CODE-CWA Newsletter: February 25

“Let me congratulate the workers at Amazon for having the incredible courage to stand up and to fight for a union. The fight you are waging will send a message to workers all across the country that if they stand up, stand together, and fight, they can win.” Bernie Sanders on Twitter.

 

As workers and organizers in Bessemer, Alabama are casting their votes to become the first Amazon facility in the United States to unionize, Senator Bernie Sanders, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Politician Stacey Abrams, and Hollywood star Danny Glover joined a public campaign to encourage Amazon warehouse workers to vote in the historic union election.They know, if successful, the union could have a ripple effect across the country. President Joe Biden, on the other hand, has kept his distance from the Amazon union election, even though he ran his campaign under the guise of being pro-union. Meanwhile, in addition to an anti-union website, Amazon has also pushed anti-union ads on Twitch, the video game streaming giant that it owns and made more moves to discourage its employees from voting in the historic union election. This week’s newsletter takes a deeper look at the Amazon union election, how gig workers continue to suffer the consequences of Prop 22, and we take a peek into worker news at Google. 

 

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 waiting to organize with you. 

 

Events

 

On February 27, join us at 12PM PST for a class on how to build a strong organizing committee, maintain it, and build a strong foundation from which you can run a successful campaign. This is Class 2 in a series. So while ideally students should take Class 1 first, it's not required. Sign up here. 



Worker News



Microaggressions at Google's program for Black college students 

Google's Howard West program was envisioned as a way to train Black college students for a career in tech by immersing them in computer science classes held on Google's campus in Mountain View, California. Students and faculty say the program has had value since 2017, but described disorganization, shifting priorities, culture clashes and microaggressions from Google employees toward Black students on campus. While Google never positioned the program as a job placement initiative, it was described as a "pipeline" program, and many students were surprised not to get offers for internships or jobs from the company. Today, only 3.7% of Google's U.S. workforce is Black. This lack of diversity is reflected throughout the tech industry. Black people make up roughly 15% of the American population, but rarely more than 6% at big tech companies. Read more on CNBC.com.

 

Google fires AI ethics founder Margaret Mitchell

Google has fired the founder and co-head of its artificial intelligence ethics unit, claiming she violated the company's code of conduct. In a statement, Google said an investigation found Margaret Mitchell had moved files outside the company. The ethics unit has been under scrutiny since December, following the departure of another senior figure, Timnit Gebru. Both women had campaigned for more diversity at Google and raised concerns about censorship within the company. Dr Gebru, a leading Artificial Intelligence ethics researcher, says she was fired late last year after sending an internal email that accused Google of "silencing marginalised voices". However, Google claims she left the company.She co-authored a research paper which she says she was asked to retract. The paper had pinpointed flaws in AI language technology, including a system built by Google. Read more on BBC.com.

 

Joe Biden keeps his distance from Amazon union fight

When Joe Biden was running for president, he promised union members that he would be the “best friend labor has ever had in the White House.” Now in office, Biden is keeping his distance from the biggest union fight of his early presidency. Amazon gave generously to his inauguration and has pledged to help his administration fight the Covid-19 pandemic. A Biden spokeswoman stressed that it’s not White House policy to comment on cases related to the National Labor Relations Board, which adjudicates unionization campaigns.“President Biden has urged employers not to run anti-union campaigns or interfere with organizing and bargaining, and has called for holding employers accountable and increasing penalties when they do,” the spokeswoman said. Read more on Politico.

 

Amazon mails ‘Vote NO’ instructions to unionizing employees.

Unionizing Amazon workers in Alabama received instructions from Amazon imploring them to "Vote NO" on the historic union election and to then "mail the … envelope right away to make your vote count!" A USPS mailbox intended for mailing union ballots was installed feet from where Amazon workers exit and enter the warehouse, a move that workers say makes them feel surveilled in the election, which is supposed to be anonymous. Amazon has also sent text messages imploring workers to use that on-site mailbox to cast their ballots, despite the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rejecting Amazon's request for in-person voting in February. The text message asks workers to vote by March 1, even though workers have until March 29 to vote to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU)." Jennifer Bates, an Amazon warehouse worker at the Bessemer facility, told Motherboard. "I feel like they’re doing it so they can monitor us and gauge how many people are using the mailbox.” The mailbox could be grounds for an unfair labor practice charge," Logan, the San Francisco State University professor, said, referring to an action the union can take against Amazon if they believe the company has violated the National Labor Relations Act. Read more on Vice.

 

How Covid-19 spurred Amazon employees to organize.

Between January and October of last year, Amazon added 427,300 employees globally. It reportedly planned to put 1,000 new small facilities in suburbs across the United States to meet same-day shipping demands, and to hire thousands more grocery workers for Amazon Fresh. No other company in history — including Walmart, the largest private employer — has ever added so many workers in a single year. As of December, Amazon employed 1.3 million people worldwide. In the fourth quarter of 2020, it generated $125.6 billion in net sales, its largest quarterly revenue of all time. “We don’t know what’s going on with [Amazon] giving us gloves or masks. We want to know what our rights are. How do we protect ourselves?” said one employee. They were not getting answers or support, which compelled them to take more aggressive action .Kaoosji, of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, helped file a complaint on their behalf with Cal/OSHA to investigate safety and Covid protocols at the Eastvale Amazon warehouse. Workers in an Amazon warehouse in Hawthorne, California, followed suit. Read more on the New York Times magazine.

Gig workers say pay has fallen after California's Prop 22

Weeks after Proposition 22 went into effect in California and exempted some major tech firms from fully complying with labor laws, workers for rideshare and delivery apps in the state claim poor working conditions have persisted and pay has decreased. Drivers and labor groups opposed Prop 22, saying it would allow companies to sidestep their obligations to provide benefits and standard minimum wages to their workers even as they make billions of dollars. But the measure passed at the ballot box. A study by labor economists at the University of California, Berkeley, in October 2019 found Prop 22 guarantees a minimum wage of $5.64 an hour, as only engaged time is accounted for in the wage calculations. Prop 22, authored by Uber, Lyft, Instacart, and DoorDash, went into effect in mid-December 2020 after an aggressive public relations campaign of more than $200m launched by the companies. The companies outspent opponents to Prop 22 by 10 to one, making it the most expensive ballot measure in California’s history. Read more on the Guardian.

 

 

Postmates Drivers are being scammed and Postmates isn’t helping them

Gig workers, who report to a phone app instead of a human, are unusually vulnerable to phishing scams that drain entire paychecks. “In regular employment arrangements, there is a company culture and there are always people you can talk to. One word for that is social transparency,” said Elizabeth Watkins, a senior research assistant at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy. “In gig work, they don’t have this—it’s called digital isolation.” The Markup spoke with three Postmates workers who were targeted in scams, where their entire paycheck was drained by someone pretending to be an Postmates employee, and getting the driver to reveal his or her login and password. Postmates couriers have detailed hundreds of similar stories on Reddit, Twitter, YouTube, and even the jobs site Glassdoor. Workers for Lyft, Instacart, and DoorDash have been hit by similar scams. And experts say companies like Postmates should anticipate that their workers will be targeted and take simple steps to shield them. Read more on The Markup.

 

 

Most Manhattan DA candidates pledge to Sever ties with Palantir

A majority of the Democratic candidates running in this June’s Manhattan District Attorney primary are promising to end the agency’s use of software from Palantir Technologies. The Colorado-based software firm, helps clients, including some law enforcement agencies, organize, mine, and draw connections between disparate sets of data. Across the country, immigration rights activists have criticized Palantir for working with controversial federal agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has deployed its software in workplace raids. That candidates’ pledge is one of several from a survey conducted by the GANGS Coalition, a group that contends that New York City prosecutors have unfairly exploited loose gang designations to lock up large numbers of poor Black and Latino residents. Read more on the Gothamist.

 

This Week in Labor History

 

February 23, 1864: Kate Mullany, a 23-year-old Irish immigrant, led members of the first female union in the country, the Collar Laundry Union, in a successful strike in Troy, New York, for increased wages and improved working conditions. Shortly after forming the union, at noon on Wednesday, February 23, 1864, approximately 300 women went on strike from the 14 commercial laundry establishments. That afternoon Kate met with the women to discuss their demands for a 20 to 25 percent wage increase and their concerns with the introduction of the starching machines, which were scalding hot to handle. At first the laundry proprietors would not bend; they stated that they could not afford to pay the women more unless they passed it on to collar manufacturers. For five and a half days Kate and the others stayed away from their jobs, and then on February 28th a few of the proprietors gave in to their workers’ demands and the following day other employers followed. The strike had been a success.



Song of the Week

Billy Bragg -There Is Power In A Union

 

There's power in a factory, power in the land

Power in the hand of the worker

But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand

There is power in a union

Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers' blood

The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for

From the cities and the farmlands to trenches full of mud

War has always been the bosses' way, sir

The union forever defending our rights

Down with the blackleg, all workers unite

With our brothers and our sisters from many far-off lands

There is power in a union