CODE-CWA Newsletter: April 9

“The last worker who walked out said only five or six workers were left. They had a bunch of managers, HR people, safety ambassadors doing their work. All the people who normally don’t have to do the work had to." —Christian Zamarrón, an organizer with Amazonians United Chicagoland on April 7’s Strike Over Amazon’s New 'Megacycle' Shifts

This week, a Google Contractor won big thanks to support from the Alphabet Workers Union, Amazon workers went on strike in Chicago, the National Labor Relations Board determined that Amazon illegally terminated two female employees who were climate-organizing at their company, and union organizers commit to holding Amazon accountable for their anti-union behavior during the Bessemer, Alabama election.

Additionally, Amazon has failed miserably at it’s public relations attempt to combat negative media coverage, the company's official "Amazon News" Twitter account defended its working conditions posting: "You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?” And reporters flooded them to prove that it was indeed true, and it was really awful for female drivers.

Union organizing and conversations around unfair and exploitative practices are picking up steam in the tech industry. In this newsletter, we give you the latest on the threats to tech employees and tech organizing. Through our support of workers across the tech, games, and digital industries we have seen a cultural shift as workers turn to each other to bring the change they seek. This commitment to building democracy in the workplace will impact all of us. Are you looking to organize your workplace? Reach out. We are ready to organize with you.

Events

Tonight, Friday April 9 at 5PM PST join our “Intro to Unions and Organizing” class where you will learn union organizing basics. Then on Sunday April 11th at 2PM PST, you can join us for Class 2 in our series, “Building the Committee.” While this class is the second in a series, it is not required to take the first class. In this class we talk about how to build a strong organizing committee, maintain it, and build a strong foundation from which you can run a successful union campaign. Training is active and participatory. We do not let anyone join more than 10 minutes late. Sign up here.


Worker News

The woman who took on Google and won. Shannon Wait, one of the thousands of Google contract workers that receive substandard pay and benefits due to Google’s two-tiered employment system, was suspended for posting on Facebook about the difficult working conditions she faced. As a member of Alphabet Workers Union she reached out to her fellow workers and union members and the union filed two cases on her behalf under unfair labour practice laws. Last month Google, Modis and the Alphabet Workers Union reached a settlement. Shannon's suspension was overturned and Google signed a document saying its employees "have the right to discuss wage rates, bonuses, and working conditions". Read more about this powerful show of worker solidarity at the BBC.


Shareholder Pushes Google For Better Whistleblower Protection Alphabet shareholder Trillium Asset Management is pushing Google to adopt better whistleblower protections in light of the firing of prominent AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru. The $3.5 billion sustainable investment firm has filed a shareholder resolution asking the board of directors for a third-party review of current policies. “Reporting suggests that many Google employees who have resigned or been fired … publicly report retaliation after voicing human rights implications of company practices, including systemic workplace racism and sexism,” the resolution reads. “These red flags suggest the potential for culture, ethics, and/or human rights problems internally.” Trillium owns 63,078 Alphabet shares— a stake currently worth roughly $140 million. Read more on The Verge.

Amazon Illegally Fired Activist Workers, Labor Board Finds Two designers at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters began pushing the company publicly in 2018 to reduce its impact on climate change and address concerns about its warehouse workers. They were fired last April after organizing an event with 400 employees. Amazon illegally retaliated against two of its most prominent internal critics, the National Labor Relations Board has determined. The employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa were told by the board that it would accuse Amazon of unfair labor practices if the company did not settle the case. The case would then go before an administrative law judge. The activist employees said “It’s a moral victory and really shows that we are on the right side of history and the right side of the law.” Jaci Anderson, an Amazon spokeswoman insisted, “we terminated these employees not for talking publicly about working conditions, safety or sustainability but, rather, for repeatedly violating internal policies.” Claims of unfair labor practices at Amazon have been common enough that the labor agency may turn them into a national investigation. Costa and Cunningham started a group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, which got more than 8,700 colleagues to support its efforts. Over time, they broadened their protests. Read more on The New York Times.

RWDSU head says rerun election ‘very likely’ following Amazon union vote loss. Amazon won the majority of ballots cast in the union election by the company’s warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama. This is no surprise considering the abundance of anti union tactics utilized by the corporation in the lead up to the election. However, today’s election results do not mark the end of the battle between Amazon and workers. With voting having broken overwhelmingly in Amazon’s favor, the union was quick to challenge the results and demanding a comprehensive investigation into Amazon’s behavior during the election. RWDSU union president believes in the likelihood of a rerun election. Read more at TechCrunch.

Amazon Workers in Chicago Strike Over Ruthless 'Megacycle' Shifts The 10-and-a-half-hour graveyard shift, known as the 'megacycle,' has been rolled out across the United States over the past year. At the April 7 protest, which drew a crowd of supporters, organizers took turns speaking on a megaphone and passed out Puerto Rican food and leaflets with a list of their demands and a link to an online petition. In January, workers at a nearby facility, who organized under the name Amazonians United DCH1, received a notice that their warehouse, DCH1, would be shut down, and that they had two weeks to pick up a 'megacycle' shift at another facility or lose their jobs. Many of those workers have transferred to DIL3, where the walkout took place. Meanwhile, Amazonians United DCH1 has renamed itself as Amazonians United Chicagoland, and has expanded to organize Chicago-area Amazon workers. Read more on Vice.


The PRO Act And The Misinformation Campaign Trying To Sabotage It California’s Assembly Bill 5 was meant to solve the problem of rampant worker misclassification. The PRO Act, with its broad sweeping reforms to the National Labor Review Act, would transform the working conditions of millions of workers whose livelihoods are currently determined by the generosity of their employers. Gig workers, delivery couriers, and other temporary laborers would be granted the right to organize and band together, free of concerns. While a number of large companies have banded together to oppose the bill, some of the PRO Act’s loudest critics are a particular layer of high-earning freelance writers, who’ve created a cottage industry of misinformation around the PRO Act. Most prominent freelancer journalists’ advocacy groups, however, recognize the potential power of the act, The Freelance Solidarity Project and its parent organization, the National Writers Union, support the PRO Act. NWU President Larry Goldbetter said that if passed it would give freelancers a whole new avenue to bargain for better working conditions. FSP member and freelance journalist Chris Curley said, “If you’re a freelancer who’s confused, relax - this will help the whole industry, and you need not be afraid. This has the potential to transform our niche of the working class.” Read more on The Strike Wave.

Amazon’s Female Delivery Drivers Describe Great Lengths They Go To Pee Motherboard spoke to six women who have driven Amazon delivery vans during the past year. Some fast during work hours, even in the heat of the summer, to avoid wasting time finding a bathroom. Others either hold their pee for up to 10 hours, squat over trash bags, or purchase "she-wees," female urinals that cost roughly $13.99, on Amazon.com. Last week, as part of a public relations attempt to combat negative media coverage amid a high-stakes union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, the company's official "Amazon News" Twitter account defended its working conditions. "You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us," it tweeted. Reporters quickly proved "the peeing in bottles thing" is real and that Amazon is well aware this happens, and will fire drivers who are caught peeing in public. Read more on Vice.

Former Facebook Recruiter Says Hiring Practices Hurt People of Color Rhett Lindsey applied for a job at Facebook three times. When he finally got the offer to become a recruiter for highly paid engineers, he says, he jumped at the chance to help the social network push for greater employee diversity in its ranks. Eight months later, in August 2020, Lindsey attended a virtual meeting to discuss the company’s goal of hiring more Black engineers. In the meeting, a White manager played a Drake song in the background whose chorus repeats the phrase “Where the [n-word]s be at?" five times. The recruiter quit after 3 months after the incident. Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said the company is focused on advancing racial justice in the workplace and in recruiting. “We’ve added diversity and inclusion goals to senior leaders’ performance reviews. We take seriously allegations of discrimination and have robust policies and processes in place for employees to report concerns, including concerns about microaggressions and policy violations,” he said. He did not address the incident involving the Drake song. Read more on the Washington Post.

LexisNexis To Provide Giant Database of Personal Information to ICE The popular legal research and data brokerage firm LexisNexis signed a $16.8 million contract to sell information to a division of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement that plays a key role in deportations. Two years ago the company downplayed its ties to ICE. LexisNexis claims it holds 283 million distinct individual dossiers of 99.99% accuracy tied to “LexIDs,” unique identification codes that make pulling all the material collected about a person that much easier. For an undocumented immigrant in the United States, the hazard of such a database is clear. For those seeking to surveil large populations, the scope of the data sold by LexisNexis is equally clear and explains why it is listed as official data “partners” of Palantir, a software company whose catalog includes products designed to track down individuals. This partnership lets law enforcement investigators ingest material from the companies’ databases directly into Palantir data-mining software, allowing agencies to more seamlessly spy on migrants or round them up for deportation. “I compare what they provide to the blood that flows through the circulation system,” explained City University of New York law professor and scholar of government data access systems Sarah Lamdan. “What would Palantir be able to do without these data flows? Nothing.” Read more on the Intercept.

Ex-tech and Gig Workers Are Homeless Around Apple’s $5 Billion Campus A group of ex-tech workers, gig employees, and locals priced out of the housing market are fighting for affordable housing in Silicon Valley. Last year their homeless camp close to the Apple campus in Cupertino was removed by authorities. Cupertino does not have a homeless shelter and has virtually no subsidized housing. This city of 60,000 residents has dedicated 142 units of below-market-rate rentals, the cheapest of which are available to households making up to $55,300 annually. Families making up to $139,100 are eligible for the largest affordable housing units. It is nearly impossible for the janitors, cafeteria servers, shuttle drivers, and other low-wage workers who kept tech campuses running before the pandemic to afford housing within an hour’s drive of the Valley. Average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Cupertino was around $4,000 until the pandemic cooled the market last year. Median home prices in the city are well north of $2 million, and still rising. In Cupertino, the federal count showed 159 homeless individuals in 2019, but homeless individuals say the numbers are higher. Read more on OneZero.

Democratic Firm Funded by Eric Schmidt Is Accused of Firing Workers for Speaking Up Twelve current and former Civis employees say the data science software and consulting company’s internal practices fell short of its public promise to be a progressive place to work. The company is funded by former Google chairman Eric Schmidt. “We were working to make Civis live up to the values posted on their website,” says an employee who was fired on October 30. In December, seven of those terminated filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging Civis had illegally fired them for organizing. Last month, the NLRB dismissed the charge. According to the attorney who represented the Civis employees, an official for the regional board said its decision owed to a Trump-era precedent that had raised the standard for workers to prove unlawful retaliation. The seven workers say they plan to appeal, placing their hopes in the same Biden administration they helped to elect. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt Read more on the New York Magazine.


This Week in Labor History

April 7, 1947: Some 300,000 members of the National Federation of Telephone Workers, soon to become CWA (that’s us!), strike AT&T and the Bell System. Within five weeks all but two of the 39 federation unions had won new contracts.

Song of the Week

Fight the Power--Public Enemy

Got to give us what we want

Gotta give us what we need

Our freedom of speech is freedom of death

We got to fight the powers that be

Lemme hear you say

Fight the power

We've got to fight the powers that be

It's a start, a work of art

To revolutionize make a change nothing's strange

People, people we are the same

No we're not the same

'Cause we don't know the game