Weekend News & Commentary — November 25, 2018

Published November 25th, 2018 -  - 11.25.182


Amazon workers across Europe went on strike over Black Friday, protesting their punishing work schedules, low wages, and dangerous working conditions. Workers walked out in protest in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Spain, where the AP reports that about 90 percent of workers at an Amazon depot near Madrid walked out this week. A spokesperson for UNI Global Union, an international organization that works with unions representing Amazon workers across Europe, told Gizmodo that 2,600 workers went on strike. Amazon disputes the figure. Striking Amazon workers in England emphasized unsafe working conditions after a Freedom of Information Act request that ambulances had been called to Amazon UK facilities approximately 600 times over the last three years. Workers picketing Amazon Europe said they chose to walk out on Black Friday because it is one of the busiest days of the year for the retail giant; one striking worker told the AP that they hope that by affecting Amazon’s bottom line, they can “make ourselves be heard because the company has not listened to us.”

The Washington Attorney General’s office announced an agreement with four more chains to eliminate so-called “no-poach clauses” from their employment contracts nationwide. As OnLabor’s own Sharon Block and Terri Gerstein wrote this summer, under no-poach agreements, “franchisees pledge not to hire job applicants who are current or recent employees of the company or any of its franchisees, without the approval of the applicants’ employers.” These agreements mean that workers applying to jobs with better pay, benefits, and hours may not even make it to an interview, no matter how good their work is. Worse, the clauses generally aren’t disclosed to workers — so they have no idea that secret no-poach agreements are locking them out of better jobs. This summer, the Washington State AG cracked down on no-poach agreements, getting many fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Arby’s to quit using the secret agreements to avoid a lawsuit. Since then, the AG’s office has signed legally enforceable agreements with 34 corporations to end their use of no-poach clauses.

A new study from the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) and the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive thinktank, shows that New York state added restaurant jobs after the state rose the tipped minimum wage — belying fears that raising the tipped minimum wage would inevitably lead to job losses for restaurant workers. The study found that in the two years after New York raised the tipped minimum wage from $5 per hour to $7.50 per hour, job growth at full-service restaurants increased while workers’ take home pay “increased significantly.” The report found “no statistical evidence” that the increased wage negatively impacted job growth and the state’s number of restaurants rose at more than twice the rate of neighboring states. The study was published as state lawmakers consider eliminating the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers and providing for one, equal minimum wage for tipped and non-tipped workers alike.

The Washington Post reports that employers are using artificial intelligence to “police workers’ social media,” analyze potential hire’s personality, and “reveal hidden aspects of [potential employees’] private lives.” One service, Predictim, offers employers “advanced artificial intelligence” to assess a potential hire’s personality, offering an automated “risk rating” that an individual uses drugs, is disrespectful, or has “a bad attitude,” using an undisclosed process and based on a potential hire’s social media posts. HireVue, another recruitment-technology firm, purports to analyze job applicants’ “tone, word choice, and facial movements during video interviews” to predict their demeanor and skills. The systems rely on opaque algorithms and are largely unproven, but employers still rely on them for hiring decisions.

This weekend marks the 109th anniversary of the “Uprising of 20,000,” in which more than 20,000 immigrant garment workers — mostly young women — launched a massive general strike of New York’s shirtwaist industry. The historic, women-led walkout challenged poverty wages and dangerous working conditions in the city’s sweatshops and trade unionists bias against organizing women.

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