Like many of you I suspect, I’m overwhelmed with the deluge of new information. I’m going to suspend the newsletter, at least for a little while, to spare your inboxes. I will be posting more than normal on twitter–so if you’re craving Hack the Union content, follow at @hacktheunion. There are a lot of guides to organizing under coronavirus coming out, as well as organizing calls, etc–we’ll be putting up as many of those as we can find, to connect folks to new skills and tools.
Also, here’s a picture of my completely-unbothered-by-the-new-normal cats, if you need something to calm you down a little bit.
There is a lot of speculation about how the coronavirus will impact remote work, as more and more companies urge their workers to work from home. But I’ve seen less about automation speeding up. However, a hospital in Wuhan has now adopted robots to help clean rooms and deliver food. And a printing equipment factory in China converted some of its automated machines to produce surgical masks. And in a stab in the heart of cashiers everywhere, Amazon announced that it will be opening access to Just Walk Out, the tech that allows it to run cashierless stores, to other retailers.
Gig economy companies are under a lot of pressure to figure out how to protect workers during the coronavirus outbreak. Here, Sen. Mark Warner (VA) tells them they should pay people who are quarantined. So far, Uber, Instacart, DoorDash & Lyft have all said they’ll pay drivers who have to self-quarantine if they are exposed, but Amazon Flex, Grubhub, Postmates said “nah.” Amazon will pay hourly workers at their various offices in Washington, who have to stay home. Amazon warehouse workers in Illinois, on the other hand, just filed a complaint about the company failing to pay sick leave for any of them, despite a local law that’s been in effect for nearly 3 years.
Don’t miss this new film, focusing on the wonders of life in the gig economy. Playing in very short stints (and hopefully theaters that are un-impacted by coronavirus). h/t to friend-‘o-the-blog Wyatt Closs for sending this in.
Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability
Most of us on this list know why unrestricted funding is better for organizations—here’s a perspective on why it’s better for funders, too.
You know who’s really misunderstood in our society? Billionaires.
“There is nothing wrong with platforms themselves, but there is something seriously wrong with platforms that introduce extractive business models to our caring relations.” On how the gig economy can be worse for women.
Pandemic + gig economy workers with no paid time off, delivering food & people. What could go wrong?
Need an odd job done? In at least one market, Amazon is rolling out a platform to connect customers with things like house cleaning or mounting wall TVs. Some lessons about remote work, from a survey of remote workers. (As a mostly-remote worker, I too would recommend working remotely)
Cornell’s Institute of Labor Relations is holding a one-day forum on organizing app-based workers around the world.
One of my favorite annual conferences is Organizing 2.0—this year, it’s April 17-18 in NYC.
“…most established tracking and measurement systems don’t properly capture the dynamics and value of people-powered campaigning. While most organisations have developed sophisticated systems for tracking financial donations from supporters, there remains a marked lack of metrics that quantify and value other important contributions.” Fascinating new report from Mobilisation Lab, that has been studying how organizations measure the building of people power.
“At the same time that antitrust enforcers meekly accept abuses of labor, they also are eager to affirmatively crush collective worker action using antitrust.” The Open Markets Institute takes a look at monopsony power in four recent court cases.
UNITE HERE and their allies have been fighting to make sure that hotel housekeepers are safe, through requiring employers to provide panic buttons. Now, the fight is on to make sure that panic button tech isn’t used to surveil workers.
It’s well-documented that Uber & Lyft could be doing more to keep racism off their platforms. Here’s a look at how racist fears of coronoavirus are affecting Asian-appearing drivers and passengers.
Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability
“…by 1950, via the GI Bill, the American government spent more on education than the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe. But most American colleges and universities were closed to blacks, or open to only but a few in token numbers.” Please, tell me again how we can’t afford free college now that the US population has gotten both less white and more attuned to institutional racism. Relatedly: what if we just collectively stopped paying our student loan debt?
Dean Baker looks at historical trends in the US minimum wage, and finds that if it had kept place with productivity, it would be $24/hour today.
“It’s not that workers aren’t getting trained on how to work with robots safely. ‘The problem is it becomes very difficult to do so when the productivity standards are set so high…’” Kudos to friend-o’-the-blog Beth Gutelius for pointing out that safety trainings aren’t enough to keep workers safe, if they’re working side by side with robots and high productivity standards.
“Higher-income people have less contact with these kinds of government programs. But they can also buy their way out of many of life’s pesky tasks, handing them off to lawyers, accountants, apps or automated systems.” Could you survive as a poor person in America? The answer to this NYT quiz may surprise you.
h/t to friend Thomas Becket for sending me these two stories: “…What do you need to be a community? Losing food is like that dagger to the heart,” about a town that saved its only grocery store by turning into first a coop, then a non profit. And the second, about how grocery chain Meijer is shifting to a gig-economy-like model of staffing its stores.
“How can we create a bill that will strike the right balance between making sure that workers who have been misclassified get the justice they need but not having a negative impact on freelancers who do independent work and are happy with the freedom they currently have?” Interesting profile of the new head of the Freelancers’ Union, on how he plans to thread the needle between protecting gig workers and true freelancers.
I cannot tell a lie. I am low-key obsessed by the progress that BostonDynamics is making in developing the machines that will herd our children and grandchildren into extractive camps. Also, winning the Olympics gymnastics floor exercise in 2032.
Looking forward to seeing a bunch of friends, old and new, at this conference, jointly organized by WPUSA & UC Berkeley Labor Center, in Sacramento next week: California Future of Workers Summit.
“The U.S. wants to fight war without paying the bill. The human cost is so much greater than what is ever acknowledged by the military. And I think if we actually did have to pay that cost, people would really start to think about whether we should be doing this.” How Southern religious activists are helping soldiers who want to conscientiously object.
Want to organize Amazon warehouses? Get yourself to Texas, which apparently has more of them than any other state except CA (where the Warehouse Worker Resource Center is already on the job). That seems pretty necessary, given their recent bad safety reports in various places. In the words of one CA worker: “I can’t tell you how many times I saw somebody throwing up in a garbage can there because they don’t want to get fired for missing work.” Maybe it’s all the robots?
Instacart workers are asking customers to boycott the company, over slashing of tips and performance bonuses.
New Jersey just passed a suite of legislation designed to fight employee misclassification (but freelancer lobbying helped derail the AB5 companion bill that would have redefined independent contracting).
Check out this visual depiction of the distribution, by country, of the world’s wealth. Then ask yourself again, how can other countries provide health care and higher ed to their citizens, while in the US we’re always asked how to pay for it?
“We don’t trust our campus administration with the safe handling of this data, and even if we did, hackers or governments might force them to share this information, making students more unsafe.” Student groups are partnering with Fight for the Future to fight against the use of facial recognition technology by higher ed institutions.
Cigna just became the first big US health insurance company to roll out access to primary care through telemedicine. Paging all health care regulators—the laws are not up to the technology, at the moment.
In its continued fight against AB 5 compliance, Uber rolled out changes to the app on both the driver side and customer side, which are designed to give both sides more information about transactions (and ultimately to protect the company from claims of misclassification).
“In a recent experiment, the Harvard senior Max Weiss used a text-generation program to create 1,000 comments in response to a government call on a Medicaid issue. These comments were all unique, and sounded like real people advocating for a specific policy position. They fooled the Medicaid.gov administrators, who accepted them as genuine concerns from actual human beings. This being research, Weiss subsequently identified the comments and asked for them to be removed, so that no actual policy debate would be unfairly biased. The next group to try this won’t be so honorable.” Chatbots and AI could ruin our political discourse in new ways, soon.
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.
“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.