Silicon Valley’s essential workers form new group to fight for work rights

From today’s San Jose Spotlight:

A group of six essential workers and labor leaders stood in front of McDonnell Hall in San Jose Wednesday—the same church labor activist Cesar Chavez started his now-iconic labor organizing more than 50 years prior.

The workers are looking to craft the future of the labor movement among essential workers for the next 50 years, starting with combating unfair treatment from employers, elected officials and corporations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They announced Wednesday the launch of a new initiative called the Essential Workers Council, a collective of 14 members from diverse professional fields in the South Bay, including medical workers, security, grocery workers, childcare, construction and education. The council has been established by Silicon Valley Rising, a collective of leaders who advocate for workers’ rights and affordable housing.

“As workers on the front lines of this crisis, we need to be the ones setting the agenda for recovery,” said Deo Agustin, a childcare worker and member of the new council. “We can’t let business leaders decide how things should be run.”

The group, with local labor leaders’ help, hopes to lobby elected leaders for more essential worker protections during and after the pandemic, such as higher wages, more widespread hazard payrent relief, stronger eviction protections and affordable childcare.

“Even as mostly Black and brown people put their lives at risk, dying at disproportionately higher rates, too many corporate executives and elected leaders have ignored their needs and their voices,” said Maria Noel Fernandez, director of Silicon Valley Rising, on Wednesday. “They call this work essential, but not the people, their families and our communities.”

The coronavirus has killed Black and Latino residents in the county at a far higher rate than other races. Latinos in particular make up 25% of the county’s population but account for 51% of cases and nearly 29% of deaths, according to county numbers. Those racial groups are overrepresented in essential work.

The council, frustrated by the lack of clear leadership from their employers to combat COVID-19, such as providing enough personal protective equipment and socially-distanced workspaces, spoke out about their experiences in working while living in fear that they would contract the coronavirus.

Read the complete article here.

Robinhood ‘buried’ info on consumer rights in runup to GameStop saga

From today’s MarketWatch.com:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren denounced online broker Robinhood’s practices for disclosing its customer rights in a statement Wednesday, while calling on the Securities and Exchange Commission to ban the practice of requiring new customers to forfeit their right to sue their stock brokers in court.

“Robinhood promised to democratize trading, but hid information about its prerogative to change the rules by cutting off trades without notice — and about customers’ inability to access the courts if they believe they’ve been cheated — behind dozens of pages of legalese,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.

Robinhood’s user agreement, like those of its largest competitors, requires new customers to agree that disputes between them and the company must be resolved through binding arbitration. Robinhood did not immediately respond a request for comment.

She also criticized the firm’s decision to temporarily restrict trading of a number of so-called meme stocks, including GameStop Inc. GME, -7.21% and AMC Entertainment Inc., AMC, -1.77% once their volatility triggered large clearinghouse deposit requirements. Warren said the company “did not have enough cash on had to manage a surge in trading and buried important information about consumers’ rights.”

Along with the statement, Warren released Robinhood’s response to a Feb. 2 letter in which she asked for a detailed description of the broker’s relationship with market makers, hedge funds and other entities that may have influenced its decisions. Robinhood executives have said in sworn statements that its decision to restrict trading was due solely to its need to manage risk and meet clearinghouse requirements, though Warren does not appear fully satisfied with this explanation.

“What’s still not clear from Robinhood’s response to my questions is the full extent of Robinhood’s ties to giant hedge funds and market makers,” Warren explained. “I’m going to keep pushing regulators to use the full range of their regulatory tools to ensure the fair operation of our markets, particularly for small investors.”

Read the complete article here.

Amazon to Pay $62 Million Fine for Withholding Tips From Delivery Drivers

From today’s New York Times:

Amazon agreed on Tuesday to pay $62 million to the Federal Trade Commission to settle charges that it withheld tips to delivery drivers over a two-and-a-half year period, in a case that highlights the federal government’s increased interest in gig-economy workers.

The F.T.C. said in an announcement that Amazon had promised its Flex delivery drivers that they would receive 100 percent of all customers’ tips. But starting in 2016, the F.T.C. said, Amazon secretly lowered the hourly delivery wages, which were advertised at $18 to $25, and tried to mask the smaller wages by using customer tips to cover for the smaller hourly pay. The net effect was that the contract workers received smaller overall take-home pay, the agency said.

The practice wasn’t disclosed to drivers but the Flex drivers noticed the compensation reductions and began to complain. Amazon stopped the practice in 2019, after it became aware of the F.T.C.’s investigation, the agency said. The company settled without admitting wrongdoing.

“Rather than passing along 100 percent of customers’ tips to drivers, as it had promised to do, Amazon used the money itself,” said Daniel Kaufman, the acting head of consumer protection at the F.T.C. “Our action today returns to drivers the tens of millions of dollars in tips that Amazon misappropriated, and requires Amazon to get drivers’ permission before changing its treatment of tips in the future.”

Flex workers are classified by Amazon as independent contractors and often use personal vehicles for deliveries of the company’s Prime Now and AmazonFresh items. Customers can give a tip to delivery drivers on the checkout page.

Amazon is facing greater regulatory scrutiny overall. The Seattle company is under investigation for antitrust violations amid growing concerns from lawmakers and regulators about the power of the big tech companies.

Read the complete article here.

Op-Ed: The Work-From-Home Employee Bill of Rights Outlined in Seven Articles

From today’s ComputerWorld Online:

Remote work became the new normal quickly as COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns came into force in spring 2020, and it’s clear that after the pandemic recedes, remote work will remain the norm for many employees — as much as half the deskbound “white collar” workforce, various research firms estimate. As a result of the sudden lockdowns, many employees had to create makeshift workspaces, buy or repurpose personal equipment, and figure out how to use new software and services to be able to keep doing their jobs.

The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution overlays a photo of a woman working remotely by laptop.

Users and IT departments alike made Herculean efforts to adapt quickly and ensure business continuity, and the result was an improvement in productivity despite the pandemic. But now the pandemic has become a longer-term phenomenon, and remote work will become more commonplace, even desirable as a way to save on office expenses and commute time, even after the pandemic subsides.

So now it’s time for companies and employees alike to formalize remote work standards and policies. And it’s time for employees to advocate for themselves, so they don’t bear a disproportionate burden in enabling the new remote work reality. This employee bill of rights is meant to help them do just that.

Article 1: The employer provides clear rules and standards for remote work.

Many employees want to continue to work from home at least some of the time, according to multiple surveys conducted across the globe by AdeccoBoston Consulting GroupGallupIBMPwCEngagerocket, and others.

It’s therefore critical that businesses have a clear policy around who must work at home, who may work at home, and who may only work in an office or other company facility — as well as any requirements around how often the use of office space is required or allowed.

Typically, these standards will be based on the employee’s role. But there does need to be flexibility — spelled out in the policy — to handle people who have extenuating circumstances. For example, some employees may need to work at an office even if they theoretically could work at home (such as people in crowded households or with poor broadband access), and some may need to work at home even if they theoretically could work in an office (such as to monitor or care for relatives throughout the day).

Read the complete article here.

OnlyFans: Jobless from the Pandemic, Selling Nudes Online and Still Struggling

From today’s New York Tiimes:

Savannah Benavidez stopped working at her job as a medical biller in June to take care of her 2-year-old son after his day care shut down. Needing a way to pay her bills, she created an account on OnlyFans — a social media platform where users sell original content to monthly subscribers — and started posting photos of herself nude or in lingerie.

Ms. Benavidez, 23, has made $64,000 since July, enough not just to take care of her own bills, but to help family and friends with rent and car payments.

“It’s more money than I have ever made in any job,” she said. “I have more money than I know what to do with.”

Lexi Eixenberger was hoping for a similar windfall when she started an OnlyFans account in November. A restaurant worker in Billings, Mont., Ms. Eixenberger, 22, has been laid off three times during the pandemic and was so in need of cash by October that she had to drop out of dental hygiene school. After donating plasma and doing odd jobs, she still didn’t have enough to pay her bills, so at the suggestion of some friends, she turned to OnlyFans. She has made only about $500 so far.

OnlyFans, founded in 2016 and based in Britain, has boomed in popularity during the pandemic. As of December, it had more than 90 million users and more than one million content creators, up from 120,000 in 2019. The company declined to comment for this article.

With millions of Americans unemployed, some like Ms. Benavidez and Ms. Eixenberger are turning to OnlyFans in an attempt to provide for themselves and their families. The pandemic has taken a particularly devastating toll on women and mothers, wiping out parts of the economy where women dominate: retail businesses, restaurants and health care.

“A lot of people are migrating to OnlyFans out of desperation,” said Angela Jones, an associate professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Farmingdale. “These are people who are worried about eating, they’re worried about keeping the lights on, they’re worried about not being evicted.”

But for every person like Ms. Benavidez, who is able to use OnlyFans as her primary source of income, there are dozens more, like Ms. Eixenberger, who hope for a windfall and end up with little more than a few hundred dollars and worries that the photos will hinder their ability to get a job in the future.

Grocery chains nationwide ditching in-house delivery drivers in wake of Prop 22

From today’s Business Insider:

Albertsons and some of its subsidiaries, including Vons and Pavilions, are discontinuing their in-house delivery services in parts of California and other states starting in February. The grocery chains will instead rely more heavily on third-party delivery apps, including DoorDash, to handle grocery deliveries, local news outlet KNOCK reported Monday.

“In early December, Albertsons Companies made the strategic decision to discontinue using our own home delivery fleet of trucks in select locations, including Southern California, beginning February 27, 2021,” Albertsons spokesperson Andrew Whelan told Business Insider.

“We will transition that portion of our eCommerce operations to third-party logistics providers who specialize in that service. Our HR teams are working to place impacted associates in stores, plants, and distribution centers,” Whelan said.

Albertsons didn’t respond to questions about employees losing their jobs. In Texas, the company told the Dallas Morning News that it will also fire nearly 100 employees at Tom Thumb locations.

“With COVID-19 outbreaks spiraling out of control and overwhelming hospitals across California, it is stunning that Albertsons would fire these courageous and hard-working men and women keeping our food supply secure,” Marc Perrone, international president of United Food and Commercial Workers, a major union that represents many Albertsons workers, said in a press release, calling on Albertsons “to immediately halt these plans.”

The move comes weeks after a new California law went into effect that eliminated labor protections for app-based food delivery workers and rideshare drivers, which was authored and bankrolled by gig companies.

As DoorDash, Uber, Lyft, Instacart, and Postmates waged a $200 million battle last year to pass the bill, known as Proposition 22, they pointed to “independent” research claiming it would save as many as 900,000 jobs across the state (it turned out the companies had paid a combined $411,599 to the researchers behind the study).

Albertsons’ plans to cut in-house delivery and route new business to delivery companies like DoorDash, however, shows how Prop 22’s passage potentially pushes adjacent industries to consider cheaper labor options.

Read the complete article here.

Hundreds of Google Employees Unionize, Culminating Years of Activism

From today’s New York Times:

More than 400 Google engineers and other workers have formed a union, the group revealed on Monday, capping years of growing activism at one of the world’s largest companies and presenting a rare beachhead for labor organizers in staunchly anti-union Silicon Valley.

We've Had Enough': Google Employees Form Union

The union’s creation is highly unusual for the tech industry, which has long resisted efforts to organize its largely white-collar work force. It follows increasing demands by employees at Google for policy overhauls on pay, harassment and ethics, and is likely to escalate tensions with top leadership.

The new union, called the Alphabet Workers Union after Google’s parent company, Alphabet, was organized in secret for the better part of a year and elected its leadership last month. The group is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, a union that represents workers in telecommunications and media in the United States and Canada.

But unlike a traditional union, which demands that an employer come to the bargaining table to agree on a contract, the Alphabet Workers Union is a so-called minority union that represents a fraction of the company’s more than 260,000 full-time employees and contractors. Workers said it was primarily an effort to give structure and longevity to activism at Google, rather than to negotiate for a contract.

Chewy Shaw, an engineer at Google in the San Francisco Bay Area and the vice chair of the union’s leadership council, said the union was a necessary tool to sustain pressure on management so that workers could force changes on workplace issues.

“Our goals go beyond the workplace questions of ‘Are people getting paid enough?’ Our issues are going much broader,” he said. “It is a time where a union is an answer to these problems.”

In response, Kara Silverstein, Google’s director of people operations, said: “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our work force. Of course, our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”

The new union is the clearest sign of how thoroughly employee activism has swept through Silicon Valley over the past few years. While software engineers and other tech workers largely kept quiet in the past on societal and political issues, employees at Amazon, Salesforce, Pinterest and others have become more vocal on matters like diversity, pay discrimination and sexual harassment.

Read the complete article here.

GoDaddy Emails Employees, Says They’ll Get $650 Holiday Bonus: It Turns Out To Be A Lump Of Coal

From today’s Forbes Magazine:

You’d like to believe that corporate executives could be compassionate and empathetic during a pandemic. The holiday season, a reasonable worker would think, is the perfect time for management to express their appreciation. 

If you’re an employee at GoDaddy, the large internet domain registration and website hosting company, this wasn’t the case. You received the equivalent of a lump of coal in your Christmas stockings.

It was reported that GoDaddy sent an email to its employees telling them that they’d receive a bonus. Well, that sounds great right? There’s more to the story. The accompanying note sounded nice, “2020 has been a record year for GoDaddy, thanks to you!” In what seemed to be a generous holiday surprise the company added, “Though we cannot celebrate together during our annual Holiday Party, we want to show our appreciation and share a $650 one-time Holiday bonus!” 

About 500 employees, excited to receive some much-needed cash during this horrific Covid-19 time, happily clicked on the link. The email asked the employees to complete a form calling for some personal details. Given the fact that they’re receiving a payment, the request seemed reasonable, especially since it came directly from the company and didn’t appear shady or questionable.   

In a surprising and shocking turn of events, the employees who clicked on the link received a follow-up email admonishing them. The chastising email from GoDaddy’s security chief sternly read, “You are receiving this email because you failed our recent phishing test.” There wasn’t a $650 bonus at all. What they did get was a mandatory training class for falling victim to a corporate-sponsored phishing exercise (the process in which hackers lure unsuspecting people to offer personal data which could comprise the individual and company) purposely designed to test their workers. 

Read the complete article here.

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.

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.