CODE-CWA Newsletter: July 30

“We would like to see these billion-dollar companies come up with solutions, rather than leave it to drivers and small businesses, like myself, to keep everyone safe. They’re the innovators.”

—Bryant Greening, an attorney and co-founder of Chicago-based LegalRideshare

The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear what CWA members have known for years: Our internet infrastructure, and the workers who maintain that infrastructure, are critical. CWA is advocating for legislation right now that would give broadband workers labor protections, especially after Congress’ proposed $65 billion bill to expand broadband access.

While CWA works on labor protections, big tech companies’ exploitative practices continue to prove how important our work is. The Markup did a deepdive into 124 cases of carjackings of ride-hail drivers across the country, and we all heard from drivers how companies like Uber and Lyft are doing little to help victims, even after they’ve been wounded or killed.

This week employees from Activision Blizzard, the game development company behind titles like Call of Duty and Overwatch, went on strike following their CEO’s comments on a sexual discrimination lawsuit targeting the company, calling the suit "inaccurate" and "distorted” instead of acknowledging the harm done. The game workers unionization movement has been gaining traction over the past several years because video game companies have a well-earned reputation for creating work environments that are at best uncomfortable, at worst downright hostile. Which is why it was no surprise that as employees were coming together, Activision Blizzard hired a union-busting firm.

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 tech worker organizing, from Activision Blizzard to Alphabet Workers Union at Google, and more.

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

On July 31, join us for a 12PM PST class where 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. This is Class 2 in a series. Sign up here. Class 1 on Intro to Unions will be offered at 12PM PST on Sunday, August. Sign up here.

While you're signing up for classes don’t forget to check out our new “Organizing Training” page on the CODE-CWA website. You’ll find a training program overview, additional resources to strengthen your organizing study, a briefing on your right to organize and more! Check it out here.

Worker News

Mapbox workers are voting on their union today through Wednesday. They’ve been putting out videos on their Twitter, @MapboxUnion, showcasing workers saying why they’re supporting the union, like this one. If you want to hear from them directly, give them a follow on Twitter and check out those clips—and best of luck to all Mapbox workers!

CWA Wants U.S. Broadband Funding To Include Worker Protections

Telecom companies have been outsourcing work to independent contractors which resulted in 45,000 union jobs being lost in the last four years. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) says that the independent contractors cut corners, which leads to problems, and can cause safety risks. This has led to CWA advocating for legislation that would give workers labor protections, especially after Congress’ proposed $65 billion broadband improvements package. As CWA President Chris Shelton said, “Congress needs to make sure it’s done right, with experienced, trained union workers, not low-wage subcontractors who make a quick buck and skip town.” Read more on Fierce Telecom.

Activision Blizzard Hires Union-Busting Firm As Workers Start To Come Together

Activision Blizzard employees went on strike to protest the company’s views on sexual discrimination following a recent lawsuit. In a public statement addressed to employees earlier this week, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said the company was reviewing policies and procedures to help promote a more respectful and inclusive workplace. To help accomplish that, the company has retained the services of prestigious law firm WilmerHale, which is the same law firm helping Amazon keep its workers from unionizing. Considering ongoing efforts to unionize game workers, the partnership is a little concerning. “We believe that our values as employees are not being accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership,” organizers said in a statement released Tuesday, referring to the company’s official response to the lawsuit, in which it denied the allegations. A representative for the Blizzard employees organizing this walkout said they were not currently discussing unionizing. Read more on NBC News and Kotaku.

Developers Talk Crunch, Burn Out, And the Future Of Game Industry Unions

Game developers crunch which makes them burn out and then leave一this creates more work and results in more crunch. Blackbird Interactive's CCO Rory McGuire explained “There’s countless studies [that show] after just two weeks of crunch, productivity falls, and no company crunches for just two weeks. They crunch for months and months.” It is this vicious cycle of crunch and other issues in the game industry that has led to Blackbird Interactive releasing a game on unionization and bonded labour called Hardspace: Shipbreaker. There is currently no organized labour in the game industry, but people like McGuire hope that will change. When asked about the story of the game and its context in society today, McGuire said, “I’m glad we told that story…I think it sets us up as a company to then have that conversation, which we might not have if it was some other game.” Read more on the Gamer.

Uber And Lyft Drivers Are Being Carjacked At Alarming Rates

During the pandemic, carjackings have been on the rise, especially for Uber and Lyft drivers. Assailants use “phantom profiles” which include fake names, untraceable payments, and no profile photos. There have been at least 124 reported carjackings for ride hail drivers in the last year and a half with many drivers facing financial difficulty, severe injuries, and even death. After carjackings, drivers say that when they contacted the companies for help, Uber and Lyft did little to nothing to assist with things like medical bills and property damage. And in many cases the incidents left them without their personal vehicles—which oftentimes can be their primary source of income. Drivers have had to adapt with solutions such as only driving from the airport, avoiding certain neighbourhoods or even leaving the apps altogether. Drivers are scared, and they want the companies involved to take action. Read more on the Markup.

Google Employees Spoke Up About Misconduct And Were Told: ‘You’re The Problem’ When Google employees come forward with a workplace complaint for harrasment or discrimination they are offered counseling, paid medical leave, or sometimes even work from home. One Google employee even recalled that “when she complained about a racist and toxic manager, she was told that perhaps she needed resilience training”, according to Gupta. Google’s Employee Assistance Program (E.A.P.) is often recommended but it can create a conflict of interest because counselors are more concerned with their employment contract than with their patient. When Chelsey Glasson, a researcher at Google, filed a discrimination complaint with HR, she was offered E.A.P. counseling. Once she filed her lawsuit, however, her counselor was uncomfortable with seeing her一even after a year of counseling. According to Glasson, “she [her E.A.P. counselor] was concerned that affiliating with me would compromise her contract with Google.” Read more on the NYTimes.

Media Unions Are Challenging the Use of NDAs

Media unions such as the NewsGuild-CWA and the Writers Guild of America East, want to ban the use of NDAs in cases of workplace harrassment and discrimination. Senior reporter, and unit chair for the Daily Beast’s Union Kate Briquelet said, “banning NDAs is going to protect our most vulnerable union members and hold management accountable so people don’t have fear of legal action from the company when they speak out about things that happened to them.” Media unions have been working for years for reforms and are finally making headway when it comes to banning NDAs.The Daily Beast Union set a milestone in May by formalizing a contract that eliminates the use of NDAs in cases of workplace harassment. Many news media outlets such as PCMag, Mashable and Buzzfeed have since either signed union contracts or have tentatively agreed to ban NDAs. Read more on Bloomberg.

Tech Workers Say They Would Avoid An Employer That Banned Political Discussions

Two surveys asked a combined 2250 tech workers a variety of questions including the freedom to have political discussions at work, and according to Jones, “the findings are clear: most want that freedom.” In fact, 54% of Silicon Valley workers would not work for a company that banned such discussion. The surveys also found that minority groups were less comfortable talking about politics, and older workers placed a lesser value on their freedom of political expression as compared to younger ones. Read more on Business Insider.

Half of the Tech Workforce Wants to Join a Union

Protocol has a fascinating story on a survey they did showing that 50 percent of tech workers said they were interested in unionizing. Millennials showed the most interest in joining a union—over 60 percent—and just under 50 percent said they know about union efforts at their companies. Look around you, one out of every two of your coworkers in tech is interested in unionizing. Tech is screaming to be organized. Read more at Protocol.

This Week In Labor History

July 19, 1848: The Seneca Falls Convention was the first US women's rights convention in history. The 2 day event amassed over 300 men and women who came to discuss women's rights including in the workplace.

Song of the Week

Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford  

Some people say a man is made out of mud

A poor man's made out of muscle and blood

Muscle and blood and skin and bones

A mind that's weak and a back that's strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

Saint Peter don't you call me, 'cause I can't go

I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one morning when the sun didn't shine

I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine

I loaded sixteen tons of number 9 coal

And the straw boss said, "Well-a bless my soul!"