News & Commentary

August 17, 2018

Vail Kohnert-Yount

Vail Kohnert-Yount is a student at Harvard Law School.

In the forthcoming September issue of Vanity Fair, Uber engineer-turned-Silicon Valley watchdog Susan Fowler examines the future of the gig economy. In her piece entitled, “What Have We Done?: Silicon Valley Engineers Fear They’ve Created a Monster,” Fowler recalled from when she worked at Uber how the company manipulated fares to “trick” drivers into working longer hours for little incremental benefit. Ultimately, she concluded, engineers are only now beginning to understand how their work has displaced workers and devastated economic stability. “The only people who understand the looming threat are the ones enabling it,” she wrote.

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute showed that CEO pay skyrocketed in 2017, following a decades-long trend. In 2017, CEO compensation rose 17.6% to $19 million on average. In contrast, the average worker’s pay rose 0.3%, and as a result the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay jumped to 312-to-1. In the last 40 years, CEO pay has soared 1,070%, while worker pay has risen just 11% after inflation.

CNBC reports that some transgender Uber drivers have been temporarily or permanently locked out of the app when the company’s facial recognition system couldn’t automatically verify their appearance with their photo on file. Uber introduced the feature, called Real-Time ID Check, to fight fraud, but did not account for drivers who are undergoing gender transition. For some working drivers, like Janey Webb of Iowa, account deactivation led to multiple days of lost revenue with no reimbursement by the company.

Yesterday, NPR’s Morning Edition investigated the question of whether internet job ads specifically targeting young workers break the law. Discrimination against workers 40 and older is illegal, but worker advocates say employers are able to exclude older applicants by excluding them from seeing job opening advertisements. In December, the Communications Workers of America sued T-Mobile, Facebook, and others alleging the companies discriminate in this manner. Last month, following an investigation by the Washington state attorney general, Facebook committed to stop allowing advertisers to exclude people based on race, nationality or sexual orientation—but not gender or age.

The Sacramento Bee reported that local police are now using automated license plate readers to investigate minor welfare fraud cases. Civil libertarians like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have expressed concern over how law enforcement agencies use such license plate information databases. Mike Herald, a director with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said that the practice is a means to “pick on a group of people who are extremely poor.”

In her show Full Frontal on Wednesday, comedian Samantha Bee spotlighted the often overlooked contributions of undocumented immigrants in in the U.S. restaurant industry. Bee interviewed several restaurant workers—whose identities were obscured for fear of retribution—who described being overworked, underpaid, and under constant threat of being fired. Bee has previously used Full Frontal segments to shine a light on workers’ issues including workplace sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and women and people of color in the working class with her characteristic satire.

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