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. 

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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.

“Hey Alexa, why are you powered by dirty energy?”

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“Hey Alexa, why are you powered by dirty energy?” Greenpeace activists asked commuters in Crystal City, VA (potentially the home of Amazon’s future HQ2) to talk to Alexa about why the company should switch to cleaner energy for their cloud services. 

From Partners

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research just put out a new study on the impact of automation on women, which found that women’s risk of work automation is spread across well- and low-paid work. 


Blueprints for Change is out with a new organizing how-to, this time on using What’s App in organizing.  

What’s Going on in the Workforce

I think that “cleaning up after nuclear accident” is probably one of those jobs that most people would rather have robots doing, than humans… 

Events

Class Action is holding a webinar tomorrow, focused on cross-class organizing

Interested in tactics that target capital in new ways? Apply to be in Transform Finance’s 2019 Cohort

Geeking Out

I mean, why not build a robotic gymnast and name it after Nadia Comāneci? 

Organizing Theory


Students are organizing against the Kochs on campus—and once you understand how much the Koch’s are donating to undermine science-based education, you’ll be glad. 


“Hell no, we won’t pole!”

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“Hell no, we won’t pole!” Sex work is work. Strippers are workers. And thanks to the Dynamax ruling in CA, they’re actually able to organize a union now. 

Automation is coming to the bond trading desk

“Since you’re always getting paid for only half the journey, it doesn’t take you very long to realize that a majority of your deliveries are to customers that reside far outside the cluster of restaurants and eateries.” One courier describes how Postmates kept him logging in to the app—despite the obvious problems in delivery pay. 

“The haves and the have-nots might be given new names: the demanding and the on-demand.” 10 years in to the new gig economy, Alexis Madrigal has a run down on the fate of 105 companies that sucked up venture capital to offer us all a tiny bit more convenience. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

What’s Lyft worried about, as it approaches its IPO? Amazon Web Services, self-driving cars & HIPAA. 

Organizing Theory

Here’s a bot that will help your Slack channels be less biased, when it comes to describing women & their work. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“…working less may actually be the key to better distributed, sustainable economic prosperity.” This new report looks at the case to be made for a shorter workweek in the UK, & outlines the steps to get there. 

Connecticut unions are backing state legislation to raise the pay for ride-sharing drivers. 

Amazon has lobbied to exempt its employees in Washington state from a new law regulating the use of non-compete clauses. 

Geeking Out

“No one ever went to journalism school to write a weather forecast.” How Patch is using AI to free up reporters to cover more interesting news. 

Events

The United Association for Labor Educators has its annual conference in Philly next month. 

Want a Hack the Union sticker? Drop us a line with your mailing address, and we’ll send some out.

Robots in the drive-thru

Can you do us a favor?

After you read this week’s Hack the Union, forward it to a friend and ask them to subscribe.

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

I feel like if you attributed the sentence “we spend a lot of time training people” to literally any fast food chain’s executive, in a conversation with a fast food worker in that chain, that worker would laugh. But hey, that’s why they’re investing in AI at the drive-through! 

Axios provides a visualization of the number of workdays involved in last year’s strikes, with teachers leading the way, followed by hospitality workers. 

Not knowing your work schedule in advance makes your life more stressful. I know this seems like a ‘duh’ moment to you, but it still needs to be researched, for politicians to believe it’s true. (And even then, some of them will still refuse to believe it.) 

In an interesting twist, Uber drivers in London are suing the Mayor, alleging that his recent decision to impose a congestion tax on rideshare drivers, but not on black car drivers (who are mostly white) represents illegal racial discrimination. 

Working moms at Amazon are demanding that the company do more to meet employees’ childcare needs, including helping figure out backup plans when kids can’t go to their regular daycare facility. 

Geeking Out


Come for the video of a robot cleaning the floor in Walmart…stay for the twitter thread, about the implications of automation & what elected officials should do (or not do) about it. 

Organizing Theory

“What platforms do, is centralize an existent, fragmented, and virtually invisible (partially even black) market by means of a platform. By technologically increasing convenience, they consequently provide opportunities for these markets to grow.” An interesting look at the possibility of unions growing through organizing platform workers, by a Dutch researcher on the gig economy. 

From Partners

The Fair Workweek Initiative asked retail workers about the likelihood of their jobs being replaced by automation. Here’s what they said

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

A University of Alabama law professor has created a site to aggregate academic research about the gig economy, if you’re looking for such a thing. 

A group of New Yorkers are working to figure out if worker-owned coops can be successfully franchised

As Uber & Lyft preparer for IPOs, they’re struggling to figure out how to deal with fights around driver misclassification…by offering them money to buy shares with? I’m guessing this is not what white collar workers in the companies get…  


“A $15 minimum wage is an antidepressant. It is a sleep aid. A diet. A stress reliever.”

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“A $15 minimum wage is an antidepressant. It is a sleep aid. A diet. A stress reliever. It is a contraceptive, preventing teenage pregnancy. It prevents premature death. It shields children from neglect.” I rarely share reporting from the NY Times, because frankly, they don’t need the little added reach HTU provides. But this piece, on new research about the many salutary effects of a living wage, especially on the children of workers who get raises, is a tour de force

You’ve read it here for years—now the president of SAG-AFTRA agrees. When organizing gig economy workers, look at the models built by actors, musicians, and other itinerant performers. 

Cities are rethinking their relationship to Amazon, after demands by immigration activists that the company stop colluding with ICE.

Organizing Theory

Interesting look at how Working Washington is helping gig workers—particularly delivery drivers—figure out their REAL pay, using an online calculator they built that factors in the costs of doing the job. 

From Partners 

Wanna see how much money schools in your state are missing out on, due to corporate tax abatements? Check out this report from Good Jobs First. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Arrested people have to give up rights to their “voice print” to be able to make phone calls, in some jails—but no one seems to be able to say if those voice prints will be deleted, if they are found not guilty, or charges are dropped. 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Microsoft employees are calling out their employer for continuing to develop products for the US Department of Defense, this time seeking to stop the company from selling augmented reality headsets to the military. 

Startups in the freight industry continue to expand in the US, as we all order more stuff. And Uber hints at international expansion of Uber Freight. And while we’re on the subject of Uber (and when aren’t we, frankly?) — the company is experiencing slowing growth and declining revenue, which may be problematic for its IPO plans, later this year. 

“This is bigger than Amazon.”

Organizing Theory

“This is bigger than Amazon.” An amazing look at the community organizing that led to Amazon’s pulling out of Queens—as well as what that means for similar campaigns in Nashville and Northern Virginia. Congrats to all my friends who have been in this fight! 

Is this what work-to-rule looks like in lawyer? 12,501 Uber drivers have filed for arbitration since August 2018. 

SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign is fighting a case at the NLRB that claims that janitors picketing the property that they work in (while being employed by a subcontractor) is a secondary boycott. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Finland’s basic income experiment (which only funded people who were unemployed) has succeeded in making those people happier—but hasn’t changed whether they got jobs (do we all need jobs, to be happy?). 

Controversial take: capitalism can ruin anything, even solar panels on your roof

Facing South takes a look at how the Green New Deal can help the South close its energy-efficiency gap. 

Geeking Out

Your job-killing robot of the week—this one installs drywall

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Still not creeped out by Amazon’s facial recognition technology? What if it’s being used to track you at work

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Freelancers who bill by the hour are more likely to be stressed over feeling like they’ve got to be “always on.” 

2 million workers (most of them women) had to quit their jobs in 2016, because they couldn’t find adequate, affordable child- or elder-care. We need an holistic solution. 

Shocking possibly no one who knows me in real life, I too have been fired for not smiling enough. Now, fast food workers in New York are taking on their bosses’ ability to fire at will

“Undervaluing low-wage work as ‘low-skill’ is often untrue and unfair…”

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“Undervaluing low-wage work as ‘low-skill’ is often untrue and unfair, but it also undermines our economic future.” Byron Auguste breaks down why workforce development needs to acknowledge the many skills that low-wage working people bring to the table, and stop cutting them out of opportunities. 

Workers at meal-prep-kit company Blue Apron are suing their employer for wage theft. 

Last week’s story about Instacart stealing workers’ tips to pay wages has now morphed into this week’s story about Amazon Flex stealing workers’ tips to pay wages. The moral of this story? Tip in cash when you can. 

Thanks to organizing work by Warehouse Workers for Justice and the Warehouse Workers Resource Center, Walmart announced last week that it’s taking back control of warehouses that had been subcontracted in the Inland Empire and Illinois.

Events

The MIC (Media Inequality Change) Center is hosting a day and a half-long conference in Philly on March 25-26, called “The Platform Economy & the Future of the City.” 

Organizing Theory

I have…so many questions.  

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

After the news that Amazon, thanks to activism from thousands of New Yorkers, might be rethinking their quest to rake in $3B in tax subsidies to build a second headquarters in Queens emerged, groups in other HQ2 finalist cities are saying, “don’t look at us, Jeff!” 

“The problem is the growing certainty that you were sold a false bill of goods about the immeasurable value of higher education, and that’ll you’ll be forever paying down the cost of a broken dream.” Buzzfeed takes a look at how making sure people attain a college education went from a social responsibility to an individual one

Nancy Leong, on the problem of making diversity a “value” that can be commodified

“Long Lyft, Short Uber”

Geeking Out

“Long Lyft/Short Uber” In the run-up to both companies having their IPOs this year, one financial analyst says Uber’s a bad bet

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Data & Society looks at the labor involved in beginning to use new technologies in grocery stores and family farms in a new report

“The employer power and suppressed worker voice that precipitated the tragic fire have reemerged in today’s labor market.” What does the workplace of today have in common with the workplace of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire era? Excessive employer surveillance, at the expense of workers. 

From Partners 

Here’s a great piece of work (and petition) from my friends at Working Washington, about the way Instacart is using customers’ tips to pay employees’ wages.

The Opportunity Agenda takes a look at the best practices around engaging celebrities in political and social issues. 

Organizing Theory

When was the last time you did any craftivism

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Open Markets Institute takes a look at how grocery store consolidation is affecting family farms and workers’ wages

Texas organizers are wondering who influenced a new rule in the state that classifies gig workers who get work through online platforms as “marketplace contractors” instead of workers, for the purposes of avoiding unemployment eligibility.