“First aid is not a substitute…”

Hack the Union will be on a holiday break until the New Year. Hope you all get plenty of rest, and time to do the things you enjoy with the people you love over the next two weeks.


From Partners

“First aid is not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment of repetitive trauma disorders…” As the last (?) of your holiday deliveries wing their way to you, take a minute to read this new report: Packaging Pain

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“Many sellers now have about as much relationship to the goods as commodity traders to do pork bellies, just directing goods from one company’s warehouse to another.” If you thought retail arbitrage on Amazon was weird, wait till you read about the “preppers” who get their goods ready for warehousing

Today in stuff economists tell us that we already know:  “the US labor market is nowhere near fully recovered from the Great Recession,” as told by the Job Quality Index

Uber Eats drivers in India are on an indefinite strike, while Uber is poised to sell their Eats business in India off to Zomato. 

I mean, OF COURSE the natural pivot for a business is to switch from building exoskeletons to providing data collection on workers’ bodies. 

Geeking Out

You know what I really don’t need? A shopping cart that checks out my groceries for me. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

I cannot fathom what inspired someone at the NHS to think it was a good idea to give Amazon access to people’s health data

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

We spend a lot of time focusing on the dark side of tech (and humanity?) lately on this blog. For a cheery end to 2019, read this story, about a 19-year-old who coded an app to help his grandmother’s caregiving team—and is giving it away for free to others who need it. 

h/t to friend-o-the-blog Eric Rosso, for sending me this pic of a luggage-storing robot in an NYC hotel.

How did this butter get here?

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Plus.ai says they’ve completed the first-ever cross-country trip entirely driven by an autonomous vehicle—a truck containing 4,000 pounds of butter that traveled from California to Pennsylvania. Sadly, there is no news on what that butter will inevitably be carved into, for the PA Farm Show next month. 

Meet one of the Instacart shoppers who has been organizing strikes of the company. 

h/t to Tim Newman for pointing this one out: restaurant chain Sweetgreen set up a fund to allow its white collar workers to contribute to an emergency fund that workers in the company’s restaurants can apply for. Maybe just…pay them more? 

When you’re at the movies, this holiday season, spare a thought for movie theater employees who don’t get overtime, thanks to a loophole in current labor law (and a lack of political will to change it, and movie theater owners who want to profit from it). 

From Partners

From the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, a cost-benefit analysis of Amazon’s impact on the region. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

“There’s no question, if most people were followed around 24/7 by a police officer or a private investigator it would bother them and they would complain and seek a restraining order. If the same is being done technologically, silently and invisibly, that’s basically the functional equivalent.” Amazon’s Ring is setting up an unsupervised surveillance network in almost every neighborhood in the US.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“Opposition to higher minimum wage laws is increasingly based in ideology and orthodoxy rather than real-world evidence.” Don’t believe me, believe Axios

A new study of a basic income program in Kenya shows that there are network effects for whole villages, not just the individuals who received cash. 

Meanwhile in the US, tax policy and corporate greed has allowed the top 1% to triple their wealth over the past five decades. 

Organizing Theory

Why do we persist in calling movements full of leaders “leaderless?” 

what’s a new fingerprint gonna cost me?

Original Content

Service sector employers are forcing workers to surrender biometric data. What are we doing to protect them?  

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. 

Reputation, reputation, reputation

“Facial recognition technology has a higher error rate when it is trying to scan black or brown people. The software is biased, and I don’t see it working in our community at all. I also don’t want to be a lab rat for [Nelson Management]—I don’t want to be in one of the first buildings where they are testing their systems so that they can deploy it into more buildings.” These poor & working-class New York tenants organized against the use of facial recognition software in their apartment building. 

From Partners

Congrats to all my friends who have been working to build a table of organizations taking on the biggest company in the biggest way. Meet ATHENA

new documentary, featuring 4 activists with OUR Walmart/United for Respect, came out on November 19. 

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Juno, which once billed itself as the driver-friendly ride-sharing app, is shuttering its operations in NYC. 

Vice takes a look at several platform coops that are succeeding around the world, in competition with VC-backed gig economy apps. 

Former Instacart & DoorDash delivery people are building their own shopping businesses, using an app called Dumpling. “I make about twice as much as compared with when I was with Instacart.” 

New Jersey freelance writers are fighting the state’s version of AB 5, saying it takes flexibility away from those who legitimately freelance, and will dampen their employment prospects. 

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

I’m not going to lie, I did not guess that Massachusetts would be the first state police force to hire robot dogs. Creepy. 

When ISPs can’t figure out how to profit off of small, isolated communities, they just don’t connect them to the internet. Activists with an indigenous group of Hawaiians are choosing to build their own internet access. (Have they been watching the final season of Silicon Valley?)

Chicago just changed their ride-sharing tax structure to incentivize people using shared, instead of single, rides

Organizing Theory

The Fight for $15 held an organizing exchange with veteran labor organizers in the South last month, including survivors of the Greensboro Massacre

you can’t buy a new fingerprint

This weekend, I found myself in a mall for the first time in a while, returning something one of my kids bought. In the store, the cashier, who was a seasonal hire, had to call a manager to approve the return. The manager used his fingerprint to sign off on it.

The manager used his fingerprint to sign off on it.

I was sort of stunned to see this technology in the wild, and asked the cashier about it–he said, “oh yeah, they’re everywhere now–my other job is at a gas station, and I have to use my fingerprint to turn the gas pumps on in the morning when I get to work.” I asked him what kind of online security he thought the gas pumps had, and he laughed.

I’m not going to lie, knowing what I know about the ability of corporate America to keep credit card data safe, the idea that retail and other service sector employers are suddenly going to up their data security game to keep their employees’ biometric data secure from prying eyes seems…unlikely, at best.

What does it mean for low-wage workers, if employers demand sensitive personal data, and then fail to keep it safe?

This technology has been around since 2009, apparently. Companies who have implemented it seem to be focused on protecting themselves from theft–after all, a worker can’t swipe someone else in to cover their lateness, if they need to use their finger. But who is protecting the workers from the dangers of having their fingerprints stolen? After all, you can’t buy yourself a new fingerprint, if your employer’s personnel database gets hacked.

Apple’s Touch ID wasn’t yet invented, when this technology rolled out–but now it is very common for people to use their fingerprint to lock and unlock their phones. Banks and credit card companies are also starting to roll out fingerprint ID as a method of additional security for customers, as well. One can imagine a not-too-distant future where it is possible for those with malicious intent to reverse-engineer an individual’s fingerprint from a stored scan, to steal from or impersonate victims.

It’s time for the labor movement generally to get behind the push for a GDPR-like law in the US, or a national expansion of California’s new CCPA. Low-wage workers (and the rest of us) need protection from employers that demand our most unique identifiers.