Later On

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Archive for the ‘Unions’ Category

Example of a bad (micro)cultural meme: Scott-Rudinesque behavior

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Peter Marks has an interesting report in the Washington Post, and mentions in passing how a cultural meme is created and then reinforced generation by generation, because “this is how we do it.” The underlying problem is that it’s difficult to do A-B tests of memes, though some do arise.

At any rate, from his report (and read it with an eye out for memes):

. . . The story, in which several people described allegations that have circulated in the entertainment industry for years about Rudin’s bullying and rages, rocked the theater world. In one anecdote, he allegedly smashed a computer monitor on an assistant’s hand over an unsuccessful flight booking, sending the employee to the emergency room. He’s also accused of throwing objects at workers, including a stapler and a baked potato.

Rudin declined to elaborate on the statement, or on what exactly retreating from “active participation” entails. He has spoken to confidants about beginning a program of anger management or some manner of coaching. Whether his actions will in some way quell the calls for punitive action to be taken against him is unclear. Producers who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the allegations have spoken of some sanction by the Broadway League, whose members are Broadway producers and theater owners. But the league exists primarily as a trade organization and overseer of the Tony Awards with the American Theatre Wing. Every commercial Broadway production is, in essence, its own private enterprise.

“All change is theoretical,” said Olivo, in response to Rudin’s statement, “Action and time are needed before we can name it transformation. . . . Rudin is but one dragon to slay. There are more.”

Some members of the Broadway community say Rudin is just one of many abusive people — directors, choreographers, actors, business executives — whose behavior has been tolerated. His stepping back from “active participation” will probably not change the environment, they say.

“It’s a first step. Is it enough? No,” said one Broadway producer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of negative consequences. “There are people at every point in the business that have been taught that this is how you get the results you need. So the behavior gets replicated.”

“We have been taught that we have to sacrifice for our art,” this producer said about why bad behavior remains prevalent. “But you can do great work without creating a toxic environment.”

Actors’ Equity, the national labor union, called for Rudin to release his staff from any nondisclosure agreements that they may have had to sign, saying it would be “an important first step in creating truly safe and harassment-free theatrical workplaces on Broadway and beyond.”

“Since news reports emerged about Scott Rudin, we have had many private conversations with our sibling unions and the Broadway League. We have heard from hundreds of members that these allegations are inexcusable, and everyone deserves a safe workplace whether they are a union member or not,” president Kate Shindle and executive director Mary McColl said in a joint statement.

An exit by Rudin has potentially immense consequences for an industry that is short on visionary leaders. The Internet Broadway Database lists 77 plays and musicals produced by Rudin since the early 1990s. They run the gamut from . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2021 at 5:29 pm

Amazon shows how trickle-down inequality works

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Sarah Jones writes in the “Intelligencer” section of New York:

Bill Bodani liked his old job. He cleaned slag out at the Sparrows Point steel mill in Maryland, cleared the flues and the broken brick out of the blast furnace. He loved it despite the asbestosis it gave him, writes Alec MacGillis in his new book, Fulfillment. “I enjoyed the people,” Bodani told MacGillis. “They made it enjoyable. The Black, the white. It was a family thing. I don’t care if you knew them for five minutes, they took you in. No matter how bad I got hurt, or how bad things got, there was always a bright side. You had those guys with you.”

Until he didn’t. The mill closed, and Bodani needed a new job. He found one with Amazon, working in a Baltimore-area fulfillment center. He started out at $12 an hour — much less than he’d made at the mill. He’d traded his old friends for a place that would, as MacGillis put it, fire workers “by algorithm.” And Bodani had a problem. He was older, and he needed to use the bathroom more often than did his younger co-workers. When he had used up his breaks, he resorted to an undignified option. He’d piss in a corner of the warehouse, using a forklift as a privacy shield.

MacGillis completed Bodani’s story before the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union announced that it would try to unionize the first Amazon warehouse in the country in Bessemer, Alabama. Workers there reported their own versions of Bodani’s problem. The company regimented their days so strictly that they often didn’t have the time they needed to use the restroom. The union still lost, an election now contested before the National Labor Relations Board. Despite the outcome, the stories stick. Workers said they couldn’t stay six feet apart from each other in the middle of a pandemic, spoke of dirty workstations that never got clean. Amazon, they insisted, was a bad place to work. Why, then, are cities so desperate to bring Amazon home?

In Fulfillment, MacGillis, a reporter for ProPublica and the author of 2014’s The CynicThe Political Education of Mitch McConnell, offers answers. The digital economy has fattened a handful of cities while others, often old industrial hubs, fall behind. There is historical precedent for industries to cluster: “History,” he writes, “is the story of cities with the right confluence of people in close quarters to spin the world forward, whether in classical Athens or Renaissance Florence or industrial-age Glasgow.” That dynamic, however, has “trebled” in recent years, he claims, with innovation the new resource to mine. Amazon and Microsoft swelled Seattle, brought it new wealth, a new class of resident, and a new set of problems. That wealth never reached a number of Seattle’s long-term residents, who could recall an older, more livable version of a vibrant city. What dispersed out from Seattle was not wealth, either, but something else. Inequality trickled down.

MacGillis understands the bargain Amazon offers the public and explores the consequences of that bargain with a sharp, humane eye. He succeeds in telling a story about Amazon from the bottom up — the right way to scrutinize a company that projects a progressive image. Amazon wants us to believe it treats its workers well: It pays them $15 an hour now, a fact it has repeatedly tweeted to its congressional critics. Other companies, even governments, ought to follow Amazon’s stellar example, the company says. MacGillis argues that governments have already been too eager to take Amazon at its word, and that the consequences, for workers and for the places they live, have been catastrophic.

To cities in need of jobs, Amazon can look like a savior. But salvation is an exchange: a soul for a different future. MacGillis argues that this trade is good for Jeff Bezos alone; workers and cities lose out in both a psychological and material sense. Bill Bodani has nothing to offer the new economy but his body. Amazon accepts, and forces him to accept something even more nefarious than a pay cut. To take a job at the mill was to join a community. Young high-school graduates, MacGillis writes, had walked into a union and the welcoming arms of their uncles and fathers. By contrast, the warehouse is a sterile place. Workers are welcomed not with warm introductions but with “a sheet of paper scrawled with AMAZON” and representatives for an Amazon subcontractor. The job itself can be isolating, as Amazon workers themselves have reported; steep quotas and pervasive surveillance offer few opportunities to socialize. This is a useful union-avoidance strategy. It’s also a spiritual blow.

Once cities like Sparrows Point offer up their souls, Amazon gives them a cheap future. Corporations rarely make decisions out of abundant public spirit; Amazon is no exception to the rule. Instead, it eludes taxes. MacGillis calls Amazon’s approach to tax avoidance “a veritable Swiss Army knife, with an implement to wield against every possible government tab,” and the description lines up with reality. Amazon paid no federal income tax for two years before coughing up a paltry $162 million in 2019. It settles upon cities and towns like a locust, chewing up tax breaks totaling $2.7 billion by 2019, according to MacGillis. In 2018, Amazon threatened to cancel a planned expansion in Seattle, its home turf, over an employee-hours tax intended to address the city’s homelessness crisis. The city council passed it, only to reverse itself less than a month later.

In smaller cities, the costs of attracting Amazon can be especially steep. Consider . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2021 at 2:53 pm

Despite its denials, Amazon knew that its drivers had to pee in bottles

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Ken Klippenstein reports in the Intercept:

IN ANTICIPATION OF Sen. Bernie Sanders’s scheduled trip to Bessemer, Alabama, to support the unionization drive by Amazon workers there, Amazon executive Dave Clark cast the $1 trillion behemoth as “the Bernie Sanders of employers” and taunted: “So if you want to hear about $15 an hour and health care, Senator Sanders will be speaking downtown. But if you would like to make at least $15 an hour and have good health care, Amazon is hiring.”

Rep. Mark Pocan replied via tweet: “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a progressive workplace when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles,” echoing reports from 2018 that Amazon workers were forced to skip bathroom breaks and pee in bottles. Amazon’s denial was swift: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

But Amazon workers with whom I spoke said that the practice was so widespread due to pressure to meet quotas that managers frequently referenced it during meetings and in formal policy documents and emails, which were provided to The Intercept. The practice, these documents show, was known to management, which identified it as a recurring infraction but did nothing to ease the pressure that caused it. In some cases, employees even defecated in bags.

Amazon did not provide a statement to The Intercept before publication.

One document from January, marked “Amazon Confidential,” details various infractions by Amazon employees, including “public urination” and “public defecation.” The document was provided to The Intercept by an Amazon employee in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who, like most of the employees I talked to, was granted anonymity to avoid professional reprisal. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including a reproduction of the damning document.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2021 at 3:19 pm

A Police Union Contract Puts Taxpayers on the Hook to Defend Officers When the City Won’t

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The idea of “moral hazard” is that if one suffers no real repercussions for bad acts, then the bad acts are likely to worsen. For example, bailing out incompetent and dishonest failing banks will simply result in more incompetence and dishonesty down the line because those things are (in effect) rewarded. And if police can act with absolute impunity and suffer only mild consequence of violence toward and mistreatment of non-police (for example, the only penalty being a week’s administrative leave — in effect, a week’s paid vacation), then police culture will remain unchanged. There is no pressure to change in terms of police department and personnel suffering the consequences: the judgments and settlements are paid by the municipality from the general fund (not the police fund).

Jake Pearson writes in ProPublica:

Even among the hundreds of videos capturing the violent police response to Black Lives Matter protests last year, this one stood out.

A muscular male officer, in a navy blue shirt with “NYPD” across the back, lunged at a young demonstrator, shoving her several feet and sending her crashing to the ground on a street in Brooklyn.

In a video shot by a reporter and shared widely on social media, the woman, Dounya Zayer, can be seen clutching her head and writhing in pain after she tumbles to the asphalt.

The mayor called the officer’s actions “absolutely unacceptable,” the police commissioner said internal affairs was investigating and, 11 days after the incident, the district attorney announced criminal charges against the officer, Vincent D’Andraia.

Zayer, 21, went on to file a lawsuit alleging that D’Andraia had violated her right to free speech, and last month, the city’s Law Department, which almost always represents officers sued for on-the-job actions, told D’Andraia it wouldn’t defend him in court.

It looked like the city was cutting the cop loose, a step rarely taken in the hundreds of lawsuits filed every year against NYPD officers. But while a city lawyer won’t be representing D’Andraia in court, it turns out New Yorkers are still paying the law firm that is representing him in the case.

That’s because every year, the city treasury effectively bankrolls a union-controlled legal defense fund for officers. The little-known fund is financed in part by a direct city contribution of nearly $2 million a year that is expressly intended to pay for lawyers in civil cases like D’Andraia’s, where the Law Department has decided an officer’s conduct is essentially indefensible. Or, as the police union’s legal plan puts it, “when the City of New York fails or otherwise refuses to provide a legal defense.”

The money isn’t supposed to be used by the union, the Police Benevolent Association, “in any action directly or indirectly adverse to the interests of the City,” according to a 1985 letter memorializing the deal that established the annual taxpayer contribution. But the agreement doesn’t define those “interests,” and the city is typically a co-defendant in such cases, as it is in the lawsuit by Zayer. So even as the city might distance itself from an officer, it could still argue that the government’s legal interests are best served by its employee having robust legal representation.

“It’s not bad public policy to invest and make sure that all sides have adequate representation,” said Zachary Carter, who ran the Law Department from 2014 to 2019.

But critics say that subsidizing such defenses could undercut police accountability by sending a message to officers that the city will back them no matter what.

“The bottom line is this is scandalous,” said Joel Berger, a lawyer who specializes in police abuse cases and who, in the 1990s, served as a senior official in the Law Department who decided when the city should withdraw representation of officers. “It was a sweetheart deal with the union and it should never have been agreed to.”

Neither the mayor’s office nor the Law Department would address detailed questions from ProPublica about the fund, including . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2021 at 2:51 pm

An unholy union: The battle in Bessemer

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Kim Kelly has an excellent report in Vox that gives a fuller picture of what is at stake and why the union movement there has energy (and why Amazon is panicked about it). Read the article. Here are two paragraphs from it:

In a statement to Vox similar to one issued to other news organizations, Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox noted the starting pay, full health care, 401(k) match, and other benefits the company provides its Bessemer workforce. “We don’t believe [the retail workers’ union, under which the workers would organize] represents the majority of our employees’ views,” she wrote. “Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”

But organizers say the union effort is not a fight over a $15 or $16 wage — though Amazon founder Jeff Bezos made nearly $75 billion in 2020. It is a matter of morality, of just who will make money off their labors. It’s a question of good and evil, about what is righteous, and just, and fair. For these workers and the organizers who have traveled from across the South to support their unionization effort, this is their David and Goliath story. What they want is dignity.

See also “On the Overnight Shift with the Amazon Union Organizers,” by Charles Bethea, in the New Yorker. It begins:

At three-twenty-seven on a recent morning in Bessemer, Alabama, Randy Hadley, a sixty-five-year-old man, was dancing at a traffic light. He wore a fedora and had a trimmed white goatee, and he waved a sign as he shimmied: “Without Change, Nothing Changes.” Beside him, a burly younger man named Curtis Gray held up a different sign: “Don’t Back Down.” Gray watched Hadley, who, in turn, watched workers file out of the nine-hundred-thousand-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center up the hill, near where ancient Native American mounds once stood.

“I don’t know what kind of dance that is,” Gray said, pulling his hood up against the cold. He and Hadley, members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, have been passing out pamphlets and holding up their signs in this spot almost every day since October, in an attempt to unionize a group of Amazon workers in America for the first time. Voting on whether to form a union has already begun. Gray’s earliest successful campaign was at the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant, in Russellville, Alabama, a decade ago. Hadley’s been at it longer. He has honed the art of talking through boredom and bad weather.

“You could drive from here to Ohio, he’d talk the whole way,” Gray said.

“Coldest I’ve ever been on a line was in Minnesota,” Hadley said. “Windchill thirty-five below zero. To strike a Hormel factory in fucking February!” He tossed off some of his greatest hits: “I’ve organized a peanut-butter plant in Albany. A dog-food plant in Virginia. Poultry plants in Mississippi. All kinds of nursing homes. Piggly Wigglys.” He added, “I tried to organize a condom plant down in, uh . . . ”

“Eufaula,” Gray said.

“Down in Eufaula, yeah,” Hadley went on.

“That’s the one that Steve Harvey ended up buying,” Gray added.

Around four-fifteen, traffic picked up. Some workers waved as they drove away. Others honked. A few offered a thumbs-up. The majority sped into the dark without a sideward glance.

“She’s gotta drive all the way back to Walker County,” Gray said, reading the license plate of a beat-up Honda. “That’s a long ways.”

“Bless her heart,” Hadley said. He went on, “We’re here this early just in case she rolls her window down and we can lean over there and have a conversation for two minutes.” He added, “Some days you’ll catch fifteen. Some days you’ll catch fifty. It’s just like going fishing.”

Eventually, Hadley was in need of a rest room. “Jeff Bezos just built a house with twenty-five bathrooms,” he said when he returned from the woods.

“They ain’t got twenty-five in there,” Gray said, motioning to the warehouse.

A man drove by and honked affirmatively. “Our president was down here the other day,” Hadley said, “and he goes, ‘Everybody is so friendly. How do you know if they don’t like you?’ I said, ‘Trust me—you’ll get that finger in just a second.’ ”

Traffic picked up again around five. Employees  . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2021 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Unions

Why is Amazon so terrified of workers forming a union?

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Here’s my take on it: my article in Medium’s “Age of Awareness.”

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2021 at 9:03 pm

‘It’s Not Fair to Get Fired for Going to the Bathroom’ – An Amazon worker in Alabama on the fight for a union.

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Darryl Richards, an Amazon warehouse employee in Bessemer AL talked to Sarah Porter of New York:

Every shift, Darryl Richardson clocks in to the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, at 7:15 in the morning. He walks up four flights of stairs, and waits. Soon a robot arrives with a pod, which holds inside it the parts of someone’s Amazon order. Richardson picks out the items, places them in a tote, hits a button, and starts the process all over again. He does this for 10 to 11 hours a day, except for two breaks lasting 30 minutes each. 

The work is grueling, and last year, Richardson decided to do something about it. He contacted the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to ask about the process of unionizing his Bessemer facility. Now he and his co-workers have entered the final days of voting on whether to unionize, an outcome Amazon has vigorously fought to avoid. If the company loses, other warehouses could unionize quickly behind Bessemer: In the weeks since RWDSU went public with its organizing drive, over 1,000 Amazon workers in other cities have inquired about a union.

Though Amazon pays its warehouse associates $15 an hour and offers some limited benefits, Richardson describes dehumanizing conditions inside his warehouse. Workers still aren’t paid enough for their physically demanding labor, he said, and Amazon is so greedy for their time that they can barely go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. Amazon needs a union, he told Intelligencer, and they need one right now. 

I’m a picker. And you got employees called stowing. Stowing is putting into a pod the items that you ordered, and I’m the one who takes them out.  I wait till the robot come around. A monitor lets me know, when the robot come around, what I pull from in that pod. I pull the item from the pod,  I put it in a tote.

From 11 to 10 hours a day, only two breaks, it’s very stressful. It’s very tiring. Oh, you be sore. Your wrists be sore. Your legs be sore. You be cramping up. It’s devastating and it’s really rough. There really ain’t no way to stay comfortable because you’ve got to move when the robots move. Every minute that you don’t pick, you get “time off task” [also known as TOT]. If you leave your space and go to the bathroom, your time is getting docked. If you get up to two hours of TOT, that leads to termination. It really is not fair for employees to get fired for going to the bathroom. Sometimes the water in the bathrooms isn’t working on the floor, and you have to go down another flight of stairs to go to the bathroom.

I organized because of the TOT policy, employees being fired for not being six feet apart, promotions, pay raises. Oh, you are definitely not getting paid for what you do out there. Only two 30-minute breaks within 11 to 10 hours. It’s not right. It’s just an indication that you need to do some changes. I never worked for a company that would dock you for going to the bathroom. Who would do that? They change the schedule while you sleep. . ..

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2021 at 3:50 pm

17 Reasons to Let the Economic Optimism Begin

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Neil Irwin writes in the NY Times:

The 21st-century economy has been a two-decade series of punches in the gut.

The century began in economic triumphalism in the United States, with a sense that business cycles had been vanquished and prosperity secured for a blindingly bright future. Instead, a mild recession was followed by a weak recovery followed by a financial crisis followed by another weak recovery followed by a pandemic-induced collapse. A couple of good years right before the pandemic aside, it has been two decades of overwhelming inequality and underwhelming growth — an economy in which a persistently weak job market has left vast human potential untapped, helping fuel social and political dysfunction.

Those two decades coincide almost precisely with my career as an economics writer. It is the reason, among my colleagues, I have a reputation for writing stories that run the gamut from ominous to gloomy to terrifying.

But strange as it may seem in this time of pandemic, I’m starting to get optimistic. It’s an odd feeling, because so many people are suffering — and because for so much of my career, a gloomy outlook has been the correct one.

Predictions are a hard business, of course, and much could go wrong that makes the decades ahead as bad as, or worse than, the recent past. But this optimism is not just about the details of the new pandemic relief legislation or the politics of the moment. Rather, it stems from a diagnosis of three problematic mega-trends, all related.

There has been a dearth of economy-altering innovation, the kind that fuels rapid growth in the economy’s productive potential. There has been a global glut of labor because of a period of rapid globalization and technological change that reduced workers’ bargaining power in rich countries. And there has been persistently inadequate demand for goods and services that government policy has been unable to fix.

There is not one reason, however, to think that these negative trends have run their course. There are 17.

1. The ketchup might be ready to flow

In 1987, the economist Robert Solow said, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.” Companies were making great use of rapid improvements in computing power, but the overall economy wasn’t really becoming more productive.

This analysis was right until it was wrong. Starting around the mid-1990s, technological innovations in supply chain management and factory production enabled companies to squeeze more economic output out of every hour of work and dollar of capital spending. This was an important reason for the economic boom of the late 1990s.

The Solow paradox, as the idea underlying his quote would later be called, reflected an insight: An innovation, no matter how revolutionary, will often have little effect on the larger economy immediately after it is invented. It often takes many years before businesses figure out exactly what they have and how it can be used, and years more to work out kinks and bring costs down.

In the beginning, it may even lower productivity! In the 1980s, companies that tried out new computing technology often needed to employ new armies of programmers as well as others to maintain old, redundant systems.

But once such hurdles are cleared, the innovation can spread with dizzying speed.

It’s like the old ditty: “Shake and shake the ketchup bottle. First none will come and then a lot’ll.”

Or, in a more formal sense, the economists Erik Brynjolfsson, Daniel Rock and Chad Syverson call this the “productivity J-curve,” in which an important new general-purpose technology — they use artificial intelligence as a contemporary example — initially depresses apparent productivity, but over time unleashes much stronger growth in economic potential. It looks as if companies have been putting in a lot of work for no return, but once those returns start to flow, they come faster than once seemed imaginable.

There are several areas where innovation seems to be at just such a point, and not just artificial intelligence.

2. 2020s battery technology looks kind of like 1990s microprocessors

Remember Moore’s Law? It was the idea that the number of transistors that could be put on an integrated circuit would double every two years as manufacturing technology improved. That is the reason you may well be wearing a watch with more computer processing power than the devices that sent people into outer space in the 1960s.

Battery technology isn’t improving at quite that pace, but it’s not far behind it. The price of lithium-ion battery packs has fallen 89 percent in inflation-adjusted terms since 2010, according to BloombergNEF, and is poised for further declines. There have been similar advances in solar cells, raising the prospect of more widespread inexpensive clean energy.

Another similarity: Microprocessors and batteries are not ends unto themselves, but rather technologies that enable lots of other innovation. Fast, cheap computer chips led to software that revolutionized the modern economy; cheap batteries and solar cells could lead to a wave of innovation around how energy is generated and used. We’re only at the early stages of that process.

3. Emerging innovations can combine in unexpected ways

In the early part of the 20th century, indoor plumbing was sweeping the nation. So was home electricity. But the people installing those pipes and those power lines presumably had no idea that by the 1920s, the widespread availability of electricity and free-flowing water in homes would enable the adoption of the home washing machine, a device that saved Americans vast amounts of time and backbreaking labor.

It required not just electricity and running water, but also revolutions in manufacturing techniques, production and distribution. All those innovations combined to make domestic life much easier.

Could a combination of technologies now maturing create more improvement in living standards than any of them could in isolation?

Consider driverless cars and trucks. They will rely on long-building research in artificial intelligence software, sensors and batteries. After years of hype, billions of dollars in investment, and millions of miles of test drives, the possibilities are starting to come into view.

Waymo, a sister company of Google, has opened a driverless taxi service to the public in the Phoenix suburbs. Major . . .

Continue reading. There are 14 more reasons to be optimistic.

I should, however, point out that driverless autos and trucks will eliminate millions of jobs: no more cab, Uber, Lyft, trucking — that is no more jobs — the services will still be available, but using driverless vehicles, so cab companies, Uber, Lyft, and trucking companies might do very well indeed with payroll at zero. Unions might have something to say about that, but with no workers, no unions.

In a way, it’s a perfection of capitalism: the capitalist purchases the means of production — the driverless cars, the energy to run them, pay for maintenance — and other than maintenance expenses s/he has to pay no one else. All the profit can come directly to the capitalist, who no longer must share.

And since capitalists do not need to spend all that much on themselves, not so much money goes back into the economy. Instead of millions of workers getting paid and spending that money on themselves and their families, the money goes instead to a very small group.

So the workers don’t have any money to spend. And the economy goes into a nose-dive.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2021 at 5:24 pm

Amazon workers DEFINITELY need a union

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Edward Ongweso Jr. writes in Vice what at first would seem dystopian science-fiction but in fact is modern-day reality:

Amazon’s warehouses are notorious for the company’s exploitative labor practices, which include technological interventions designed to push workers harder. On Monday, The Information reported that Amazon is in the midst of a massive expansion to its FC Games program, which attempts to gamify repetitive tasks and spur competition for digital rewards.

Warehouses in at least 20 states have begun offering the optional games, according to The Information, which workers can “play” by completing work tasks. Completing tasks gives out digital rewards that allows them to “buy virtual narwhals, dinosaurs, and other electronic pets,” the outlet reported.

Six of these games are currently available, The Information reported. They have names “like MissionRacer, PicksInSpace, Dragon Duel and CastleCrafter,” the Washington Post previously reported, and mimic real work tasks with a veneer of simple computer graphics.

Amazon goes to extraordinary lengths to increase productivity—a great deal of why it is such a logistics juggernaut comes down to how far it pushes workers. The company has forced workers into “megacycle shifts” where you are expected to do a 10-hour graveyard shift or lose your job, for example.

Amazon’s demanding productivity quotas have also created safety crises by pushing delivery drivers and warehouse workers to the brink. It has also preserved its unsafe working conditions during the pandemic and often forced workers across its sprawling empire to work without adequate protections. Thanks to its monopoly and monopsony powers, however, the company has largely avoided any consequences for this.

One Amazon worker told The Information that the FC Games program reminded them of an episode in Black Mirror—”Fifteen Million Merits”—where daily life is gamified in a futuristic hell hole: -people live their lives in rooms where every surface is an interactive screen displaying advertisements and entertainment. To go about life each day, they must earn “merits” or digital rewards that let them pay for their needs.

“Employees have told us they enjoy having the option to join in these workstation games, and we’re excited to be taking their feedback and expanding the program to even more buildings throughout our network,” Kent Hollenbeck, an Amazon spokesperson, told The Information. “Even with this expansion, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2021 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Unions

Amazon Is Paying Employees to Quit Right Before Critical Union Vote

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Corporations are terrified that the people they employ might want not to be exploited and want to have a voice regarding their working conditions and salaries. Edward Ongweso, Jr., reports in Vice:

An annual program in which Amazon offers to pay workers at least $1,000 to quit their jobs could threaten a unionization drive in Bessemer, Alabama.

On Sunday, there were concerns on Twitter that the drive was specifically targeted at the Bessemer warehouse, but Amazon runs this program nationally and has for several years. This year’s program, and internal documentation spelling it out, was first reported by labor reporter Kim Kelly. “We love that you’re part of the team. But if you have goals outside of Amazon, we want to support you,” a handout obtained by Kelly says. “That’s why we have a voluntary resignation program called ‘The Offer’ — an exit bonus starting at $1,000, based on how many Peaks you’ve worked.”

Regardless of its national scope, if workers in Bessemer who are supportive of the union take it, the drive there could be threatened.

“I researched and found out they do it at a lot of facilities and what not. But it was a good time to do it now in Bessemer. That could hurt the votes,” Michael Foster, one of the leaders of Bessemer’s union drive, told Motherboard. “If they quit the vote won’t count. To me it’s just to prevent the people from getting the union in. They need to thin out some people. It’s kind of a polite way to do it.”

The program is an annual one done each February. Bessemer’s warehouse opened in March so this is their first run-in with the buyout. The program is first mentioned in a 2014 letter to shareholders—then dubbed “Pay to Quit”—but, as the letter states, “invented by the clever people at Zappos” which was acquired by Amazon in 2009. It is now called “The Offer,” as it was at Zappos. In a 2008 essay reviewing the practice, Harvard Business Review framed the tactic as a way for Zappos to filter out those who “don’t have the sense of commitment they are looking for.”

Amazon adopted a similar tune in its 2014 shareholder letter, saying that it made this offer to “encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want.” What really mattered, Amazon added, was that “an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.” To that end, Amazon offers $2,000 for one to two “peaks” at Amazon (employment on or before December 1), and an additional $1,000 for each year until you reach $5,000.

“Amazon has a number of different opportunities that are designed to help employees achieve their personal and professional goals,” an Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard. “While we hope employees stay with and grow their careers at Amazon, this is a voluntary program that’s designed to provide extra support for those who decide that Amazon isn’t part of their long-term career plan, and it’s been offered every year since 2014.”

John Burgett, an Amazon worker in a Jeffersonville, Indiana warehouse who closely documented his experiences from 2014 to 2016, offered a different rationale for the program:

“It appears that Amazon accomplishes two goals with “The Offer.” It removes inveterate employees whom the company might consider a liability and an unnecessary expense so it can replace them with fresh new-hires at starting wage with no tenure regarding benefits. It saves the company money in stock payouts, 401k payouts, regular and overtime pay, vacation pay, VCP payments, other [sic] benefits. In this way, “The Offer” payout is quickly recovered, and what remains is all savings to the company.”

Even before “The Offer,” Amazon has gone to great lengths to deter workers that include, but are not limited to: . . ..

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2021 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Unions

Here’s How Everyone In the Country Saved Democracy

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Kevin Drum has a good post on an article in Time magazine (and the article also is worth reading):

Molly Ball wrote a deeply reported piece in Time last week about the campaign to prevent Donald Trump from trying to steal the election. Her main character is Mike Podhorzer, a senior adviser to the president of the AFL-CIO, who figured out a year ahead of time that Trump was likely to yell fraud if the 2020 election was even remotely close. A few months later he was ready to put a counter-offensive in place:

On March 3, Podhorzer drafted a three-page confidential memo titled “Threats to the 2020 Election.” “Trump has made it clear that this will not be a fair election, and that he will reject anything but his own re-election as ‘fake’ and rigged,” he wrote. “On Nov. 3, should the media report otherwise, he will use the right-wing information system to establish his narrative and incite his supporters to protest.”

….In April, Podhorzer began hosting a weekly 2½-hour Zoom….The meetings became the galactic center for a constellation of operatives across the left who shared overlapping goals but didn’t usually work in concert…. “Pod played a critical behind-the-scenes role in keeping different pieces of the movement infrastructure in communication and aligned,” says Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party. “You have the litigation space, the organizing space, the political people just focused on the W, and their strategies aren’t always aligned. He allowed this ecosystem to work together.”

This is a good read all by itself, but the really important stuff comes later. Apologies for the length of the following excerpt, but I promise I have a point to make:

Laura Quinn, a veteran progressive operative who co-founded Catalist, began studying [online disinformation] a few years ago…. The solution, she concluded, was to pressure platforms to enforce their rules, both by removing content or accounts that spread disinformation and by more aggressively policing it in the first place…. In November 2019, Mark Zuckerberg invited nine civil rights leaders to dinner at his home…. “It took pushing, urging, conversations, brainstorming, all of that to get to a place where we ended up with more rigorous rules and enforcement,” says Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who attended the dinner and also met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and others.

….Beyond battling bad information, there was a need to explain a rapidly changing election process…. Dick Gephardt, the Democratic former House leader turned high-powered lobbyist…worked his contacts in the private sector to put $20 million behind the effort.

….About a week before Election Day, Podhorzer received an unexpected message: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wanted to talk…. “With tensions running high, there was a lot of concern about unrest around the election, or a breakdown in our normal way we handle contentious elections,” says Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer. These worries had led the Chamber to release a pre-election statement with the Business Roundtable, a Washington-based CEOs’ group, as well as associations of manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers, calling for patience and confidence as votes were counted.

But Bradley wanted to send a broader, more bipartisan message…. Agreeing that their unlikely alliance would be powerful, they began to discuss a joint statement….As it was being finalized, Christian leaders signaled their interest in joining, further broadening its reach. The statement was released on Election Day, under the names of Chamber CEO Thomas Donohue, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, and the heads of the National Association of Evangelicals and the National African American Clergy Network.

There’s more, and Ball could have added that once the Trump disinformation campaign went into full swing after the election, every single person in charge of counting votes—county clerks, attorneys general, secretaries of state—opposed Trump’s effort. The same goes for judges in the several dozen lawsuits Trump launched. He lost them all, regardless of whether the judge had been appointed by a Democratic or Republican president.

Now, the normal takeaway from Ball’s piece is shock and dismay that it took a fight of this magnitude to overcome Trump’s anti-democracy jihad. But I take something different away: If you . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 February 2021 at 11:50 am

How the Police Bank Millions Through Their Union Contracts

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Andrew Ford, Asbury Park Press, and Agnes Chang, Jeff Kao, and Agnel Philip, ProPublica, report:

One town’s police contract guaranteed a retiring lieutenant $121,000 for unused sick time. Another’s promises officers six months pay with no work required as a parting retirement benefit. In another contract, cops get paid $109 an hour for side gigs like monitoring traffic at construction sites.

Despite attempts to rein in police union contracts in New Jersey, costly provisions remain common, an unprecedented analysis by the Asbury Park Press and ProPublica found. The news outlets identified contract clauses throughout the state that protect officer payouts that cost the public hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 2010, state lawmakers passed a law to stop huge retirement payouts for unused sick days, but taxpayers are still funding the largesse. North Bergen approved generous payments to four retiring officers in 2019, including a sergeant who got $75,330.32 for unused sick time. Some retirement payouts can be even higher. In 2017, a chief in Jersey City collected more than half a million dollars.

The debt for unused sick time and vacation time, which is largely dictated by the contracts, totaled at least $492.9 million for municipal police alone in 2019, according to a review of town budget records. The liability is primarily due to officers who were hired before the 2010 law passed.

The Press and ProPublica also found that unions and towns have a loophole that gets around the limit the state Legislature put on the payouts. Unlike in the private sector, where many companies require employees to use or lose their sick and vacation time each year, some union deals allow officers to sell back their unused sick time annually, which could allow new hires to exceed the $15,000 limit the state put on such payouts at retirement. Four officers in Norwood appear to have already exceeded the state limit with annual payouts. Norwood Borough Attorney Kevin Corriston said he believed the town was in compliance, but that he was unfamiliar with the law and would investigate further.

New Jersey State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, did not like hearing that the state law can be subverted.

“We obviously changed the law because we felt what was going on was wrong,” O’Scanlon said. “It’s a disservice to property taxpayers. Pure and simple.”

Reporters downloaded thousands of police union contracts from a state website and used a machine-learning computer analysis to identify provisions related to financial perks and discipline. Then the reporters read and counted provisions in 245 contracts that were in effect as of Jan. 1, 2019.

The contracts were laden with various financial perks. In nearly two dozen towns, they guarantee retiring cops months of pay, dubbed “terminal leave,” while doing no work. In Asbury Park, retirees get a golden badge. Some towns give a “perfect attendance” bonus if officers do not use sick time. In one town it’s a $600 gift card. In another the “attendance incentive” can tally up to $2,500 a year.

High-paying “extra duty” jobs — like sitting in a patrol car monitoring traffic at a road construction site — are also protected by the contracts. One department launched an internal investigation after the Press and ProPublica identified an officer logging nearly 28 straight work hours between his day job and his moonlighting.

New Jersey officers already enjoy the third-highest base salaries in the nation, as well as generous pensions and health care benefits. The costly compensation contributes to the state’s top rank for property taxes.

Beyond the financial benefits, at a time when there’s a national call for police accountability, the contracts include clauses that experts say can impede discipline.

Reporters found contracts in 20 towns that say police officers facing discipline are entitled to know the name of the person who complained about them. Hoboken’s contract says records of police discipline will be expunged and removed from an officer’s personnel files after five years. Contacted by a reporter, officials in several towns, including Hoboken, said  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Policing in the US is, if not broken, badly bent.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 February 2021 at 3:38 pm

The Future Encyclopedia of Luddism: An alternative economic and industrial history and future

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Miriam A. Cherry writes in The MIT Press Reader:

In common parlance, the term “Luddite” means someone who is anti-technology, or maybe, just not adept at using technology. Historically, however, the Luddite movement was a reaction born of industrial accidents and dangerous machines, poor working conditions, and the fact that there were no unions to represent worker interests during England’s initial period of industrialization. The Luddites did not hate technology; they only channeled their anger toward machine-breaking because it had nowhere else to go.

What you are about to read is an alternate history (an encyclopedia entry from circa 2500) that depends on the critical assumption that the Luddites succeeded in their industrial campaign in the 1810s. Instead of techno-determinism (that the development of technology is inevitable, and that society will alter and adjust to it) the Encyclopedia entry notes that the Luddites, in their success, formulated a different, yet productive, relationship between society and the development of technology.


Originating in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution in the first two decades of the 19th century, Luddism was a movement arising as a response to poor working conditions in nascent textile manufacturing businesses. The Luddite movement was a precursor to the development of the economic philosophy known as Sustainomics, which promotes technological development that adheres to principles of Utilitarianism and Human Flourishing Doctrines. Sustainomics began its rise in the early part of the 20th century and has remained the dominant economic system of the Hemispheric Union for the past 600 years.

Beginning in the early 19th century, foreign wars coupled with high unemployment and food shortages caused widespread desperation among the populace. Many seeking “earned wages” went to work in rudimentary industrial factories. With no safety standards and shoddy medical care, industrial accidents were quite common.

As corn became increasingly scarce in the winter of 1810 to 1811, groups of workers who could not pay for food and shelter became even more desperate. Under the Combination Act of 1799, Parliament had outlawed unions. It was amidst these stark conditions that the Luddites began to organize in secret. The Luddite Movement was open to both women workers and child laborers. Indeed, women and children comprised roughly 40 percent of the Luddite membership.

Leadership of General Ned Ludd and Origin of the Term ‘Luddite’

Many stories and legends have grown up around the esteemed figure of General Ned Ludd, named by “Passage Zine” as one of the “Top 10 Most Influential People of the Last Thousand Years.” Hailed as a visionary even in his own time, the Luddite Councils are named in his honor. The complete story of Ludd’s life and times is told in “The Epic Saga of General Ludd.” While stylized, the Saga has largely been corroborated with the archaeological records.

As an orphan, young Ned grew up in the late 1790s in a “workhouse,” a facility that existed to make people “earn their keep,” to use the antiquated terminology and backward thinking of the time. Ned was trained in the textile trade as a boy. Contemporary sources recount 15-year-old Ned being beaten when he refused to work at a machine that had, only moments beforehand, severed one of his co-worker’s arms. After several days of docked wages, Ned, still nursing bruises from his beating, was told to go back to work on that same dangerous device. As every schoolchild learns in reading “The Luddite Primer,” young Ned seized a hammer and smashed the hazardous machine. Within a fortnight Ned had fled the factory and joined the British army.

Although he had only a brief stint in the military, young Ned was a quick student of battlefield strategy. Returning to Huddersfield just a few years later, his supporters styled him “General Ludd.” As the Movement increased in popularity over the summer of 1811, a large crowd gathered at Huddersfield. By the time the Movement began in earnest, Ned Ludd’s supporters numbered over 100,000. Luddite supporters were characterized by their sense of utmost loyalty and solidarity to their brothers and sisters in the Movement. Despite the large number of supporters and the completely rudimentary communication available at the time, the Movement, its leaders and its political and social aims remained a well-guarded secret to factory owners and the government alike.

Takeover of Factories

Beginning in November 1811, General Ludd and his right-hand man, Lt George Mellor, surrounded, took and held factories throughout the textile district of Nottinghamshire. Their first victory, at Cartwrights Mill at Rawfolds, is now the site of the Mellor Memorial Museum, which contains many of the original documents so central to the Luddite Movement. Much of the success of the early campaigns was largely due to the fact that the Luddites were chiefly a peaceful movement. Contemporaneous newspaper accounts described individual events as the “occupation” of factories. This characterization has since been disputed by researchers, and definitive archaeological studies have completely repudiated these polemic accounts as wholly fabricated. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 January 2021 at 4:58 pm

Around and Around Rotterdam

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Rotterdam has the largest harbor in Europe. A few days ago I posted a 10-minute time-lapse video of travel by water from Rotterdam to Amsterdam — quite a pleasant trip — and here’s a shorter video that remains in Rotterdam.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2020 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Daily life, Unions

Labor Day post on the cost to workers of not have a strong union

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Kevin Drum explains the dollar significance of that chart in a brief post.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 September 2020 at 5:11 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, GOP, Unions

Ed Mullins and the protection of police corruption and brutality

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James D. Walsh writes in New York:

On a recent Monday morning, Joe Piscopo — “former Saturday Night Live superstar” — used his AM-radio show to decry the plight of Italian Americans. City officials in Newark, New Jersey, had just taken down a statue of Christopher Columbus, and Piscopo feared other effigies of the Italian explorer might be under threat. “If these creepy losers, these thugs, go near that statue in Columbus Circle, we will mobilize,” he vowed. Then he welcomed his next guest, who picked up where Piscopo left off without missing a beat.

“I was just listening to you talk about the Columbus statue and the attack on the Italian Americans, and you’re 100 percent correct,” said Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, which represents nearly 5,000 officers of the NYPD. “We’re wiping away our history, and we’re painting Black Lives Matter signs in the streets.” As a regular on the conservative-media circuit, Mullins has perfected the art of playing directly to the fears of older white voters. “What they’re attacking is the fiber for what we believe in. They’re attacking law and order and authority. When they get past us, Joe, they will be in your studio taking control of the message. They will be in people’s homes taking control of their homes, running the subways, not letting children play in parks. The silent majority cannot sit by and be silent.”

When they get past us. Mullins didn’t say who “they” were, but it was clear whom he meant by “us”: the brave men and women of the NYPD. The city’s 36,000 police officers are represented by five different unions, each covering a specific rank — patrol, detective, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. The SBA is relatively small compared with the Police Benevolent Association, which has 24,000 dues-paying members, making it the country’s largest municipal police union. Patrick Lynch, the president of the PBA, has played the most high-profile role in combating attempts by lawmakers and activists to curtail police abuses, often in brash, hyperbolic sound bites. “We have a progressive mayor that’s anti-police, the City Council that’s anti-police, and the statehouse is anti-police,” Lynch recently complained to President Trump. “They’re changing the law, where it’s becoming impossible to do our job.”

But talk to anyone familiar with New York law enforcement — from NYPD brass to city and state lawmakers — and they will tell you that, compared with Mullins, Lynch is a genteel statesman. Whatever his union lacks in size, Mullins makes up for in maximalist rhetoric. Over the past nine months alone, he has called Mayor de Blasio a liar, a disgrace, and “full of shit.” He declared war on the mayor on behalf of the entire NYPD and used the union’s Twitter account to dox de Blasio’s daughter, calling her a “rioting anarchist.” Mullins claimed that by enacting bail reform, Governor Cuomo was “holding down the hands of a victim while they’re being raped.” He denounced high-ranking police officers as “whores” for kneeling with protesters, and he called Dr. Oxiris Barbot, then the city’s health commissioner, a “bitch.” When I asked him, recently, how his members were served by such vulgar remarks, Mullins insisted that his approach is no different than tweeting the phrase black lives matter. “It draws attention,” he said.

During his nearly two decades as president of the SBA, Mullins has used that attention to fend off virtually every attempt, no matter how modest, to curb police brutality and corruption. In his view, police are not above the law. Rather, the law should empower police to operate however they choose, almost entirely free of oversight or consequence. If the pace of police reform seems glacial, even in the wake of the global uprisings over the death of George Floyd, that’s because Mullins has helped push the outer edge of the debate so far to the right that even the smallest compromise seems unthinkable. In 2003, he suggested cops should be allowed to sue the estates of people they shoot for emotional damages. In 2006, he demanded Mayor Bloomberg apologize for saying he was “deeply disturbed” that police shot Sean Bell, an unarmed Black man, 50 times. He has fought against mandatory Breathalyzer tests for cops who fire their weapons on duty and defended an officer who was caught on video smashing a handcuffed 14-year-old through a window. The union has deployed its lawyers to protect sergeants accused of sexual harassment, racism, manslaughter, fudging crime complaints, and drunkenly shooting up an ATM. In 2017, when Brooklyn College asked NYPD officers in need of a bathroom break to respect the wishes of students by steering clear of most restrooms on campus, the SBA hinted darkly about the threat of active shooters and terrorists. “Maybe,” the union tweeted, “it’s time people get what they ask for.”

Name-calling and threats aside, much of Mullins’s power comes from his longevity — and his ability to cause trouble for his superiors. “He has been a thorn in the side of four commissioners,” says Bill Bratton, who served as police commissioner under de Blasio and Rudy Giuliani. “He has always been a pain in the ass.” Mullins also enjoys fierce loyalty from the rank and file, who love his zealous, uninhibited defense of cops. As one sergeant described it to me, “Mullins speaks the truth.” By staying on the offensive, this leader of a small, little-known labor union has forged an outsize role in the national debate over the use and overuse of force by law-enforcement officers. Patrick Lynch, who has the hair and temperament of a college-basketball coach, may be the face of police defiance, but Ed Mullins is its angriest and most unfiltered voice.

“Mullins is a wartime leader,” an anonymous poster wrote recently on Law Enforcement Rant, a popular message board where current and former NYPD officers go to vent, often in explicitly racist terms. “He has a backbone of steel. God bless you, Sarge, I’d follow you anywhere.”

“I’m a patriot,” Mullins told me, minutes after his appearance on Piscopo’s show. “I’m basically for people enjoying their lives. I don’t care what the color of their skin is.”

Mullins was sitting behind his desk in the union’s headquarters in Tribeca. Like roughly a quarter of all NYPD officers, he drives into work each day from his home on Long Island. He hadn’t put on his tie yet, and, like the other SBA officials milling around the office, he wasn’t wearing a mask. He was, however, wearing a gun on his belt. The union’s bylaws require its president be a police officer, which means Mullins, though he works full-time as a labor boss, is still a sergeant in the NYPD. In 2018, he was paid $130,542 by the city and $86,818 by the union.

For half a century, police unions were the rare labor organizations that enjoyed the favor of both union-loving Democrats and law-and-order Republicans. Now, as calls mount to “defund the police,” unions like the SBA are facing an unprecedented level of criticism and scrutiny. “More and more of the public is becoming educated about what a destructive role the unions have played,” says Joo-Hyun Kang, director of Communities United for Police Reform.

But if Mullins is worried about his union’s future, he doesn’t show it. In person, he is jarringly friendly and polite, his New York accent softened by his drowsy cadence. “I know that the newspapers try to label me a racist,” he told me. “But it’s totally indefensible. They don’t know me. They don’t know where I come from, my background. They really have no clue what I do in my own life. And it doesn’t bother me at all.”

Mullins was raised in a very different era in the racial politics of New York. Born in 1962, he grew up with three siblings in an apartment in Greenwich Village, the son of a longshoreman who worked the West Side docks. His father wasn’t an active union man, but Mullins describes him as “the pope of Greenwich Village,” a guy who knew every family and shopkeeper in their small corner of Manhattan. Back then, the Village was an almost entirely white neighborhood in a deeply segregated city. But Mullins remembers the time wistfully as a model of racial harmony. “You had different races and different ethnic backgrounds in all different areas of the city, but everybody got along; everybody had respect for each other,” he says. “Most of the people I grew up with, their parents were laborers. If a criminal came into the neighborhood, it was the criminal against the neighborhood.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s important to know. Police unions at one time had good intentions.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 August 2020 at 3:00 pm

Universal unions

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Mark R Reiff, a political philosopher at the University of California, Davis, whose latest book is In the Name of Liberty: The Argument for Universal Unionization (2020), writes in Aeon:

For some time now, union membership has been steadily declining. In the United States, after reaching a peak in 1954 of 34.8 per cent for salaried workers (28.3 per cent for all employed workers), unionisation fell to 10.3 per cent for salaried workers in 2019 (and slightly less for all employed workers) – its lowest level in more than 75 years. In Australia, union membership has fallen from more than 50 per cent as recently as 1976 to just 14 per cent in 2016. And in the United Kingdom, union membership stood at more than 13 million workers at its peak in 1979; by 2014, it was down to 6.4 million, less than half the peak rate, and about where it was just before the Second World War. In many other liberal capitalist democracies, unionisation rates have been falling steadily as well.

In part, this decline comes from the success that unions have had in establishing better working conditions and wages for all. Joining a union simply seems less urgent now than it used to. In part, it’s due to changes in the relevant economies, where large numbers of unionised jobs in heavy manufacturing have been moved to less-unionised countries, and the jobs that remain are in industries that are more difficult to organise. Local outsourcing, where what used to be high-paying unionised jobs are moved to smaller, exploitative, non-unionised contractors, has also played a role. As have technological advances in automation, which have made many well-paying unionised jobs obsolete.

But this decline in union membership is also the result of decades of relentless attacks by the political Right against the very idea of unionisation – attacks that have been steadily increasing in both frequency and vigour, especially in the US. Union membership is now becoming sufficiently small that unions might soon lose their ability to adequately protect workers from economic and personal abuse, if they haven’t already. They might even lose their relevance as a political force.

Over the exact same period, we have also seen a dramatic rise in the share of income going to the top 1 per cent, and a lengthy stagnation in real wages for everybody else. Not surprisingly, studies show that the reduction in unionisation rates explains a good part of this phenomenon. These trends were then accentuated by the Great Recession of 2008. This caused a steep rise in unemployment, not only in the US but in other liberal capitalist democracies as well. And as unemployment came down over the following decade, employers replaced high-paying permanent unionised jobs providing good benefits with low-paying temporary non-unionised ones providing no benefits at all. Now that unemployment is soaring again because of the COVID-19 shutdown, the lack of unionisation also threatens public health. The overwhelming majority of essential workers are non-unionised, and they are, in many cases, being asked to work without adequate protective equipment, testing and physical distancing measures.

Joining a union has always been presented as part of the right of free association. That is, workers argue that they have a right to unionise; employers argue that they do not. But even when employers recognise the right of employees to unionise, they tirelessly place obstacles in front of those who would like to do so. Employers also try to starve unions of the funds that they need to operate.

Union supporters respond by emphasising that unionisation promotes the common good. That is, they argue that unions raise wages, improve working conditions, reduce income inequality, suppress invidious discrimination, and so on. Anti-union forces deny these claims, but these denials fall against the overwhelming weight of empirical evidence. The more successful anti-union argument is that compulsory unionisation is a violation or workers’ rights, just as a prohibition on voluntary unionisation would be. It is a violation, they claim, because the right to liberty gives workers the option to refuse to join a union if they don’t want to. Employers then lobby workers to vote against unionisation or to refuse to join even if unionisation passes.

But the claim that liberty protects workers against compulsory unionisation is perverse. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2020 at 10:54 am

Amazon Has Too Much Power. It Needs to be Unionized.

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As an introduction to this column, let me quote Matt Strasser, International Opinion Editor at the NY Times. He wrote in a newsletter this morning:

Would you walk away from several million dollars to stand up for someone else’s rights?
I’d like to think that I know what answer I’d give, but one can never be sure.

Unless you’re Tim Bray. In May, he quit his job as a vice president at Amazon Web Services — and in doing so likely sacrificed millions of dollars in compensation — to protest the fact that Amazon fired workers who were raising concerns about health and safety issues in the company’s warehouses.

Tim has an Op-Ed in The Times today, written with Christy Hoffman, the general secretary of UNI Global Union, taking his position even further: Amazon workers need a union, they write.

Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, will testify today in front of a House antitrust committee. The questions put to him will likely focus more on consumers than on workers, but it’s worth remembering the people who labor to make Amazon profitable: the delivery drivers and warehouse workers who are putting their health on the line. (Bezos is the richest man in the world, worth nearly $180 billion, and his company’s share price has skyrocketed thanks to the pandemic.)

Unions work. They lead to higher wages and better working conditions. (I recommend reading Cole Stangler’s piece from April on how unions successfully took on Amazon in France to get better workplace safety.) They require, essentially, some sacrifice: profits for people. [This is an excellent article, well worth reading. – LG]

Maybe you wouldn’t leave millions of dollars on the table. But what is the most you would be willing to give up to protect workers’ rights? Would you pay higher prices? Accept longer delivery times?

Just to get a feeling for how much a billion dollars is: suppose you spent $1 per second, around the clock.

$1 million would last just over 11.5 days (11 days 13 hours 45 minutes, roughly, given 246060 ( = 86,400) seconds per day)

$1 billion would last last about 31.6 years — 11,547 days. A billion is 1000 times as large as a million, so a billion dollars will last 1000 times as long: about 31 years 7 months (taking a year as 365.25 days)

The column by Bray and Hoffman begins:

Covid-19 has created strange bedfellows. Six months ago, a labor leader and an Amazon vice president would have been on opposite sides in discussing the future of work at Big Tech in general and Amazon in particular. Then on May 1, one of us, Tim, walked away from a senior role at Amazon Web Services, and potentially millions in compensation, in protest over the firing of workers who spoke out about conditions in the company’s warehouses.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen Big Tech share prices and revenue rocket, while some of Amazon’s warehouse workers say they fear coming to work and catching the coronavirus. The company’s decision to fire the activists who demanded safer jobs is unacceptable.

Both of us now agree: Amazon — and the rest of Big Tech — must change. And that includes allowing its workers to unionize.

We’re not alone in wanting accountability from these companies: Jeff Bezos and the heads of Facebook, Google and Apple will appear before the House judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee today.

The coronavirus has killed over half a million people worldwide and pushed global unemployment to rates not seen since the Great Depression. Shared sacrifice is called for, yet the burden has been far from even. Since mid-March, when quarantined shoppers turned to Amazon’s vast retail platform, its shareholder value increased by nearly $500 billion, to more than $1.4 trillion. Stock market shares are owned disproportionately by the richest people in society, and by Mr. Bezos in particular; his lead over the other richest people on earth has increased markedly.

This wealth is not shared with the workers who help create it. The temporary Covid-19-related hourly raise was rolled back in June, but the order flow remains high, making the already stressful work of those who sort, package and deliver Amazon goods even worse.

As this was unfolding, most of Big Tech, including Amazon, sent white-collar workers home to “flatten the curve” and fight the pandemic. Tim saw company leadership go to great lengths to make sure this new system was working and actively seek feedback from the remote workers. Christy heard from a warehouse employee who said productivity targets made it difficult for workers to take a break even for hand washing without a mark on their record. Pay for warehouse workers starts at $15 an hour with minimal access to time off; in May Amazon ended the unpaid leave policy that for a few weeks allowed them to stay home if they had Covid-19 symptoms. The contrast in the treatment of knowledge and warehouse workers couldn’t be starker. Equally clear is the cause: One group has power, the other doesn’t.

Amazon’s decision to fire the activists was easy to make in the United States, where Amazon workers have no union and are left to fend for themselves. With no right to paid sick leave or protection from unfair dismissal, American workers are among the most vulnerable in the world to pressure from any employer, not just Amazon.

Union-represented Amazon workers in Spain, Italy, France and Germany initially failed to resolve their concerns through negotiation, but with court action, regulatory intervention and strikes, they got their needs addressed.

Let’s look at France: Unions there brought a civil case arguing that Amazon had taken inadequate steps to protect workers from infection risk and that it had sidestepped the unions’ statutory role. The court ordered Amazon to limit its sales to only “essential” items, or face harsh penalties until it could reach a safety agreement with the unions. Rather than negotiate, Amazon closed its French operations and appealed. But the appellate court also sided with the workers, who ultimately negotiated a settlement including mandatory union consultation over safety measures, union hiring of external experts to assess the measures’ effectiveness and a continued increase in workers’ hourly pay. The news from Europe shows that Amazon can work with unions and get good results.

Both of us want Amazon to share the wealth with workers and stop putting the relentless pursuit of revenue growth ahead of all other concerns. One way or another, this requires putting more power in the hands of workers. Regulation and legislation are part of the solution. But there’s no need to wait; power can be taken, not just given. That’s what unions are for. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2020 at 11:58 am

A Major Medical Staffing Company Just Slashed Benefits for Doctors and Nurses Fighting Coronavirus — because profits above all

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Isaac Arnsdorf has an interesting report in ProPublica:

Emergency room doctors and nurses many of whom are dealing with an onslaught of coronavirus patients and shortages of protective equipment — are now finding out that their compensation is getting cut.

Most ER providers in the U.S. work for staffing companies that have contracts with hospitals. Those staffing companies are losing revenue as hospitals postpone elective procedures and non-coronavirus patients avoid emergency rooms. Health insurers are processing claims more slowly as they adapt to a remote workforce.

“Despite the risks our providers are facing, and the great work being done by our teams, the economic challenges brought forth by COVID-19 have not spared our industry,” Steve Holtzclaw, the CEO of Alteon Health, one of the largest staffing companies, wrote in a memo to employees on Monday.

The memo announced that the company would be reducing hours for clinicians, cutting pay for administrative employees by 20%, and suspending 401(k) matches, bonuses and paid time off. Holtzclaw indicated that the measures were temporary but didn’t know how long they would last.

“It’s completely demoralizing,” said an Alteon clinician who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “At this time, of all times, we’re putting ourselves at risk but also putting our families at risk.”

Some co-workers are already taking on extra burdens such as living apart from their families to avoid the risk of infecting them, the clinician said. “A lot of sacrifices are being made on the front line that the administration is not seeing because they’re not stepping foot in a hospital,” she said. “I’ve completely lost trust with this company.”

Other employers will soon follow suit, Holtzclaw said, citing conversations with his counterparts across the industry. “You can be assured that similar measures are being contemplated within these organizations and will likely be implemented in the coming weeks,” he wrote.

However, another major staffing company for emergency rooms, TeamHealth, said its employees would not be affected. “We are not instituting any reduction in pay or benefits,” TeamHealth said in a statement to ProPublica. “This is despite incurring significant cost for staffing in anticipation of surging volumes, costs related to quarantined and sick physicians, and costs for PPE as we work hard to protect our clinicians from the virus.”

Alteon and its private-equity backer, Frazier Healthcare Partners, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Private equity investors have increasingly acquired doctors’ practices in recent years, according to a study published in February in JAMA. TeamHealth was bought by Blackstone Group in 2016; another top staffing firm, Envision Healthcare, is owned by KKR. (The staffing companies have also been implicated in the controversy over “surprise billing.”)

Hospital operators have also announced cuts. Tenet Healthcare, a Dallas-based publicly traded company that runs 65 hospitals, said it would postpone 401(k) matches and tighten spending on contractors and vendors. Emergency room doctors at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have been told some of their accrued pay is being held back, according to The Boston Globe. More than 1,100 staffers at Atrius Health in Massachusetts are facing reduced paychecks or unpaid furloughs, and raises for medical staff at South Shore Health, another health system in Massachusetts, are being delayed. Several other hospitals have also announced furloughs. . .

Continue reading.

Profits über alles. “Best healthcare system in th world.” Not.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2020 at 5:06 pm

How hard will robot overseers push workers?

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Josh Dzieza writes in The Verge:

On conference stages and at campaign rallies, tech executives and politicians warn of a looming automation crisis — one where workers are gradually, then all at once, replaced by intelligent machines. But their warnings mask the fact that an automation crisis has already arrived. The robots are here, they’re working in management, and they’re grinding workers into the ground.

The robots are watching over hotel housekeepers, telling them which room to clean and tracking how quickly they do it. They’re managing software developers, monitoring their clicks and scrolls and docking their pay if they work too slowly. They’re listening to call center workers, telling them what to say, how to say it, and keeping them constantly, maximally busy. While we’ve been watching the horizon for the self-driving trucks, perpetually five years away, the robots arrived in the form of the supervisor, the foreman, the middle manager.

These automated systems can detect inefficiencies that a human manager never would — a moment’s downtime between calls, a habit of lingering at the coffee machine after finishing a task, a new route that, if all goes perfectly, could get a few more packages delivered in a day. But for workers, what look like inefficiencies to an algorithm were their last reserves of respite and autonomy, and as these little breaks and minor freedoms get optimized out, their jobs are becoming more intense, stressful, and dangerous. Over the last several months, I’ve spoken with more than 20 workers in six countries. For many of them, their greatest fear isn’t that robots might come for their jobs: it’s that robots have already become their boss.

In few sectors are the perils of automated management more apparent than at Amazon. Almost every aspect of management at the company’s warehouses is directed by software, from when people work to how fast they work to when they get fired for falling behind. Every worker has a “rate,” a certain number of items they have to process per hour, and if they fail to meet it, they can be automatically fired.

When Jake* started working at a Florida warehouse, he was surprised by how few supervisors there were: just two or three managing a workforce of more than 300. “Management was completely automated,” he said. One supervisor would walk the floor, laptop in hand, telling workers to speed up when their rate dropped. (Amazon said its system notifies managers to talk to workers about their performance, and that all final decisions on personnel matters, including terminations, are made by supervisors.)

Jake, who asked to use a pseudonym out of fear of retribution, was a “rebinner.” His job was to take an item off a conveyor belt, press a button, place the item in whatever cubby a monitor told him to, press another button, and repeat. He likened it to doing a twisting lunge every 10 seconds, nonstop, though he was encouraged to move even faster by a giant leaderboard, featuring a cartoon sprinting man, that showed the rates of the 10 fastest workers in real time. A manager would sometimes keep up a sports announcer patter over the intercom — “In third place for the first half, we have Bob at 697 units per hour,” Jake recalled. Top performers got an Amazon currency they could redeem for Amazon Echos and company T-shirts. Low performers got fired.

“You’re not stopping,” Jake said. “You are literally not stopping. It’s like leaving your house and just running and not stopping for anything for 10 straight hours, just running.”

After several months, he felt a burning in his back. A supervisor sometimes told him to bend his knees more when lifting. When Jake did this his rate dropped, and another supervisor would tell him to speed up. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Go faster?” he recalled saying. “If I go faster, I’m going to have a heart attack and fall on the floor.” Finally, his back gave out completely. He was diagnosed with two damaged discs and had to go on disability. The rate, he said, was “100 percent” responsible for his injury.

Every Amazon worker I’ve spoken to said it’s the automatically enforced pace of work, rather than the physical difficulty of the work itself, that makes the job so grueling. Any slack is perpetually being optimized out of the system, and with it any opportunity to rest or recover. A worker on the West Coast told me about a new device that shines a spotlight on the item he’s supposed to pick, allowing Amazon to further accelerate the rate and get rid of what the worker described as “micro rests” stolen in the moment it took to look for the next item on the shelf.

People can’t sustain this level of intense work without breaking down. Last year, ProPublica, BuzzFeed, and others published investigations about Amazon delivery drivers careening into vehicles and pedestrians as they attempted to complete their demanding routes, which are algorithmically generated and monitored via an app on drivers’ phones. In November, Reveal analyzed documents from 23 Amazon warehouses and found that almost 10 percent of full-time workers sustained serious injuries in 2018, more than twice the national average for similar work. Multiple Amazon workers have told me that repetitive stress injuries are epidemic but rarely reported. (An Amazon spokesperson said the company takes worker safety seriously, has medical staff on-site, and encourages workers to report all injuries.) Backaches, knee pain, and other symptoms of constant strain are common enough for Amazon to install painkiller vending machines in its warehouses.

The unrelenting stress takes a toll of its own. Jake recalled . . .

Continue reading.

The US seems to be sliding into dystopia. Read the entire article. From later in the article:

It was Henry Ford who most fully demonstrated the approach’s power when he further simplified tasks and arranged them along an assembly line. The speed of the line controlled the pace of the worker and gave supervisors an easy way to see who was lagging. Laborers absolutely hated it. The work was so mindless and grueling that people quit in droves, forcing Ford to double wages. As these methods spread, workers frequently struck or slowed down to protest “speedups” — supervisors accelerating the assembly line to untenable rates.

We are in the midst of another great speedup. There are many factors behind it, but one is the digitization of the economy and the new ways of organizing work it enables. Take retail: workers no longer stand around in stores waiting for customers; with e-commerce, their roles are split. Some work in warehouses, where they fulfill orders nonstop, and others work in call centers, where they answer question after question. In both spaces, workers are subject to intense surveillance. Their every action is tracked by warehouse scanners and call center computers, which provide the data for the automated systems that keep them working at maximum capacity.

At the most basic level, automated management starts with the schedule. Scheduling algorithms have been around since the late 1990s when stores began using them to predict customer traffic and generate shifts to match it. These systems did the same thing a business owner would do when they scheduled fewer workers for slow mornings and more for the lunchtime rush, trying to maximize sales per worker hour. The software was just better at it, and it kept improving, factoring in variables like weather or nearby sporting events, until it could forecast the need for staff in 15-minute increments.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2020 at 10:36 am

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