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Posts Tagged ‘low-wage’

The Blue-Collar Hellscape of the Startup Industry

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

On November 13, Marcus Vaughn filed a class-action lawsuit against his former employer. Vaughn, who’d worked in the Fremont, California factory for electric automaker Tesla, alleged that the manufacturing plant had become a “hotbed for racist behavior.” Employees and supervisors, he asserted, had routinely lobbed racial epithets at him and his fellow Black colleagues. 

Vaughn said he complained in writing to the company’s human resources department and CEO Elon Musk, but Tesla neglected to investigate his claims. In true tech executive fashion, Musk deflected Vaughn’s misgivings, shifting the blame to the assailed worker. “In fairness, if someone is a jerk to you, but sincerely apologizes, it is important to be thick-skinned and accept that apology,” he wrote in a May email. In late October, according to Vaughn’s suit, he was fired for “not having a positive attitude.”

The news of rancorous working conditions for Tesla employees is merely the latest in a series. Vaughn’s case signals the broader social and physical perils of couching traditional factory models within the frenzied, breakneck tech-startup framework of high demand, long hours and antipathy toward regulation.

Tesla’s Fremont facility has bred a number of allegations of abuse, from discrimination to physical harm. Vaughn’s is at least the third discrimination suit filed this year by Black Tesla workers alleging racism. A former third-party contracted factory worker, Jorge Ferro, has taken legal action to combat alleged homophobic harassment. The cruelty wasn’t strictly verbal: Not long before, in an ostensibly unrelated but similarly alarming turn of events, reports surfaced that production-floor employees sustained such work-related maladies as loss of muscle strength, fainting and herniated discs.

In response to Ferro’s allegations, Tesla told In These Times that it “takes any and every form of discrimination or harassment extremely seriously.” But the company denied responsibility on the grounds that Ferro was contractor, not an employee.

Tesla’s factory conditions evoke those reported at another Silicon Valley darling: Blue Apron. In the fall of 2016, BuzzFeed detailed the consequences of the lax hiring practices and safety standards governing the food-delivery company’s Richmond, Calif. warehouse. Employees reported pain and numbness from the frigid indoor temperatures and injuries from warehouse equipment. Many filed police reports stating co-workers had punched, choked, bitten or groped them, amid threats of violence with knives, guns and bombs.

At the time of these complaints, both companies had fully ingratiated themselves to investors. Tesla’s reported worth is so astronomical even the most technocratic corporate mediaand Musk himselfquestion it. Blue Apron, which went public this year, snagged a $2 billion valuation in 2015. (Blue Apron has since seen a marked decline, a development that maybe have been spurred by BuzzFeed’s report.) As a result, both companies have habitually placed escalating pressure upon their employees to generate product, their executives eyeing the potential profits.

Predictably, these companies’ legal compliance appears to have fallen to the wayside in the name of expediency. Tesla and Blue Apron factory employees have found themselves working 12hour shifts, in some cases more than five days a week. Tesla employee Jose Moran wrote of “excessive mandatory overtime” and “a constant push to work faster to meet production goals.”

In 2015, Blue Apron appeared to violate a litany of OSHA regulations, ranging from wiring to chemical storage. It also hired local temporary workers via third-party staffing agencies—likely to circumvent the costs of such benefits as health insurance. As BuzzFeed noted, these staffing agencies independently screened candidates in lieu of internal background checks. Compounding the problem, the company expected temps to operate machinery they were unqualified to handle. (Blue Apron has since euphemized its OSHA violations and claimed to have axed these staffing agencies. The company has not responded to requests for comment.)

Aggravating an already fraught atmosphere, the companies appear to have used punitive tactics to coerce laborers into greater productivity. While some Tesla workers are placed in lower-paying “light duty” programs after reporting their injuries, others are chided for them. One production employee, Alan Ochoa, relayed to the Guardian a quote from his manager in response to his pain complaint: “We all hurt. You can’t man up?”

Equally culpable is e-commerce goliath Amazon. Bloomberg reported that the company mounts flat-screen televisions in its fulfillment centers to display anti-theft propaganda relating the stories of warehouse workers terminated for stealing on the job. (This offers a blue-collar complement to the 2016 New York Times exposé on its draconian treatment of office employees.) According to a former employee, managers upbraid workers who fail to pack 120 items per hour, heightening their quotas and, in some cases, requiring them to work an extra day. Those who don’t accept overtime shifts, meanwhile, lose vacation time.

Amazon told In These Times, “We support people who are not performing to the levels expected with dedicated coaching to help them improve.”

It’s no wonder, then, that Blue Apron and Amazon warehouses generate high turnover. In fact, this is likely by design. By creating working conditions that not only extract vast amounts of labor at low costs, but also drive workers away, tech companies can skirt the obligation to reward employees with raises and promotions. A companion to the profit-mongering schemes of Uber, Lyft and now Amazon (through its Amazon Flex delivery vertical) to classify workers as contractors, this form of labor arbitrage ensures that owners of capital avoid the risk of losing wealth to hourly workers—a class they deem thoroughly disposable.

Tesla has caused similar workforce tumult, firing employees for the foggy offense of underperformance. Of the hundreds of terminated employees from both its Palo Alto, Calif. headquarters and its Fremont facility, many were union sympathizers who’d been in talks with the United Auto Workers. The move has thus aroused suspicions that the company sought to purge dissidents—a reflection of the anti-union posture that has characterized Silicon Valley for decades.

If the near-ubiquity of factory and warehouse worker exploitation in the news cycle is any indication, tech capitalists—through their regulatory negligence and toothless “solutions”—have fostered a culture of barbarism. Low-wage laborers have little to no recourse: They’re either left to endure imminent social and physical harm, or, should they seek protections against the anguish they’ve borne, are stripped of their livelihood.

The blue-collar hellscape Tesla, Blue Apron and Amazon have wrought is what laissez-faire, startup-styled late capitalism looks like. At a time of such disregard for the fundamental health, safety and humanity of low-tier workers, the tech-executive class has proven nothing is sacred—except, of course, the urge to scale.

This article was originally published at In These Times on November 29, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

 About the Author: Julianne Tveten writes about the intersection of the technology industry and socioeconomic issues. Her work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Outline, Motherboard, and Hazlitt, among others.

Black Women's Equal Pay Day shows how far from equality we are and how slow progress is

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

July 31 is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. That means that this is the day in 2017 when black women have finally caught up with what white men were paid in 2016. Thanks, wage gap! While we often hear the (accurate as far as it goes) statistic that women are paid 80 cents on the dollar compared with white men, the gap gets a lot worse when you break it out by race, and black women are paid just 63 cents on the white man’s dollar.

Here are a few more facts from the National Women’s Law Center. Education doesn’t make it go away:

  • Pursuing higher education does little close to the wage gap. Black women with a bachelor’s degree are typically paid $46,694—just under what white, non-Hispanic men with only a high school degree are paid ($46,729).
  • Black women have to earn a Master’s degree to make slightly more ($56,072) than white, non-Hispanic men with just an Associate’s degree ($54,620).

High wage jobs, low wage jobs … the gap persists.

  • Among workers in low wage jobs, Black women make just 60 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. Black women who work full time, year round in these occupations are typically paid about $21,700 annually, compared to the $36,000 typically paid to white, non-Hispanic men in these occupations. This gap translates to a loss of $14,300 each year to the wage gap—more than enough to pay for an entire year’s worth of rent or more than a year and a half of childcare costs.
  • Among workers in high wage occupations—such as lawyers, engineers, and physicians or surgeons—Black women are paid 64 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in the same occupations. Black women who work full time, year round in these occupations are typically paid about $70,000, compared to the $110,000 typically paid to white, non-Hispanic men in these same jobs. This amounts to a staggering annual loss of $40,000 each year, or $1.6 million dollars over a 40-year career.

Over 48 years, the entire time for which data is available, the situation has only improved by 20 cents, from black women making 43 cents for every dollar a white man made to making 63 cents in 2015, and “In Louisiana, the worst state for Black women’s wage equality, Black women typically are paid slightly less than half of what white, non-Hispanic men are paid.”

 This blog was originally published at DailyKos on July 31, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos. 

Paid family leave policies show corporate America's disdain for low-wage workers and their babies

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Becoming a parent is one more aspect of life poisoned by economic inequality in the United States, with people who are paid more than $75,000 a year twice as likely to get paid leave as people who are paid less than $30,000. And even companies that have touted their parental leave programs leave many of their workers out, giving paid leave to their salaried staff at corporate headquarters but not to the workers standing behind the cash registers or making the cappuccinos or fried chicken. A new report from Paid Leave for the United States highlights the inequality within major U.S. companies:

  • Starbucks has one of the most unequal policies—they provide 18 weeks of fully-paid leave for new mothers and 12 weeks fully paid for new fathers in corporate headquarters, but only six weeks for birth moms who are in-store employees (like baristas) and nothing for dads or adoptive parents in this employment category. Starbucks employs ~5,000 people in its corporate headquarters and ~150,000 in stores; meaning their highly-touted policy affects about 3% of their total U.S. workforce.
  • The nation’s largest private employer, Walmart, provides twelve weeks of paid leave for birth mothers who are corporate employees—but only 6-8 weeks at partial pay for birth moms who are among the 1.2 million hourly employees in their stores – if they work full time.
  • Yum! Brands offers 18 weeks paid parental leave to birth mothers, and 6 weeks to dads and adoptive parents who work in the corporate office only. Field employees, who work for franchises such as KFC and Pizza Hut, receive no paid family leave.

A few companies do have equal leave policies for their corporate and frontline workers: Ikea, Levi’s, Nordstrom, Nike (though it leaves out part-time employees), Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Hilton, and Apple.

Just six percent of low-wage workers have any paid leave at all, which is why a quarter of new mothers are back on the job within 10 days. That means that not only are new mothers leaving their newborn babies, they’re working before they are physically recovered from childbirth.

 And no paid leave can also mean no flexibility even for emergencies; a Walmart worker named Jasmine Dixon told PL+US that:

“I had no paid leave and had to go back to work at Walmart two weeks after childbirth. I took Zyon to his first 2-week doctor’s check-up and found out that he needed to go back to the hospital urgently. They took him away in an ambulance – I was terrified for him, and that I might be risking my job at Walmart by coming in late that day. I called my manager to let them know I had to go with my baby to the children’s hospital, but it didn’t matter – my store manager penalized me for missing work.”

This decision should not be left to individual companies. The baby of the worker behind the cash register deserves parents at home with her just as much as the baby of the worker behind the computer. Workers shouldn’t have to hope that they’re working at Ikea rather than Starbucks when they have a baby. Paid family leave should be the law of the United States as it is the law of most countries.

This blog originally appeared on DailyKos.com on May 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and labor editor since 2011.

Important Study Looks At Silicon Valley’s “Invisible” Low Wage Workers

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Dave Johnson“We knew the tech industry was booming, but we weren’t seeing that translate into an abundance of jobs for our communities – until we looked at the low-wage jobs in contracting industries. Those are growing fast, just like tech profits are. It’s no wonder that one in three working households in Silicon Valley can’t make ends meet when these growing industries pay wages that barely cover rent.”
– Derecka Mehrens, Executive Director of Working Partnerships, USA.

Working Partnerships USA and Silicon Valley Rising released a report Wednesday, Tech’s Invisible Workforce, that looks at the contract industry workers at Silicon Valley’s “booming” tech companies.

In the last two-and-a-half decades, the number of Silicon Valley “second-class” jobs in potential contract industries has grown three times faster than overall Silicon Valley employment. These contractors and subcontractors jobs are disproportionately filled by Black and Latino workers compared to direct tech employees, and these workers receive much lower wages. As a result, Silicon Valley’s inequality and occupation segregation is amplified, especially among people of color.

The report finds that direct tech employees earn $113,300. Contractor and subcontractor tech industry workers – workers employed indirectly rather than treated as legitimate employees – are paid much less. White-collar workers in contract industries average $53,200 and blue-collar workers in contract industries average $19,900.

Along with this wage differential, as income drops the proportion of the workforce that is comprised of Black and Latino workers goes up. According to the report, Black or Latino workers make up, on average:

? 10 percent of Silicon Valley’s direct tech workforce.
? An estimated 26 percent of the white-collar contract industry workforce.
? An estimated 58 percent of the blue-collar contract industry workforce.

Lydia DePillis writes about this report at The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, in “What we know about the people who clean the floors in Silicon Valley,”

Silicon Valley companies have gotten a lot of heat in recent years for failing to recruit people black and Hispanic people into their ranks. But if you factor in contractors and others whose jobs bring them inside those companies, the industry appears bit more inclusive — just perhaps not in the way one might hope.

At one time in history, the janitors, bus drivers, food service workers, and security guards who staff corporate campuses might have been employed directly by the businesses where they cooked lunches and cleaned floors. That’s become less and less true in recent decades, according to a new analysis of labor data by researchers at the University of California – Santa Cruz — especially in Silicon Valley.

The Road to Responsible Contracting

The report concludes with a section on how companies could contract out jobs responsibly.

Silicon Valley Rising calls on our region’s leading businesses to commit to the following principles:

Responsibility: Ensure that their subcontracted workers are paid a livable wage, receive equitable benefits, have the right to a voice at work without fear of discrimination or retaliation, do not suffer mass layoffs when contracts change hands, and are protected from misclassification and other forms of wage theft.

Transparency: Release public data on their subcontracted workforces, including diversity, pay, and benefit data for each subcontractor.

Inclusion: Invest in building a community where janitors, security officers, cafeteria workers, teachers, nurses, firefighters and other non-tech workers can afford to live. Support access to full-time work, affordable housing, an accessible, world-class public transit system, and high-quality education for low-wage workers and their children.

Opportunity: Work with advocates to explore new approaches to create education and career pathways for contract workers and their families to move into core tech jobs.

The technology industry faces a clear choice. It can continue the status quo of exclusive jobs and exclusionary growth, widening the existing racial, gender and income gaps and accelerating the race to the bottom. Or it can wield its enormous economic influence combined with its capacity for innovative solutions to become a true global pioneer – to not just disrupt markets and technology, but to disrupt inequality.

Click to read the report, Tech’s Invisible Workforce.

See Also

Campaign for America’s Future has been covering Silicon Valley Rising’s fight to improve conditions for this “invisible” workforce.

The Silicon Valley Rising launch: “Silicon Valley Rising Fights for Worker Justice

The fight: “Silicon Valley Rising Fights To Give Part-Timers “Opportunity to Work”

Related: “Tax Scams, Google Buses Mean Silicon Valley Is #StuckInTraffic

This blog originally appeared at ourfuture.org on March 30, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

The Morality of a $15 Minimum

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

Robert ReichHave you noticed how often conservatives who disagree with a policy proposal call it a “job killer?”

They’re especially incensed about proposals to raise the federal minimum wage. They claim it will force employers to lay off workers worth hiring at the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour but not at a higher minimum.

But as Princeton University economist Alan Krueger pointed out recently in the New York Times“research suggests that a minimum wage set as high as $12 an hour will do more good than harm for low-wage workers.”

That’s because a higher minimum puts more money into the pockets of people who will spend it, mostly in the local economy. That spending encourages businesses to hire more workers.

Which is why many economists, like Krueger, support raising the federal minimum to $12 an hour.

What about $15 an hour?

Across America, workers at fast-food and big-box retail establishments are striking for $15. Some cities are already moving toward this goal. Bernie Sanders is advocating it. A national movement is growing for a $15 an hour minimum.

Yet economists are nervous. Krueger says a $15 an hour minimum would “put us in uncharted waters, and risk undesirable and unintended consequences” of job loss.

Yet maybe some jobs are worth risking if a strong moral case can be made for a $15 minimum.

That moral case is that no one should be working full time and still remain in poverty.

People who work full time are fulfilling their most basic social responsibility. As such, they should earn enough to live on.

A full-time worker with two kids needs at least $30,135 this year to be safely out of poverty. That’s $15 an hour for a forty-hour workweek.

Any amount below this usually requires government make up the shortfall – using tax payments from the rest of us to finance food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and other kinds of help.

What about the risk of job loss? Historically, such a risk hasn’t deterred us from setting minimum work standards based on public morality.

The original child labor laws that went into effect in many states at turn of last century were opposed by business groups that argued such standards would raise the costs of business and force employers to lay off large numbers of young workers.

But America decided the employment of young children was morally wrong.

The safety laws enacted in the wake of the tragic Triangle Shirt Waste Factory fire of 1911, which killed 145 workers, were also deemed “job killers.”

“We are of the opinion that if the present recommendations [for stricter building codes] are insisted upon…factories will be driven from the city,”argued New York’s association of realtors.

But New York and hundreds of other cities enacted them nonetheless because they viewed unsafe sweatshops morally objectionable.

It was the same with the 1938 legislation mandating a forty-hour workweek with time-and-a-half for overtime, along with the first national minimum wage.

“It will destroy small industry,” predicted Georgia Congressman Edward Cox. It’s “a solution of this problem which is utterly impractical and in operation would be much more destructive than constructive to the very purposes which it is designed to serve,” charged Rep. Arthur Phillip Lamneck of Ohio.

America enacted fair labor standards anyway because it was the right thing to do.

Over the years America has decided that certain kinds of jobs – jobs that were done by children, or were unsafe, or required people to work too many hours, or below poverty wages – offend our sense of decency.

So we’ve raised standards and lost such jobs. In effect, we’ve decided such jobs aren’t worth keeping.

Even if a $15 an hour minimum wage risks job losses, it is still the right thing to do.

This post appeared in Our Future on October 19, 2015. Originally posted at RobertReich.org. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century.

Ahead of Pope Francis Visit, Bernie Sanders Joins Low-Wage Worker Strike in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

in these timesSen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) threw down the gauntlet for Congress and President Obama Tuesday morning, joining hundreds of low-wage contract workers from federal buildings who are striking in advance of Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, D.C.

Speaking to the assembled workers at a nearby Catholic Church, Sanders urged U.S. lawmakers to take seriously the pontiff’s message on “social and economic justice.” He also challenged President Obama to sign an executive order raising the wage for federal contractors to at least $15 an hour and allowing them to unionize.

“There is no justice in America when the largest low-wage employer is not McDonalds, it is not Burger King, it is not Wal-Mart, it is the United States government,” he told the cheering crowd. “The United States government has got to become a model employer.”

Sanders told The Hill that as “one of the great moral forces on earth today,” any statement by the Pope on the issue of wealth inequality during his trip to D.C. would be influential.

The rallied workers later marched to the steps of the Capitol, where they held a prayer service asking for lawmakers to listen to the Pope’s words. Some workers also organized a brief sit-in at the Senate cafes.

The strike, organized by Good Jobs Nation, had been planned as early as last week to coincide with the Pope’s visit, whose various statements on inequality, neoliberalism and economic justice have pegged him as an ally of the labor movement. Striking workers had written a letter to Pope Francis asking him to meet with them in addition to those in power.

“We may be invisible to the wealthy and powerful we serve everyday—but we know we are worthy of a more abundant life as children of God,” the letter reads.

Although President Obama granted federal contractors a wage increase to $10.10 in February 2014, the workers charge this is not enough in a city that, according to one study, requires a salary of $108,092 to live “comfortably” in. Reports abound of cleaners and cooks resorting to food stamps, working second jobs and even going homeless as a result. Critics charge that the federal government bears large responsibility for this by awarding hundreds of billions of dollars in contracts, grants, loans and more to companies that pay low wages and offer no benefits.

According to a report from Demos, nearly 2 million federal contractors currently make less than $12 an hour, far less than MIT’s calculated living wage for D.C. of $20.27. At the same time, according financial data analyzed by OpenSecrets.org, the median net worth of U.S. lawmakers climbed to over $1 million.

This Blog originally appeared on In These Times on September 22, 2015. Reprinted here with permission.

About the Author: Branko Marcetic is a Fall 2015 In These Times editorial intern.

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