U.S. Files Suit Against Facebook, Claiming It Illegally Crushed Competition

From today’s New York Times:

The Federal Trade Commission and more than 40 states accused Facebook on Wednesday of becoming a social media monopoly by buying up its rivals to illegally squash competition, and said the deals that turned the social network into a behemoth should be unwound.

Federal and state regulators, who have been investigating the company for over 18 months, said in separate lawsuits that Facebook’s purchases, especially Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 and WhatsApp for $19 billion two years later, eliminated competition that could have one day challenged the company’s dominance.

Since those deals, Instagram and WhatsApp have skyrocketed in popularity, giving Facebook control over three of the world’s most popular social media and messaging apps. The applications have helped catapult Facebook from a company started in a college dorm room 16 years ago to an internet powerhouse valued at more than $800 billion.

The prosecutors called for Facebook to break off Instagram and WhatsApp and for new restrictions on future deals, in what amounted to some of the most severe penalties regulators can demand.

“For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users,” said Attorney General Letitia James of New York, who led the multistate investigation into the company’s in parallel with the federal agency.

The lawsuits, filed in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, underscore the growing bipartisan and international tsunami against Big Tech. Lawmakers and regulators have zeroed in on the grip that Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple maintain on commerce, electronics, social networking, search and online advertising, remaking the nation’s economy. President Trump has argued repeatedly that the tech giants have too much power and influence, and allies of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. make similar complaints.

The investigations already led to a lawsuit against Google, brought by the Justice Department two months ago, that accuses the search giant of illegally protecting a monopoly. Prosecutors in that case, though, stopped short of demanding that Google break off any parts of its business. At least one more suit against Google, by both Republican and Democratic officials, is expected by the end of the year. In Europe, regulators are proposing tougher laws against the industry and have issued billions of dollars in penalties for the violation of competition laws.

Read the complete article here.

Google Illegally Fired And Spied On Workers Trying To Organize, NLRB finds

From today’s NPR News Online:

Google illegally fired two employees involved in labor organizing last year, the National Labor Relations Board alleged in a complaint on Wednesday.

The tech giant also violated federal labor law, the agency said, by surveilling employees who viewed a union organizing presentation, interrogating others, unfairly enforcing some rules and maintaining policies that “discourage” workers from protected organizing activities.

The complaint said Google’s actions amounted to “interfering with, restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed” by the National Labor Relations Act, the 1935 law that guarantees workers the right to unionize and to band together to improve their working conditions.

Google is “confident in our decision and legal position,” the company said in a statement. While the company supports workers’ protected labor rights, the employees in question had taken actions that were “a serious violation of our policies and an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility,” it said.

Google, which is owned by Alphabet Inc., has been rocked by employee activism in recent years over issues including sexual harassment, its work with the U.S. government and the company’s treatment of its large contract workforce.

The federal labor agency has been investigating Google for a year, after several employees fired in late 2019 filed charges of unfair labor practices. Wednesday’s complaint accused Google of violating the rights of two of those employees, Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers.

Berland was one of four employees fired days before Thanksgiving 2019 for what Google described at the time as data security violations, including accessing and sharing information from other employees’ work materials and calendars.

Spiers was fired soon after. After the company hired a consulting firm known for anti-union work, Spiers created a pop-up notification reminding Google employees of their right to organize. Google said Spiers was fired for abusing her access to internal tools.

“This complaint makes clear that workers have the right to speak to issues of ethical business and the composition of management,” Berland said in a statement on Wednesday.

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J-1 Visa Recipients Stuck in US during Pandemic Are Demanding Their Rights

From today’s The Nation Magazine Online:

By mid-March, Mars was starting to worry. The 27-year-old was living and working in Little Rock, Ark., where the mayor had just imposed a midnight curfew. Restaurants and shopping malls were beginning to be shuttered. On March 20, Arkansas recorded the state’s biggest one-day spike in Covid-19 cases since the outbreak began.

Mars is from the Philippines, and he came to the United States last year on a visa called the J-1. Technically, his J-1 visa is meant for “trainees”; by March, he was eight months into a year-long work placement at a well-known hotel chain where he was supposed to be receiving management training. (He and the other workers interviewed for this story asked The Nation not to publish their last names or the names of their workplaces for fear of retaliation.) To get that position, which paid $11 an hour, Mars had to pay $10,000—plus a $7,000 bond—to a recruiting agency in the Philippines, which then arranged the placement through the State Department’s J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program. He arrived in Little Rock in debt. 

Mars had been keeping tabs on the hotel’s occupancy rate, noting the rising number of cancellations. When he raised concerns to the HR department on March 19, they assured him that the hotel staff would weather the crisis as a team. Three days later, HR handed him a termination letter.

I didn’t know what to do,” Mars told me“I felt betrayed.”

Mars became one of thousands of J-1 visa program participants—many of them from the Philippines—who have been effectively stranded in the United States after losing their positions because of Covid-19. They may be unable or unwilling to return home. Many paid thousands of dollars in fees to get here, and some worked only a few days or weeks before being laid off. The stakes are especially high for Filipino recipients; remittances sent home by overseas Filipinos keep an estimated 10 million Filipino families afloat. J-1 workers also face a hurdle that other overseas Filipino workers, or OFWs, do not: Neither the US nor the Philippine government considers them workers.

The J-1 is officially a cultural exchange visa, admitting 300,000 people into the United States each year. Despite little employer accountability and no Labor Department oversight, J-1 visa recipients have increasingly been used to fill US employers’ labor needs in hospitality, teaching, and other fields.  The Philippine government, similarly to the US State Department, classifies J-1 participants as study abroad students, rather than overseas workers. Yet US government oversight agencies, labor advocacy nonprofits, and grassroots organizations argue that the visa program functions as an unregulated pipeline for temporary migrant labor and props up US industries like hospitality and tourism. At its worst, the program creates the conditions for human trafficking.  

Read the complete article here.

How to tell kids the REAL story behind the Thanksgiving Holiday

From Today Online:

Most people hear the story of Thanksgiving from a young age and it’s pretty simple. A group of Pilgrims, fleeing religious persecution, sail to North American and settle on Plymouth Rock. After a hard winter, they celebrate a successful harvest with their new neighbors, Native Americans. Everybody’s grateful; the end.

Visit project562.com for amazing photos of America’s First Nations and Indigenous Peoples.

But that’s only half the story. The Wampanoag tribe, the Indigenous people who lived at Plymouth Rock, experienced this moment very differently. Are your kids ready to hear the real history? The answer is probably yes.

“Parents can start by telling their kids the truth and offering their children the more complex narrative. Kids are smart and capable of understanding,” Matika Wilbur of the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes told TODAY Parents. She co-hosts the podcast All My Relations, which recently aired an episode called “Thanksgiving or Thankstaking?” that aims to understand the Wampanoag perspective.

“Thanksgiving is rooted in a historical fallacy,” Wilbur said, and the story is tied to the idea of white supremacy. “The main Pilgrim narrative coincides with colonization that was inherently oppressive and brutal.”

Parents might balk at introducing the “real history” to their children because they think their children can’t handle it. But that’s not giving them enough credit, Wilbur said.

The back story of Thanksgiving

Wilbur — who traveled to over 400 Tribal Nations for her documentary Project 562 — and her co-host Adrienne Keene, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who is an assistant professor of American Studies and Ethic Studies at Brown University, spoke with Paula Peters and Linda Coombs, Wampanoag historical scholars, for the episode.

Peters said sharing the Wampanoag perspective is essential but can be tough for parents.

“It’s difficult because we have to talk about some raw topics in order to get a fuller, clearer understanding,” Peters, a citizen of Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and a researcher and journalist, told TODAY Parents. “Quite honestly, cherry picking that moment when the Wampanoag and Puritans happen to break bread as the ‘Kumbaya’ moment really does not do it any justice. The Wampanoag have been marginalized and forgotten and the back story is so incredibly critical for what ultimately happens.”

Read the complete article here.

Coronavirus: Retail workers ‘scared’ as cases surge during U.S. holidays

From BBC News Online:

They are calling for hazard pay, paid sick leave and better communication about outbreaks, among other things. The campaign comes as workers across the US have spoken out about condition and concerns over their health.

“Associates like me are scared,” said Walmart worker Melissa Love.

The workers rights campaign launched on Monday was organised by United for Respect, a workers rights non-profit that says it represents more than 16 million people across the US. Separately, the labour union UFCW, whose members include grocery and meatpacking plant workers, also called on employers to do more to protect staff.

“Simply put, frontline workers are terrified because their employers and our elected leaders are not doing enough to protect them and stop the spread of this virus,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said.

“As holiday shopping begins this Thanksgiving, we are already seeing a huge surge of customer traffic. Unless we take immediate actions beginning this holiday week, many more essential workers will become sick and more, tragically, will die.”

Ms Love, a member of United for Respect who has worked at Walmart for five years, said on a call organised for reporters that she feared a rush of holiday shoppers could turn Walmart into a “super-spreader” hub.

“Working Black Friday this year comes with an obvious danger,” said Ms Love, who is based in California. “I do not believe Walmart should be trying to entice crowds into our stores on Friday and risk a super-spreader event.”

Read the complete article here.

What Prop. 22’s defeat would mean for Uber and Lyft — and drivers

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

One way or another, the business of summoning a ride from your phone is likely to look different in California after Nov. 3.

The future of gig work could hinge on the success or failure of Proposition 22, called the App-Based Drivers as Contractors and Labor Policies Initiative. Uber, Lyft and other companies bankrolling the initiative say it would improve workers’ quality of life, providing new benefits while preserving their autonomy. If passed, the measure would cement gig workers’ status as independent contractors, dealing a huge blow to a labor movement striving to bolster protections for workers at the margins.

Abstract illustration of an app-based driver in a car

Gig companies’ business models rely on hiring large numbers of workers cheaply as independent contractors to provide rides, deliver meals and groceries and perform other services. Assembly Bill 5, a state law passed in 2019, aimed to expand protections to these workers, requiring gig companies to reclassify them as employees.

Proposition 22 represents the companies’ efforts to battle that law and the obligations that come with it.

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates (which was recently acquired by Uber) have jointly poured close to $200 million into the “yes” campaign, flooding the airwaves and their own apps with ads and making the measure the costliest in U.S. history.

At the heart of it all is a vicious fight to shape the prospects of hundreds of thousands of drivers and delivery workers across the state.

Here’s what you need to know.

What would happen if Proposition 22 passes?

For the companies sponsoring it, the short answer is: business as usual. For workers, it would bring some clarity, at a price.

The text of Proposition 22 assures drivers they would maintain flexibility as independent contractors. The measure offers some benefits similar to those conferred under AB 5, but significantly weaker.

Gig companies thus far have resisted compliance with AB 5, which went into effect Jan. 1. In early August, a judge ordered Uber and Lyft to convert their drivers to employees. At the 11th hour, the companies won a temporary stay of the order from a state appeals court, effectively pushing off the deadline until after voters have their say.https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/Krp2r/6/

Uber and Lyft presented oral arguments before California’s 1st District Court of Appeal on Tuesday. The court has 90 days to decide whether it will uphold the lower-court ruling. But Proposition 22, if passed, would override protections granted by AB 5.

The measure instead would grant 120% of the minimum wage (state or local, depending on where the driver is). However, this minimum narrowly applies to “engaged time,” meaning the time a driver is on a trip with a passenger or en route to pick up a passenger. One study found drivers spend one-third of their time waiting between passengers or returning from trips, time that would not count toward the minimum wage.

Read the complete article here.

It’s Time to Strike! This Could Be the Last Stand for American Workers

From today’s New York Times:

Labor Day hit with an extra knife-twist of cruel irony this year, in an America that is barely trying to pretend anymore that the plight of tens of millions of working people merits national concern.

On Friday, the government announced a slowing recovery from the job losses and economic shutdown caused by the pandemic. Nearly 14 million Americans are now unemployed, and almost eight million more are euphemistically called “involuntary part-time,” meaning they would work more if there were enough work.

In March, as part of a wider stimulus, Congress expanded unemployment aid by $600 per week, a plan that scholars say may have temporarily reduced the nation’s poverty rate. As of mid-August, about 29 million Americans were receiving some form of unemployment assistance.

But the $600-per-week bonus ran out in July, and Senate Republicans have rejected Democrats’ bill to extend the payments. The G.O.P. is now working on its own more limited plan, though several Republican senators are reluctant to support even that.

Inaction may prove disastrous. Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist for S & P Global, told The Times last week that federal aid was meant as a kind of economic bridge through uncertain times, but, she added, “it looks like the ravine has widened and the bridge is halfway built, so there are a lot of people stranded.”

Bovino’s image suggests a way out of this mess: Workers should band together and demand, collectively, a bridge across the ravine.

To put it more plainly: It’s time for a general strike. Actually, it’s time for a sustained series of strikes, a new movement in which workers across class and even political divides press not just for more unemployment aid but, more substantively, a renewed contract for working in an economy that is increasingly hostile to employees’ health and well-being.

This may be the American worker’s last stand: If we can’t get our government to help us now, when will we ever?

Read the complete article here.

When Your Employer Doesn’t Respect Your Family Commitments

From today’s Harvard Business Review:

When trying to balance your work and family commitments, it helps to have a boss who is understanding and supportive: someone who doesn’t raise an eyebrow when you sign off early to attend a school event or take a personal day to accompany an aging parent to a doctor’s appointment.

But what if your manager isn’t sympathetic to your familial responsibilities? Or worse, your boss is outright dismissive or is even hostile toward your obligations? This is particularly challenging during the pandemic when many people’s work and home lives have collided. How should you handle a boss who refuses to acknowledge the other demands on your time? How can you find room for flexibility? What should you say about your family commitments? And who should you turn to for moral and professional support?

Too many working parents and other employees with extensive caregiving responsibilities have stories of a manager who gives them an assignment at 4 pm and asks for it the next morning, or a boss who makes disparaging comments about another working parent who doesn’t seem loyal to the company. “There are some managers who are unsympathetic to the challenges their employees face at home and some who intentionally turn a blind eye,” says Avni Patel Thompson, the founder and CEO of Modern Village, a company that provides technology solutions for parents. “Other managers may have positive intent but lack empathy or ideas on how to [support their employees].”

When you work for a manager who doesn’t recognize your family obligations, your strategy must be multifaceted, says Ella F. Washington, professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and a consultant and coach at Ellavate Solutions. You need to figure out how to productively navigate the situation with your boss, while also collaborating with your colleagues and family to create a schedule and “set boundaries” that work for everyone. The goal is to “try to get your boss to meet you halfway,” she says. Here are some ideas.

First things first, “know your rights” and understand what you’re entitled to in terms of paid leave and care options, says Thompson. Do some research into your company’s policies and whether there are alternative work arrangements on offer. Long before the pandemic hit, an increasing number of organizations instituted flexible work plans for employees, and many states have flex-work policies in place for their government workers.

Find out, too, if your situation qualifies you for the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The law requires some employers to provide paid leave to workers who must care for someone subject to quarantine or a child whose day care or school is closed. Washington recommends talking to your company’s HR person, if you have one, to learn what options and accommodations are available to you. “Knowledge is power,” she says.

Read the complete article here.

Instacart shoppers face unforgiving metrics: ‘It’s a very easy job to lose’

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Five days a week, Ryan Hartson scours the picked-over aisles of Mariano’s Fresh Market in Chicago to fill grocery delivery orders for Instacart. He clocks in for his shift exactly on the hour — if he’s even five minutes late, he’ll receive a “reliability incident.” Within four minutes he must accept any incoming orders. Any longer and he’ll be kicked off the shift and risk getting an incident. Three incidents in a week and he’s at risk of termination.

“It’s a very easy job to lose,” Hartson said.

To avoid missing orders, Hartson schedules his bathroom visits — after four hours of work, the app notifies him that he has earned a 10-minute paid break. Meanwhile, Instacart managers use the app to see if he’s running behind on his orders. The app also tracks Hartson’s customer communications, automatically searching for specific terms to ensure he’s using Instacart’s preferred script. If he doesn’t, his metrics will take another hit.

Metrics define the experience of Instacart’s part-time workforce. Measured weekly for employees such as Harston is the number of reliability incidents; the number of seconds it takes to pick each item; and the percentage of customers with whom they correspond. Some former and current employees say 5% to 20% of shoppers in a store can be fired weekly.

Even in the data-driven tech world, Instacart stands out for its metrics-oriented culture, interviews with more than 30 current and former employees as well as documents and recordings reviewed by The Times reveal. This drive toward productivity helps Instacart’s profit margins, a vital step for a start-up that recorded its first-ever monthly profit in April, as the coronavirus pandemic heightened demand for grocery delivery.

Instacart says it has eased enforcement of certain metrics during the pandemic, but shoppers say company policies often ignore the realities of the job, leaving them in constant fear of termination over things out of their control.

Instacart says it evaluates shoppers on more than just speed and efficiency. Natalia Montalvo, the company‘s director of shopper engagement and communications, said the in-store shopper role was built on the premise of “flexibility, efficiency, innovation and customer service.”

“Efficiency and fulfillment of customer orders in a timely manner is important,” Montalvo said, “but it’s just one of many factors we look at in our overall business health and growth relative to other contributors” such as revenue derived from advertising for and partnering with consumer brands.

Read the complete article here.