News & Commentary

July 16, 2019

Vail Kohnert-Yount

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

Amazon warehouse workers in Minnesota, Germany, and beyond went on strike yesterday through today⁠—coinciding with Amazon’s fifth annual Prime Day⁠—to protest low wages and high pressure working conditions, as well as the company’s contracts with ICE. Striking workers are asking customers not to cross the virtual picket line, as the shopping event has prompted “rising shifts” for employees in July. Meanwhile, many of Amazon’s 2.5 million independent sellers, who are responsible for more than half of the website’s total sales, are struggling under the company’s use forced arbitration and class action waivers. All Amazon sellers are subject to “the largest single employment-related arbitration clause in America,” according to The American Prospect, which enforces the company’s often opaque private rules and regulations—sometimes with devastating financial consequences for independent sellers who have nowhere else to turn when the system fails them.


The Los Angeles Times reported that Uber and Lyft drivers in California were paid up to $100 to demonstrate against a bill that could make them employees. Drivers who attended the rally at the state capitol in Sacramento were offered $25 to $100 to cover “travel, parking, and time.” The offer was sent to drivers from the I’m Independent Coalition, a group funded by the California Chamber of Commerce, which has been working with Uber and Lyft to lobby for changes to AB 5 and helped organize the rally.

In the New York Times, Ai-jen Poo, a founder of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, wrote about the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights introduced by Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Pramila Jayapal this week. The law would require employers to provide a written agreement with clear expectations about pay, duties, schedules, and time-off policies, as well as allow workers to earn seven paid sick days and establish a new independent wage and standards board. “No one understands the future of work better than domestic workers. As the gig economy has grown over the last 30 years, more and more professions look like theirs,” wrote Poo, who said that domestic workers’ advocacy can be a model for other 21st century workers. “From the freelancer to the ride share driver, such work is also characterized by conditions like long or unpredictable hours, stagnant wages, disappearing benefits, lack of job security and limited rights. Domestic workers have seen this coming — both the problems and the solutions.”

Dozens of Phoenix police officers were revealed to have shared bigoted Facebook posts, promoting violence against protesters and criminal defendants and complaining about about black neighbors, Muslims, and gay people. The posts were originally published by the Plain View Project, a database of public Facebook posts and comments made by current and former police officers that has found hundreds of officers across the country posting racist or misogynistic statements or condoning violence on social media. Offensive or hateful posts have had employment consequences in police departments in Arizona and elsewhere. In Phoenix, the chief placed some officers on “nonenforcement” duty. In Philadelphia, the police commissioner pulled 72 officers from duty and said some would be fired. In St. Louis, the top prosecutor said she would no longer accept cases from 22 officers. A New York Times op-ed asked prosecutors to do more than just punish officers who violate the law, by declining to prosecute cases that depend on the testimony of officers who have demonstrated bias, dishonesty, or violent tendencies online.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Huawei Technologies will soon fire hundreds of U.S. employees as its continued blacklisting by the Trump Administration takes a financial toll. The layoffs are expected to affect employees who work at the Chinese company’s research labs in Texas, California, and Washington state. U.S. officials claim Huawei poses a national security risk and have accused the company of participating in espionage, which the company denies and the Chinese government says is just part of the Trump administration’s escalating “trade war.”

National Geographic reported on new applications of existing technology being used to fight trafficking into forced labor at sea. Fishing boats that display suspicious behavior, like turning off their signals or avoiding certain ports known for enforcement, are more likely to be using forced labor. Some boats rarely return to land, often transferring their cargo to other ships at sea, making it impossible for workers who have been trafficked or otherwise abused to leave or report. While actual intervention is required to confirm whether the crew is forced into labor, identifying suspicious vessels helps law enforcement know where to start.

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