An open letter to readers of Hack the Union

Well, hi there! It’s been a minute—all on me, I know, as Hack the Union was suspended for probably more weeks of 2020 than it was published. 

As we move out of the chaos of 2020, and into the (even more?) chaos of 2021, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of this website, and where it is going. 

I’ve spent the bulk of my career organizing in the liminal space where political organizing and labor organizing meet. And I’ve been lucky enough to do that in both large, multi-racial labor unions and in smaller, primarily BIPOC worker justice organizations. To be clear here: when I say “political,” I mean a combination of legislative, policy and electoral work—“politics” is more than just elections. Similarly, when I say “labor organizing,” I am talking about organizing workers to make a change at work—which includes, but is not limited to, winning NLRB elections or securing contracts. 

I started writing Hack the Union in 2013, because I was reading a lot about the then-nascent gig economy, but only in the tech press. At that point, few labor leaders were paying attention to what was going on in Silicon Valley. Suffice it to say, that problem has been remedied over the past eight years (not exclusively by me, but I’ll take some credit for it). Part of my lack of focusing on this newsletter, over the past year, has been driven by the knowledge that other people have started covering these stories, thanks to the explosion in labor journalism that was kicked off during the Trump era (I will not take any credit for that). 

At the same time, a lot of what had me distracted last year (in addition to *gestures vaguely* all the things) was the fact that I had to really split my focus. Starting in the second quarter, with the pandemic in full effect, I (like many of you) spent countless hours on phone calls and zooms, supporting workers who were standing up against employers that wouldn’t keep them safe, and fighting for excluded workers to get the cash they needed to keep them alive.  And simultaneously, because of the liminal nature of my work life, I was also spending a ton of time with folks who were trying to protect our democracy. Notice I do not say “with folks who were trying to elect Joe Biden.” That was an important side effect, but for most of the people I worked with, electing Biden was a secondary goal. 

That combination of pieces of work has me thinking a lot about what failures exist, in the labor movement (not to mention our democracy more broadly) when it comes to the political education of the working class. 

I had planned to take the Christmas holidays/end of year break as time to figure some things out, but it turned out that I was so exhausted, I didn’t do nearly the amount of thinking work that I wanted to do. Last week’s actions in the Capitol are not making me feel like I’m going to have the mental capacity to do a ton of that thinking in work in the immediate future, either. 

I’m writing this anyway, because I want you to hold me accountable to doing it. 

One of the hardest things for me in being a freelancer is feeling like I don’t have the space to do things that aren’t about earning money. (Deep thanks, to all those of you who are supporting my Patreon—but it’s not enough to pay my monthly phone bill, at this point—and I don’t even write something I charge for every month!.) Suffice it to say that while my other consulting business is pretty secure, Hack the Union is a solid demonstration of my failure to be a successful capitalist. Which is okay.

It’s okay—but if it’s important to YOU that this thing here continues to evolve, I need some help from. Here’s what I need (pick one or both):

  1. Schedule a 30-45-minute long meeting with me to talk about Hack the Union, in the first two weeks of February.
  2. Send me the name of one great organizer that you personally know, with a one-paragraph description of something that they’ve done that’s worth writing about. Bonus points if it includes that organizer’s contact information.

Thanks to you all. Love to your babies (human and fur). Dance with joy at the defeat of our enemies. May 2020s be the decade we earned, though our mutual, exhausting work in 2020. 

With love & solidarity,

Kati

“…governments can ensure higher wages for drivers without making everyone worse off.”

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“…governments can ensure higher wages for drivers without making everyone worse off.” Not just drivers—everyone! The NY Times looks at NYC’s efforts to set minimum wages for ride-share drivers. 

California’s Prop 22 could be the state’s most expensive ballot measure of all time, as Uber & Lyft dump millions into the fight to prevent their drivers from making any real money, or having workplace protections. 

Organizing Theory

Want to learn how to run a platform cooperative (or turn your existing worker coop into a platform coop)? Here’s a new course from Mondragon to help you do it. 

From Partners

New study from EPI looks at how states in the South have used pre-emption to prevent workers from gaining new rights, in cities. 

National Women’s Law Center just put out a new report looking at “Me Too” workplace reforms at the state level. 

Geeking Out

How’s your state doing in the “recovery” (is it a recovery if people are still losing work?). Check out this new economic tracker

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“A woman in Orange County, Florida, reported working 117.5 hours in one two-week period. That would have entitled her to 37.5 hours of time-and-a-half overtime — if she were an employee. But since she was labeled an independent contractor, there was no OT.” The new work at home gig you definitely don’t want to get involves running an inbound call center in your house. 

Looks like Uber is maybe starting to get out of the freight business. 

The Perils of Trumpism

Millions of people are losing their jobs, permanently, as the federal government fails to act on the impact of the coronavirus on working people. 

In other terrible Trump news, the Administration is taking a step that might reduce agricultural wages. I know, you were thinking all those people picking tomatoes were buying too many yachts! 

“At some point, it will start to look like being Black is a pre-existing condition.”

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“At some point, it will start to look like being Black is a pre-existing condition.” This new piece from Bloomberg CityLab looks at how the pandemic has exacerbated inequality—in both health outcomes and economic ones. 

This new study takes a panoramic look at Latinx cooperatives in the US. 

Organizing Theory

A good walk-through of how to set up a mutual aid fund. 

Worried about how to deal with disinformation? Check out this new framework for how to deal with it, from Blueprints for Change. 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“Amazon’s injury rates have gone up each of the past four years, the internal data shows.” And surprise! They’ve been lying about it! But seriously, Prime Day is coming up—make sure you click this link and read about how terrible it is for worker safety, before you click that “Buy” button.  

DoorDash is telling customers that restaurants who don’t use its app are “too far away” and redirecting them to restaurants that are paying their commission. 

This new report underscores the terrible working conditions for migrant crab pickers in Maryland.

The Perils of Trumpism

Trump’s nominee to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg is…wait for it…not good for labor. Quelle surprise! 

From Partners

good curriculum, for anyone who is interested in doing civic engagement work with teenagers. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Um, no thank you. “Amazon One lets you pay with your palm” 

Seattle is forcing gig companies to pay hazard pay

What’s Going on in the Workforce

A new Seattle law aimed at forcing gig workers hazard pay for work performed during the pandemic has added $2.50/order to food delivery apps. So far, gig delivery drivers have received over $350,000 in back pay, since the law has been in effect. 

A new app wants to help gig drivers develop their own businesses, instead of relying on Uber or Lyft to do all their billing. 

In news that will surprise few people outside of the White House, health care workers are experiencing a COVID-induced mental health care crisis

Organizing Theory

Are you using technology to organize workers even more, since the onset of COVID-19? Take this quick survey about your satisfaction with worker organizing tech! 

Check out this interview with one of the worker-owners of Defector Media (the worker-owned cooperative being setup by laid-off Deadspin alums), on what it’s like to build a mutually-owned business from scratch

Robot of the Week

Not the robot—but the robotics CEO. Marc Raibert talks about his vision for Boston Dynamics, the company behind your favorite dystopian robot videos. Or maybe just MY favorite. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Ghost kitchens are turning parking lots into spots for your dinner to be cooked and picked up (by your favorite app drivers). 

And what’s going to happen to those gig drivers (and other gig workers), now that the unemployment insurance designed to help them is over. 

From Partners

Thanks to our friends at EPI for this new brief: “50 reasons the Trump Administration is bad for workers.” 

The Perils of Trumpism

ICE is sterilizing women. I realize that some of you won’t think that’s appropriate for a newsletter that is at its core focused on work, organizing and tech. But as a woman who has enjoyed complete control of her own uterus for her entire life, I can’t let it go unremarked. Fuck everyone who was involved with this. 

Is the pandemic speeding up job loss to automation?

What’s Going on in the Workforce

new report from the Philly Fed shows that automation is speeding up during the pandemic, leading to permanent job loss for some workers. 

As many as 4 million US workers (largely working moms) will be forced to leave the workforce, if they can’t find childcare that helps their kids learn remotely. Great job, US government! 

What happens to male models, after they leave the industry? 

Mother Jones has a new series about workers who quit jobs during the pandemic. Here’s a Bojangles (fast food) worker, talking about how she quit when customers were racist to her, so her boss rewarded them with free food. 

One Uber driver talks about how she’s kept driving during the pandemic—and how she’s lost income, because of how much time she takes cleaning her car between rides. 

From Partners

Check out this Kickstarter from our friends at Big Bowl of Ideas, for their project to put up murals thanking essential workers for what they’ve done to keep us all safe, during covid-19. 

Organizing Theory

Blueprints for Change has translated their guide to distributed organizing! Spanish version here  & French here.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

White workers have been getting re-employed twice as fast as Black workers, after pandemic-related layoffs. 

The Seattle Drivers’ Union just delivered over 1600 driver signatures to their City Council, demanding that rideshare drivers get fair pay. 

Events

The Century Foundation is partnering with Rep. Barbara Lee to talk about How to Implement Reparations in America

Announcement

Historically, we’ve occasionally posted jobs in this newsletter. I’ve been getting so many jobs sent to me that I decided to start a separate newsletter just for jobs. If you’re interested in that, you can subscribe here!

“I never wanted to be a 1950s housewife, and I feel like that’s kind of what I am now.”

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“I never wanted to be a 1950s housewife, and I feel like that’s kind of what I am now. A few years ago, I was at the White House interviewing the First Lady, and now I’m adjudicating battles between Pokémon players.” The impact of the pandemic on working mothers’ careers is going to be felt for years to come. 

It’s not just fast food workers who are complaining about racial discrimination within McDonald’s—50+ Black franchise owners just filed a suit claiming discrimination from the company, too.  Meanwhile, nearly 50% of Black-owned small businesses have been shut down due to COVID. 

From Partners

New report from the Open Markets Institute: “Eyes Everywhere: Amazon’s Surveillance Infrastructure and Revitilizing Worker Power.”  Relatedly, if you blink you might have missed this news—Amazon posted job openings for researchers to surveil their own workforce for signs of unionization, then pulled them offline after facing criticism. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Just to put this in perspective, MIOSHA has received more complaints this year since March, than were received in 2018 and 2019 combined. Michigan’s state-level health & safety agency has investigated an unprecedented number of workplace safety complaints, in the pandemic. 

Uber may face big fines in California, for fighting regulators who were seeking information on sexual harassment complaints filed by riders and drivers. 

Chuck Collins & Frank Clemente, on why we need a one-time tax on billionaires’ pandemic financial gains

Organizing Theory

Nobody needs to be killed for just believing in something.” The Verge talks to 11 people who filmed acts of police violence. (content warning) 

Jobs

Looking for organizing work that combines labor activism with climate justice? Look no further

#BigTechOnBlast

From Partners

Today’s the day! Big Tech is called to answer Congress’s questions—sign up for Athena’s Watch Party, starting today at noon.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Last week, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled that a laid-off person who decided to drive for Uber did not lose eligibility for unemployment, because they became self-employed. Kudos to regular reader Larry Mishel, and his daughter Julia Simon-Mishel, who argued the case in court in her capacity with Philadelphia Legal Services. 

Various California agencies are investigating Amazon workers’ safety concerns, after COVID has raged through warehouses. 

Geeking Out

“In recent months, the coronavirus pandemic has offered a test run on whether humanity has the capacity to avert a predictable — and predicted — catastrophe. Some countries have fared better. But the United States has failed. The climate crisis will test the developed world again, on a larger scale, with higher stakes. The only way to mitigate the most destabilizing aspects of mass migration is to prepare for it, and preparation demands a sharper imagining of where people are likely to go, and when.” ProPublica & the New York Times magazine take a detailed look at how climate change will impact migration patterns. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

WNBA players walk out in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, dedicate their season to Breonna Taylor. 

Jobs

Class Action is on the hunt for a new Executive Director

“We wanted to be fair, but we also wanted to set a very important standard, which was safety first.”

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“We wanted to be fair, but we also wanted to set a very important standard, which was safety first.”You’ve probably heard a lot about how various major-league sports are planning on returning to play. But did you know that roller derby has the best plan to respond to covid, of any sport? 

The Fight for $15, SEIU, & the Movement for Black Lives are holding a Strike for Black Lives next week. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Uber, seeking to protect its own proprietary data, hid its involvement in a coalition about protecting data from cities

“Advertisements created by algorithms encourage certain people to send in their résumés. After the résumés have undergone automated culling, a lucky few are hired and then subjected to automated evaluation, the results of which are looped back to establish criteria for future job advertisements and selections. This system operates with no transparency or accountability built in to check that the criteria are fair to all job applicants.” Automated hiring can reinforce discrimination. We should let job-seekers sue

What’s Going on in the Workforce

As the pandemic continues to rage on, and shoppers are nervous about in-person shopping, Instacart goes on a hiring spree

This new paper from NBER looks at where & who are switching to work from home during the pandemic. 

Uber took a teensy tiny baby step toward actually letting drivers set their own rates (in order to avoid misclassification challenges, of course). It only took, what, 11 years from the time they were founded? 

Shipt workers are striking today to protest the company’s new algorithmic pay model. 

Geeking Out

Check out this great new map, from Bargaining for the Common Good, that shows the contracts bargained for the common good around the US. 

Jobs

Here’s a kick-ass job that someone on this list should apply for: SVP at Omidyar Network

“It has been 54 days since we’ve felt the sun on our faces.”

The Perils of Trumpism

“It has been 54 days since we’ve felt the sun on our faces.” COVID-19 is hitting people living in institutions harder than the rest of us. Here’s a gripping story of life on the inside, told by an anonymous incarcerated person in MA. 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Hospital robots are helping fight covid-19. Are they also getting trained to replace humans in some types of hospital work?  Happily, Adam Seth Litwin just penned a new paper about health care automation, in conjunction with UC Berkeley Labor & Working Partnerships. 

From Partners

ACRE is hosting a series of webinars this summer that will teach activists about the relationships between the police and financial institutions. The next one is July 15 at 10 am Pacific. Register here.

Organizing Theory

How non-profit workers in Wisconsin turned their non-profit into a worker-owned coop. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Want to build a solidarity business? Here’s a new manual, from Geo Coop & others. 

Can mutual aid groups grow into standing organizations to address the long-term causes the disproportionate impacts of immediate emergencies? 

It’s likely that the pandemic will kill the mall as we know it. Can malls survive by turning into housing?

And while we’re on the subject of housing, check out what the City of Lisbon is doing—working to turn Airbnb-style rentals into housing for essential workers. (h/t to Scott Mintzer for sending me this one.) 

Geeking Out

Do you want a hydroponic garden the size of a dishwasher, that can grow up to 60 plants? Not yet, but soon.