many of the other worker centers and national organizations that are commonly categorized as “alt-labor” are primarily funded through grants from foundations—unlike the traditional labor movement, which has been almost exclusively funded by members’ dues. As online organizing takes more prominence in the work of economic justice organizers, platform unions will need to create new ways of generating the income needed to support their work.

Some potential business models for platform unions could involve creating certification mechanisms that are either worker- or employer-focused. For example—an employer might decide that it needs to find workers who are CPR-certified, or bilingual, or can change a tire quickly—and a platform union could create a pool of certified workers who have been tested and found to hold those skills. Similarly, a platform union could develop a checklist of approved policies, and certify a business as a good employer, to workers who are considering working there. In both of these cases, the cost of certification would be paid by the employer or business.

Another, as-yet-untested tool that platform unions might develop are data collection products, for collecting information about working conditions across stores inside a retail chain’s network, or across an entire industry. Coworker is interested in moving into this space, as is HourVoice, an employer-rating app recently launched in the Chicago area. It’s possible that, as workers become more comfortable with rating their employers online (and are confident about their privacy when doing so) that we’ll start to see class-action wage theft cases that are jointly brought by platform unions and a group of workers from a local, regional or national chain.

A dues model is possible, although in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement that provides greater value than the amount of the dues, it will be hard to make that mandatory. No one wants to pay more in dues to their union than they are getting in raises, every year. However, a platform union could also create a fee-for-service model that helps workers get training that helps them move up the career ladder, or into a new job classification—in the way that union Training & Upgrading Funds, or apprenticeship programs have historically done. One could imagine that a platform union might be able to access workforce development funds that help workers grow new skills.

It can be hard to imagine that an online network of low-wage workers, no matter how tightly linked by technology, is going to be able to replicate the financial stability of the kind that was built by payroll dues checkoff—or that foundations will be reliable sole funders for training and certification that ultimately may benefit commercial employment platforms like Uber or Task Rabbit, if those platforms don’t themselves have skin in the game.

This wouldn’t be an article about digital organizing and unions if it didn’t ask about the role of offline organizing—and while I am a firm advocate of the need for unions in general to beef up their online game, there’s no argument that a face to face conversation is better than a text-based one. One next step, for Coworker and other platform unions, will be to figure out what kinds of value can come from bringing together workers that might not work in the same industry, but exist in the same region, to brainstorm about tactics and just build relationships. One Coworker member—who launched a successful petition to raise wages at her local restaurant chain, after they announced they were reducing all the wait staff to $2.13/hour—pulled together a Labor Day picnic, to meet people in person. As platform unions become more mature, they will invariably have (at least in some cities) the ability to make offline connections. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that an asynchronous online connection is sometimes the best way of reaching someone—especially workers with disabilities, or those with significant parenting or elder care responsibilities, or who is holding down multiple jobs with insecure schedules.

What digitally-savvy worker organizations do have going for them, in the 21st century, is an increased ability to shame corporations, which are more sensitive to brand damage than ever before. Whereas 20th century union organizers had to rely on the nightly news and the daily paper to get their message out and worker struggles rarely became a national story, today’s worker organizations can make an impact by connecting people across the country in a matter of minutes or hours.

At this writing, Jaime Prater’s petition about Starbucks’ scheduling problems has over 17,000 signatures. On the strength of other baristas’ interest, Prater crowdsourced recommendations to the company about hours, pay and perhaps most importantly, making their workers feel valued. After making public and then emailing those recommendations to the company’s CEO, Prater got a return phone call from Howard Schultz himself. The scheduling problems haven’t been fixed yet—but they’ve certainly gotten the company’s attention.

Delivery robots, coming your way in Virginia

Geeking Out

Live in Virginia? Mazel tov! Later this year, you could be the first person to share a sidewalk with a delivery robot.

The first $10K, 3-D printed house was just constructed in Russia.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

AirBnB wants to put hosts in more of a governance role, inside the company.

We talked about this programmer’s app that helped people fight parking tickets last year—now he’s back with an app that helps refugees start the asylum-seeking process.

I am a terrible labor activist, and failed to strike last Wednesday. Iceland’s women once held a strike where 90% of the country’s women participated, and now they have the smallest gender equity gap of ANY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.

The head of the Center for Rural Affairs wants to know what it would look like if more rural workers turned existing businesses into coops.

From Partners

Some very exciting news from Greenpeace, who’ve announced they’re spinning off their Mobilisation Lab to stand alone, as a movement-wide effort.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

You might think that the federal government would want to know, if its contractors broke federal labor law. But no.

Organizing Theory

Are you making your protests enough fun?

“Now is the time to insist on the ability to control our own data.”

Reputation, reputation, reputation

What if, the next time you hired someone to assemble your Ikea, their identity was confirmed…by their bank? An Australian bank partners with a sharing economy company.

“Now is the time to insist on the ability to control our own data.”

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

You know, one of the things I LIKE about ridesharing is that there aren’t TVs constantly yelling at me in the car…and naturally, Uber wants to take that away.

Some thoughts on why the economics of the platform companies can never create real profitability.

What states can learn from yesterday’s abolitionists, about how to fight the Muslim travel ban.

From Partners

The founder of non-profit job site Idealist.org wants to build a better community by uniting the sock-sharers.

Looking for a way to develop leadership within your union? Cornell has a new online course, launching this spring.

Similarly, if you’ve been wanting to start your very own worker cooperative, the fine folks at Sustainable Economies Law Center are hosting a “Think Outside the Boss” workshop online—materials here.

Check out this customizable contract for freelancers, from our friends at the Freelancers Union.

Organizing Theory

So we’ve mostly concluded that positive economic change, at least for the next four years, is more likely to come from states and cities than from the federal government. Where do you get ideas about what kinds of policy campaigns to run? Check out this new paper from CEPR, on organizing for economic justice in the Trump era. I was especially interested in their ideas about health care, but who know? Open source textbooks may be more of your jam.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Add Wendy’s to the list of fast-food restaurants that are moving to more automation in their stores.

Uber drivers in Philly are joining the Newspaper Guild. I guess journalists do know a thing or two about the gig economy…

Cargo 42, a new Miami startup, wants to bring sharing-economy-style scheduling to the trucking & logistics business.

“…there’s more money in profiling people as high-risk or low-risk than there is in solving their actual health problems.”

Reputation, reputation, reputation

“…there’s more money in profiling people as high-risk or low-risk than there is in solving their actual health problems.” Cathy O’Neil, on what your free Fitbit might be costing you or others.

Interesting piece from Reuters on how police union contracts protect bad cops.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Wanna save the world’s beaches? Drink more beer.

Next up to experiment withl basic income? The Canadian province of Ontario, which will run BI experiments in 3 cities this year, partly to aid people who’ve lost manufacturing jobs that have ended.

Bill Gates explains why we should be taxing robots.

Organizing Theory

“At least they knew what everybody was doing. They could disagree, but at least there was some sort of possibility of coherence, and occasionally they could converge, as they did on the March on Washington.” The great Marshall Ganz, on why we can’t look to the DNC to save our movements (or to any other explicitly partisan organization).

Taking a page from some programs that provide legal services for immigrants, the Philly Gay Lawyer is raising money to create a mobile law clinic that can help LGBTQ people in rural areas with legal services on a pro bono basis.

From Partners

Wanna propose a workshop for the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy? Submit here, by March 15th.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Last week, UPS tested a new delivery drone that pairs with a truck to deliver one package, while the driver & truck deliver a different one—potentially miles away.

We talk a lot about the need to wrap the social safety net AROUND the gig economy—here’s a new study that has concluded that the gig economy IS the new social safety net.

Nick Hanauer and David Rolf follow up their 2015 call for portable benefits with an article that fleshes out more of the practical details of how that might work.

Legalize it.

(Baked goods, of course. What did you think I meant?)

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

California may legalize the home-cooked food sharing apps, allowing your baked goods to be monetizable.

Data activism helped prove that Airbnb was hiding listings by multiple-apartment owners from regulators in NYC.

The Institute for the Future has funded four fellowships to help teams figure out how to make sharing economy work more sustainable. Hint—lots of worker cooperation.

And speaking of worker-coops, here’s a new one in DC that’s based on giving returning citizens a chance at a new life, through work.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Welp. It was great to be able to use a smartphone during international travel for the, what, 10 years that lasted? For more on the (scant) previous case law involving phone searches, read this.

You wanna give a training on digital security, but don’t know where to start? Check this out.

Organizing Theory

The fine folks at Campaign Zero have released a new set of infographics detailing how to fight police violence in the Trump era.

Geeking Out

An amazing piece about what it was like to grow with a father who was a leader of the 1981 PATCO strike.

Sigh. Someday, I’ll retire and just watch Amazon robot videos all day.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

A Brazilian judge orders Uber to pay its drivers benefits, finds that they are employees. Uber, predictably, appeals.

Maybe if you don’t have answers for important, known questions—don’t set yourself up to look the fool, by engaging in a Facebook Live chat, hmm?

Peer-to-peer lending comes to worker organizations?

Original Content

This month’s new tech wants to give worker organizations the ability to facilitate peer-to-peer lending within their community of members.

Thanks to all our supporters who keep this site going. If you like the original content on this site, please kick in a small contribution ($1/mo?) to help us keep it up and running.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

eBay CEO Pierre Omidyar just announced that he’s donating $500,000 to a basic income experiment in Kenya.

While we’re on the topic of crowdfunding, here’s a new site set up to allow legal organizations to raise money to fund lawsuits. Perhaps a more timely crowdfunding has never happened…

Organizing Theory

Micah Sifry’s got a great analysis of why Organizing for America never activated supporters of Barack Obama’s, post-election in ways that could have helped build a real movement.

The Perils of Trumpism

By the time you read this, who even knows how many more times Andy Puzder’s confirmation hearing will have been postponed? Here’s a good look at how Puzder and Trump differ on Future of Work issues.

ProPublica takes a look at what a new hire in the DoL could mean for wages in the building trades.


What’s Going on in the Workforce

Looks like manufacturing workers at Tesla’s plant in Fremont, CA may be seeking to organize.

What changes might lawyers be seeing in the workplace, with the advent of robo-law? h/t to reader Scott Mintzer for sending me this one.

Ford’s jumping into the self-driving car space, and just sunk $1B into a new startup that is focused on it.

Perhaps the least-cried-over group to be losing their jobs to automation will be Goldman Sachs traders.

Geeking Out

This robot arm can’t kill its coworkers, but it might kill their jobs by self-replicating.

Lenderly: peer-to-peer lending within your union or worker center?

How our organizations can better help people navigate the financial ups and downs of work as it becomes more precarious is a hot topic within the economic justice world these days. When the majority of Americans don’t have $500 in savings, we know that it is very hard to deal with routine “emergencies”–like an ER visit, an unexpected car repair, or a broken hot water heater.

Most of us are familiar with peer-to-peer lending programs like Kiva, which allow entrepreneurs and individuals around the world to borrow small-ish amounts of money, to fund business expansion or home improvements, without going through established banks. Lenders are partially repaid on a regular basis, until the entire loan is paid off–which can help both solve an immediate financial need for the borrower, and also establish a credit history for the borrower.

A new platform, Lenderly, developed a tool to refine this kind of peer-to-peer lending within existing networks. The site originally launched with faith communities in the US, and are now expanding their back end to be available for unions or worker centers who want to help facilitate loans between their membership.

Potential borrowers set up a specific funding request for between $300 to $5,000, and can specify the purpose of the loan with options like “take a class” or “pay medical bills.” The site acts as a guarantor of the loan–and will run a credit check on borrowers before making the loan request “live.” Borrowers also get to determine the length of time they will need to pay back the loan, up to two years.

Lenderly runs both the back end administration, adding their functionality to an existing website. It also helps borrowers get the word out about their loan request, by publicizing it to other people within that organization’s community.

Crowd-funding alone won’t fix income inequality, of course–but it might make it more possible for people to survive until we can build a more fair society.

Interested? Head over to lenderly.co and hit the “contact us” button–and let them know you heard about it on HtU.

“Liberals are very good at using technology to organize, but conservatives know how to use it to spread a message.”

Organizing Theory

How did tens of thousands of people end up at airports on the weekend that the Muslim ban went into effect? Mic takes a look at the organizing that went into it.

“Liberals are very good at using technology to organize, but conservatives know how to use it to spread a message.” And on the other side of the aisle, how have conservatives jumped all over Facebook Live as an organizing tool?


Reputation, reputation, reputation

There’s been a lot of news lately about rogue Twitter accounts, run by federal employees. Here’s a good, detailed piece on how to stay safe, if you’re running such an account.

Uber’s had it’s share of reputation management issues lately—with 200K riders deleting the app, in response to their CEO’s perceived support of Trump.


Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

The Guardian recently calculated that a hard Brexit (i.e.—ending migration from the EU) would mean Britons have to work at least an extra year before being able to retire, because of the significant role migrants currently play in their workforce. I wonder if some enterprising think tank is doing a similar study for the US, if Trump gets his way?

India may be the next country to run some kind of basic income experiment.

From Partners

The National Academy of Social Insurance just released this report to the New Leadership & American People on Social Insurance and Inequity.

And NELP/the Roosevelt Institute have recently partnered on this report on ensuring economic security for gig workers.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Sure, you could call in sick. Or you could just send the telepresence bot that is controlled by your brain

A Florida court just dealt a blow to at least one Uber’s driver’s ambition to be classified as an employee.

Whole Foods (a worker-owned coop in MN, not that one) just voted in a union.

Events

The ILO is having a retreat in Geneva in April to discuss “The Future of Work We Want.”

“Democratic principles for anti-democratic times”

From Partners

“Democratic principles for anti-democratic times,” as brought to you by the fine folks at Political Research Associates.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

A new Miami on-demand car wash service claims it will save water, as well as adding convenience for users.

Uber is attempting to own the “last mile” of public transit (subsidized by local tax dollars), and five Florida cities just released what that is costing them.

If you’re a tech company, collaboration is a bad look. Well, if you’re any company really.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Great piece from the Freelancers’ Union blog on what freelancers of color have to think about, in advertising their businesses, that white freelancers probably don’t.

Organizing Theory

h/t to the creators of this website, which lets you call Trump properties to complain about the president (it’s only fair, since he’s shut down the White House comment line).

Geeking Out

Did you ever want to know what offices you might be eligible to run for? Check out this nifty website.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“Employee relations could be Uber’s Achilles’ heel.” Uber and Ola drivers in India went on strike last week, to protest long work hours and unsustainable pay. Since Uber drivers are apparently sleeping in their cars, in San Francisco, this is perhaps a global problem.

Bipartisan ways to revise the social contract?

Illinois worker advocates are promoting a bill to provide more regulation of temp agencies.

Are you in Boston today? Get yourself a Big Mac from an ATM. No, wait, don’t do that, Big Macs are gross.

Think twice before sending your kid to law school…TAR is coming for entry-level legal jobs.

Uber recently asked some drivers for pay stubs from other driving employment. Is that legal?

Mississippi auto workers seeking to form a union at Nissan held a series of actions this weekend. You’re forgiven for missing the news, since we were all in airports.

Events

The Murphy Institute is holding an event to commemorate the birthday of W. E. B. DuBois called “From Economic Crisis to Economic Democracy—Lessons from Black Communities.” Info here.