When “automation” means someone in Central America earning $2/hour.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

When we talk about the perils of automation, sometimes people think it’s just about jobs being wiped out entirely. Here’s a good look at how automation erodes jobs—as Colombians get paid $2/hour to drive robot delivery vehicles around campus, instead of a delivery biker getting paid $15 or more. And as one happy customer points out in this piece, you neither have to rush to meet a robot, nor tip it. 

And remember—when you see Ford talking about “remote operators” for their new combination of self-driving car & robot delivery person—we’re talking about someone in another country making $16 a day. 

The Aspen Institute has released a set of policy recommendations about how to deal with the way automation is changing the economy. 

The Perils of Trumpism

The Trump Admin CMS just issued a rule preventing states from deducting union dues and contributions for health and retirement benefits from home care workers’ paychecks. 

Organizing Theory

How do unions navigate #metoo complaints that result in the firing of a member who harassed or assaulted another? 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Activist startup guy takes on Airbnb, works with cities to help them better understand Airbnb data & its impact on rental rates. 

A UBI pilot project in Stockton, CA is giving randomly-selected residents $500/month in no-strings-attached income. How are they spending it? 

Live in the Mid-Atlantic and worry about plastic pollution? Try this experiment in zero-waste living, and order your Häagen-Dazs in stainless steel containers (also good for other every day items). 

What brave new world will be automated next?

Geeking Out

Today in “jobs I didn’t expect to be automated”: traffic cones

Want a job that only requires 30 hours per week of work? Check out this newsletter… 

Organizing Theory

What are the best digital tools for organizing? Check out the latest document from Blueprints for Change. 

Interesting long read—in Fortune, of all places!—about the internal struggle going on between employees and management at Google, when it comes to “don’t be evil” (and related business practices). 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“…how did we get to the point where one of our employees had to apologetically ask for financial support so she and her family could put a roof over their heads?” One CEO explains how he decided that he and his fellow execs should freeze their pay, so they could raise their starting pay to $15/hour for frontline workers. 

Honestly, who raised these people? Uber rolls out “please tell my driver to shut up” feature for Uber Black. 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Cannabis delivery companies are “poaching” Uber & Lyft drivers by offering them better jobs with benefits


Use of construction robots is projected to grow tenfold by 2025, in this new industry report. 

Worried that your gig as a Lyft driver will be replaced by an autonomous car? Don’t worry, just become an autonomous car mechanic, says the company’s COO. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

“…what it can do is pave an escape route from Facebook so worthy alternatives become viable options.” Why the Feds need to make friend list portability a thing, in regulating Facebook. 

Congrats to our friends and readers in San Francisco, which just became the first city to ban the use of facial recognition technology by city agencies. Don’t worry, your iPhone will still recognize you.

The Perils of Trumpism

Last week, the NLRB delivered a blow to rideshare drivers who were making assertions of employee misclassification, declaring that they should rightfully be considered independent contractors. 

So how’s that IPO working out for ya?

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

The City of Chicago just released ride-share data on rides, drivers and cars in the city (de-identified, to protect rider & driver privacy).  Fascinating stuff—with just a couple of clicks, you can see that the vast majority of fares are $10 or less, with over a quarter of all trips at $5 or less No wonder drivers were striking last week!  (Some studies have found that ride-share drivers only keep around 1/3 of the fare per ride.) If you haven’t had enough schadenfreude in your life lately, check out this article about the first two days of Uber as a publicly-traded company. 

Want to fix America’s retirement crisis? Step one: Pay workers more

“When Americans think about fixing gender equality, they tend to direct their ire on the workplace.” The Atlantic takes a look at what happens at home when heterosexual wives out-earn their husbands—and how sexism in a marriage reinforces sexism in the workplace. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Amazon’s Alexa Echo Dot Kids is recording your children—and it’s not clear how they’re using those recordings, or how long they are saving them for. 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“America’s labor ladder has a new bottom rung…” Axios takes a not-so-deep look at the top-line issues of the gig economy. 

Steve Greenhouse takes the opportunity offered by Delta’s anti-union gaffes last week to run down the many ways that companies fight unionization (and the amounts they spend doing it). 

The Perils of Trumpism

Unions have reduced ULP filings since the Trump Administration took over the NLRB, citing fears of bad precedent-setting decisions. 

Ride-share drivers are striking May 8th!

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Ridesharing drivers in cities around the world plan to strike this week, in advance of Uber’s IPO. 

Tesla manufacturing workers: “we’d like a more predictable schedule.” Tesla: “how about the ability to borrow against your paycheck?” Tesla workers: “nobody asked for that.” 

The Perils of Trumpism

Shocking possibly no one, the Trump Secretary of Labor does not support raising the minimum wage. 

And while we’re (still) talking about the terrible nature of the Trump DoL (seriously, will we ever get to stop?)—last week, at the end of April they stated the obvious—they think platform workers are independent contractors, and won’t be doing anything about misclassification. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Ever wonder what Amazon knows about you? Check out all the kinds of information that the company is collecting about users. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Workers for some of the biggest companies in the US talk about their struggles with poverty wages. Is capitalism broken, or is it working as it was intended? 

“It’s the unspoken racism that’s most damaging.” What’s it like to be a Black chef in a fine dining restaurant

“They’re monitored and supervised by robots.”

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“They’re monitored and supervised by robots.” How Amazon is using data to fire up to 10% of its warehouse workforce each year, for failing to make steep productivity goals.  And in Utah, they’ve just opened a warehouse with more robots than people

“75% of the drivers in this study said that they had never had a drink or meal with anyone else who had ever driven for Uber.”   Georgetown’s Katie Wells & her team interviewed 40 TNC drivers in DC. Check out what they found, and why she coined the term “slippery wages,” in this new report that clearly demonstrates the need for more organizing in the ride-share workforce. 

“Going on strike is a right in the French constitution, just like the freedom of speech. There was a national yellow vest movement, my client wanted to take part in it. Is he supposed to stay silent on that national movement just because he’s an Amazon employee?” How Amazon workers in France are fighting to stop the company’s expansion

Before you laugh off the efforts of Instagrammers to unionize, remember this: “Memers aren’t direct employees of these tech platforms, nor are they independent contractors for them. But they produce, directly or indirectly, the bulk of these platforms’ income.” 

Organizing Theory

If you teach teenagers how ads are lying to them, it helps them make better choices about eating. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Colorado is leading the nation on expanding employee ownership

“Being saddled with any form of debt is exhausting, but student-loan debt is its own beast.” Four young Americans talk about their struggles with student debt

“With each beverage-less order, restaurants sacrifice a lucrative piece of their business.” How the ease of home delivery is changing the restaurant business

“We can’t afford to live in the cities where we work…”

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“We can’t afford to live in the cities where we work, so there are parking lots throughout the Bay Area where Uber and Lyft drivers congregate, sleeping in their cars between hours-long shifts — many doing so for a few days before driving back to their homes in Vallejo, Sacramento, Stockton or other cheaper cities.” On the cusp of Uber’s IPO, ride-share drivers are organizing harder than ever before And with the failure of both Uber & Lyft to protect women drivers and riders from sexual harassment in cars, can you blame them? 

If you’re the victim of a classic New Yorker backlog, you may not have seen this piece about the development of a robot to pick strawberries. 

Amazon warehouse workers are on strike in Germany this week. 

From Partners

Running a union and want to check out whether your digital program is healthy? Check out the new tool from the UK’s TUC Digital team. 

Geeking Out

MIT researchers have developed a robot that can aid in recyclable sorting—it doesn’t look at objects, it uses fingers to see how squishy they are, to determine whether they’re paper, metal or glass. 

I had a brief chat last week with the founder of Trusted Herd, who is trying to do gig reputation right, for people who work in the event management industry. I’ll be curious to see how this develops. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Is your phone showing you a Dunkin’ Donuts coupon every time you drive past a store? Thanks, Waze, for selling our location data for hyperlocal marketing. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

The New Republic argues that the Green New Deal and the fight for reparations should be more closely linked together, if not fought as one. 

In an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, Ikea has started growing lettuce and other greens in shipping containers outside of their stores, in Scandinavia. 

Employee ownership of work is increasing—including in some industries you might not suspect. 

Events

Next Thursday morning, Dr. Katie Wells & others will be presenting at a Georgetown meeting: “The Uber Workplace in DC: Who’s in the Driver’s Seat?” 

Hello…I vant to deliver your blood…

What’s Going on in the Workforce

UPS is piloting drone delivery of the blood supply. Insert your vampire bat joke of choice here… 

The Open Markets Institute looks at the impact of monopolies on workers and others, in America’s food production. 

A growing number of UK companies are moving to a four-day workweek—and finding increased productivity is the result. 

Immigration issues, and a lack of overall respect for the profession is causing worker shortages in the home care industry. 

Events

I don’t usually post fundraising events on this blog, but I have to make an exception for the National Employment Law Project’s 50th Anniversary event. These are the movement lawyers for every US working people’s organization. Dig deep.

Geeking Out

You know what every autonomous floor-buffing robot needs? A smiley face painted on the front.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

The Connecticut legislature is taking a step towards banning non-competes for low-wage workers. 

The unemployment rate for Black workers is still 2x the rate for white workers. 

Jersey City, NJ wants to mandate that all ride-sharing companies provide their drivers with illuminated signage, after a New Jersey woman was murdered in SC when she got into a car she thought was her Uber. 

Organizing Theory

One way of making people understand the scale of the plastics-in-the-ocean problem? Exhibit it in a museum

White activists are contributing to the burnout of activists of color. This is not an April Fool’s joke.

Organizing Theory

This new study looks at how white activists are contributing to activist burnout, with activists of color in the US.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Workers are pushing back against the use of biometric data for identification at work, especially when companies aren’t transparent about how that data is stored.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Tech workers in the UK are creating projects with ending Brexit in mind.

From Partners

NELP has released a report looking at how Handy has lobbied to change employee misclassification laws to advance their business model of independent contracting, in several states.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Unions were highlighted on stage during the Game Developers Choice Awards last week in SF—despite the fact that no major game developer has unionized yet.
Could drivers’ strikes impact the success of Uber & Lyft’s IPOs? “…once you pass your background test anybody can drive. Uber should put a cap on drivers.” It’s not just big cities that are experiencing a glut of drivers. It’s everywhere.
The New York Supreme Court just ruled that it’s okay to require home care workers to work without pay for 11 hours of a 24-hour shift.

 

Geeking Out

I know, I’m a weirdo. But a new Boston Dynamics video will always brighten my day.

Customer ratings systems—they’re not just for gig economy companies anymore!

Original Content

Customer ratings systems—they’re not just for gig economy companies anymore! Here’s why it’s a problem that so many companies are asking us to rate their employees for 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

Uber drivers are demanding their data from the company in the UK, asserting that they have a right to it under the GDPR. 

Organizing Theory

Yesterday & today, people interested in the gig economy & the city have been attending a conference in Philly. Follow the hashtag #platformecon to see what they said. Relatedly, Juliana Feliciano Reyes profiled the city’s labor enforcement office and found it wanting. 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Uber Freight is expanding to the EU, starting in the Netherlands. 

A worker-owned, refugee-founded cleaning company in Australia just signed a contract with Airbnb

From Partners 

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the Open Markets Institute and others have called on the FTC to ban worker non-compete clauses

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Connecticut just took a big step toward regulating how much ride-sharing drivers get paid out of the fees that customers pay on apps. 

Kickstarter workers are organizing a union with the OPEIU. 

“This is about person-to-person organizing,” Rideshare drivers in LA are striking this week, and know that it will take more than a one-day strike to bring Uber & Lyft to the table. 

“…increases in state minimum wages in recent years have been associated with decreases in suicide rates.” Welp. Probably should do more of those, then. 

The Business of Rating Workers

There’s a lot on this blog about the need to protect workers’ reputations, in the digital era. Today, I want to spend a little time talking about what it means that so many corporations are essentially handing over some or all of their management of front-line workers to customers. Because part of what it means is that we’re all doing unpaid labor for corporate America, and that’s not good for anyone. 

Whenever I buy something at my local post office, before the woman who serves me hands me the receipt, she uses a highlighter to circle the customer service survey on it and asks me to fill it out. Because I know she’s protected by a union, I throw it out and don’t bother to do the survey. I’m not worried that she’s going to be fired for having either bad or non-existent customer service scores. 

But more and more, it seems like every transaction I make offers me the opportunity to rate the employee who provided it to me. There are extreme examples, like Uber & Lyft—where I know that if I rate any driver at less than five stars, I’m threatening their livelihood (or at least their access to the app). There’s the innocuous survey a hotel sends after a stay, that asks about how happy I am about the housekeeping service. Open Table, after I eat at a restaurant, wants me to rate it on a variety of metrics, including service—and so does GrubHub, if I order food in instead of eating out. I buy a flip-chart pad at Staples, and the cashier makes a special point to ask me to do the survey on the receipt, because she’s new and needs good ratings. 

Corporations have a clear value proposition for asking their customers to rate them: it makes the customer feel like their opinion is valued, for a start. In the extreme cases, like ride-share drivers, it allows the company to essentially dispense with any direct management of front-line workers—if the driver isn’t making enough customers happy, they’re just gone. 

Am I actually getting anything in return for doing any of this rating, though? Or am I just helping companies justify eliminating substantive feedback from a frontline manager that would be much more useful to the employee, and slash staffing costs by reducing the amount of time that managers are given to manage. Do I have any incentive to give honest feedback about a service sector worker or ride share driver who made a human mistake, if I know that anything less than 5 stars might cost them their job?

With all these ratings systems, there doesn’t seem to be much ability for companies to ferret out the biases and prejudices of their customers, in order to take that into account. Should a company allow racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist, Islamophobic or transphobic customers the same ability to rate their employees that they would anyone else? What if I’m a Karen just having a crappy day, and decide to take it out on a retail worker? 

We’ve made some real progress, as a movement, at making cities and states understand their needs to regulate the gig economy, and to put limits on algorithmic scheduling that causes upheaval in working people’s lives. It’s time for us to start thinking about how to put limits on these rating systems. 

For example—can we pass local or state legislation that expressly forbids companies from solely using customer ratings to terminate workers or contractors? Can we force companies that are asking us to essentially replace some key management functions to pay us for that labor? Can we require that they allow regulators to poke around in their algorithms, to understand what they are doing to control for biased customers? Can we call a one-day “ratings strike” where we all agree to give every worker we encounter five stars, or refuse to participate in ratings at all? 

Until we band together and agree to stop doing companies’ unpaid labor to manage their workforce, service sector and gig economy workers are going to suffer the indignity of asking every customer to give them the highest rating possible.