News & Commentary

March 17, 2019

Marissa Marandola

Marissa Marandola is a student at Harvard Law School.

Senator Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) 2020 presidential campaign announced on Friday that it will have a unionized workforce.  A majority of staffers signed union cards authorizing United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 to represent them, and the campaign voluntarily recognized the union.  The bargaining unit will include all campaign employees below the rank of deputy director.  Campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in a statement, “Bernie Sanders is the most pro-union candidate in the field, he’ll be the most pro-union president in the White House and we’re honored that his campaign will be the first to have a unionized workforce.”  UFCW Local 400 President Mark Federici commented, “We expect this will mean pay parity and transparency on the campaign, with no gender bias or harassment, and equal treatment for every worker, whether they’re in Washington, D.C., Iowa, New Hampshire or anywhere else.”  The Sanders campaign is the first major presidential campaign with a unionized staff.

The U.S. Department of Labor released its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey for January 2019.  The report, which measures the number of employment vacancies, the number of workers who left their jobs, and the reasons their employment relationships ended, shows that there were 7.58 million unfilled jobs at the end of January, up from 7.48 million at the end of December.  TheWall Street Journal writes that the data suggests high employer demand for workers and difficulty filling jobs – in part because the number of job openings in January exceeded the number of workers who were unemployed by more than one million.  The rate at which workers quit their jobs remained stable at 2.3 percent for the eighth consecutive month.

The U.S. Soccer Federation defended the terms of its contract with the World Cup–champion U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) on Friday, a week after the team filed a lawsuit against the Federation alleging gender discrimination.  In an open letter, Federation president Carlos Cordeiro stressed that the organization “believes that all female athletes deserve fair and equitable pay, and we strive to meet this core value at all times.”  The Federation and the USWNT agreed to a collective bargaining agreement in April 2017 that raised players’ wages and gave them better benefits.  The players claim that they that are still paid less than their male counterparts and suffer from other forms of “institutionalized gender discrimination.”  Following Cordeiro’s letter, they collectively put out a statement which said, “Even as we train to represent the U.S. in the upcoming World Cup, we look forward to pursuing these claims and continue to hope for an outcome where USSF complies with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act.”

In gig economy news, Gizmodo reports that DoorDash is finally confronting the long-growing tension with its delivery workers, independent contractors known as Dashers, over the company’s tipping model.  In a letter to workers, co-founder and CEO Tony Xu committed to organizing survey and roundtables with delivery workers based on complaints from workers “who expressed confusion about how pay is calculated and what happens with tips.”  Under the current DoorDash system, adopted in 2017, the company guarantees a minimum rate per “dash” (or delivery).  It pays a certain amount of the rate up front and when the dash is completed, covers the difference between that amount plus a customer’s tip and the guaranteed minimum rate.  In other words, tips function as part of the workers’ guaranteed pay rather than as a supplement to wages.  The developments at DoorDash follow controversy over Instacart’s similar tipping policy last month.  At the time, Xu defended the model to Bloomberg, attributing negative coverage of DoorDash’s payment scheme to Instacart’s failed “experiment” with it.

Alex Rosenblat analyzes Uber’s use of a customer service communications model to manage its workforce on Slate.  She describes the company’s program of “algorithmic management,” under which the majority of driver communications, even dispute resolution concerning wages and conflicts with riders, are mediated through automated platforms or directed to call centers manned by “community support representatives,” Uber’s substitute for an HR department available to drivers, who provide generic, scripted responses.  This hands-off approach to personnel is part of Uber’s effort to brand itself as a technology company rather than a transportation company and to thus avoid having its drivers classified as employees.  The consequences, in Rosenblat’s view, are severe: “The question in this new economy is whether algorithmic management really creates a qualitative distinction between work and consumption.  Because by encouraging this distinction and describing its technology as a way to merely connect two groups of users, Uber can have its cake and eat it too, avoiding responsibility for prospective labor law violations while its ostensibly neutral algorithms give the company vast leverage over how drivers do their work.”


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