Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Unions’ Category

Why sci-fi alien planets all look the same

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Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2022 at 2:01 pm

Unseparate and Unequal

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Peter Coy has an interesting article (no paywall) in the NY Times on the dictatorship of the boss. It begins:

With more than 10 million jobs in the United States unfilled as of August, this is about as good as it gets for workers’ leverage. But it still isn’t very good. For most Americans, particularly those earning less than the median income [and especially those who do not belong to a strong union – LG], employers continue to control when, where and how they work, in some cases right down to their bathroom breaks.

“When we are workers, we lie under the government of a boss. It’s a dictatorship. The boss rules,” Elizabeth Anderson, a professor of philosophy and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, told me last week. She wrote a 2017 book on the topic, “Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (And Why We Don’t Talk About It).”

Despite the obvious dominance of employers, though, a lot of economic research and legal scholarship is based on the libertarian notion that employers and employees have relatively equal bargaining power and are thus “free to contract” with one another as truly independent parties.

The assumption of roughly equal power is not just silly, it’s harmful. Take the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Epic Systems Corporation v. Lewis, which upheld the validity of contracts in which employees surrender the right to collective litigation against their employers. Underlying the decision, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, was the implicit assumption that when workers give up that important right, it’s their free choice.

But as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a dissent, free choice in this situation is an illusion. “Forced to face their employers without company, employees ordinarily are no match for the enterprise that hires them,” she wrote. She likened the Epic Systems contract to yellow-dog contracts of the 1930s, which prohibited new hires from joining unions as a condition of employment. Take it or leave it.

A recent special issue of The Journal of Law and Political Economy casts a jaundiced eye on the convenient fiction that employment contracts reflect the free choices of employees. The issue was conceived and edited by Lawrence Mishel, the former president of the Economic Policy Institute.

“This is Econ 101 silliness, that any transaction between consenting adults is optimal,” Mishel said. “The basis of at-will employment is that if a worker can quit then an employer has to be able to quit a worker. That’s the logic. If you articulate it like that, people would be something between horrified and laughing.”

The main power workers do have is  . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2022 at 7:54 pm

“Be Prepared for Your Layoff”

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I have a new article up on Medium, “Be Prepared for Your Layoff.” I am uncomfortably aware that this piece now applies to a much smaller proportion of the working population than when I was in my prime. Back then, full-time jobs for corporations were the norm, but nowadays, piecing together a patchwork of smaller jobs in a gig economy is common, and in that context, a “layoff” doesn’t have the same meaning.

Nonetheless, many still work full-time for a corporation, whether in an office or on the factory or warehouse floor and in that context layoffs still happen. And for those whose job might encounter a layoff, being prepared for that is a good idea: it can calm the mind and stiffen the spine.

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2022 at 11:26 am

The Effects of Managers’ Business Education on Wages and the Labor Share in the US and Denmark

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Not to put too fine a point on it, B-schools train their students to be managers who exploit and underpay workers. The abstract of the paper at National Bureau of Economic Research (emphasis added):

This paper provides evidence from the US and Denmark that managers with a business degree (“business managers”) reduce their employees’ wages. Within five years of the appointment of a business manager, wages decline by 6% and the labor share by 5 percentage points in the US, and by 3% and 3 percentage points in Denmark. Firms appointing business managers are not on differential trends and do not enjoy higher output, investment, or employment growth thereafter. Using manager retirements and deaths and an IV strategy based on the diffusion of the practice of appointing business managers within industry, region and size quartile cells, we provide additional evidence that these are causal effects. We establish that the proximate cause of these (relative) wage effects are changes in rent-sharing practices following the appointment of business managers. Exploiting exogenous export demand shocks, we show that non-business managers share profits with their workers, whereas business managers do not. But consistent with our first set of results, these business managers show no greater ability to increase sales or profits in response to exporting opportunities. Finally, we use the influence of role models on college major choice to instrument for the decision to enroll in a business degree in Denmark and show that our estimates correspond to causal effects of practices and values acquired in business education – rather than the differential selection into business education of individuals unlikely to share rents with workers.

Pretty harsh indictment of B-schools, I’d say: Workers exploited for nothing gained — just causing pointless misery.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2022 at 2:51 pm

Police are enforcers for corporations

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Although police seem very proud and protective of their own union, they are happy to brutally attack people who belong to non-police unions and are acting legally and legitimately as union members. Police seem to ignore the law — or act as if whatever they do is legal. And they clearly are enforcers on behalf of the power elite. This short video is shocking, but corporations are terrified of their employees having any power at all. Corporations want their employees to be powerless (see this brief essay on Amazon’s being terrified of unions), and police are happy to help.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2022 at 4:51 pm

Why corporations spend millions fighting unionization

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Source of this image is an article from the Economic Policy Institute, “How today’s unions help working people.” The article is well worth reading. The CEO of Starbucks knows that with the unions the workers will get a better break. That is exactly why he so strongly opposes the union. And the same is true of Amazon. Corporate greed knows no bounds because the corporation’s only goal is to increase profits. 

Written by Leisureguy

20 August 2022 at 4:22 pm

Who broke capitalism?

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Judd Legum’s interview of David Gelles is a strong reminder that most people will be swayed by incentives even when the incentivized behavior is destructive, immoral, or illegal — and most people find it difficult to act now toward long-term objectives — cf. climate change, and as I note in my post on Coveys method:

Perhaps as a result of evolutionary pressures, we are highly sensitized to urgent situations (whether important, like that bear coming toward us, or unimportant, like an itch we can’t quite reach), whereas situations that lack urgency are easily postponed and ignored from one day to the next even when they are important (for example, making a will [or climate change – LG]).

Legum writes:

I recently finished reading “The Man Who Broke Capitalism,” a new book by New York Times business reporter David Gelles. The book describes how Jack Welch, while he was CEO of GE in the 80s and 90s, fundamentally changed the way corporations operate. I reached out to Gelles because his book provides essential insights into corporate behavior today. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. I hope you enjoy it. — Judd


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LEGUM:
 You lay out in the book that Jack Welch introduced a new style of management, which involved financialization (getting out of the business of making stuff and into the business of moving money around), making jobs much more precarious (either by firing people, or making people worried that they might be fired), and a relentless focus on quarterly profits. But you describe how, especially after Welch left, this didn’t work out for GE over the long term. And it didn’t work out for some other companies that followed Welch’s model. But today, Welch’s management style continues to be influential. Why do you think, despite the objective failures of this over the long term, Welch’s approach to corporate management endures?

GELLES: I think the reason his views hold sway, when, as you say, the evidence over the long term is clear, is that business school students aren’t taught to think about the long term, and our economy isn’t set up to incentivize long-term performance. And so what he was able to do at GE undoubtedly worked, as long as he was getting away with it. And then when the music stopped, things started to fall apart. During that time, he got enormously rich, and his deputies got enormously rich. People who were smart enough to invest in the stock and get out at the right time got enormously rich. And there are very few consequences in corporate America for long-term failure. The incentive structures in our economy are simply not set up to really enhance true long-term performance, let alone take care of people or communities.

LEGUM: One of your colleagues, Andrew Ross Sorkin, recently interviewed the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz. Sorkin asked Schultz about Starbucks’ own anti-union efforts. And in response, Schultz said that unions were important in the 40s, 50s, and 60s because people were working in coal mines and companies were abusing their workers. But today companies treat their workers well. That is the exact was the exact opposite thesis of your book. You refer to the 40s, 50s, and 60s as the “golden age” of capitalism where companies had a more equitable relationship with workers.

GELLES: Listen, Howard Schultz talking about coal miners is a classic red herring. The reason that Starbucks baristas are unionizing is because even though Starbucks may pay above the minimum wage, the reality is that most frontline workers in the United States don’t make enough money to take care of their families. And the reason that is, is because the minimum wage hasn’t kept pace with inflation for the past 40-plus years.

It was definitely true that at big corporations, the Dow and the Fortune 100 in the postwar decades, there was a clear effort to let everyday workers share in the wealth that was created by these companies. I cite the 1953 GE annual report where they’re so proud to talk about how this was their biggest payroll in history, and how great that was, and how great it was that they were paying their suppliers so much money, and how great it was even that they were paying their taxes. They were proud to do all these things because there was this implicit understanding that what was good for big companies, could be good for the country, and vice versa. That, obviously, painfully, isn’t the world we live in today.

The book covers this transition from, call it the golden age of capitalism, which, of course, was not perfect, to this era of shareholder privacy, where workers are really treated as expendable labor. They’re treated as expendable. When Howard Schultz scratches his head and wonders why people want to unionize at Starbucks shops, I encourage him to really do the work of understanding what a Starbucks barista’s life is like, and that’s probably hard for a billionaire to do. But if he were to do so, I suspect he might come away from that exercise having a bit more empathy for what it’s actually like to make less than $20 an hour in this country without the promises of real and enduring job security and steady benefits. It’s not a pretty picture.

LEGUM: Your book describes GE’s dominance in the 80s and 90s. Today, many of the most powerful companies are tech companies, like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. One of the things these companies are famous for is creating these sort of lavish campuses to attract talent. And they are paying their top talent quite a bit of money. Do you still see Welch’s influence in modern tech companies?

GELLES: The answer is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 4:24 pm

Change the week

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Update: And the UK is running a 6-month experiment in which thousands of Britons will work a 32-hour week.

Written by Leisureguy

8 June 2022 at 5:18 pm

Starbucks Workers Are Demanding Management Stop Acting Like Petty Dictators

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Nelson Lichtenstein reports in Jacobin:

Something close to panic has set in among top Starbucks executives as baristas at some 233 coffee shop locations (and counting) have filed for union certification votes with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). As of this writing, thirty-one of those stores have voted to unionize, often by overwhelming margins; on Monday, the votes at stores in New Jersey and Baltimore were unanimous in favor of the union.

All of this has prompted Starbucks founder Howard Schultz to leave retirement — for the second time — and take a hands-on role as CEO and high-profile union adversary. The release last week of a leaked video call to thousands of store managers offers a revealing glimpse of the Schultz mentality, the Starbucks anti-union strategy, and the challenges Workers United, the barista union, will face in the weeks and months ahead.

Schultz bought a small Seattle coffee chain in the 1980s, rebranded it, and successfully expanded it to more than 17,000 company-operated locations worldwide. A billionaire and philanthropist, Schultz has a big ego. He has written four books (most business memoirs) and explored a run for president, as either a Democrat or an independent, three times. Schultz thinks Starbucks has a unique corporate culture, for which he is largely responsible.

He is the classic example of the proprietary capitalist who sees any threat to his authority as a personal affront. As Schultz told store managers in the leaked video, he “knows in his heart that I have always put partners first.” (“Partners” is the corporate name for Starbucks workers.) He therefore expects deference and applause. If that is not forthcoming, it must be because of “an outside force that is trying to disrupt the future of our company.”

Of course, anti-unionism is not limited to billionaire founders of iconic companies. But when outsize egos become engaged in the fight, they often let the cat out of the bag in terms of both corporate vulnerabilities and strategies. 

The first thing that became clear in the leaked video is that  . . .

Continue reading. And you can see the leaked video at that link.

Authoritarian companies (like Amazon, for example) are terrified of their workers having any sort of power at all. I wrote about that.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2022 at 6:56 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Unions

A look back at Republicans in the election of 1890 — oddly familiar

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

In the spring of 1890, Republicans were convinced they would win the upcoming midterm elections.

Thanks to their management of the economy, they insisted, the United States was on its way to becoming the most advanced nation in the world. Technology had brought new products to the country—bananas, for example—and upwardly mobile Americans had enough leisure time and money to celebrate weddings with special dresses and cakes, and to give their children toys on their birthday. Massive factories like that of industrialist Andrew Carnegie in Homestead, Pennsylvania, churned out steel to make buildings like Chicago’s Home Insurance Building, completed in 1885, its 10 stories making it so astonishingly high it could only be called a “skyscraper.”

This innovation was possible, Republicans believed, because they had protected the ability of men like Carnegie to run their businesses as they saw fit. With tariff laws guaranteeing that domestic industries would not have to compete with foreign products, businessmen could both innovate and collude with their colleagues to raise prices, bringing profits that would enable them to develop their businesses further. That development paid the country in jobs, permitting all Americans to enjoy a rising standard of living.

Indeed, Carnegie wrote in 1889, “Individualism, Private Property, the Law of Accumulation of Wealth, and the Law of Competition” were the very height of human achievement. While the new economy created great disparities of wealth, he thought those differences were inevitable and a good thing. The money flowing up to the top meant that the country’s wealthiest men could build libraries and concert halls and universities and art collections to raise the cultural standards of the whole country.

Newspapers celebrated the leading industrialists as the nation’s heroes, and Republicans took credit for creating the environment for them to work their magic. Across the country, men served by the new economy cheered on its leaders.

But plenty of Americans could see that the nation was not in the rosy shape Republicans claimed. On shop floors in eastern factories, workers shoveled coal or worked looms for fourteen to sixteen hours a day for pennies, and if their health broke down or they lost a limb, they were out of both work and luck. In the West, rains had failed for five years, and the hot winds baked crops dry in two days. “This would be a fine country if only it had water,” a hopeful farmer said in a western joke. “Yes, and so would hell,” was the punch line. Farmers were saddled with high-interest mortgages, middlemen who skimmed the profits when crops went to market, and freight charges from railroad monopolies that took the rest.

To those asking for the government to address the needs of workers and farmers, Carnegie said: “The Socialist or Anarchist who seeks to overturn present conditions is to be regarded as attacking the foundation upon which civilization itself rests.”

In the summer of 1890, Republican lawmakers, too, pushed back on those criticizing their pro-business policies. Hardworking farmers were doing just fine, they said; reports of high mortgages that farmers couldn’t repay were “a libel upon the thrift and economy, as well as the honesty and intelligence of the Western farmer.” Those few farmers who really were in trouble had only themselves to blame. They had “extravagant notions,” rejecting pork and potatoes in favor of chicken and angel food cake.

Ultimately, farmers were lazy, wanting “a sort of paternal government” to take care of them. President Benjamin Harrison assured an audience in Topeka, Kansas, that life was made up of averages, and that their poor year should not dash their hopes for the future (although he didn’t have any suggestions for how they should feed themselves in the meantime).

Far from the policy struggles of the Republicans and Democrats back East, in the summer of 1890, a new movement began, quietly, to take shape. In western towns, workers and poor farmers and entrepreneurs shut out of opportunities by monopolies began to talk to each other. They discovered a shared dismay over a government that seemed to work only for the rich industrialists, and anger that they seemed to be working themselves to the bone only to have the fruits of their labor taken by the rich. “Wall Street owns the country,” western organizer Mary Elizabeth Lease told audiences. “It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street.”

Westerners suffering in the new economy began to come together. Reviving older Farmers’ Alliances, they distributed literature across the country explaining how tariffs worked and how railroad monopolies jacked up prices. Existing newspapers began to echo their arguments, and where there weren’t local newspapers, Alliance members began to print them.

They offered a different vision of the country’s political economy, defending the idea . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 May 2022 at 8:04 pm

The Revolt of the College-Educated Working Class

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Workers are gradually coming to realize that they cannot rely on corporate largesse. Norm Scheiber reports in the NY Times (gift link, no paywall):

Over the past decade and a half, many young, college-educated workers have faced a disturbing reality: that it was harder for them to reach the middle class than for previous generations. The change has had profound effects — driving shifts in the country’s politics and mobilizing employees to demand fairer treatment at work. It may also be giving the labor movement its biggest lift in decades.

Members of this college-educated working class typically earn less money than they envisioned when they went off to school. “It’s not like anyone is expecting to make six figures,” said Tyler Mulholland, who earns about $23 an hour as a sales lead at REI, the outdoor equipment retailer, and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. “But when it’s snow storming at 11:30 at night, I don’t want to have to think, ‘Is the Uber home going to make a difference in my weekly budget?’”

In many cases, the workers have endured bouts of unemployment. After Clint Shiflett, who holds an associate degree in computer science, lost his job installing satellite dishes in early 2020, he found a cheaper place to live and survived on unemployment insurance for months. He was eventually hired at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, where he initially made about $17.50 an hour working the overnight shift.

And they complain of being trapped in jobs that don’t make good use of their skills. Liz Alanna, who holds a bachelor’s in music education and a master’s in opera performance, began working at Starbucks while auditioning for music productions in the early 2010s. She stayed with the company to preserve her health insurance after getting married and having children.

“I don’t think I should have to have a certain job just so I can have health care,” Ms. Alanna said. “I could be doing other types of jobs that might fall better in my wheelhouse.”

These experiences, which economic research shows became more common after the Great Recession, appear to have united many young college-educated workers around two core beliefs: They have a sense that the economic grand bargain available to their parents — go to college, work hard, enjoy a comfortable lifestyle — has broken down. And they see unionizing as a way to resurrect it.

Support for labor unions among college graduates has increased from 55 percent in the late 1990s to around 70 percent in the last few years, and is even higher among younger college graduates, according to data provided by Gallup. “I think a union was really kind of my only option to make this a viable choice for myself and other people,” said Mr. Mulholland, 32, who helped lead the campaign to unionize his Manhattan REI store in March. Mr. Shiflett and Ms. Alanna have also been active in the campaigns to unionize their workplaces.

And those efforts, in turn, may help explain an  . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2022 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Unions

How Ukraine Won the Battle for Kyiv

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Oz Katerji reports in Rolling Stone:

Before Russia launched a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, intelligence assessments coming out of Washington and London were bleak about Kyiv’s chances of survival. It and the rest of Ukraine were set to be outmanned, outgunned and surrounded by one of the most powerful modern military forces ever assembled, they believed.

As Russian troops were advancing on the city, US officials even offered to evacuate Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky from Kyiv, only for him to shoot back: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride” in what is now one of the most famous political quotes of the 21st century.

According to reports, Moscow’s plan was to encircle and capture Ukraine’s capital within a matter of days before carrying out a campaign of executions of Ukrainian politicians, journalists and human rights activists. But 37 days after the invasion began, Russian forces were driven out of the Kyiv Oblast in its entirety, with Ukrainian deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar releasing a statement on 2 April that Kyiv had been liberated from Russian invaders.

Ukraine’s decisive victory in the Battle for Kyiv was an audacious and impressive military accomplishment. Russia’s loss in Kyiv came not only as a surprise to Moscow, but also to Ukraine’s allies in western capitals. But how could Ukraine’s smaller army inflict such a humiliating blow against the Russian Goliath in Kyiv when so few thought it was possible?

The day before the invasion felt like any other winter’s day in central Kyiv as I made my way through the throng of a bustling metropolis, the beautiful and vibrant capital of a fledgling Eastern European liberal democracy. But what followed was a night like no other. A dark foreboding hung heavy in the air as the streets emptied and late-night bars brought down their shutters as what little hope of averting a major European war was extinguished. The cacophony of artillery fire, air strikes and air-raid sirens that erupted in the early hours of 24 February left nobody in doubt: the invasion had begun.

Within hours, makeshift barricades had been erected across the famous cobblestone streets of Kyiv’s old town, and decrepit Soviet cars and shopping trolleys were reinforced with hurriedly filled sandbags. The boutique shops and international retail brands that sit in between the ancient blue-and-gold domes of Kyiv’s Orthodox churches were boarded up, and the streets that only hours before had been filled with such energy and life were now deserted.

Beneath them, in old Soviet bomb shelters and miles upon miles of central Kyiv’s metro network, tens of thousands of people sought shelter from the incoming Russian bombardment. A family could be found crammed into every corner of every station as – remarkably – the trains still ran. The highways out of the city were gridlocked as much of Kyiv’s population fled, but, as the Russians started cutting off the main arteries out of the city, the country’s railway network bravely kept running, shuttling millions of civilians across the country to the relative safety of the west. There the new arrivals faced the uncertainty and cruelty that comes with a life displaced.

Those who remained in Kyiv were met with  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 April 2022 at 11:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Unions, War

Interesting labor statistics

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The charts in Kevin Drum’s post are interesting — participation rates among workers are right in line with previous experience — but also I found this note of interest:

Now, there are about 1.6 million prime-age women who have exited the labor force (top chart), though they were probably the ones who were most weakly attached in the first place and will only be coaxed back by higher wages.¹

And the footnote:

¹Which isn’t happening no matter how many McDonald’s signs you see that are allegedly offering $20 an hour to flip burgers. Despite all the complaining from employers about how hard it is to find workers, real wages in most industries have been falling for the past year. Even in the restaurant biz, which is supposed to be the tightest around, real wages have only increased about 6% over the past year. In other words, burger flipping has gone from around $12/hour to $12.70 an hour. That’s hardly going to tempt a lot of marginally attached workers back into a fast-food kitchen.

Written by Leisureguy

17 April 2022 at 11:38 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Unions

Capitalism views workers as a resource to be exploited

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Written by Leisureguy

14 April 2022 at 11:54 am

New Amazon Worker Chat App Will Ban Words Like “union,” “restrooms,” “pay raise,” and “plantation”

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Amazon somehow feels fearful and beleaguered instead of prosperous and secure. Ken Klippenstein reports in The Intercept:

AMAZON WILL BLOCK and flag employee posts on a planned internal messaging app that contain keywords pertaining to labor unions, according to internal company documents reviewed by The Intercept. An automatic word monitor would also block a variety of terms that could represent potential critiques of Amazon’s working conditions, like “slave labor,” “prison,” and “plantation,” as well as “restrooms” — presumably related to reports of Amazon employees relieving themselves in bottles to meet punishing quotas.

“Our teams are always thinking about new ways to help employees engage with each other,” said Amazon spokesperson Barbara M. Agrait. “This particular program has not been approved yet and may change significantly or even never launch at all.”

In November 2021, Amazon convened a high-level meeting in which top executives discussed plans to create an internal social media program that would let employees recognize co-workers’ performance with posts called “Shout-Outs,” according to a source with direct knowledge.

The major goal of the program, Amazon’s head of worldwide consumer business, Dave Clark, said, was to reduce employee attrition by fostering happiness among workers — and also productivity. Shout-Outs would be part of a gamified rewards system in which employees are awarded virtual stars and badges for activities that “add direct business value,” documents state. At the meeting, Clark remarked that “some people are insane star collectors.”

But company officials also warned of what they called “the dark side of social media” and decided to actively monitor posts in order to ensure a “positive community.” At the meeting, Clark suggested that the program should resemble an online dating app like Bumble, which allows individuals to engage one on one, rather than a more forum-like platform like Facebook.

Following the meeting, an “auto bad word monitor” was devised, constituting a blacklist that would flag and automatically block employees from sending a message that contains any profane or inappropriate keywords. In addition to profanities, however, the terms include many relevant to organized labor, including “union,” “grievance,” “pay raise,” and “compensation.” Other banned keywords include terms like “ethics,” “unfair,” “slave,” “master,” “freedom,” “diversity,” “injustice,” and “fairness.” Even some phrases like “This is concerning” will be banned.

“With free text, we risk people writing Shout-Outs that generate negative sentiments among the viewers and the receivers,” a document summarizing the program states. “We want to lean towards being restrictive on the content that can be posted to prevent a negative associate experience.”

In addition to the automated system, managers will have the authority to flag or suppress any Shout-Outs that they find inappropriate, the documents show.

A pilot program is slated to launch later this month. In addition to slurs and swear words, the planned list includes the following words: . . .

Continue reading. I imagine codewords will be soon developed so workers can talk about what’s important to them.

There’s much more in the article, well worth reading. Back in the day, we might say that Amazon has gotten too big for its britches.

Written by Leisureguy

9 April 2022 at 12:22 pm

Working for Congress is awful

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For one thing, Congress is careful to exempt itself from laws it passes that require businesses to protect their workers and treat them with respect. Congressional workers are starting to talk union, and rightly so.

Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2022 at 12:16 pm

Amazon Culpable for Deaths of Six Warehouse Workers

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Things like this leads workers to organize union simply to protect themselves.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2022 at 1:13 pm

Here’s How We Beat Amazon

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Eric Blanc interviews Angelika Maldonado in Jacobin:

After decades of union decline, Amazon workers in Staten Island have achieved the most important labor victory in the United States since the 1930s. Taking on and defeating Amazon would be a David versus Goliath story no matter who led the effort, but it is especially stunning that the successful unionization drive at the JFK8 warehouse was initiated by the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), an upstart, independent, worker-led effort.

ALU leaders include both former employees like Christian Smalls, who was fired from the JFK8 warehouse in 2020 after organizing a walkout, and a small crew of worker leaders inside the warehouse. While much of the national media attention has understandably focused on Smalls, the remarkable story of how workers on the inside of the building brought about this stunning upset largely remains to be told.

Few people are better placed to tell this story than Angelika Maldonado, the twenty-seven-year-old chair of ALU’s Workers Committee. One of the key leaders responsible for yesterday’s historic victory, Maldonado works as a packer in the outbound department on the night shift at JFK8. After yesterday’s vote, she sat down with Jacobin’s Eric Blanc to discuss how they accomplished the seemingly impossible — and what organizing lessons workers across the country can take from their efforts.

EB: First of all, how are you feeling?

AM: When I found out that we’d won, I was totally speechless — it literally feels like I’m still dreaming. Even right now, talking about it, I’m getting emotional thinking about what we’ve accomplished.

EB: Can you speak a bit about how you got involved in the effort to unionize?

AM: I started working at JFK8 back in 2018, but it wasn’t until last October that I got involved in the organizing. One day leaving from work — after my twelve-hour-and-thirty-minute shift — an organizer came up to me and let me know what was going on. To be honest, I was immediately all in. I’ve never been a part of a union before, but my mom has been a member of 1199SEIU for as long as I can remember. So when I heard Amazon could get a union, I knew from experience how much that would benefit all the families and all the people who worked there. From that point on, basically, I’ve been all in.

EB:  Were there any specific grievances at work that motivated you to get involved?

AM: At the top of my list is . . .

Continue reading. Interesting interview.

I think it is excellent that the workers empowered themselves to organize and avoided the use of outside professional union organizers. I think that their doing it themselves will make for a stronger union because they will have immediate and direct evidence (and memories) of the power of union and solidarity. And this effort will (I hope) serve as a model and inspiration for workers in other companies to form a union.

UPDATE: The paragraph I wrote above is an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. I was so ignorant of what professional organizers do that I did not see their presence in the report above. I have since learned that what professional organizers do is to train people — in this case, the workers — in how to organize. The workers learn the law, learn techniques, and basically learn how to organize. In a sense, the workers do the organizing, but they are trained and supported (for example, “the regular phone banks we held out of the [UNITE HERE Local 100] union office in Manhattan”). I imagine that training led to Maldonado’s statement “We knew our rights and were in touch with a good labor lawyer.”

And, most pointedly, Maldonado says “When I got involved I just sat down and listened a lot to the organizers who had been doing this for longer than I had.” /update

Recommended reading: Which Side Are You on?: Trying to Be for Labor When It’s Flat on Its Back, by Thomas Geoghegan. This title appears in the list of books I find myself repeatedly recommending.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2022 at 10:19 am

How Two Best Friends Beat Amazon

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I wrote a piece in Medium, speculating on why Amazon was so terrified of a union. And now it’s happened, so Amazon will finally see whether its panic was warranted.

Jodi Kantor and Karen Weise have a good report (gift link; no paywall) in the NY Times):

In the first dark days of the pandemic, as an Amazon worker named Christian Smalls planned a small, panicked walkout over safety conditions at the retailer’s only fulfillment center in New York City, the company quietly mobilized.

Amazon formed a reaction team involving 10 departments, including its Global Intelligence Program, a security group staffed by many military veterans. The company named an “incident commander” and relied on a “Protest Response Playbook” and “Labor Activity Playbook” to ward off “business disruptions,” according to newly released court documents.

In the end, there were more executives — including 11 vice presidents — who were alerted about the protest than workers who attended it. Amazon’s chief counsel, describing Mr. Smalls as “not smart, or articulate,” in an email mistakenly sent to more than 1,000 people, recommended making him “the face” of efforts to organize workers. The company fired Mr. Smalls, saying he had violated quarantine rules by attending the walkout.

In dismissing and smearing him, the company relied on the hardball tactics that had driven its dominance of the market. But on Friday, he won the first successful unionization effort at any Amazon warehouse in the United States, one of the most significant labor victories in a generation. The company’s response to his tiny initial protest may haunt it for years to come.

Mr. Smalls and his best friend from the warehouse, Derrick Palmer, had set their sights on unionizing after he was forced out. Along with a growing band of colleagues — and no affiliation with a national labor organization — the two men spent the past 11 months going up against Amazon, whose 1.1 million workers in the United States make it the country’s second-largest private employer.

At the bus stop outside the warehouse, a site on Staten Island known as JFK8, they built bonfires to warm colleagues waiting before dawn to go home. They made TikTok videos to reach workers across the city. Mr. Palmer brought homemade baked ziti to the site; others toted empanadas and West African rice dishes to appeal to immigrant workers. They set up signs saying “Free Weed and Food.”

The union spent $120,000 overall, raised through GoFundMe, according to Mr. Smalls. “We started this with nothing, with two tables, two chairs and a tent,” he recalled. Amazon spent more than $4.3 million just on anti-union consultants nationwide last year, according to federal filings.

The unionization vote reflects an era of rising worker power. In recent months, a string of Starbucks stores have voted to organize as well. But JFK8, with 8,000 workers, is one of Amazon’s signature warehouses, its most important pipeline to its most important market.

Amazon has fought unionization for years, considering it a dire threat to its business model. Its ability to speed packages to consumers is built on a vast chain of manual labor that is monitored down to the second. No one knows what will happen if the newly organized workers try to change that model or disrupt operations — or if their union is replicated among the more than 1,000 Amazon fulfillment centers and other facilities across the country.

For all their David-versus-Goliath disadvantages, the Staten Island organizers had the cultural moment on their side. They were buoyed by a tightened labor market, a reckoning over what employers owe their workers and a National Labor Relations Board emboldened under President Biden, which made a key decision in their favor. The homegrown, low-budget push by their independent Amazon Labor Union outperformed traditional labor organizers who failed at unionizing Amazon from the outside, most recently in Bessemer, Ala. . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

3 April 2022 at 4:54 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Unions

Barbara Ehrenreich Is Not an Optimist, but She Has Hope for the Future

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I just came across a New Yorker interview in which Jia Tolentino interview Barbara Ehrenreich, and I thought it was quite good. It appeared two years ago — March 21, 2020 — and it begins:

Barbara Ehrenreich was born in Butte, Montana, where her family had lived for generations, in 1941. Most of her male ancestors lost fingers working in nearby copper mines. But her father attended night school, then won a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon; the family moved to Pittsburgh and rose into the middle class. Ehrenreich studied physics in college, got a doctorate in cell biology, and, in the late sixties, alongside her husband at the time, John Ehrenreich, she became involved in health-care organizing and antiwar activism.

In the decades since, Ehrenreich has tried, as a writer and an activist, to forge a bridge between the working and middle classes. She published her first two books—one on chemistry and one, co-written with her husband, about student protest—in 1969, and started attracting a wide audience in the nineteen-seventies, when she began writing for the influential feminist magazine Ms. She’s now published more than twenty books, including the 2001 bestseller “Nickel and Dimed,” about the daily indignities of low-wage work, and “Natural Causes,” a 2018 polemic about the wellness industry and the illusion of control. Her latest, “Had I Known: Collected Essays,” which brings together work from the past four decades, examines health, the economy, feminism, “bourgeois blunders,” God, science, and joy.

I recently visited Ehrenreich at home, in her fifth-floor condo outside Washington, D.C. Like her, the place was no-nonsense but welcoming. There were magazines on side tables, and shelves piled with books. She had broken her arm the previous weekend—“attacked,” she said, “by a laundry basket,” which she’d tripped over in the dark—and had enlisted a publicist at Twelve Books to pick up sandwiches and drinks for us. She asked over e-mail if I had any dietary preferences or restrictions, and I said that I valued all sandwiches but preferred one without mayonnaise, a choice that later became the subject of discussion. After selecting a turkey sandwich with mustard—Ehrenreich had chicken salad—I sat down with her in a small sunroom overlooking the Potomac River, with a peaceful view of our nation’s stressful capital. Ehrenreich nestled into a wicker love seat, propping her feet up, her right arm balanced gingerly in a sling. Later, as the coronavirus began shutting down the country, we spoke again, over the phone. These two conversations have been combined and edited for length and clarity.

I saw that you tweeted, “Got up this morning and self-quarantined, just like I do every morning.” The writer’s life has prepared us both for this.

Yes, and they’re saying that old people shouldn’t be outdoors, so there we go.

Coronavirus has illuminated a lot about the limits of individualism, and our lack of a safety net. Is that where your mind has been?

My mind has been full of grim and rageful thoughts, many of which are about the lack of paid sick leave. We turn out to be so vulnerable in the United States. Not only because we have no safety net, or very little of one, but because we have no emergency preparedness, no social infrastructure. In other places—Barcelona, for example, where my son is now—there’s much more of a community feeling in how you face disaster. We have a little bit of it—Rebecca Solnit has written beautifully about the subject. But we don’t have enough. From the prehistoric perspective, people have gotten through a lot of stuff by coöperating and sticking together. We built cities, we irrigated fields. Whether we’ve lost that capacity, I don’t know.

There’s an underlying argument in your work, I think—in “Blood Rites,” for instance, your book about war, from 1997, and “Dancing in the Streets,” your book about collective joy, from 2006—that we are wired for solidarity but molded for competitive betrayal. You’ve also written about how solidarity can manifest both constructively and destructively—about how the rush of solidarity that accompanies war is not so different from the rush of solidarity that accompanied the birth of the socialist movement, say.

Solidarity can embody so many things—fascism, religious fervor. I don’t trust it inherently. I’m thinking a lot more about this dialectic right now because of a book I’m supposed to be working on—that’s what you saw me doing when you walked in—about narcissism. We want, we crave connectedness, and yet it can turn against us in awful ways.

What was the impetus for writing a book about narcissism?

Oh, you know—across the river. It is a rich topic, though I hate to say it that way, looking at the news right now and thinking that Trump, maybe the biggest narcissist that we have in the world, could be defeated by this speck of RNA and protein. And, as a species, humans are so narcissistic. We forgot that the animals with fangs and claws once dined on our predecessors. We forgot that the so-called defeat of the infectious diseases, in the early twentieth century, was never actually a defeat. We have to understand that our place in the scheme of things is not very high.

Coronavirus seems to be spotlighting the question that underlies everything right now: whether survival—of climate change, let’s say—will be something we negotiate individually or collectively.

The question is really: How many people do we expect are going to make it? The Silicon Valley view is that it’s about three hundred and fifty of us. The left point of view has to be, “We stand shoulder to shoulder and try to get through this.”

Do you think that’s—

Awesome?

Or naïve, or something? Mathematically, it is daunting.

I just became a grandmother for a third time. I can’t not think that some of us will survive.

When your third “grand-dot,” as you put it, was born, you tweeted, “The universe starts all over again.” And you’ve said that having your first child prompted a political and personal transformation. In “Witches, Midwives, and Nurses,” which you co-wrote with Deirdre English a few years after your daughter was born, you argued that women, for most of history, had been doctors without degrees—that learning and practicing medicine was women’s heritage, and that the gender imbalance in the medical field at the time, with ninety-three per cent of American doctors being male, was deeply unnatural.

Having my first child made me into a real feminist. It was the sexism of doctors, the whole system. With my first pregnancy, the doctor at this hospital clinic—I couldn’t afford private care—did a pelvic exam to see if I was good to go and have the baby. When it was over, I peeked up and said, “So, is the cervix beginning to be effaced?” And he looked at the nurse, and said to her, “Where did a nice girl like this learn to talk like that?”

I would say that that’s when I transitioned to raging feminism.

I imagine “Nickel and Dimed” was another turning point in your career.

That was a complete change for me. I thought of it as a kind of excursion into reporting. I’m not really a reporter, so I had no idea what to do. I just went out and got the jobs, and then after a few days I figured, well, I’ll just write down everything that happens during the day, during the shift, after.

What about in terms of the book’s success? It’s sold a million and a half copies.

Oh, yeah, because then I made money. I made money running around the speaking, lecture circuit for years, which combined well with activism for raising wages, to the dismay of the people and the administrators who invited me.

There was this one college that invited me to give a speech to all the incoming students. I was contacted before I came by some workers at the college asking if I could meet with them to discuss their organizing drive. I said, “Sure, let’s have dinner when I get there.” And I did. Maybe six of them. The word of this meeting got to the president of the college, who then did everything he could to sabotage me. Right before the talk, he told me I had twenty minutes, whereas before he’d said forty. And one other thing, can I be nasty?

Please.

He had a limousine pick me up at the airport and drive me back to the airport—a stretch limo, the kind where you can’t even talk to the driver, you’re so far back. Then he complained about my being a diva to the press, implying that I’d insisted on this limo.

When you were writing that book, who were you writing for? And who did your publisher think you were writing for? You’ve noted before that you received a pretty small advance—to the point that, when you were later diagnosed with breast cancer, you had to borrow money from family and friends.

I have a hard time, as a writer, picking an audience. I mostly just write whatever I’m comfortable with. I remember, writing “Nickel and Dimed,” thinking maybe I was using words that might not be familiar to some people—like “glossolalia,” speaking in tongues. And I thought, Hell, I feel like using it, you can look it up too, dammit.

I think the book struck such a nerve because the biggest media outlets rarely depict the actual textures of working-class life. About a decade later, you founded the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, which funds and co-publishes stories about inequality in mainstream outlets—often written by people who are themselves receiving the sharp end of the stick. What inspired that? And do you see the project as having to do with the downward mobility of the journalistic profession?

Well, in 2009, I was appalled by the New York Times’ coverage of the recession, which was all about people on the Upper West Side who could not afford their personal Pilates trainer anymore. So I approached them and said I want to do some things about people who had already been struggling when the recession began. They agreed. I got space in what was then the Sunday Review section and got to work. In my mind, to do this I had to go to different places around the country, see different people. So it was costing me money, and, at a certain point, I realized that what they were paying me was so much less than what they’d paid me five years earlier, when I did a column for the same section of the paper. It was forty per cent of that.

And I thought, Geez, I’m losing money on this, but I guess I made money on “Nickel and Dimed,” I can afford it. And then I thought, What kind of bullshit is this? Only rich people can write about poverty? That’s when the idea of E.H.R.P. came to my mind.

Speaking of the Times, I was reading an old David Brooks column, from 2006, in which he wrote, “Liberals have adopted an overly negative view of reality. Barbara Ehrenreich’s books are well and good, but if you think they represent the broader society, you’ll get America wrong.” The underlying argument of the column was that things were going pretty well, actually—that the poverty rate, at about a quarter of the American population, was just fine.

Class insularity in the media élite is a huge obstacle—people who, when they see a working-class person, it’s probably the FedEx guy. I can’t tell anyone how bad that is if they haven’t already noticed. The other problem is that publications are afraid to offend advertisers, who tend not to want their ad for diamonds to be facing a page about indigent women with cancer.

The journalism professor Christopher R. Martin recently wrote a book called “No Longer Newsworthy” that’s about this problem. He writes about how, throughout the twentieth century, newspapers shifted their coverage of labor issues from the perspective of the worker to the perspective of the consumer—talking to and implicitly sympathizing with the woman who was inconvenienced by a bus strike, rather than the bus drivers who were striking. I wonder if you think this is a problem in coronavirus coverage so far.

Do you think it is?

Sure—there’s more about cruise-ship passengers who are quarantined than about the cruise-ship workers who have to sanitize spaces, and lots of talk about online ordering and few interviews with warehouse workers and delivery drivers who have to shoulder the risk.

I’ve been thinking about Typhoid Mary, who woke people up to the fact that they had a biological connection with people they barely looked at. Maybe this will be an opportunity to remind us of our dependence on everyone else. But I don’t see that happening yet.

I wanted to ask you about a term you coined, with your first husband, in 1977: the professional-managerial class, or the P.M.C. It’s become a popular term among the young left, and a big point of contention. The P.M.C. are people whose economic and social status is based largely on education rather than capital ownership: teachers, managers, lawyers, doctors, and culture workers of various kinds. These professionals make up about twenty per cent of the country’s population, but a person reading the news and watching TV might think they make up ninety per cent of it. Many of these professions began with missions of social improvement, but in practice the P.M.C. have largely reinforced an existing order rather than lifting up the people they represent or teach or care for. You originally asked whether the P.M.C. could actually align itself with working-class interests rather than continue to seek control. Then, in 2013, you wrote a follow-up, in which you observed that the P.M.C. lay “in ruins”—that its members were either placing themselves in increasingly direct service to capital, being disempowered by corporate control, or spiralling down the ladder into hourly wage work. You asked, “Should we mourn the fate of the P.M.C., or rejoice that there is one less smug, self-styled elite to stand in the way of a more egalitarian future?” Do you have an answer to that question, and has it changed?

I would say mourn. What’s happened to the P.M.C. has been a disaster that’s sort of localized. Like in journalism, in all the creative occupations, there’s no stability unless you’re a superstar of some sort. Law. A lot of software jobs have gone. I can’t rejoice. And what puzzles me about the young folks is their use of P.M.C. as a slur.

That puzzles you?

Yeah.

When people use it as a pejorative, they mean the massive non-radicalized faction of it, right? They’re echoing your analysis—which I found to be a pretty useful framework for parsing, let’s say, the divide between Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters in 2016.

I should explain that the concept of the P.M.C. did not flow from long meditations about Marxist theory. It came from things that were happening in groups I belonged to, the way in which you could not keep together the blue-collar and P.M.C. people. The P.M.C. people were so goddam rude.

How so?

This may sound trivial, but it’s not to me. We had a meeting—this was the New American Movement, one of the predecessors of the Democratic Socialists of America—that was hosted by this blue-collar couple, Pat and Ed, who set out a really nice spread of cookies and little sandwiches at their house. And our two self-important P.M.C. members walked in and completely ignored the offering of food and just launched into a tirade against me, because I’d brought these blue-collar people into the group and they were “diluting the politics.” I was just like, “Fuck you. One of them is a practicing nurse and the other one is a locksmith. Because you guys are professors, you think you can do this?” Exposure to P.M.C. contempt for working-class people really is what did it. I began to think, “What’s going on here?”

That contempt still exists, don’t you think? And that same “fuck you” feeling—and the degree to which P.M.C. disregard for the working class has been the story of the Democratic Party’s failures—is why the term is used in a derogatory sense.

But I also like the definition of the working class that the professor of economics Michael Zweig has suggested: people who lack authority in their professional lives. That definition accounts for the ways that people who might have belonged to the P.M.C. people are aligning with the working class in part because of some shared experience of professional disempowerment. There are recent movements—the teacher’s strikes, the Google walkouts, organizers including Uber drivers as tech workers—that seem to reflect this.

In the seventies and eighties, when I was very involved with health workers, beautiful things would happen when the doctors aligned themselves with the struggles of aides and orderlies—saw them as people they would make change with. For example, if you want to understand what’s actually happening with patients, it’s the person who cleans the rooms who might know more than anyone else. That’s the terrible thing about capitalism: not just its exploitativeness but its refusal to let information flow uphill. That’s how we get things like Boeing, where the engineers know that things are really fucked but no one listens to them. And we make that mistake again and again.

How did you hold on to a working-class identity, when so many people who go to fancy universities and get advanced degrees do not? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2022 at 2:43 pm

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