Today’s News & Commentary—January 17, 2020

Published January 17th, 2020 - 01.17.2041

Working-class candidates are making personal and financial sacrifices to run for office, despite campaign guidelines specifically intended to make it easier for them to quit their jobs and run. A 2002 Federal Election Commission rule permits candidates running in a general election to pay themselves salaries from their campaign contributions at a per-diem rate equal to their previous salary or the salary of the office they are seeking, whichever is less. However, candidates running in primaries can only start taking a salary once the filing deadline for entering the primary has passed—typically just 2-4 months before the primary election itself. Mckayla Wilkes, a mother of two, part-time student, full-time federal contractor, and primary challenger to Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD), plans to quit her day job and take a salary to campaign full-time on the date of Maryland’s primary ballot access deadline later this month. Other primary challengers, like Jamaal Bowman and Jessica Cisneros, have chosen to forgo salaries altogether, even though they could use the money. Bowman drained some of his retirement savings and took out a personal loan to challenge Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY). After quitting her day job to run against Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Cisneros lives with her parents to save money and has no health insurance.

The rise of on-demand scheduling has made many workers’ lives miserable. An estimated 16 million retail workers (representing one-tenth of U.S. employees), 12 million food-service workers, and other hourly workers and their families are trapped in a constant cycle of precarious and unpredictable low-wage labor. This time strain can have an even greater negative impact on workers than low wages, and the rise of algorithmic scheduling has contributed to both. “A computer decides when I work and how much I work and whether I work,” said Adrian Ugalde, who used to make $10 an hour at Target. He often had to beg coworkers to give up their shifts so he could cobble together enough hours of work each week to stay eligible for full-time status to keep his health insurance. Other workers reported selling their plasma when they couldn’t rely on a steady income due to unpredictable scheduling. Research has shown that more humane scheduling practices not only improve employee health and well-being but also customer service and satisfaction.

Uber has resurrected some of its old pricing practices, in the second batch of changes the company has rolled out after California passed AB5, a bill codifying the state’s stricter employment classification test. The first set of changes was intended to give drivers slightly more flexibility by providing more information about a potential trip before they have to accept it. Now, instead of seeing a set price before booking a trip, riders will once again see a price range, with the final price calculated based on time and distance after the trip is completed. In addition, the surge pricing model will revert back to calculating earnings for drivers as a multiple of the fare. Along with other gig economy giants, Uber has also pledged $30 million to a 2020 ballot initiative to fight AB5.

Earlier this month, a worker died in a fall at an Alabama chicken plant with a history of serious injuries. OSHA did not investigate the three severe injuries—two amputations and an additional hospitalization—that have occurred at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant since 2017. Nevertheless, USDA gave Pilgrim’s Pride permission to increase line speeds from 140 to 175 birds per minute, requiring workers to inspect three chickens every second. A Human Rights Watch report found that meat and poultry plant employees suffer some of the highest rates of workplace injuries. Amputations and other serious injuries sent them to hospitals at a rate of one almost every other day between 2015 and 2018, according to the report.

As the use of artificial intelligence in hiring proliferates, job seekers in South Korea are increasingly paying for classes to help them ace interviews that use face analysis technology and other machine learning tools. In countries where unemployment is high⁠—nearly one-quarter of young people in South Korea are not in the workforce⁠—the stakes of a single job interview are even higher. One career consultant charges about $85 for a three-hour lesson on passing AI-based screening tools, offering advice including “smile with your eyes.”

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