“Direct action is as ancient as human conflict.”

Organizing Theory

“Direct action is as ancient as human conflict.” Mobilisation Lab takes a look at how direct action strategies can translate for digital organizers

Consumer Reports (no, really), on how to safely take video and photographs to document police behavior, during protests and in other situations. 

From Partners

We’re mostly concerned with how delivery apps like Uber Eats, GrubHub, Door Dash & others hurt their delivery drivers. Here, ILSR looks at why they’re also bad for restaurants—and at what some cities are doing about it. 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“If you’ve had Black employees, but they don’t tend to stay, did you treat it like any other churn problem and learn why?” Tiffany Ashley Bell, with questions for tech folks, some of which are relevant for all organizations. 

Migrant caregivers are stuck with their bosses 24/7 because of coronavirus. 

“The nation’s meatpackers along with federal and state officials have for years planned for pandemic flu outbreaks that could wipe out herds and flocks and threaten America’s food supply. But those efforts focused on animals rather than the army of humans—mostly immigrants, refugees and African Americans—hired to slaughter them and cut them up for restaurants and groceries.” Mother Jones looks at the response of meatpacking processors, to the coronavirus epidemic, and how they have worked to avoid local and state regulation of their plants

Uber continues to lay off office staff—last week, 200 Dutch workers found out they were being let go. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“As millions of people experience a sudden collapse of their income at the very moment their landlords are allowed to start kicking them out, other bills will also come due. Payments on millions of paused student loans will begin again at the beginning of October; the more than 4 million homeowners who received a six-month pause on their mortgage after April’s mass layoffs will need to start making payments again at the end of October.” The economy is likely to get a lot worse this fall.  

The ILWU is getting ready to shut down West Coast ports on Juneteenth, in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives.

The New York attorney general is interviewing workers in Amazon warehouses about company retaliation against whistleblowers

Heeyyyyyyyyyy

You might find it hard to believe, but it’s been less than three months since we suspended the weekly newsletter. I’m bringing it back for now. Hope you have all been well, and I know you have all been busy, as the twin impacts of the pandemic and police violence have been felt so hard by the working people of our country–particularly the Black and indigenous people of color in all of our communities. Thank you for everything you are doing to fight for a more just society & economy.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“…there’s a reason why so many elected officials relent when police contracts come up for renewal. The unions have political clout — offering politicians a big voting block of their members and those who support them. They also raise campaign contributions for elected officials who support their agenda.” Buzzfeed takes a look at how police unions influence efforts to reform the behavior of police.  Meanwhile, IBM is getting out of the facial recognition business, citing concerns about how the technology is being used for mass surveillance and racial profiling. 

Today in headlines that would have been hard to explain six months ago: “Uber will bail out food-delivery drivers arrested past curfew.” 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Workers have filed a lawsuit against Amazon, alleging that the company’s efforts at contact tracing to stop the spread of coronavirus in warehouses. One specific point of contention is that the company is only using surveillance from video cameras (which don’t cover all the areas where people might interact, just the places the company is worried about theft) to inform other workers that they may have been exposed. 

If you know that facial recognition software is effective worse at identifying people of color, maybe don’t use it to find photos to go along with robot-generated articles

“Despite its public statements, black users on Nextdoor are being silenced by community moderators after participating in discussions about race. Some are opting to leave the app altogether while others are considering moving out of their neighborhoods based on what they’ve seen on the platform. ‘As a black person, I don’t feel safe at all using it for anything,’ Kalkidan told The Verge. ‘I’m always terrified, thinking “Oh my god. I already know what so-and-so thinks of us.” This is a very horrible situation to be in.’” NextDoor communities expose racism & white supremacy in mixed-race communities. 

From Partners

New report from NELP: How Black workers are silenced when they try to speak out about COVID concerns in the workplace

Webinar, next week, by the Century Foundation: “Tackling child poverty in the wake of COVID-19” Register here

What’s Going on in the Workforce

CA farmworkers fear the spread of COVID in the crowded housing they are offered by farmers. 

CNN wonders—will the gig economy be the new normal for many people, after COVID?

Philly Workers Organizing During COVID-19

This is a guest post by Madison Nardy

Growing up as a student in the Philadelphia public school system, no matter what grade I was in, our teachers would present lectures about the Philadelphia Yellow Fever Epidemic. We would go on field trips to learn about our nation’s history, but hearing about this epidemic terrified me as a child. I remember daydreaming in class, worried that something like this would happen again. Fast forward to today, my childhood daydreams have become my reality. As a child, what I failed to daydream about, is how a global outbreak of such a deadly disease would hurt our most vulnerable people, the working and poor class.  

I began the fight towards economic justice in 2016, while I was approached by a worker organizer at my previous job at Target, where I experienced a reduction in my hours while my manager simultaneously hired new employees, closing one night and opening the very next morning, and forced to stay late or come in early at the very last minute. Working in these conditions was very stressful on myself, my family, and even more stressful now during a pandemic.

Workers all across the nation work in stressful conditions like I did, but since the beginning of the pandemic, these conditions spiraled out of control. Somehow our nation divided “low-wage” workers into two categories, nonessential and essential workers. Regardless of which category someone falls into, everyone is struggling. Workers at nonessential businesses all across the nation, have been furloughed, laid-off, or even fired. Luckily for me, my nonessential business furloughed all of its employees company wide. We were able to collect unemployment, which is not the case for all workers.

 Domestic workers and people who work for cash make up a large portion of our nation’s workforce, and do not qualify for unemployment. Since families are beginning to work from home, they are no longer in need for domestic workers, like house cleaners and nannies. Domestic workers across the city and the nation are out of work and unable to receive unemployment benefits. Our highest priority is to keep our nation healthy, and to provide them with resources to protect their health, feed their families, and keep a roof over their head. 

Essential workers are most at risk for testing positive for Covid-19, and they are the first people we need to protect. Essential workers like grocery store clerks, mass transit workers, and mail carriers, come in contact with hundreds or thousands of customers a day. If we don’t protect them, the pandemic will only get worse. The Philadelphia Paid Sick Leave law provides workers with one hour of paid sick time for every forty hours worked, that gives a maximum of five days per year. This is not enough paid sick time during a pandemic. The recovery time for mild Covid-19 cases is two weeks, and workers need two weeks of paid sick time, and ensured their jobs will be protected once coming back from self- isolation.

The Coalition to Respect Every Worker organized a virtual town hall on March 26th, with two demands to tell City Council. Create an emergency fund for workers who are unable to receive unemployment like domestic workers, and people who work for cash. And to also expand the Paid Sick Leave law from five days to two weeks for all Philadelphia workers. I was in attendance along with 400 other workers, community members, ten City Council members, and supporters. Our turnout goal was 200 people, I was shocked when I logged into zoom and saw 400 other people fighting along with me. It felt powerful to see people all throughout the city support our demands, and the support of City Council. 

Workers like María del Carmen Díaz, who is a Domestic worker, lost all of her work due to the coronavirus shut down. Diaz expressed to the four-hundred in attendance, how important it is for our city to step up and protect those who don’t qualify for unemployment. Several more workers shared their stories about how their essential businesses are not taking any, or as many safety precautions as they should, putting their workers, and customers’ lives at risk. We need city council to expand paid sick leave so workers who test positive for coronavirus can self- isolate, and for workers who want to protect their health, to end the spread of Covid-19. While the City did expand its paid sick leave law to cover public health emergencies, in the first days of the shutdowns, the leave law only provides 5 days of paid time off to workers–far less than the amount many of us need. And many workers were left out of that bill initially, including gig workers, domestic workers, and those workers represented by unions. 

After workers shared their stories, City Council shared their thoughts. Freshman City Council Member, Kenrdra Brooks shared her story of being a domestic worker before running for office, and expressed how important it is to protect domestic workers who do not qualify for unemployment. Helen Gym reminded us of our previous long fights and victories, like Fair Work Week and The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Our two demands will be a hard fight, but it cannot be a long one. Once these legislations pass, Mark Squilla stressed the importance of labor law enforcement. 

With so much support from City Council members, two weeks later, we see no move for expanding paid sick leave legislation. Legislation of all kinds are being stalled due to the current circumstances of Covid-19, but workers like myself need legislation now more than ever. While I was daydreaming as a little girl, I never would’ve seen myself in the position I’m in now. A struggling college student, on unemployment, fighting for economic justice. I think back to how big of an imagination I had, and an even bigger one now. My adult day dreams include a world where our people are not suffering and we live in peace, and it only forces me to fight harder. Expanding Paid Sick Leave to two weeks, and creating an emergency workers fund is a first huge step our city can take to help our suffering people. 

Madison Nardy is a member of One Pennsylvania and a worker leader of the Philly Worker Power Organizing Project. Madison studies political science at Temple University. She worked at The Philadelphia International Airport before being furloughed due to COVID-19.

Southern public sector workers are fighting to stay safe, while they perform essential services

Public sector workers are more highly unionized than private sector ones, so it’s to be expected that they have some more ability to bargain about working conditions during the COVID-19 shutdown. However, public sector unionization isn’t uniform across the US—in many states, public employees labor under Right-to-Work laws, or work in states that don’t allow collective bargaining in the public sector. 

North Carolina is one of the Southern states that explicitly ban public sector employers and employees from signing a collective bargaining agreement–some have described it as the last relic of the Jim Crow South. To get a sense of how public workers are protecting themselves, as well as the public, I talked to members and staff from UE Local 150, which represents city workers in five cities in the state, as well as the state university system, and other parts of the state government. 

After a Raleigh sanitation worker Adrian Grubbs became the second person in the state to die of the disease, the union pushed for safety precautions and PPE for essential workers around the state—and some cities initially responded proactively. Charlotte, for example, switched their sanitation workers’ schedules to a rotating one, where workers shared shifts by working one week on and one week off—to reduce the number of people in the facilities each morning. However, after complaints from residents that their trash wasn’t being picked up “on time,” the City recently informed the entire sanitation department that they should report for work on Monday, 4/6. 

Dominc Harris, the president of the UE chapter at the City of Charlotte said in a phone interview, “Workers should die so they have a clean curb? It’s out for maybe 12 hours. It makes us feel like they are endangering us. It’s not fair, it’s not right.” On Monday morning, public workers around the city will be wearing stickers to show solidarity with the sanitation department. 

According to UE Local 150 organizer Dante Strobino, the union has launched several petitions supporting workers in both the state university system and in various cities, including this one that supports the Charlotte workers. “We wanted petitions that people could circulate through their cell phones, so they didn’t have to have physical contact, or pass around paper and pens (which could spread disease),” Strobino told me. “It’s attracted a bunch of interest from workers who weren’t previously active with the union. We had 500 university workers sign a petition to UNC and the governor, before it went out to the public.” 

While most students have left the university in order to minimize the spread of disease, UNC has let around 600 students who had no where else to go (mostly international students and students who have dysfunctional family relationships or no other place to go) shelter in place on campus. That means that the kitchens are still open, and housekeepers are still expected to report to work. However, those workers who have small children are finding themselves torn, as many of the daycare centers and schools that watch their children while they’re at work in normal times have closed. 

Greisa Vazquez, a housekeeper who works for the state Department of Health & Human Services at Central Regional Hospital, told me that she’s been at home since the daycare that her three-year-old attends was closed. “I went to HR weeks ago to ask them about the plan for those of us who have kids—and they didn’t have one. Other workers have family members taking care of their children, but my family all live in Puerto Rico, so I don’t have anyone here. My paid time has already been used up. I’m stressed because I can lose my job while I’m waiting for them to figure it out. I just moved into a new apartment, and I’m going to lose it if I can’t pay my rent.”

Strobino told me that the state’s mental health workers, generally, have not been getting hazard pay, even though the hospitals are still accepting in-patient admissions, making it hard to practice physical distancing. “They’re supposed to pay time and half during health emergencies—and they’re not even doing that. They’re not handing out enough personal protective equipment, for instance, not everyone is given an N95 mask yet. The Department is sending home instructions on how to sew your own mask. Some units are taking hand sanitizer off the floors to save it til there is a case—but the (mostly white) nurses get to use it, while the (mostly Black and Brown) blue-collar staff are denied access.” 

The union has recently worked with other movement groups to launch a new coalition: North Carolina United for Survival and Beyond, and is putting pressure on the state legislature to convene a special session to spend about $3.2 billion in Rainy Day & other funds, to address immediate and long-term needs related to the crisis presented by income and social inequality, as well as those directly created by the virus. 

suspending regular newsletters, follow the tweets

Like many of you I suspect, I’m overwhelmed with the deluge of new information. I’m going to suspend the newsletter, at least for a little while, to spare your inboxes. I will be posting more than normal on twitter–so if you’re craving Hack the Union content, follow at @hacktheunion. There are a lot of guides to organizing under coronavirus coming out, as well as organizing calls, etc–we’ll be putting up as many of those as we can find, to connect folks to new skills and tools.

Also, here’s a picture of my completely-unbothered-by-the-new-normal cats, if you need something to calm you down a little bit.

All coronavirus, all the time

Organizing Theory

It’s inevitable that corporate America will seek some form of disaster capitalism (bailouts, tax cuts, etc.) through the shock of coronavirus. Take our one-question poll, “What should the left be focused on winning, in this moment of strategic leverage?” (important to note that friend-‘o-the-blog Jeff Ordower inspired this poll) 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

There is a lot of speculation about how the coronavirus will impact remote work, as more and more companies urge their workers to work from home. But I’ve seen less about automation speeding up. However, a hospital in Wuhan has now adopted robots to help clean rooms and deliver food.  And a printing equipment factory in China converted some of its automated machines to produce surgical masks. And in a stab in the heart of cashiers everywhere, Amazon announced that it will be opening access to Just Walk Out, the tech that allows it to run cashierless stores, to other retailers. 

Gig economy companies are under a lot of pressure to figure out how to protect workers during the coronavirus outbreak. Here, Sen. Mark Warner (VA) tells them they should pay people who are quarantined.  So far, Uber, Instacart, DoorDash & Lyft have all said they’ll pay drivers who have to self-quarantine if they are exposed, but Amazon Flex, Grubhub, Postmates said “nah.” Amazon will pay hourly workers at their various offices in Washington, who have to stay home.  Amazon warehouse workers in Illinois, on the other hand, just filed a complaint about the company failing to pay sick leave for any of them, despite a local law that’s been in effect for nearly 3 years.  

From Partners

Don’t miss this new film, focusing on the wonders of life in the gig economy. Playing in very short stints (and hopefully theaters that are un-impacted by coronavirus). h/t to friend-‘o-the-blog Wyatt Closs for sending this in. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Most of us on this list know why unrestricted funding is better for organizations—here’s a perspective on why it’s better for funders, too. 

You know who’s really misunderstood in our society? Billionaires

“Societies of the value of unpaid care work unless there is a disruption in the supply.” Women’s unpaid work is worth $10.9 trillion, worldwide. 

“…there is something seriously wrong with platforms that introduce extractive business models to our caring relations.”

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“There is nothing wrong with platforms themselves, but there is something seriously wrong with platforms that introduce extractive business models to our caring relations.” On how the gig economy can be worse for women

Pandemic + gig economy workers with no paid time off, delivering food & people. What could go wrong? 

Fast food & other service & retail workers in North Carolina talk to candidates about why they need their wages lifted. 
Amazon just opened a cashier-less grocery store in Seattle. Is Whole Foods next? 

“…advances in AI and sensors are providing new ways to digitize manual labor.” Oh. Good. 

We previously mentioned Uber’s creation of a temp-agency-like platform in Chicago—now it’s expanding to Dallas

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Teamsters, Change to Win ask the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Amazon for anti-trust violations. 

Vox maps everywhere that basic income has been tried

“The new warehouses will be built around A.I. robots and not humans.”

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“The new warehouses will be built around A.I. robots and not humans.” A look at the next generation of warehouse robots, which are learning how to sort in ways previously only available to humans. 
Job platform startup Boulo is expanding from Birmingham, AL to Jacksonville, FL. Organize the South, people! 

Need an odd job done? In at least one market, Amazon is rolling out a platform to connect customers with things like house cleaning or mounting wall TVs. 
Some lessons about remote work, from a survey of remote workers. (As a mostly-remote worker, I too would recommend working remotely) 

Thanks to California’s AB 5, San Diego just took a step towards forcing Instacart to pay their shoppers as employees, instead of independent contractors. 

Events

Cornell’s Institute of Labor Relations is holding a one-day forum on organizing app-based workers around the world. 

One of my favorite annual conferences is Organizing 2.0—this year, it’s April 17-18 in NYC. 

Organizing Theory

“…most established tracking and measurement systems don’t properly capture the dynamics and value of people-powered campaigning. While most organisations have developed sophisticated systems for tracking financial donations from supporters, there remains a marked lack of metrics that quantify and value other important contributions.” Fascinating new report from Mobilisation Lab, that has been studying how organizations measure the building of people power. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability


This article about a plan to pass AB-5-lite in New York, led by Gov. Cuomo (?) is…a whole thing, while in CA, Assemblywoman Gonzalez (author of AB 5) has introduced a bill to protect small restaurants from the likes of DoorDash, GrubHub & Uber Eats. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

“Even full-time workers may find themselves dependent on their score in one category or another.” The Economist has discovered that ratings systems can be oppressive… 

From Partners

Our friends at the New Economy Coalition rolled out a new comprehensive package of policies to help build a solidarity economy. 

“…they also are eager to affirmatively crush collective worker action using antitrust.”

From Partners

“At the same time that antitrust enforcers meekly accept abuses of labor, they also are eager to affirmatively crush collective worker action using antitrust.” The Open Markets Institute takes a look at monopsony power in four recent court cases. 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Grad students in Georgia are organizing to raise university workers’ raises

UNITE HERE and their allies have been fighting to make sure that hotel housekeepers are safe, through requiring employers to provide panic buttons. Now, the fight is on to make sure that panic button tech isn’t used to surveil workers

Uber has gotten a new permit to test self-driving cars in California, while more than 100 drivers in the state have filed wage theft complaints with the CA Labor Commissioner. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

It’s well-documented that Uber & Lyft could be doing more to keep racism off their platforms. Here’s a look at how racist fears of coronoavirus are affecting Asian-appearing drivers and passengers. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“…by 1950, via the GI Bill, the American government spent more on education than the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe. But most American colleges and universities were closed to blacks, or open to only but a few in token numbers.” Please, tell me again how we can’t afford free college now that the US population has gotten both less white and more attuned to institutional racism.  Relatedly: what if we just collectively stopped paying our student loan debt? 

Dean Baker looks at historical trends in the US minimum wage, and finds that if it had kept place with productivity, it would be $24/hour today

Geeking Out

I don’t know what possessed anyone to figure out what the oldest, still-operating company in every country was—but it’s fascinating to look at. 

Robots at work and play

Let your gig workers pee in peace!

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Let your gig workers pee in restaurant restrooms, people. 

“Hundreds of (Mechanical Turk) respondents reported at least one instance of not getting paid for their labor.” Amazon fails to protect workers, in their warehouses and online.  Activists inside the company are also organizing about its impact on the climate

“It’s not that workers aren’t getting trained on how to work with robots safely. ‘The problem is it becomes very difficult to do so when the productivity standards are set so high…’” Kudos to friend-o’-the-blog Beth Gutelius for pointing out that safety trainings aren’t enough to keep workers safe, if they’re working side by side with robots and high productivity standards. 

In response to California’s AB5, Uber announced it will experiment with drivers’ setting their own rates, including allowing drivers to opt out of surge pricing. 

Shout out to these Instacart workers, who won the first-ever union election in the company, to form in union with UFCW. 

From Partners

Social Movement Tech has a new virtual 8-week training starting next month: “Union Organizing & Strikes! in the Digital Age.” 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“Higher-income people have less contact with these kinds of government programs. But they can also buy their way out of many of life’s pesky tasks, handing them off to lawyers, accountants, apps or automated systems.” Could you survive as a poor person in America? The answer to this NYT quiz may surprise you

Why we don’t need a cooperative version of Uber and Lyft. 

h/t to friend Thomas Becket for sending me these two stories: “…What do you need to be a community? Losing food is like that dagger to the heart,” about a town that saved its only grocery store by turning into first a coop, then a non profit. And the second, about how grocery chain Meijer is shifting to a gig-economy-like model of staffing its stores. 

Organizing Theory

“How can we create a bill that will strike the right balance between making sure that workers who have been misclassified get the justice they need but not having a negative impact on freelancers who do independent work and are happy with the freedom they currently have?” Interesting profile of the new head of the Freelancers’ Union, on how he plans to thread the needle between protecting gig workers and true freelancers. 

Geeking Out

I cannot tell a lie. I am low-key obsessed by the progress that BostonDynamics is making in developing the machines that will herd our children and grandchildren into extractive camps. Also, winning the Olympics gymnastics floor exercise in 2032. 

Events

Looking forward to seeing a bunch of friends, old and new, at this conference, jointly organized by WPUSA & UC Berkeley Labor Center, in Sacramento next week: California Future of Workers Summit