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.
“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?
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?
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?” 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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
MIT researchers just slammed Amazon’s Rekognition program, stating that it does a poor job of identifying people who are not white cisgendered men. Great thing that the DoD, VA, NY and TN are poised to give them all that money, right?
“…a substantial portion of women who had the means and opportunity began to prefer their robot companions to their boyfriends or husbands.” Cathy O’Neil takes a shot at imagining a utopian world where cyborgs have taken the danger out of sex for women—by removing the threats that are created by some men.
“Hiring is rarely a single decision, but rather a series of smaller, sequential decisions that culminate in a job offer—or a rejection.” Upturn takes a look a bias in hiring algorithms.
If Facebook’s tracking you all over the web (even when you’re not logged on to their site) isn’t creepy enough, don’t worry. Now they want to track your physical location, so they can predict where you’ll go next (the gym—>coffee shop isn’t just me?).
Congrats to the NDWA (and in particular, friend-o-the-blog Palak Shah) on their launch of Alia, which allows clients of domestic workers to make contributions for paid time off and other portable benefits.
Here’s a cool data visualization of 206 of the 238 locations that put in bids for Amazon’s HQ2, thanks to Muckrock and journalists everywhere.
What’s Going on in the Workforce Before the fatal crash involving self-driving cars earlier this year, self-driving Uber test cars were apparently involved in an accident approximately ever 15,000 miles. I can’t imagine how expensive my car insurance would be, if that were me.
Google aims to compete with Amazon with highly automated warehouses (like, one hundred robots for every human). They’ve already started, in China.
“…I got a knee injury. I couldn’t work for three months, and there was no sick pay from Deliveroo. I got a bit of statutory sick pay and my grandparents gave me £50 a week, but it soon became a beans on toast life.” Deliveroo & Uber drivers in the UK talk about their struggles with unpredictable income. “…it’s tough to make a living as a full-time driver since you lose a lot of the flexibility and earnings that make the job so desirable.” Can you make a living wage, as more and more people become ride-share drivers? (I bet the taxi drivers already know the answer to this question.)
Odd-job app Handy charges so many fees to its “Pros” (aka workers) that sometimes they’re just working to pay off their debt to the company. Yikes.
Do workers who are overly-surveilled respond to it by trying even harder to cheat the system?
Millions of American workers believe they are bound by non-compete contracts, even when they live in states that won’t enforce them. The result? Lower wage growth & less economic mobility.
“…distributed organizing requires a commitment to build a support structure and to try out some new approaches.” Blueprint for Change, on distributed organizing.
If you only read one thing in this newsletter this week, make it this: TWU president of the local that represents Greyhound drivers pens amazing op ed about how ICE should stop boarding buses without probably cause or a warrant.