News & Commentary

June 7, 2021

Fran Swanson

Fran Swanson is a student at Harvard Law School.

The prospects for national voting rights and campaign finance reform legislation just got dimmer. On Sunday, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin laid out his opposition to the For the People Act in a Charleston Gazette-Mail op-ed. He also reiterated his opposition to eliminating the filibuster rule. Eliminating the filibuster already seemed unlikely given Manchin’s and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s earlier opposition to it but advocates hoped that, if anything could garner support for changing this Senate rule, it would be doing so to pass landmark voting rights legislation given the filibuster’s history as a tool of segregationists. With the filibuster in place, a range of progressive priorities that seem unlikely to be able to be considered through reconciliation—from immigration reform to LGBTQ+ protections to paid family leave—face an uncertain future in the Senate.

In a New York Times op-ed, the Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz urged policymakers to dig into the numbers behind the latest jobs report. She argued that, as happened with the Great Recession, we are missing the fact that insufficient demand for goods and services in many sectors has actually created a labor demand problem, not a labor supply problem. Shierholz explained that the 25 states that are cutting their unemployment insurance aren’t solving a problem but creating one by “foregoing an enormous amount of economic activity” as economies struggle to recover from the pandemic.

CNBC reported on the rise of on-demand hiring apps in the restaurant industry to fill open positions. While the companies behind the apps and some restaurant owners heralded them as opportunities to meet a labor shortage in the industry, the Restaurant Opportunities Center United’s Teofilo Reyes explained that the real problem was “the old model of no benefits, low wages and poor working conditions.” He also feared that the hiring model would exacerbate the risk of race and gender-based discrimination (with employers making snap decisions based on workers’ profile pictures) and noted that people hired through the apps would be independent contractors with very few labor protections.

 Technology isn’t just shaping the way people are hired, it’s also shaping the jobs themselves. A New York Times story out this weekend on grocery order fulfillment highlighted how technology that is framed as a tool for workers can actually lead to impossible job performance standards and serve as a way to constantly surveil them. Noell Marion, a former Instacart shopper in Illinois, explained that, “[t]here was always someone telling you, you’re not shopping fast enough, your time’s not where it should be, we’ve seen them fire people for not meeting their times so you just need to go faster.”

And, in case you missed it, María Jesús Mora is out with a deeply-reported piece in The Nation on New York’s excluded workers fund and the immigrant activists fighting to ensure that it is actually accessible to those who need it most. She highlights the bold, direct action undertaken by workers and their families that led to fund’s historic passage but explains how documentation requirements may block the very people who need the fund most from accessing it, something advocates are working to change.

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