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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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…