Wanted: A Non-Commercial Company and Boss Guide for Workers

New Orleans  Talking to organizers in Europe in recent weeks, it was interesting to hear that prospects for new warehouse distribution center operations by Amazon have triggered waves of social media comment, protest, and, of course, interest in what the jobs mean, what they pay, and how to deal with the reputation of the company to its rank-and-file warehouse crew.  To organizers this is the scent in the air that could bring them running at the potential of organizing the workforce from the ground up.  Who knows.  Easier said and done, even across the pond.

After batting around various ideas about how to use social media in prospecting for organizing leads and identifying organizing targets, I ended up reading a long piece in The New Yorker that largely focused on a website and app operation called Glassdoor, based in the US but with a footprint in Europe as well.  Glassdoor and its different, but similar, competitors like Vault, JobVent, and F**kedCompany among others, allow people to comment on and evaluate their employers and bosses the same way that popular sites like Yelp allow restaurant customers to rate and rank restaurants and their dining experience.

The article and much about it praised the transparency that such sites allowed employees and in the spirit of the moment some advocates thought it could help expose situations involving sexual harassment and even abuse by offering such a forum.  The article wasn’t just a fan letter though, pointing out repeatedly the conflicts of interest commercial sites like Glassdoor have by essentially allowing companies for a pricey fee to take over their Glassdoor website and soften the critique.  The problem of company encouraged and sponsored reviews that poured sugar in the coffee to distort any criticism also poisoned the transparency and more high-minded mission statement of Glassdoor.  At same time they claimed that personnel departments paid attention to comments and often were asked to comment in job interviews about negative comments on Glassdoor.

All of which got me thinking that it would be wonderful if there were a “real” site that was noncommercial and worker-run and oriented, rather than commercial and corporate infected, so that workers could share information and find out the whole story on their companies, inside and out.  There’s still every evidence despite contradictory impacts that transparency in pay tends to resolve inequities.  The requirements for salary publications in the United Kingdom have certainly had impact, including the resignation of a noted BBC reporter when she found she was paid way less than her co-host.

We need something like a Wikipedia for Workers, if you follow my argument here.  Sure, this would help organizers, and I wish it would help unions, though I doubt that they would have the interest or capacity to alter their model sufficiently to take advantage of the information and interest.  The real beneficiaries would be workers gaining the information and the ability to use it to self-organize and stand up for themselves and each other in their workplaces and force competition and equity in their industries.

That’s my phone ringing.  Someone needs to answer the call!


Real Estate Developers Play and Never Seem to Have to Pay

Greenville   Our union signed a contract with the Regional Transit Authority in New Orleans or rather its management company, TransDev, yesterday. They handle the business end of routes, accounts, and schedules for bus and trolley lines in the city. Reading the paper before triangulating a trip between Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee, I read an article about the burden of lower income workers and their commutes to work in New York City. This is all grist for our mill.

One takeaway from the article was pretty plainly presented. In summary, the New York Times reported on a 2013 study in New York City found that almost 800,000 residents commute more than an hour each way to work, most of them earning less than $35,000 per year. Black New Yorkers’ trips are 25% longer than whites and Hispanics travel 12% longer than whites. I was reminded of a quote from the Greek historian Thucydides writing about Athens hundreds of years ago: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

The reporter quoted a President of the New York City Council speaking over 100 years ago about the building of the subway system in the city. The main driver on the routes was the huge expected increase in property values along the lines. He argued that since real estate interests had lobbied for the project and were the ones benefiting, they, not just the public, should bear the costs. Obviously it didn’t happen then, and it hasn’t happened since. Another bunch of billions was recently spent extending a subway line there, and once again developers promoted, and the public paid. Meanwhile workers schlep to their lower paying jobs from farther distances because they can’t afford rents closer to work any longer, and they do so on buses in the slowest transportation system in the country for the most workers.

I wish the story were only about New York City, but increasingly the real estate interests and their supporters from the President on down, fueled by campaign contributions, push for more public expenditures that skew transportation towards tourism and away from workers, gentrify and jack up rents and eviction rates, forcing zombie work schedules, slow rolls, and hoopty rides to be thin ribbon holding people together between work and home all over the country. Developers dream and then sell out and run as fast as they can once the sticks are built so that some other sucker works the field, while property taxes rise, rents soar, and the public pays the bills.

How about that for a depressing cycle that we seem unable to break in city after city? We’re all prisoners to a national policy that no one owns or seems able to change, while we are all forced to pay for it, as Thucydides said because they can and, it seems, because we must.