News & Commentary

July 26, 2019

Alisha Jarwala

Alisha Jarwala is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

More than 1.3 million Americans have lost their jobs in the past decade as a result of private equity ownership in retail, according to a new report from nonprofits and worker advocacy groups.  This number includes 600,000 retail workers and 728,000 workers in related industries, and women and people of color have been disproportionately affected.  The Washington Post reports that private equity firms and hedge funds have been “aggressively buying up retailers since the mid-2000s” but “large debt loads from leveraged buyouts make it difficult for otherwise profitable retailers to adapt to industry changes.”

Labor Secretary nominee Eugene Scalia’s past writings on sexual harassment in the workplace could lay the groundwork for a contentious confirmation battle, Politico reports.  In a 1998 opinion piece published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Scalia argued that quid pro quo sexual harassment “should be eliminated as a functional category of discrimination” under the law.  Quid pro quo harassment refers to the practice of soliciting sexual favors in return for advancement in the workplace. In a more colorful passage, Scalia writes that “[s]aying ‘You’re an incompetent stupid female bitch’ a single time is not actionable environmental harassment.”  Politico notes that this essay was a source of controversy in 2001 during Scalia’s confirmation hearings for Solicitor of Labor, but it may be a bigger concern in a #MeToo world.

The Washington Post reports that social media companies including Facebook and YouTube have outsourced content moderating to the Philippines and are not providing adequate psychological support to workers⁠, who are contractors employed by large agencies⁠.  Content moderating involves looking at images and videos to determine if they violate the site’s terms and conditions, and can mean spending hours staring at images of graphic violence and sex.  Workers have suffered mental breakdowns and attempted suicide as a result of the trauma. In response, social media companies claim to have raised wages and developed counseling services, but The Washington Post did not see much evidence on the ground in Manila.

Food delivery app DoorDash has changed its tipping model after facing backlash from customers.  Under DoorDash’s old policy, tips went to subsidize payments to delivery workers: essentially, if DoorDash guaranteed a worker $7 for a delivery and the customer tipped $4, the worker would still get just $7, made up of the tip and $3 from DoorDash.  After The New York Times published an article last weekend about what it’s like to work in food delivery, customers took to social media to shame DoorDash.  Tony Xu, DoorDash’s chief executive, responded, tweeting that “[g]oing forward, we’re changing our model⁠—the new model will ensure that Dashers’ earnings will increase by the exact amount a customer tips on every order.”  The New York Times notes that the old DoorDash model is borrowed from the restaurant industry⁠ “tipped wage” practice—with the key difference that unlike restaurant employees, food delivery workers are independent contractors with no wage protections. 

Finally, the Economic Policy Institute released an interactive map showing the impact to each congressional district of raising the minimum wage to $15.  EPI estimates that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025 would lift pay for over 33 million workers across the country, or about 22 percent of the workforce. 

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