Weekend News and Commentary: June 21-22

Published June 22nd, 2014 -  - 06.22.14


The New York Times highlighted employee surveillance and monitoring technology, which will “fundamentally changing how we work — along with raising concerns about privacy and the specter of unchecked surveillance in the workplace.”  The article contrasts the productivity and social gains from monitoring employees with privacy concerns and fear of reverting to the “scientific management” techniques of Taylorism. “The real challenge for all of us,” said Lamar Pierce, an associate professor at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, “is what is the right level and in what context is it being done.”

A New York Times opinion column entitled “Fear Not the Coming of the Robots” touts the importance of embracing technological change in the workplace.  Exploring the history of trepidation surrounding automation in the workplace, author Steven Rattner concludes that the United States “mustn’t become a nation of robot worriers.  That will merely guarantee that our incomes and standards of living will continue to stagnate.”

The New York Times highlights the story of Shanesha Taylor, a homeless mother who was unable to find child care and left her two sons, aged 6 months and 2 years, in her 2006 Dodge Durango while she went to a 70-minute job interview.  She was arrested as a result, and her story has become “emblematic of the harsh realities of today’s economy, where jobs are scarce and well-paid ones even scarcer, and where desperate choices have become common.”

In international news, Bloomberg reports that “a ‘breakthrough’ has been made in talks to end a strike that has kept most mines shut at the world’s three biggest platinum producers.”  The details of the breakthrough will be given on Monday, June 23 by leaders of the South African Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which represents the more than 70,000 miners on strike.  South African producers say they have lost 23.4 billion rand in sales from the strike, while workers have lost 10.4 billion rand in wages.  South Africa’s economy contracted in the first quarter as a result of the strike.

In an opinion column, the New York Times explored the working conditions of Thai shrimping and seafood fishing.  Though the industry employs over 650,000 people and annually produces more than $7 billion in exports, there is a “dark side”:  the Thai seafood industry’s “reliance on slave labor is so pervasive and ugly that the State Department now lists Thailand as one of the worst violators among 188 countries judged every year on how they deal with human trafficking.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that in Italy, Fiat’s CEO Sergio Marchionne on Thursday canceled plans to shift 500 furloughed workers from a mostly idle Fiat plant in Turin to a nearby Maserati factory.  This was not the first time that Fiat has butted heads with unions — Marchionne’s decision comes a few days after 200 workers belonging to the Fiom metalworkers union held a one-hour strike at the Maserati factory to protest general working conditions. The strike at the Maserati plant was “incomprehensible, irrational and unjustified,” Mr. Marchionne wrote in a letter published in Turin’s La Stampa newspaper. 

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