News & Commentary

August 19, 2018

In today’s Sunday Review for The New York Times, economic historian Louis Hyman argues that new technology companies like Uber and TaskRabbit did not create the gig economy but only took advantage of a decades-long shift to temporary work arrangements.  He analogizes the current historical moment to the Industrial Revolution.  While new factory technology reflected the changing nature of work in the nineteenth century, its creation depended on the “industrious revolution” of the eighteenth century in which people first began to work outside the home.  Absent such a change in the structure of work, the new technology would have been of little use.  In what Hyman calls the “second industrious revolution,” employers in the 1970s moved away from the secure wage-work economy and increased their reliance on day laborers, office temps, contractors, adjuncts, and other workers filing 1099s.  Silicon Valley companies, just like industrial factories, are simply structuring themselves around an employment practice that has now become commonplace.  Hyman’s conclusion is that the gig economy is not the inevitable result of new technology and that policymakers and corporations have a choice about what employment looks like in the twenty-first century.

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the labor union representing most employees of Washington, D.C.’s Metro system, are calling for the resignation of Metro’s General Manager Paul Wiedefeld after revelations that the transit system provided a special train for attendees of the recent “Unite the Right 2” rally after promising workers that it would not.  The Metro board had been considering the plan for separate trains and a police escort for the white nationalists in an effort to stave off potential violence.  The board later backed off after the union released a statement condemning the accommodation of a hate group and noting that its members, who are eighty percent people of color, should not have to transport them.  On the day of the rally, however, police accompanied the white nationalists onto two subway cars and allegedly blocked other passengers from entering until they arrived at the rally location.

The Washington Post has reached a deal to settle two unfair labor practice charges that the NLRB filed on behalf of the Washington Post Guild, the publication’s union and an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America.  The Board previously sided with the union over complaints that 1) the Post refused to negotiate last year over a unilaterally announced social media policy that employees believed unfairly policed the speech of reporters, and 2) the Post took unlawful disciplinary action against an employee who wrote an op-ed critical of the Post’s owner and the publication’s employment practices.  The settlement will allow the Post to hold reporters “responsible” for public social media posts that are “defamatory” and removes the written warning from the op-ed author’s personnel file.

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