Today’s News & Commentary — May 24, 2016

Nowadays, you can order a pizza by tweeting an emoji and have it delivered to you in a car equipped with a built-in pizza warmer. But technology hasn’t just changed the way that pizza arrives on your doorstep; apparently, it has changed the way that employers underpay workers as well. The New York Times reports that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has filed a lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza alleging that the computer system it provides its franchisees “systematically undercounted hours worked by employees, shortchanging them hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The suit comes on the heels of a number of recent legal victories against Domino’s franchisees in the Empire State, but differs from those actions in that it targets the franchiser for “forcing franchisees to use a computer accounting system even though it was aware it was flawed.” In fact, Schneiderman claims, “Domino’s corporate executives knew about the violations, denied responsibility and failed to take action.” Accordingly, Schneiderman promises to “prove that the Domino’s corporate franchiser is legally responsible for rampant wage theft occurring at its stores.” Exactly how rampant is the problem? According to Schneiderman’s office, “78 percent of franchisees listed instances of subminimum wages, and 86 percent . . . listed instances of unlawfully low overtime rates.”

As the recent dust-up over SEIU’s proposed agreement with Airbnb suggests, the growing gig economy has forced a bit of an existential crisis upon organized labor. Writing in Fast Company, Sarah Kessler takes a closer look at how unions are responding to rapidly advancing technology and its spiraling effects on the economy. On the one hand, says SEIU president Mary Kay Henry, “technology gives [unions] a leg up in being able to connect people to each other and activate them.” Some unions have also expressed willingness to organize gig workers, even if the shape of that organization does not fit the contours of a traditional union. On the other hand, however, “[e]ncouraging on-demand companies to rely on a workforce of independent contractors who lack the rights and protections of employees” may be “bad public policy.” That’s why the AFL-CIO — of which SEIU is no longer a part — continues to insist that “working people in the gig economy share a single common designation: employees.”

Although the current battles over transgender rights tend to be centered on schools, transgender rights in the workplace are also drawing increased attention. Per the New York Times, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union has announced that workers at Babeland — an adult toy store with multiple locations in New York City — have voted to join the union. In addition to “more transparency around hiring, promotion and disciplinary decisions, and support for airing grievances and navigating workplace disputes,” the workers “want[] management to address issues for employees who identified as transgender or otherwise gender-nonconforming.” Respect for workers’ gender identities is “a question of dignity,” said the union president, “and that’s what [the union is] going to be negotiating.”