“You cost them a lot of money and don’t bring in a lot of revenue.”

Thanks to all those who have recently contributed to Hack the Union via Patreon! I appreciate your support.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Last week, tech pioneer Andy Grove (former CEO of Intel) passed on. Here’s a piece he wrote for the American Prospect, on one thing keeping manufacturing jobs from coming back to the US—our own lack of data about the problem.

“You cost them a lot of money and don’t bring in a lot of revenue.” But doing customer support is such a rewarding job, why should it pay well?

Australia’s unions are launching a campaign to force employers to make more casual employees into permanent ones.

“Uber for X” isn’t the only model that on-demand companies are adopting, at this point.

Geeking Out

Facebook’s research department created this fascinating data visualization to answer the question “do jobs run in families?

What if cities’ analysis of sewer waste led to better health outcomes? How smart cities are investing in data.

Organizing Theory

Four ways of categorizing online communities. Interesting take.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Got excess food from an event that you’d rather share with the hungry than throw out? In the Bay Area, there’s an app for that now.

“…it is naive to think that we can extract the merits of the sharing economy without investing in the infrastructure and social welfare state that undergirds that economy.” Excellent take on the sharing economy, Cuba-style.

From Partners

EPI has a new paper out, rebutting the Harris/Krueger paper claiming that we need a third way to classify workers in the gig economy.

Haymarket Books has a new book about Chinese worker organizing coming out this month—check out the tour to see if they’re coming to a city near you in April.

And while we’re promoting new books—here’s an excerpt from Tom Slee’s new book, What’s Yours is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy.

“The complexities of intellectual puzzles are nothing to those of emotional ones. Work is a wonderful refuge.”

Original Content

The worker justice movement has been winning $15/hour wages at the ballot box, and on the desks of friendly elected officials. What’s next, in policy moves that could restore more stability or rewards for workers?

Last year, Hack the Union lost $35. We’re not set up to make a profit, but it’s great to basically break even. If you like the original content on this site, please kick in a small contribution ($1/mo?) to help us keep it up and running.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Are you a middle manager? Slackbot will either up your productivity, or eat your job.

The CEO of Gigwalk has weighed in on the need for some kind of portable benefits system.

Uber & Lyft have both recently launched products to pay drivers instantly. Here’s a good look at the pros & cons of both apps’ solutions. Also, a recent survey from Reuters demonstrates that Lyft drivers would have received $835 in mileage reimbursement, on average, if they’d been classified as employees.

“The complexities of intellectual puzzles are nothing to those of emotional ones. Work is a wonderful refuge.” On why we can’t quit working.

What’s it like when your job gets replaced by an algorithm?

From Partners

Race Forward is asking worker advocates who are familiar with racial discrimination in different industries to fill out this survey.

UC Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor & Employment has a new paper out, studying domestic outsourcing in the US, and proposing a further research agenda on that topic.

CommonBound 2016 has issued a call for proposals (I’m working on two of these tracks, would love to see some proposals from HtU readers).

Organizing Theory

I wrote a piece for the New Labor Forum on digital organizing and the labor movement.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Ross Baird and Lenny Mendonca push back on the idea that Silicon Valley should be putting itself in the position to “solve” the problem of poverty by engineering basic income.

Geeking Out

Google has urged the US to adopt uniform laws around self-driving tech, rather than leaving it to the states.

$15/hour? Done. What’s Next?

There has been a debate within the labor movement for years about what role unions should take in supporting social policy that helps all workers, regardless of whether they are in a union or not. Some union staff and members feel that if workers can get higher wages or better benefits through political action, they won’t have a reason to join a union. This seems to me to be a sort of lazy logic, along the lines of “I can’t figure out how to make my product appealing, I can only sell it if it’s standing alone with zero competition.” It eliminates the idea of a union being part of a social and political movement, and leaves us with the merely transactional elements of collective bargaining.

The Fight for 15 has done an incredible job of showing us what it looks like to capture the imagination of a group of unrepresented workers, and putting them in motion to win significant raises not just for themselves but for an entire generation of Americans. While we’re quite a ways a way from raising the national minimum wage to $15/hour, the victories that workers have won in cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have given workers everywhere the courage to keep fighting for higher wages. Workers in many other cities and states have seen their base pay rise to $10 or $12/hour—and they continue to fight for $15. Right now, some unions are choosing to intervene in those fights by having their members exempted from legislation that raises wages—arguing that they have secured other kinds of financial concessions from employers, in the form of health and retirement benefits—that are worth more than the financial improvements that come with just raising wages. I’m curious to see at what point those unions will start to have an easier time at the bargaining table, because their members are no longer competing for jobs with people earning half of their wage—and to see what lesson union leaders take away from that experience.

In addition, lots of groups (led nationally by the Working Families Party & the Partnership for Working Families) are doing great work to win paid leave of various kinds, both at the ballot and in city councils and legislatures. The United States routinely ranks among the worst among industrialized countries when it comes to paid parental or sick leave—and limiting those benefits to the 7% of the workforce that happens to have a union is bad public policy. We’re all at risk of public health problems when restaurant workers have to go to work sick, and the union movement doesn’t do its members any favors by sitting on the sidelines when non-union workers fight to win the right to take a day off with pay.

It got me thinking about what other kinds of contractual benefits we might be able to put on the ballot, on the desk of a friendly governor or mayor, or on the legislative agenda of a progressive city council. Here are some ideas I came up with—if you have others, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

1. Shift differentials. Mandate a $1.50 bump in pay for every hourly worker who has to work between 11 pm and 6 am. If you’ve gotta have Taco Bell at 1 in the morning, shouldn’t the worker serving it to you make a little more money than the one who’s there at 1 pm?
2. Language bonuses. The US is increasingly a multilingual country. People who can demonstrate fluency in a language that serves a market of some statistical significance in a city should be rewarded for it. Can you pass a conversational test in Spanish and English in Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Miami? Great, here’s a $.50/hour bonus for you.
3. Scheduling. There has been a good deal of attention paid recently to the struggle that some workers go through just to know what their hours will be from one week to the next. San Francisco recently passed a law to protect workers’ schedules, and to encourage employers to offer more hours to their existing part-time workforce, before they make new hires. What if we took this practice one step further, and mandated that employers create a scheduling committee made up of workers? For women workers in particular, the right to control one’s schedule (and to know it in advance) can make an even bigger quality-of-life difference than a small raise.
4. Pay transparency. Governments should have an interest in what companies are paying to their constituents, in order to protect them from racial and gender-based pay disparities. We should start demanding that companies report annually on their actual (not average) rates of pay, broken out by demographics of the workforce. Publishing that information on the web will let a city’s residents make informed choices about the kind of companies they apply to work for.
5. More regulatory & licensing levers. Boston recently announced that they will provide free salary negotiation training for all women. That’s a great idea, and they deserve a lot of credit for thinking creatively about how to empower women workers. But I wonder what they are doing to deal with the fact that managers don’t always like it, when workers ask for raises? Can they require that every business who renews some kind of license in the city has to put their managers through salary negotiation training too?

I am of the train of thought that we’re able to win much more for our members when the basic standards they’re bargaining from are pushed higher by governments and vibrant social movements. In other words, it’s a lot harder to win wage increases (particularly when bargaining for low-paid workers) when the minimum wage has been stuck in place for 10 years. It’s easier to win wage increases when all workers are receiving regular raises, than it is when employers are looking at a labor supply thirsty to do even the tiniest bit better than $7.25 per hour. While these kinds of campaigns aren’t possible in all cities due to pre-emption laws, mayors (and governors in states with hostile legislatures) are usually still able to set wage & sometimes benefit standards for city contractors and subcontractors. Our movement should be pushing the envelope of what’s possible, instead of opting out to keep hold of the things that only union workers have, right now.

“…it is shared wealth that creates most of the value of private wealth, yet we charge private wealth owners almost nothing to use it.”

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“…it is shared wealth that creates most of the value of private wealth, yet we charge private wealth owners almost nothing to use it.” Peter Barnes, on the need to base a New Economy on common wealth.

Instacart may be the next on-demand company to crater.

Uber is testing a new emergency hotline for riders. Is your city one of the test markets?

“There is a massive opportunity for people who wish to serve the planet to take hold of new technological tools and out-invent those who would consume our common assets.” The founders of two sharing economy companies, on why they want us to stop using that term to describe rentiers (and why real sharing matters).

Italy considers taxing sharing economy income at 10% up to the first€10,000 in earnings, more after that.

From Partners

David Rolf has a new book coming out next month, about the Fight for 15—read an excerpt here.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Starbucks is encouraging baristas to register to vote. I wonder if they’ll give people time off to do so, not just in the presidential election, but every year?

“The doctor will see you now” seems moot, in an age of wearable tech and diagnosing apps.

“Humans possess the flexibility and initiative to make magic happen, even in the smallest of ways, given autonomy and freedom.”

Original Content

Is it time for a Universal Basic Income? Some folks in the tech world are increasingly answering this question “yes!”

As ever, if you like the original content on this site, please kick in a small contribution ($1/mo?) to help us keep it up and running.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“Humans possess the flexibility and initiative to make magic happen, even in the smallest of ways, given autonomy and freedom.” What would happen if on-demand companies decided to compete on customer service, instead of price?

The Writers’ Guild just negotiated a contract with Gawker that didn’t just protect their newly-organized members—it protects freelancers, too.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

If even tech workers are looking to move out of expensive Silicon Valley, is there any hope for the rest of us?

Organizing Theory

Shout out to Daniel Gross from Brandworkers for designing the Worker Association Canvas, an adaptation of the Lean Canvas specifically set up for worker organizers.

Uber uses its access to drivers to tell them a union might not be right for Seattle drivers. Or at least, for Seattle Uber managers.

From Partners

Looks like an interesting line-up for this one-day conference on the On-Demand Economy at MIT next week.

New report from CEPR: could reducing work hours help slow climate change? After this winter, we should probably all be alarmed at how quickly the globe is changing.

Geeking Out

Looking for zip-code-level data on economically distressed communities? We’ve got you covered.

Is it time for a Universal Basic Income?

You could be forgiven for thinking that the US workforce is experiencing a kind of personality disorder these days. On one hand, low-paid workers in the service sector are fighting to get their employers to give them more hours, as software algorithms make it easier for employers to accomplish “just-in-time” scheduling. On-demand workers are in a constant hunt for their next gig, through apps like Uber, TaskRabbit, Wonolo or Instacart. These apps give workers instant access to temporary work, and take the friction out of billing (and collecting payment from) clients. Automation—whether it’s experienced through the app economy or scheduling software—gives employers the workforce flexibility they want—whether workers are happy with that flexibility or not.

On the other hand, workers with traditional full-time jobs are feeling like they never get to truly leave work behind at the end of the day. Workers with employers that write late-night emails, or saddle managers with the responsibility of working unpaid overtime (because they are technically exempt employees) are left to juggle their personal and work lives—and to feel like they’re constantly failing at both. Working parents and people who are caregivers for their own parents are especially crushed between the need to perform well even outside of “normal” work hours, and also to be attentive to kids or other family members.

For some, freelancing feels like a chance to have flexibility in scheduling, to be able to control your own destiny in ways that full-time employees can’t. Unfortunately, nearly all freelancers have to worry about losing income if they can’t work—whether it’s one day staying home with a sick kid, or for longer periods of time. But freelancers aren’t the only ones struggling in the 21st century to find ways of paying the rent. The actual unemployment rate hovered between 10 & 11% for most of last year, and the World Bank recently estimated that, in order to meet the global need for jobs for youths aged 15-29, we will need to create 600 million new jobs over the next ten years.

The on-demand economy is forcing a national conversation about how to restructure work in the 21st century. More of us are jumping from gig to gig (sometimes in the space of a single day) to get by, and most people under 30 have given up the dream of having a career within a single company—if they ever had it. Millennials have watched their parents and older coworkers struggle with work-life balance, and many have decided that “having it all” doesn’t necessarily have to include full-time work, all the time.

Recent events held by a number of think tanks, have featured policy makers, organizers, and technologists discussing whether it’s time to give serious consideration to creating a form of universal basic income. While the threat of technological unemployment is probably not imminent, there are serious concerns that change will happen in some industries faster than others. Many robotics experts predict that self-driving vehicles will transform the transportation industry over a period of 10-15 years, potentially affecting millions of professional drivers.

Natalie Foster, a fellow at the Institute of the Future and the co-founder of Peers.org (a web community of workers in the on-demand economy) supports universal basic income as a way of easing the transition to a more automated workforce. “Today’s fights are between Uber drivers and taxi drivers, but tomorrow’s fights are between humans and robots,” said Foster. “As more and more jobs become automated, it’s important that we’re prepared for that transition.”

Gerald Huff, a Silicon Valley software engineer who’s studied the issue of basic income thinks it’s inevitable that automation will lead to job loss. “In the auto industry, electric cars & self-driving cars are the most interesting thing happening today. It’s inevitable that we’ll have them eventually—and millions of jobs will be lost due to this evolving technology.” Huff sees machine language programming as “a general purpose technology, like electricity, that will spread at different rates throughout the economy” but ultimately, like electricity, will have widespread adoption in many different industries.

Foster points out that, “despite misconceptions, we actually have a version of income for all in Alaska with the Alaska Permanent Fund, which issues dividend checks to every Alaskan resident each year, based on the oil wealth that they co-own together. Could an American Permanent Fund be a way to create transition income for all, as we march toward technological unemployment?” In addition to Alaska’s Permanent Fund, forms of basic income have been experimented with by some Native American tribes disbursing casino income. The city of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, has also announced plans to experiment with giving payments without conditions to people that currently qualify for social security, as has the newly-elected government of Finland.

Both types of workers being affected by technology could have their lives eased by experiments with universal basic income. The fast food worker struggling to get by in a week that her employer only wants her to work 20 hours, would know for certain that she could pay the rent. The full-time worker, struggling with the demands of balancing a more-than-40-hour workweek with the need to pick her kids up from school and feed them dinner, might decide to voluntarily cut back on her work hours, knowing that her overall income would be unchanged. Basic income might also allow us to return to the days when large numbers of people were able to volunteer with community organizations, in schools, or with senior citizens. If we reduce the need for adults to spend the majority of their waking lives at work, it is certain that some of them will choose to give back to their communities in ways they just don’t have time to do, right now.

As individual workers choose to reduce hours, we will also probably see more job-sharing arrangements. Many employers may find that they have to compete for workers by significantly improving quality-of-life issues on the job, which could include allowing two people to share the duties of what is now one full-time. If we want to achieve the kind of opportunities for today’s youth that the World Bank estimates we need, one way to do that would be to grant everyone some form of basic income, and encourage employers to allow workers to share jobs in ways that let them maximize the knowledge and expertise of incumbent workers, while bringing on the next wave of workers in a part-time capacity.

It will take a big leap, rhetorically, for people to go from thinking “no one who works full-time should live in poverty” to “no one should live in poverty.” Particularly in the US, one’s livelihood is in no small part the key to one’s identity—and the idea that we might all be sliding toward a future with much less work fills some of us with as much dread as it does joy. But Huff believes we’re slowly approaching a future where “people will not make enough money to participate in the economy. Universal basic income is a form of helping capitalism help itself—so that we won’t just rely on human labor as the way we get money to spend.”

“Lured by that juicy chicken money…”

Geeking Out

“Lured by that juicy chicken money…” Everything you ever wanted to know about the development of robotic butchers.

The rest of the internet wants you to watch this robot get knocked over by some dude. But I think watching it lose & regain balance, walking in snow, is way more interesting. Halfway between drunk person and toddler is person-lite.

“Bots won’t replace journalists, but they can help supercharge them by automating tasks that would otherwise have to take place manually.”

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

I sort of don’t know what to think about this. Can we use it to crowdsource solutions to gun violence, or poverty, or something other than how to solve companies’ problems?

“At the high end skill of the workforce, we increasingly work to targets, not time.” Paul Mason on why the automation revolution should drive us to adopt a UBI.

Organizing Theory

Tom Steinberg wants to start an organization of technologists who are worried about the future of work. Interested? Leave him a comment on this post.

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“Most often, what these workers had in common was what they lacked: unemployment insurance, minimum wage protection, health benefits—any of the social safety nets built into more traditional jobs.” Quartz, on the difficulty of tracking who’s working in the gig economy. And Bloomberg’s Justin Fox takes a shot at last month’s “Uber for Welfare” column in Politico.

Open Society’s Ken Zimmerman, on the need to make sure that the future of work doesn’t replicate old patterns of discrimination.

Uber and Lyft drivers are getting ready to launch a driver-owned ride-hailing app.

You didn’t know you needed this until now—the history of “Robots in American Law.”

“…the problem isn’t a labor shortage. It’s a shortage of people who want to do your job at the wages that you want to pay.” Great piece on the flaws of the H1B visa program, by Sarah Jaffe.