Weekend News & Commentary — November 16-17, 2019


Published November 17th, 2019 - 11.17.1920


Google announced on Friday that it would scale back its weekly all-hands-on-deck meetings. The weekly meetings, known as TGIF, allowed workers the opportunity to voice concerns about the company’s operation directly to executives. The meetings will now be held once per month, and will focus more narrowly on “product and business strategy.” The decision is just the latest in a series of moves to reign in what had been viewed as a workplace that was relatively open to worker dissent. For instance, in August, Google promulgated new rules discouraging employees from discussing politics on the company’s internal mailing lists and discussion boards. Google has also been dealing with allegations that they fired multiple workers in retaliation for labor-related activism, as Annie noted last week.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has told employee unions who occupy department office space that they must either vacate agency facilities or start paying rent in 2020. The directive is just one of several changes the department is making as it starts to implement three executive orders that cut back on federal employees’ workplace rights. A federal judge had invalidated major portions of the executive orders in 2018. The D.C. Circuit subsequently reversed that decision, concluding that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the case. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) decried the changes as illegal, notwithstanding the D.C. Circuit’s opinion: even assuming the executive orders are valid, federal agencies still need to bargain with unions over any proposed changes. Jared had more to say about these executive orders and their saga through federal court here and here.

Taylor Swift went public with a dispute she is having with Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun over the rights to her early music. The artist posted a note across her social media accounts detailing how Borchetta and Braun are allegedly restricting her ability to perform some of her earlier songs on live television, pursuant to an agreement with her former record label, Big Machine Label Group, that she would not rerecord her earlier released songs until 2020. In the message, Swift also called out The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm who helped finance the purchase of Big Machine. The plea elicited a response from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who connected Swift’s situation with broader concerns about the predatory practices of private equity firms. Such firms have been criticized for acquiring companies, extracting profit, and then leaving the acquired companies to fold—with predictable effects on the companies’ workforces. Swift’s message calls upon her fans to lobby Borchetta and Braun to allow her to play her old songs. It is worth noting that Swift’s former record label has disputed her claims, saying she is free to perform all of her catalog at the upcoming American Music Awards.

The New York Times has an in-depth piece on Mechanical Turk, a digital work marketplace run by Amazon. On Mechanical Turk, users can earn money, often mere cents, performing various online tasks for third parties. The tasks run the gamut from taking surveys to labeling photographs to transcribing audio—basically, anything that rudimentary artificial intelligence might have trouble accomplishing. Wages are extremely low. As noted in the article, one study found that only 4% of “Turkers” make more than the federal minimum wage.

Some quick notes on recent union endorsements: the United Farm Workers announced on Saturday to the San Francisco Chronicle that they were endorsing Senator Kamala Harris in the Democratic presidential primary. Dolores Huerta, one of the founders of the union, personally endorsed Harris in February. The union’s endorsement follows reports earlier this week that Senator Bernie Sanders had secured endorsements from two other unions: National Nurses United and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). The National Nurses United endorsement is not that much of a surprise. The union supported Sanders in 2016, and has been an outspoken supporter of a single-payer healthcare system. UTLA is the second-largest local teachers’ union in the country, representing roughly 34,000 teachers in Los Angeles. The announcements come as various Democratic presidential hopefuls head to Long Beach for this weekend’s California Democratic Party convention.

Finally, the members of the Chicago Teachers Union appear to have ratified the contract that the union negotiated with the city, officially putting to rest the possibility of another walkout.

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