“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

“The U.S. wants to fight war without paying the bill.”

Organizing Theory

“The U.S. wants to fight war without paying the bill. The human cost is so much greater than what is ever acknowledged by the military. And I think if we actually did have to pay that cost, people would really start to think about whether we should be doing this.” How Southern religious activists are helping soldiers who want to conscientiously object

Bloomberg’s Ben Penn takes a look at how worker centers are reacting to the DOL decision that CTUL is acting like a union, not a worker center. 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Want to organize Amazon warehouses? Get yourself to Texas, which apparently has more of them than any other state except CA (where the Warehouse Worker Resource Center is already on the job).  That seems pretty necessary, given their recent bad safety reports in various places. In the words of one CA worker: “I can’t tell you how many times I saw somebody throwing up in a garbage can there because they don’t want to get fired for missing work.” Maybe it’s all the robots

Instacart workers are asking customers to boycott the company, over slashing of tips and performance bonuses. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

A look at how the introduction of Uber, Lyft & other TNCs caused the death of a nascent worker-owned taxi company in Philadelphia. 

Here’s an interesting possible UBI pilot—Santa Clara County in CA is considering giving $1K/mo to teens who age out of foster care, for 1-2 years. 

New York City may bail out taxi drivers trapped in usurious loans, now that medallion value has plummeted. 

Fascinating new paper from Columbia about how poverty in the US is undercounted

New Jersey just passed a suite of legislation designed to fight employee misclassification (but freelancer lobbying helped derail the AB5 companion bill that would have redefined independent contracting). 

Geeking Out

Check out this visual depiction of the distribution, by country, of the world’s wealth. Then ask yourself again, how can other countries provide health care and higher ed to their citizens, while in the US we’re always asked how to pay for it? 

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?  

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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.