the fight against surveillance heads to higher ed

Reputation, reputation, reputation

“We don’t trust our campus administration with the safe handling of this data, and even if we did, hackers or governments might force them to share this information, making students more unsafe.” Student groups are partnering with Fight for the Future to fight against the use of facial recognition technology by higher ed institutions. 

Is Airbnb using social monitoring software to decide whether or not you’re a psychopath

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Today in “everything old is new again”—have you thought about renting a couch, instead of buying it outright? 

Indian trade unions just conducted one of the biggest strikes of all time, in response to Modi’s efforts to defang them.  And today, Indians are protesting Jeff Bezos in a speech there, while the Indian government investigates Amazon & Walmart for anti-competitive practices. 

From Partners

h/t to our friends at coworker. org, who put out this guide to supporting retail workers over the holidays. 

Raising the minimum wage by $1/hour results in fewer Americans committing suicide. It’s science. 

CWA has launched an effort to organize video game developers

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Cigna just became the first big US health insurance company to roll out access to primary care through telemedicine. Paging all health care regulators—the laws are not up to the technology, at the moment. 

In its continued fight against AB 5 compliance, Uber rolled out changes to the app on both the driver side and customer side, which are designed to give both sides more information about transactions (and ultimately to protect the company from claims of misclassification). 

The NY Times took a really excellent look at the impact of automation & app-based work on hospitality workers. 

Geeking Out

They may have taken our jobs, but now they’re losing theirs! Bay Area firms “lay off” robots. 

Do protests influence voting?

Organizing Theory

It’s always good to have something that you know from experience verified by academics. Protest waves do influence elections

Reputation, reputation, reputation

“In a recent experiment, the Harvard senior Max Weiss used a text-generation program to create 1,000 comments in response to a government call on a Medicaid issue. These comments were all unique, and sounded like real people advocating for a specific policy position. They fooled the Medicaid.gov administrators, who accepted them as genuine concerns from actual human beings. This being research, Weiss subsequently identified the comments and asked for them to be removed, so that no actual policy debate would be unfairly biased. The next group to try this won’t be so honorable.” Chatbots and AI could ruin our political discourse in new ways, soon. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

An alt-weekly in Akron, OH is becoming a community-owned paper, in order to survive. 

From Partners

Shout out to Micah Sifry from New York’s Civic Hall, for creating this civic health tracker for activists to use, to make sure that they’re not just armchairing it in 2020. 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Amazon has threatened to fire employees for speaking out about the company’s impact on climate. 

Uber & Postmates have sued to overturn California’s new AB 5, which protects gig workers from misclassification. 

Geeking Out

Already stressed out by 2020? Watch some automatic harvesting of unidentified crops to unwind. 

“First aid is not a substitute…”

Hack the Union will be on a holiday break until the New Year. Hope you all get plenty of rest, and time to do the things you enjoy with the people you love over the next two weeks.

Kati

From Partners

“First aid is not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment of repetitive trauma disorders…” As the last (?) of your holiday deliveries wing their way to you, take a minute to read this new report: Packaging Pain

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“Many sellers now have about as much relationship to the goods as commodity traders to do pork bellies, just directing goods from one company’s warehouse to another.” If you thought retail arbitrage on Amazon was weird, wait till you read about the “preppers” who get their goods ready for warehousing

Today in stuff economists tell us that we already know:  “the US labor market is nowhere near fully recovered from the Great Recession,” as told by the Job Quality Index

Uber Eats drivers in India are on an indefinite strike, while Uber is poised to sell their Eats business in India off to Zomato. 

I mean, OF COURSE the natural pivot for a business is to switch from building exoskeletons to providing data collection on workers’ bodies. 

Geeking Out

You know what I really don’t need? A shopping cart that checks out my groceries for me. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

I cannot fathom what inspired someone at the NHS to think it was a good idea to give Amazon access to people’s health data

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

We spend a lot of time focusing on the dark side of tech (and humanity?) lately on this blog. For a cheery end to 2019, read this story, about a 19-year-old who coded an app to help his grandmother’s caregiving team—and is giving it away for free to others who need it. 

h/t to friend-o-the-blog Eric Rosso, for sending me this pic of a luggage-storing robot in an NYC hotel.

How did this butter get here?

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Plus.ai says they’ve completed the first-ever cross-country trip entirely driven by an autonomous vehicle—a truck containing 4,000 pounds of butter that traveled from California to Pennsylvania. Sadly, there is no news on what that butter will inevitably be carved into, for the PA Farm Show next month. 

Meet one of the Instacart shoppers who has been organizing strikes of the company. 

h/t to Tim Newman for pointing this one out: restaurant chain Sweetgreen set up a fund to allow its white collar workers to contribute to an emergency fund that workers in the company’s restaurants can apply for. Maybe just…pay them more? 

When you’re at the movies, this holiday season, spare a thought for movie theater employees who don’t get overtime, thanks to a loophole in current labor law (and a lack of political will to change it, and movie theater owners who want to profit from it). 

From Partners

From the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, a cost-benefit analysis of Amazon’s impact on the region. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

“There’s no question, if most people were followed around 24/7 by a police officer or a private investigator it would bother them and they would complain and seek a restraining order. If the same is being done technologically, silently and invisibly, that’s basically the functional equivalent.” Amazon’s Ring is setting up an unsupervised surveillance network in almost every neighborhood in the US.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“Opposition to higher minimum wage laws is increasingly based in ideology and orthodoxy rather than real-world evidence.” Don’t believe me, believe Axios

A new study of a basic income program in Kenya shows that there are network effects for whole villages, not just the individuals who received cash. 

Meanwhile in the US, tax policy and corporate greed has allowed the top 1% to triple their wealth over the past five decades. 

Organizing Theory

Why do we persist in calling movements full of leaders “leaderless?” 

what’s a new fingerprint gonna cost me?

Original Content

Service sector employers are forcing workers to surrender biometric data. What are we doing to protect them?  

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 ($2/mo?) to help us keep it up and running. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

“Facial recognition technology has a higher error rate when it is trying to scan black or brown people. The software is biased, and I don’t see it working in our community at all. I also don’t want to be a lab rat for [Nelson Management]—I don’t want to be in one of the first buildings where they are testing their systems so that they can deploy it into more buildings.” These poor & working-class New York tenants organized against the use of facial recognition software in their apartment building. 

From Partners

Congrats to all my friends who have been working to build a table of organizations taking on the biggest company in the biggest way. Meet ATHENA

new documentary, featuring 4 activists with OUR Walmart/United for Respect, came out on November 19. 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Juno, which once billed itself as the driver-friendly ride-sharing app, is shuttering its operations in NYC. 

Vice takes a look at several platform coops that are succeeding around the world, in competition with VC-backed gig economy apps. 

Former Instacart & DoorDash delivery people are building their own shopping businesses, using an app called Dumpling. “I make about twice as much as compared with when I was with Instacart.” 

New Jersey freelance writers are fighting the state’s version of AB 5, saying it takes flexibility away from those who legitimately freelance, and will dampen their employment prospects. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

I’m not going to lie, I did not guess that Massachusetts would be the first state police force to hire robot dogs. Creepy. 

When ISPs can’t figure out how to profit off of small, isolated communities, they just don’t connect them to the internet. Activists with an indigenous group of Hawaiians are choosing to build their own internet access. (Have they been watching the final season of Silicon Valley?)

Chicago just changed their ride-sharing tax structure to incentivize people using shared, instead of single, rides

Organizing Theory

The Fight for $15 held an organizing exchange with veteran labor organizers in the South last month, including survivors of the Greensboro Massacre

you can’t buy a new fingerprint

This weekend, I found myself in a mall for the first time in a while, returning something one of my kids bought. In the store, the cashier, who was a seasonal hire, had to call a manager to approve the return. The manager used his fingerprint to sign off on it.

The manager used his fingerprint to sign off on it.

I was sort of stunned to see this technology in the wild, and asked the cashier about it–he said, “oh yeah, they’re everywhere now–my other job is at a gas station, and I have to use my fingerprint to turn the gas pumps on in the morning when I get to work.” I asked him what kind of online security he thought the gas pumps had, and he laughed.

I’m not going to lie, knowing what I know about the ability of corporate America to keep credit card data safe, the idea that retail and other service sector employers are suddenly going to up their data security game to keep their employees’ biometric data secure from prying eyes seems…unlikely, at best.

What does it mean for low-wage workers, if employers demand sensitive personal data, and then fail to keep it safe?

This technology has been around since 2009, apparently. Companies who have implemented it seem to be focused on protecting themselves from theft–after all, a worker can’t swipe someone else in to cover their lateness, if they need to use their finger. But who is protecting the workers from the dangers of having their fingerprints stolen? After all, you can’t buy yourself a new fingerprint, if your employer’s personnel database gets hacked.

Apple’s Touch ID wasn’t yet invented, when this technology rolled out–but now it is very common for people to use their fingerprint to lock and unlock their phones. Banks and credit card companies are also starting to roll out fingerprint ID as a method of additional security for customers, as well. One can imagine a not-too-distant future where it is possible for those with malicious intent to reverse-engineer an individual’s fingerprint from a stored scan, to steal from or impersonate victims.

It’s time for the labor movement generally to get behind the push for a GDPR-like law in the US, or a national expansion of California’s new CCPA. Low-wage workers (and the rest of us) need protection from employers that demand our most unique identifiers.

The City of Brotherly Love & Sisterly Affection just created the country’s first city-administered portable benefits fund.

Original Content

My friends at the PA Domestic Workers Association just won the first city-administered portable benefits fund in the US. Hear from director Nicole Kligerman about how it happened, and how it will roll out. 

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 ($2/mo?) to help us keep it up and running. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

New York city council staffers are launching a union organizing drive

New Jersey (one of the few “ABC test states” for determine whether workers are misclassified as independent contractors) just slammed Uber with a $650 million tax bill, for avoiding payroll taxes. 

United for Respect has succeeded in getting workers onto a “mirror board” for Toys R Us’s follow-up iteration. 

The ’sharing economy’ has gotten a bad rap, thanks to the profit-seeking behavior of various gig companies. But there is value in sharing, and these cities are partnering with sharing economy groups to reap the benefits. 

New Orleans has approved a study of dollar stores in the city limits, realizing that they are concentrating in low-income, food desert areas that could benefit from actual grocery stores. 

The Perils of Trumpism

The DoJ apparently thinks it’s okay for your local McDonald’s to have a “no-poach” agreement with your local Burger King. Because, special sauce, I guess? 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“…working for a good cause often means accepting lower pay than in the corporate sector—but some nonprofit jobs don’t even meet the most basic criteria of liveability, leaving some of their staff stressed and struggling.” An interesting look at how the non-profit sector factors into income inequality—with some recommendations about how non-profits (and their funders) can do better as employers. 

Organizing Theory

Blueprints for Change just launched their first manual of campaign how-tos. Find out how to get your hands on a copy here

Geeking Out

Here’s a pretty interesting data visualization of how salaries vary across 800 different US occupations. 

Messi may be the world’s best striker…

What’s Going on in the Workforce

The men of Major League Soccer are getting ready to strike

Remember when that self-driving Uber killed a pedestrian in Arizona? Turns out the company didn’t program cars to recognize that pedestrians jaywalk.  Meanwhile, the Taxi Workers Alliance are suing Uber for wage theft in NYC.  And ousted Uber founder Travis Kalanick is back with a new venture—this time, he’s building ghost kitchens to maximize productivity in the food delivery space. 

Hollywood assistants are speaking out about low-wages and punishing conditions in the film and tv industry. 

An interesting look at how the gig economy is penetrating the grocery industry, and other retail stores. Hint: it’s not just about delivery. (h/t to reader Thomas Beckett for sending me this one.) 

From Partners

Next 100’s Phela Townsend takes a look at how worker organizations are using digital tools to build power. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“Nearly a fifth of Americans hold jobs with nonstandard or variable hours.” What’s that doing to our social relationships

Food delivery workers in Japan and Norway have formed the first unions in that industry, in Uber Eats and Foodora, respectively.  Meanwhile, US Instacart workers are striking over changes to the app design that lowered their pay. 

This is more on the anti-solidarity side—but private prisons have created a new attack group, acknowledging the damage that has been done to their business model by migration rights and anti-incarceration activists. 

Shout out to my daughter, Alina, who sent this one my way—Microsoft’s test of a four-day workweek in Japan was a success—and will be repeated next summer. 

Organizing Theory

Who among us hasn’t groaned when being assigned to run the icebreaker section of a meeting? If you need a quick idea, here are 25

Check out this Call to Action worksheet put out by Mob Lab—to help you figure out how to describe the actions you’re asking supporters to take. 

And finally, here’s a beautiful interview by Civic Hall’s Micah Sifry, about how Color of Change embraced the concept of Black Joy, as a way to both move from online to offline organizing, and build long-term relationships with and between members.

 

Would you like a side of spying with your steak?

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Would you like a side of spying with your steak? If so, head on over to the Outback Steakhouse in Portland, OR which has started using in-restaurant cameras to surveil their staff

“Please smile more” is probably advice men will start getting too, if this effort to use AI to hire people gets off the ground. 

From Partners

UC Berkeley’s Labor Center and the Partnership for Working Families just put out a new report about automation (or the lack of it) in warehouses. 

If someone were to ask me, “what is the most Nafisah Ula thing you can imagine?” I might come up with this new board game. Although I might make the mistake of adding U of M branding… 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

UPS is planning to incorporate drones into its health care delivery system, both working with CVS on delivering prescriptions to homes, and for transporting lab samples. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“A pay increase for low-wage workers doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. In fact, the evidence suggests that everyone can win.” Market Watch explains why raising the minimum wage hasn’t slowed restaurant employmentin New York City. 

Using “customer demand” as the evidence that a program your company created auto-defaults to is an interesting choice. Amazon is losing money, big-time, on one-day delivery. The company is having significant difficulty hiring and retaining drivers in Germany.