Weekend News & Commentary — November 14-15, 2015
On Tuesday, we reported that a coalition of gig economy executives, labor leaders, academics and more came together to sign a letter in support of a social safety net for workers in the gig economy. Lydia DePillis at the Washington Post reports on the reactions among those who participated in the letter and those who did not. After the letter was published, conservative R Street Institute published a follow-up brief describing a private benefits exchange that could provide independent contractors with benefits without putting the onus on employers to treat the workers as employees. Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of progressive Economic Policy Institute, which wasn’t invited to the discussions, is suspicious of the letter and its data. For instance, the letter cites a survey by the Freelancer’s Union to support its estimate at 53 million people working as independent contractors, whereas the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers estimate 14.6 million. Many leaders on the left also signed the letter, and while all parties haven’t yet agreed to one solution, so far, many of the ideas that have been proposed have received support from progressives and CEOs alike.
In technology news, the Huffington Post reports that driverless trucks might actually be beneficial to truckers. Most current models are semi-autonomous, requiring a driver to still be at the wheel to take control when necessary, such as an 18-wheeler unveiled by Daimler earlier this year. Trucking is a $700 billion industry in the U.S., and, despite tens of thousands of open positions and companies offering bigger paychecks to attract workers, recruitment is difficult and turnover is high. Companies are hoping that semi-automating trucks will improve conditions for truckers, whose shift might stretch as long as 11 hours, increasing their comfort level immensely. While the ultimate goal might be trucks that are completely driverless, the hope for now is that this change might attract a new generation of workers.
According to the Washington Post, companies are becoming less restrictive in their dress codes; specifically, tattoos are becoming less taboo. In a memo earlier this week, Jimmy John’s—whose dress code mandates the color of workers’ shoe soles and the shade of their khakis—wrote that “a little ink is OK, as long as it’s tasteful and not on the face or throat.” Last year, Starbucks and PetSmart also shifted their policies to allow for “appropriate” tattoos, and, earlier this year, the U.S. Army relaxed its rules, too. The change could reflect a desire to attract more young workers—2010 Pew Research Center study found that almost 40% of millenials have tattoos—or it could reflect workers with tattoos rising in the ranks in the companies where they work. It is the latest change in a series of moves by high-profile companies this year to relax dress codes, including Wal-Mart and Abercrombie & Fitch.