Opinion: One Man Can Bring Equifax to Justice (and Get You Your Money)

From today’s New York Times:

On Dec. 19, District Judge Thomas Thrash of Atlanta will hold a final approval hearing for the Equifax 2017 data breach settlement. There’s a lot at stake. If the settlement is approved, the $31 million pool earmarked for claims will be paid out to some victims. Others will get free credit monitoring (because the cash reward set aside for victims was so small, if all 147 million people affected by the breach filed a claim, everyone would get just 21 cents).

There’s another option. As I wrote in a September column, victims could file a formal, legal objection, which would nullify the settlement. If Judge Thrash finds those objections convincing, Equifax’s class-action counsel wouldn’t receive their $77.5 million fee and Equifax would be liable again to face a substantial penalty for the breach. I’m happy to report quite a few people — maybe even a record number — did just that.

Over the past month Reuben Metcalfe, the founder of Class Action Inc., helped 911 individuals object (another 294 objected but did not provide signatures by the Nov. 19 deadline) by creating a chatbot tool that allowed victims to file objections automatically for the Equifax settlement at no cost (Class Action Inc. waived its 5 percent fee for Equifax). Theodore H. Frank, a lawyer who specializes in class-action suits, has jumped in the ring himself along with another victim, David Watkins. Frank’s objections, which are more formal and detailed than Metcalfe’s many automated ones, argue that the settlement is too broad and doesn’t take into account state-by-state protections for data breaches (in Utah, where Watkins lives, victims could claim damages up to $2,000).

Now it’s up to Judge Thrash to sift through the settlement and its objections and decide. Thanks to Metcalfe and Frank, he’s likely to be feeling some pressure. Back in September a class-action lawyer told me that even if only 1,000 people object, it can send a powerful message. Frank is hopeful the settlement will look weak on its own merits. “If the judge gives an honest look, he’ll realize it doesn’t meet muster,” he told me recently.

I’d argue there’s even more resting on Judge Thrash’s shoulders, including whether companies can get away with abusing our data in the future. Metcalfe, who has steeped himself in the world of class-action suits, suggested that the settlements, initially a method for accountability, have become a mechanism for companies to knowingly skirt liability for not protecting consumers. “It’s becoming cheaper to say sorry after the fact than to obey the law in the first place,” he told me.

This feels especially true in the world of data privacy, where breaches are so frequent that a discovery last week of an open database containing the personal information of 1.2 billion people hardly made news. We seem locked in a vicious cycle: Companies that gather and trade data have few checks or regulations. This allows them to collect more, which means more money. And deeper pockets make it harder to impose meaningful penalties that might deter repeat and future offenders (see: the Federal Trade Commission’s $5 billion slap on the wrist of Facebook). Judge Thrash, then, has a unique opportunity to make a statement by objecting.

Read the complete article here.

Andrew Yang claims, “Yes, Robots Are Stealing Your Job.” So now what?

From today’s New York Times:

During the last Democratic debate, in Ohio, there was a moment that stood out. Elizabeth Warren and I got into a debate over the impact of automation versus trade on the elimination of manufacturing jobs. Joe Biden also chimed in, agreeing that the fourth industrial revolution is costing jobs, so it’s important to deal with the root causes.

Immediately, fact checkers were quick to point to a study showing that 88 percent of factory job losses from 2000 to 2010 were caused by automation. Yet, in the days following that debate, some prominent media figures asserted that the threat of automation is not real. The Times columnist Paul Krugman even called it “a sort of escapist fantasy for centrists who don’t want to confront truly hard questions.”

It’s easy to cite incomplete statistics that ignore the full picture and the situation on the ground, but I’ve done the math while spending time in struggling communities. Venture for America, the nonprofit I founded, sent me across this country, to Detroit, St. Louis, Birmingham, Ala., and other communities, where we attempted to spur entrepreneurship and create jobs. It was during this time when I spoke with workers who had lost their jobs to automation and couldn’t find more work. My organization was helping to create jobs, but automation was displacing tens of thousands of workers in these states. We were pouring water into a bathtub with a giant hole ripped in the bottom.

On the campaign trail, I’ve spoken with workers in Michigan, Ohio and western Pennsylvania, workers who are worried about the inevitability of their jobs falling victim to automation.

Read the complete article here.

As L.A. ports automate, some workers are cheering on the robots

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Day after day, Walter Diaz, an immigrant truck driver from El Salvador, steers his 18-wheeler toward the giant ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Will it take him half an hour to pick up his cargo? Or will it be as long as seven hours? He never knows.

Diaz is paid by the load, so he applauds the arrival of more waterfront robots, which promise to speed turnaround times at a port complex that handles about a third of the nation’s imported goods.

“I’m for automation,” Diaz says. “One hundred percent. One hundred percent.”

But what about the thousands of International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers who have mounted massive protests, saying the robots will replace human jobs? The ILWU members, who transfer cargo from ships to trucks and direct terminal traffic, “don’t care about the drivers,” said Diaz, 41, who has serviced the ports for two decades. “Never. We sit in line while they take two-hour breaks. With automation, we don’t have that problem.”

The arrival of robots at the nation’s largest marine terminal, a 484-acre facility run by Danish conglomerate A.P. Moller-Maersk, is exposing a stark economic divide between two sets of Southern California workers.

Read the complete article here.

5-Hour Workdays? 4-Day Workweeks? Yes, Please

From today’s New York Times:

A German entrepreneur named Lasse Rheingans has become a subject of attention since The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a novel idea he has put in place at his 16-person technology start-up: a five-hour workday. Mr. Rheingans is not just reducing the time his employees spend in the office; he’s reducing the total time they spend working altogether. They arrive at 8 a.m. and leave at 1 p.m., at which point they’re not expected to work until the next morning.

This distinction between time in the office and time spent working is critical. In our current age of email and smartphones, work has pervaded more and more of our waking hours — evenings, mornings, weekends, vacations — rendering the idea of a fixed workday as quaint. We’re driven to these extremes by some vague sense that all of this frantic communicating will make us more productive.

Mr. Rheingans is betting that we have this wrong. His experiment is premised on the idea that once you remove time-wasting distractions and constrain inefficient conversation about your work, five hours should be sufficient to accomplish most of the core activities that actually move the needle.

To support this new approach, he has employees leave their phones in their bags at the office and blocks access to social media on the company network. Strict rules reduce time spent in meetings (most of which are now limited to 15 minutes or less). Perhaps most important, his employees now check work email only twice each day — no drawn out back-and-forth exchanges fragmenting their attention, no surreptitious inbox checks while at dinner or on the sidelines of their kids’ sporting events.

The Wall Street Journal described Mr. Rheingans’s approach as “radical.” But as someone who thinks and writes about the future of work in a high-tech age, I’ve come to believe that what’s really radical is the fact that many more organizations aren’t trying similar experiments.

Read the complete article here.

Opinion: You Call It the Gig Economy, but California Calls It “Feudalism”

From today’s New York Times:

Labor leaders cheered in the balcony and lawmakers embraced on the floor of the California Senate on Tuesday as it passed a landmark measure that defines employees, a move that could increase wages and benefits for hundreds of thousands of struggling workers.

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But the bill is as much a starting point as an endgame: It will drive a national debate over how to reshape labor laws fashioned in the industrial era of the 1930s to fit a 21st-century service and knowledge economy.

With the measure, which Gov. Gavin Newsom says he will sign, California will lead in a shift that will likely redefine the roles of governments, unions and worker organizations. Just as federal labor laws were promulgated to help the country recover from the Depression, the imperative to extend basic guarantees like a minimum wage stems from the staggering income inequality in California, the state with the highest poverty rate in the country.

The new paradigms will need to fit not the relatively stable industrial work force of the last century but a gig economy in which workers are increasingly likely to hold multiple jobs or report to no workplace at all. California lawmakers took a major step in constructing the foundation of such a model with the new measure, which presumes workers are employees, entitled to all concomitant protections and benefits, unless they meet strict criteria as truly independent contractors.

Read the complete article here.

Sweeping bill rewriting California employment law sent to Gov. Newsom

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

California lawmakers rewrote the rules of employment across a wide swath of industries Wednesday in legislation that could grant hundreds of thousands of workers new job benefits and pay guarantees.

After vigorous debates over what occupations should be exempted, Assembly Bill 5, which curbs businesses’ use of independent contractors, gained final approval in the state Senate and the Assembly and was sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has pledged his support.

The 6,700-word bill is one of the most controversial of the year. It could upend the relationship between workers and bosses across businesses as varied as ride-hailing tech giantsconstruction, healthcare, truckingjanitorial servicesnail salonsadult entertainment, commercial fishing and newspapers.

The message of the legislation, said its author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), is “we will not in good conscience allow free-riding businesses to continue to pass their own business costs on to taxpayers and workers. It’s our job to look out for working men and women, not Wall Street and their get-rich-quick IPOs.”

Contractors, including many in multibillion-dollar technology companies, are not covered by laws guaranteeing a minimum wage, overtime pay, sick leave, family leave, unemployment and disability insurance, workers’ compensation and protection against discrimination or sexual harassment. Nor do businesses pay into Social Security or Medicare for contractors.

After months of lobbying by the California Chamber of Commerce and a score of trade associations, AB 5 exempted a host of occupations — but not platform-based gig giants Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates and others that mounted a powerful push to avoid reclassifying their workers as employees with labor law protections.

Read the complete article here.

A California bill that would ban forced arbitration heads to Gov. Newsom

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

When companies in California tell job candidates they have to give up their right to sue the company for most disputes, a bill headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk would let the candidates decline without fear of losing their job offer.

The bill is the latest effort by state governments to limit private companies from imposing forced arbitration agreements, whose surge in popularity has contributed to the difficulty of workers suing their bosses for sexual harassment in the era of #MeToo.

Federal law and some U.S. Supreme Court decisions do not let state governments ban these arbitration agreements. Supporters argue that the bill in California would not ban arbitration agreements, but make them optional: Employees could sign them, but they may not be punished for declining to. The bill would not affect existing arbitration agreements and would apply only to people hired after Jan. 1, 2020.

Still, Republicans and the state’s business groups said the bill is illegal and would probably be challenged in court. The state Senate voted Thursday to approve the bill.

The Economic Policy Institute says more than 67% of all employers in California require workers to sign these arbitration agreements. Companies like these agreements because arbitration costs less than going to court and moves faster. Labor groups argue that arbitration puts employees at a disadvantage because the employees don’t have an attorney and are subject to the ruling of an arbitrator who is often selected and paid for by the company.

Read the complete article here.

Astronauts Celebrate Labor Day 2019 On International Space Station

From Space.com Online News:

American astronauts on the International Space Station are starting this week with a day off today (Sept. 2) to mark the U.S. Labor Day holiday on Earth. 

NASA astronauts Nick Hague, Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan have some extra time to call friends and loved ones, or simply relax and look down on Earth through the window. They just might spend time observing the massive Hurricane Dorian from space, like one of their fellow crewmates. 

“Even astronauts need to chill,” Koch wrote on Twitter today. “Spending this Labor Day weekend reading and relaxing by my favorite window. After a long week packed with science, a spacewalk, and a re-docking, it’’ important to recharge your batteries to keep focused on bringing your best.”

Hague, Koch and Morgan make up half of the space station’s current six-person Expedition 60 crew. Rounding out the team are Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin (the station’s commander), cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano. It is Parmitano who has been capturing daily photos of Hurricane Dorian from the space station

Hague, Koch and Ovchinin launched to the station in March of this year. While Hague and Ovchinin will return to Earth in October Koch is just over halfway through a nearly one-year mission to the space station, the first of its kind for a female astronaut. She’ll return to Earth in February 2020, NASA officials have said. 

“Happy Labor Day from our astronauts celebrating 250 miles above us in the International Space Station, where they perform important scientific experiments that help improve life on Earth and page the way for our Artemis missions to the Moon and beyond,” NASA wrote in a Twitter message today. NASA’s Artemis program aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2024. 

Morgan, Skvortsov and Parmitano launched to the station on July 20. They’ll return to Earth in December of this year. 

Read the complete article here.

Robocall Bill Wins Approval in the House

From Consumer Reports Online:

A crackdown on robocalls moved one step closer Wednesday after the House voted 429-3 to increase consumer protections against the unsolicited and annoying phone calls.

The bill, known as the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, builds on the TRACED Act passed by the Senate in May. The House and the Senate now need to reconcile the two bills before sending the legislation to the White House for the President’s signature. That’s expected to happen in the fall.

In addition to giving regulators stronger enforcement tools, the House bill would require phone carriers to implement call identification technology and mandate that the Federal Communications Commission report to Congress annually on the state of robocalls.

On Tuesday, 80 consumer rights groups, including Consumer Reports and the National Consumer Law Center, sent a letter to Congress urging passage of the bill. The wireless industry trade group CTIA also supports it.

To date, there have been 29 billion robocalls in 2019, according to YouMail, a robocall blocking and tracking firm. “That’s nearly 90 calls per person in the U.S.,” said YouMail CEO Alex Quilici.

The blocking and tracking firm Truecaller estimates that consumers lost $10.5 billion to phone scams in 2018.

Read the complete article here.

Machines May Not Take Your Job, but One Could Become Your Boss

From today’s New York Times:

When Conor Sprouls, a customer service representative in the call center of the insurance giant MetLife talks to a customer over the phone, he keeps one eye on the bottom-right corner of his screen. There, in a little blue box, A.I. tells him how he’s doing.

Talking too fast? The program flashes an icon of a speedometer, indicating that he should slow down.

Sound sleepy? The software displays an “energy cue,” with a picture of a coffee cup.

Not empathetic enough? A heart icon pops up.

For decades, people have fearfully imagined armies of hyper-efficient robots invading offices and factories, gobbling up jobs once done by humans. But in all of the worry about the potential of artificial intelligence to replace rank-and-file workers, we may have overlooked the possibility it will replace the bosses, too.

Read the complete article here.