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.

Can Someone Be Fired for Being Gay? The Supreme Court Will Decide

From today’s New York Times:

The Supreme Court has delivered a remarkable series of victories to the gay rights movement over the last two decades, culminating in a ruling that established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. But in more than half the states, someone can still be fired for being gay.

Early in its new term, on Oct. 8, the court will consider whether an existing federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, guarantees nationwide protection from workplace discrimination to gay and transgender people, even in states that offer no protections right now.

It will be the court’s first case on L.G.B.T. rights since the retirement last year of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinions in all four of the court’s major gay rights decisions. And without Justice Kennedy, who joined four liberals in the 5-to-4 ruling in the marriage case, the workers who sued their employers in the three cases before the court may face an uphill fight.

“Now that we don’t have Kennedy on the court, it would be a stretch to find a fifth vote in favor of any of these claims that are coming to the court,” said Katherine Franke, a law professor at Columbia and the author of “Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality.”

Read the complete article here.

What to Do at Work When You Feel Uninspired

From today’s New York Times:

It’s an inevitable part of having a job: At some point we all feel a little uninspired. Maybe you’re not crazy about a new project, or you just can’t pump yourself up to finish something that’s been dragging on, but you know when the feeling hits, and it can feel like a block on your ability to get things done.

And that’s O.K.! It’s generally a solvable problem, and it’s rarely the end-of-the-world scenario it can sometimes feel like.

“Often people lose motivation because they no longer find their work meaningful, and that can take many forms,” said Liz Fosslien, co-author of “No Hard Feelings,” which looks at how emotions affect our work lives. “It could be that you’ve lost sight of the impact your work has on the broader world.”

Losing that spark can hit at any time, added Mollie West Duffy, the other co-author of “No Hard Feelings,” and sometimes you might not even realize you’re in that slump until it’s pointed out to you.

“I think it can be a slow progression,” Ms. West Duffy said. “It’s sort of like the boiling frog, it slowly starts getting more and more distracting to you, and you might not realize it.”

Feeling uninspired or unmotivated can sometimes — though not always — lead to burnout, and the overlap in symptoms is clear: It’s that “blah” feeling when you approach your job or a task, or the feeling of just being stuck in a rut. It can sometimes be hard to pinpoint or recognize that you’re in a slump, but it’s quite common among American workers: One study from 2018, found that one in five highly engaged employees is at risk of burnout.

Read the complete article here.

Walls on Wheels and Movable Pods: ‘The Evolution of the Open Workplace’

From today’s New York Times:

In recent years, new office designs have encouraged employees to get moving. Cafes and lounges beckon workers when they need a break. Open staircases spur them to climb floors rather than take the elevator. Sit-stand desks offer them a chance to stretch while continuing to work.

Now, the offices themselves are on the move.

M Moser Associates, a design firm in New York, calls its office “a living lab.” Green walls of plants are set on casters and can be used to block off one end of the 6,000-square-foot open space for private meetings, or they can be pushed against other walls to make room for large gatherings. And custom birch-topped work tables have wheels on back legs so they can be tipped and easily rolled elsewhere.

M Moser continually tinkers with its office, seeking new ways to support its staff and offer a “proof of concept” to visiting clients, said Grant Christofely, a senior strategist and associate at M Moser, who led a recent tour of the firm’s office in the historic Woolworth Building in Lower Manhattan.

The desire to be able to switch things up at a moment’s notice has spread to companies in other fields, too. “Businesses are changing at a rate architects almost can’t keep up with,” Mr. Christofely said.

Read the complete article here.

When the Law Says Using Marijuana Is O.K., but the Boss Disagrees

From today’s New York Times:

Smoking pot cost Kimberly Cue her job.

Ms. Cue, a 44-year-old chemical engineer from Silicon Valley, received an offer this year from a medical device manufacturer only to have it rescinded when the company found out that she smoked prescription marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

“My email was set up with the company,” she said. “My business cards were printed.” But after a pre-employment drug test came back positive for marijuana, a human resources representative told her the job was no longer hers.

“I’ve lost all confidence in the process,” said Ms. Cue, who ultimately took a different job, at 20 percent less pay. “I’m so frustrated and so irritated. I should be able to be upfront and honest with my employer.”

The relatively rapid acceptance of marijuana use in the United States has forced lawmakers and employers to grapple with how to adapt. Last month, Nevada passed a bill prohibiting the denial of employment based on a positive test for marijuana. In Maine, employers may not discriminate against people who have used cannabis, but state law does not specifically regulate drug testing. And under a bill overwhelmingly approved in April by the New York City Council and awaiting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature, employers would no longer be able to force job applicants to take drug tests for marijuana use.

Read the complete article here.

For Amazon workers in Minnesota, Prime Day means protest

From today’s Washington Post:

As a “rebinner” at an Amazon fulfillment center outside Minneapolis, Meg Brady says she is expected to handle 600 items per hour, constantly pivoting on her feet to grab one item and place it in a nearby chute.

Brady, 55, compared the job to an aerobics workout — one she says has left her with a stress fracture in her foot and on short-term disability for almost two months.

She’s been an Amazon employee for a year and seven months. And on Monday afternoon, she joined a small group of her fellow workers and dozens of other protesters outside the cavernous warehouse to demonstrate against the company’s working conditions, benefits and corporate culture. The protest took place on the first day of Prime Day, one of Amazon’s flagship shopping events that generates billions of dollars in sales for the retail giant.

“To actually get out and say [to Amazon], ‘You’re not doing a good job,’ that’s not an easy thing to say,” Brady said. “Because Amazon is so huge, you do feel like you’re this small person trying to fight a giant.”

Amazon has long defended how it compensates and treats workers, and the company argues that employees don’t need to form a union because Amazon already provides comprehensive benefits. Last year, Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all U.S. employees, and chief executive and founder Jeff Bezos has challenged his retail rivals to do the same. Last week, the company announced it would retrain one third of its U.S. workforce — a total of 100,000 employees — to prepare them for increasingly tech-centered jobs. (Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

But Amazon has still come under increasing scrutiny from workers rights groups, lawmakers and politicians over issues ranging from corporate taxation to market competition. Amazon’s growing power has drawn particular attention on the 2020 campaign trail, with calls to break up the tech giant or more heavily regulate its vast empire. On Monday morning, presidential candidate and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted in support of the strikers, saying that “Their fight for safe and reliable jobs is another reminder that we must come together to hold big corporations accountable.”

Read the complete article here.

How to Disclose a Disability to Your Employer (and Whether You Should)

From today’s New York Times:

If you, like thousands of others, live with a visible or invisible disability, here’s what you need to know if you want to tell your employer.

The invisible nature of my chronic illness protects me from a whole universe of discrimination and microaggressions, but it also insulates me from potential support.

Of course, I acknowledge that my position is a privileged one. Some disabilities announce themselves as soon as a job candidate enters an interview room, along with all of the misconceptions society places on anyone with any degree of difference. I wondered what we’d have to do to help people come out of it empowered and employed.

The issue is as complicated as people are. As with all forms of discrimination, there’s a world between what the law says and how we relate to one another that’s murky and difficult to navigate, even for legal professionals, disability-rights advocates and those long-practiced in explaining themselves to a world not built for them. But there are ways to make it easier, and difficult truths everyone should know.

Perhaps you’ve seen the little self-disclosure boxes on job application forms. Employers are prohibited from directly asking anything about your disability; that puts the onus on the employee or applicant to educate the employer, said Eve Hill, a disability rights attorney. You can request the accommodations you may need and explain how you can best perform the job, but that can be as much a burden as an opportunity, she said.

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.

In #MeToo Era Companies Embrace Rolling Background Checks at Work

From today’s Bloomberg News Service:

Jay Cradeur takes pride in his 4.9 driver rating on Uber Technologies Inc.’s five-star scale and the almost 19,000 rides he’s given in the capital of ride sharing, San Francisco. So he was puzzled — and more than a little annoyed — when Uber kicked him off its platform last December.

Little did he know that he had fallen victim to a growing practice among U.S employers: regular background checks of existing workers in addition to the routine pre-employment screening. Uber’s post-hiring check had thrown up a red flag on Cradeur, an issue that took six weeks to resolve and which the company later attributed to a “technical error.”

The number of companies constantly monitoring employees isn’t known, but the screening industry itself has seen explosive growth in recent years. Membership in the National Association of Professional Background Screeners more than quadrupled to 917 last year from 195 members when it was formed in 2003, said Scott Hall, the organization’s chairman and also chief operating officer of the screening company, FirstPoint.

“I think the concern is coming from a fear that either something was missed the first time around or a fear of, ‘Really do we know who’s working for us?’” said Jon Hyman, a Cleveland employment lawyer who has seen a pick-up in calls from manufacturers in the past six months inquiring about continuous checks.

“I think the MeToo movement plays into this, too, because they wonder, ‘Do we have people who might have the potential to harass?” he added.

Companies are trying to balance privacy concerns with mounting pressure to do a better job in rooting out workers who might steal, harass or even commit violent acts in the workplace. Some high-profile incidents among Uber drivers are helping spook employers into taking action, including an Uber Eats driver in Atlanta who allegedly shot and killed a customer in February.

Healthcare and financial service workers have gone through extra screening for years, but the practice of running periodic checks or continuous checks is spreading to other sectors including manufacturing and retailing within the past six to 12 months, said Tim Gordon, senior vice president of background-screening company, InfoMart Inc.

Read the complete article here.

People Want 3 Things from Work, But Most Firms Are Built Around Only One

From today’s Harvard Business Review:

Strike up a conversation about work values, and it won’t be long before someone brings up a pyramid — a famous psychologist’s best-known theory. Abraham Maslow’s big idea was that we all have a hierarchy of needs: once our basic physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, we seek love and belongingness, then self-esteem and prestige, and finally self-actualization. But that pyramid was built more than half a century ago, and psychologists have recently concluded that it’s in need of renovation.

When you review the evidence from the past few decades of social science, it’s hard to argue with Maslow’s starting point. If your basic needs aren’t met, it’s hard to focus on anything else. If you have a job that doesn’t pay enough, and you’re up all night worrying about survival, chances are you won’t spend much time dwelling on self-actualization.

But Maslow built his pyramid at the dawn of the human relations movement, when so many workplaces in the manufacturing economy didn’t have basic physiological and safety needs covered. Today more companies are operating in knowledge and service economies. They’re not just fulfilling basic needs; they’re aiming to fulfill every need, providing conveniences like meals and gyms, and competing to be the best places to work (from 1984 through 2011, those that won outperformed their peers on stock returns by 2.3% to 3.8% per year). In those environments, survival isn’t in question.

And once you get past that layer of the pyramid, the rest of it falls apart. People don’t need to be loved before they strive for prestige and achievement. And they don’t wait for those needs to be fulfilled before pursuing personal growth and self-expression.

If Maslow were designing his pyramid from scratch today to explain what motivates people at work, beyond the basics, what would it look like? That’s a question we set out to answer at Facebook, in collaboration with our people analytics team.

We survey our workforce twice a year, asking what employees value most. After examining hundreds of thousands of answers over and over again, we identified three big buckets of motivators: career, community, and cause.

Career is about work: having a job that provides autonomy, allows you to use your strengths, and promotes your learning and development. It’s at the heart of intrinsic motivation.

Community is about people: feeling respected, cared about, and recognized by others. It drives our sense of connection and belongingness.

Cause is about purpose: feeling that you make a meaningful impact, identifying with the organization’s mission, and believing that it does some good in the world. It’s a source of pride.

These three buckets make up what’s called the psychological contract – the unwritten expectations and obligations between employees and employers. When that contract is fulfilled, people bring their whole selves to work. But when it’s breached, people become less satisfied and committed. They contribute less. They perform worse.

Read the complete article here.