What are we teaching our kids about how to stand up at work?

Original Content
The March for Our Lives, the Fight for 15, and the Fair Workweek campaign has given me some thoughts about teaching teenagers their rights on the job.
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Organizing Theory
“I am concerned for a number of reasons about unions relying on a message about the need for law reform, as we currently are, to support a narrow political mobilisation strategy.” As true in the US as it is in Australia. Read this important paper from Tim Lyons on his thinking about what Australian unions should do to revitalize their movement—and think about what it means for us in the States. (My particular favorite? “Stop what doesn’t work.”)
Read past the “gee whillikers, the kids are alright!” tone & soak in the detailed overview of how a modern-day cadre organization gets things done, in the form of March for Our Lives organizing.
Reputation, reputation, reputation
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Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability
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Geeking Out
ProPublica goes into great detail about how they sourced a story about age discrimination at IBM.
What’s Going on in the Workforce
Hey Amazon, what’s up with your only hiring virtual customer service associates in certain states? I wonder if my friends at NELP can tell me what these states have in common…
Workers at digital organizing firm Revolution Messaging have organized with CWA.
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Thanks to HtU reader Jay Youngdahl for inviting me to speak to your class at CUNY last night–I had a great time talking with your students!

Why do we let our kids learn about work from bosses?

This post is a little more personal that my usual work on HtU. I struggled with whether to put it up here, or just write it somewhere else–but it seems to be more relevant to HtU readers than anyone else.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the activism of young people. I’m the mom of two teenagers, for one thing. I’ve been involved in some of the organizing work around the #fightfor15, in Philly, which is a movement largely made up of young workers. There’s the unprecedented wave of activism about gun violence that’s been sweeping the US, since the Parkland shooting that’s led up to today’s #marchforourlives. And finally, there’s the fact that I’m currently working on a campaign that involves retail workers, a group the media and elected officials constantly want to claim are “just students” or “just in entry-level jobs.” It’s made me conclude that we aren’t doing enough in the labor movement to teach kids, from the very beginning, how to stand up for themselves at work.

My daughter^ was a high school senior when she entered the formal workforce last year, through the kind of semi-crappy food service job that lots of us experience in our work lives. On her first day of training, the manager tried to convince her that she shouldn’t take breaks, even if she was legally allowed to take them. Of course, a young woman who has grown up with two parents that work in the economic justice movement isn’t going to buy that–but it made me wonder–where would she have learned it, if not from us? There isn’t ever a class that teaches you, “here’s what your rights at work are, even as a teenager, and how to assert them.*” Later on in that same job she experienced wage theft, and again, she pushed back on it (and eventually won the money)–but it was in the kind of situation where most people in their first job might think, “Oh, the boss says this is a rule I don’t understand, so I guess I’ll just go along with it–I’m new, and I don’t want to piss him/her off.”

In the waves of organizing around the Fight for 15, and Fair Scheduling, the messaging themes from low-wage employers & their political allies are focused on the fact that, for many middle-class white people, service jobs are just an entry to the workforce. They’re counting on the fact that people like me–educated, middle-class, middle-aged–will look back on their first jobs and think, “well, I survived that stupidness and now I’m successful, why can’t everyone do that?” They’re counting on our privilege to blind us to the reality of life for young people in the US today.

But they’re also doing something else. They’re also counting on those low-wage employers to teach kids (some of whom will grow to adults with ‘real’ jobs) that fighting the system doesn’t work. That your boss has power over you that should go unquestioned, even if it doesn’t seem fair, because that’s just how it is.

They’re counting on low-wage employers to indoctrinate teenagers into believing that wage exploitation is fair.

And that doesn’t just help fast food and big box retail employers keep control of their workforces–it helps all bosses keep control of their workforces.

If, in your very first job, you get told “you don’t deserve fairness,” do you start believing it about every job? If you experience wage theft in your first paycheck, and you don’t know what to do about it, where do you ever learn to fight it? If you’re told, when you’re sixteen, “oh, it doesn’t matter that the minimum wage hasn’t gone up in ten years, that’s not supposed to be enough money to live on” what do you do when you get into that ‘real’ job and don’t get a raise for ten years?

I’ve talked to a lot of young people in movements (not just the labor movement, but in other fights for social justice) about their struggles at work and around living with low-wage employment. Invariably, all of them have said to me some version of “nobody ever taught me anything about my rights, or how to do anything about it when I got screwed at work.” What that says to me is that my generation of organizers, and the generations before me, haven’t done enough thinking about the kinds of practical skills that young people can use to fight authority, whether they are in a union or not.

And let me be clear–I’m not talking about teaching labor history. There is, of course, a strain of thought in the labor movement that thinks we should focus on teaching people to be grateful for the things the labor movement won–things like the 8-hour day, and the minimum wage, and protection from child labor. Did I mention that I’m the parent of teenagers? Even the best of them are not always full of gratitude for the sacrifices of those who came before them.

We don’t need to teach kids what it was like to work for terrible employers in the early 1900s. They’re living it now. We need to teach them how to resist it in today’s terms, not by creating nostalgia for the fights of the 1930s.

So go out and find that group of kids who organized a walkout of their high school over gun violence, and talk to them about justice on the job. Go out and find the youth organizers fighting for education justice or #blacklivesmatter or immigration reform, and fund them to teach kids how to talk to their managers about scheduling problems while they do the rest of their work. Find that young organizer in your union or worker center, and let her build a youth committee–even if it isn’t going to lead to an immediate organizing drive. Think of it as your investment in fighting the boss in five years, or ten, or fifteen.

Because a sixteen year-old who learns that they have the power to say no to skipping breaks, in their first week as a barista, is going to grow up into the kind of member that every union wants. The seventeen-year-old stocking shelves in a big-box store who learns to appreciate the power of collective action, when the boss cuts their hours and the rest of the shift stands up and won’t let the boss get away with it, will someday be on your bargaining committee. And the eighteen year-old who fights for $15 while working at the dollar store is going to grow up to run your union someday.


^Thanks for letting me use your story!

*I did email the superintendent of her school to suggest that they add a section on labor rights to the school’s Financial Literacy class, which is required for all juniors. He agreed to do it, so we’ll see how that goes when my son gets there.

What’s in a name?

Original Content
Last week, I interviewed David Jay, the creator of Nametag, a service for connecting online communities in spaces that allow for challenging conversations to happen with peace and love.
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.
Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability
Last year, Ikea bought Task Rabbit—now they’ve announced an integrated service to put your furniture-spelled-with-an-å together.
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Geeking Out
If you’re an old like me, you may have missed the snap map of all the school walkouts that happened last week.
From Partners
Confused by the news about Cambridge Analytica’s use of FB personality quizzes and memes to influence the US election in 2016? Check out Ben Werdmuller’s explainer.
What’s Going on in the Workforce
Restaurant industry cloaks its fear that workers are talking to each other about organizing by instructing employers to protect employee privacy by not sharing contact info.
Delivery service and other gig workers commonly use private chat groups to exchange work tips and organize for better pay and benefits. Now Australian food delivery service, Foodora, has fired a courier for refusing to turn over control of a private chat room.
OSF points out the need to protect freelance journalists—not just economically, but to ensure their physical safety as well.
After what appears to be the first recorded self-driving car fatality this weekend in AZ, Uber has suspended tests of their pilot.
Organizing Theory
h/t to Teen Vogue for explaining what a union is to their readers.

What do brown M & Ms have to do with inclusion riders?

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

So you’ve gotten asked to speak at a conference. Have you thought about putting an inclusion rider into your contract? Here’s a helpful post about what you might want to ask for.

Paid family leave should apply to every worker, regardless of whether they’re a freelancer, a gig worker, or in traditional employment.

ICYMI, support for Universal Basic Income just made it into the California Democratic Party’s platform for 2018.


Organizing Theory

I know that YOU know there’s a gap between in worker voice on the job—but now there’s academic evidence backing that up.


From Partners

Organizers in Minneapolis are starting a credit union to grow black wealth and reduce inequality in their community.



Want to learn more about effective fundraising? Learn from one of the best.



My friends at SEIU HCPA are looking for organizers—do you want to learn from some of the baddest union organizers in the business?


What’s Going on in the Workforce

Uber’s got some self-driving trucks doing highway trips in Arizona.  And driverless-tech competitor Waymo also announced they’re testing trucks—in Atlanta.

AI meets lawyers, beats them at contract analysis.

This restaurant robot is designed to take a load off of humans without replacing them.


Reputation, reputation, reputation

Shout out to my friend and HTU reader Hannah Sassaman, featured in this article about bail reform and how algorithms can make it go bad.

Electronic monitoring of Medicaid-funded home care workers is also surveillance of Medicaid recipients.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Excellent long read about how surveillance systems that are designed to track home care attendants are also tracking Medicaid recipients, in ways that can prevent people from living their fullest lives.  (h/t to Nathan Henderson-James, for this piece)

Palantir “partnered” with New Orleans to test creepy new policing algorithms & technology, and did it through a non-profit controlled by the Mayor—so at least some on City Council didn’t even know it was happening.

From Partners

Rally is making it easier for people to charter buses to the March for Our Lives.


Personal Democracy Forum has just announced the dates for 2018’s conference.

In NYC? You might want to check out this new one-day conference, Technology & its Discontents: Building Power for a New Paradigm.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Last week, Uber launched a new service called UberHealth, designed to connect patients who need a ride with Uber driver. Interestingly enough, a recent study in JAMA found that health care providers using Uber to get patients to appointments did not increase their likelihood of showing up (the patients, not the Ubers).  (h/t to Scott Mintzer for sending me that one—I am not a regular reader of JAMA!)

“Alexa, search for ‘good employment and corporate practices’ please.”

Original Content

Wanna see how much your city, school district, or state is losing to corporate tax breaks? Here’s how.

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.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

EPI has a new report out, showing that Amazon warehouses being built in a county don’t generate net new jobs.

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In “jobs I didn’t expect Uber to kill, though I would have, had I thought it through”? Valet parker.

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Organizing Theory

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From Partners

ACRE lays out a great case for why Amazon’s HQ2 project looks like it will result in an increase in racial wealth inequity, wherever it lands.

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Geeking Out

The Vatican is having a hackathon, proving that even 2000-year old institutions need to embrace technology.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

mRelief is a new text-based service to help people in Chicago apply for food stamps, including helping them get a ride to the qualification interview.

The Koch Brothers are funding ads opposing big subsidies for Amazon HQ2. I couldn’t bear to put this in the “From Partners” section, with the other Amazon HQ2 news of today.

Wanna see how much your city is losing to corporate tax breaks? Here’s how.


If you’re looking for public money to increase the budget of a social program your members care about, a semi-obscure NGO called the  Government Accounting Standards Bureau (aka GASB) may have just given you one of the tools you need to find it.

Organizers who work on school district, city or state budgets should be able to start figuring out how much that city or state has given away in corporate tax breaks, thanks to GASB’s Statement 77 which requires that, in order to comply with good accounting practices, governments must reveal how much revenue they’ve lost due to tax abatements.  Interestingly, governments have to report not only the revenue lost to their own tax abatements, but also the revenue lost to tax abatements levied by other governments (so school districts, which usually do not have input into property tax abatements, are still required to disclose how much revenue they are losing due to those abatements).

So your school district (which probably doesn’t get to make any of the decisions about economic development that gives tax breaks to corporations, now have to disclose how much revenue they’re losing.

The GASB-77 rule passed in April of 2015, and 2016 government expenditure reports were the first ones subject to it–and Good Jobs First has been doing a banner job of documenting how states and cities are doing at tracking and releasing this info in a meaningful way.

Economic development deals are often shrouded in secrecy–most local or state elected officials do not want to brag about the fact that they hand out millions (or sometimes billions) in tax breaks to big corporations. The recent race for Amazon’s second headquarters has provided an instructive example of this process–for all the buses wrapped by Visit Philly, or products reviewed online by Kansas City’s mayor, for the most part, cities have been not that interested about revealing the nuts & bolts details of their Amazon pitches to the press. If you’re about to give the richest man in the world a bunch of public money (or allow him to stop paying taxes), you might legit fear a group of your constituents showing up with pitchforks and torches.

Here are some tips for an organization or group who wants to use this data in a campaign in your community:

  • If you’re not already working with them, find the EARN affiliate in your state (don’t know who they are? search our directory by filtering for the network “EARN” and your state). These folks help marry civic activism with expert budget analysis. It’s possible that they’ve already taken a look at the GASB 77 reporting that’s come out of the major cities & states–if not, they may be able to partner with you to do so.
  • Is there a local reporter that works on city or state budget issues who might be interested in this information? Send them a respectful email and ask them if they know about this new rule.
  • Be clear that what the rule says is that the government has to reveal the total dollar amount they are losing to tax abatements–but they don’t have to disclose which companies they’re giving  it to. That could, of course, be the basis for a local campaign (we’re giving away $XXX million and they won’t tell us who’s benefiting–let’s make them!).
  • In your public communications about the lost revenue, make sure that you are framing this as a choice the government is making–to fund X while not funding Y. Governments will often frame these kinds of deals as being about growth of jobs in the region–ask them how many jobs have been created, and cost out the dollar value of each job.
  • Read these great materials from Good Jobs First, to familiarize yourself with the language that economic developers use.
  • And of course, if you can, kick down a financial contribution to your local EARN affiliate, or to Good Jobs First (or both!)

As of right now, states and cities are not required to disclose WHICH corporations are getting specific tax breaks, according to the GASB rules. Of course, this is something that your group could use as an organizing hook for future work with city council people or state legislators–why don’t we get to see what companies you’re propping up with our money? In addition, it can be a way to talk to local small businesses about why they should be engaged in the fight–as they usually don’t benefit from these kinds of development deals.



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Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

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Organizing Theory

In Philly & want to learn more about data journalism? Come to this talk next Monday night.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

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Price Waterhouse Cooper looks at potential automation in 29 countries, and thinks that jobs mainly held by women will get hit first, but jobs mainly held by men will be hit harder, long-term.

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Airbnb claims to have a semi-unionized workforce, after the UAW wins elections in their contracted-to-Bon Appetit company cafeterias.