Tag Archives: tech workers

Google Decides to “Do Evil” to its Workers

New Orleans      Remember back in the old days, which might have only been a few years ago, but certainly seems so twentieth century now, when it seemed OK that Google was the go-to search engine for most everyone, the mail service for billions, map reader for the masses, and so much more?  Sure, you do.  There motto then was “do no evil.”  What a hoot!  That was so before the principals were gazillionaires and could hide their libertarianism that values all things individual over anything collective from governments down to the regular folks on the street.

With a workforce of 100,000 direct employees around the world and 100,000 or more contractors, this “do no evil” thing is officially over when it comes to their own folks much less the rest of us.  Time to tighten the screws!  Reports are out now that among their many contracts their human relations folks have hired IRI Consultants, a notorious union buster, to give them advice on how and where to put their boot on their employees’ necks.   I know IRI well enough.  They were a household word for SEIU organizers in the twenty-five years, Local 100 was affiliated there, just as SEIU is a household word for them on their websites as they tout efforts to thwart the Service Employees hospital organizing drives.  One of the few listservs I still get is a regular alert and spreadsheet on “Union Busters,” since they are required to file with reports on their activity though most, like IRI Consultants, do their dirty work in secret.

The dissembling by Google over IRI’s work for them is a piece of the same cloth, though many of their recent actions, as reported by their workers, smell like them.  Google has been moving to close down its more open culture of employee outlets for wide ranging comments.  The company now wants to know about any meeting of 100 or more workers or requests for ten or more rooms.  Weekly all-hands meetings are now monthly and only vetted topics allowed.

Google is reacting to a growing feistiness by its workforce.  A relatively small walkout freaked them out.  A petition against Google contracting with the US Customs and Border Protection agency was a pimple on management’s butt.  There is no real threat of a union organizing drive across the company, but this whole legally protected concerted activity thing under US labor law is chafing them as well.

The attempts by the National Labor Relations Board to now curtail what they are willing to protect as concerted activity on company email servers is undoubtedly a flashing neon light for Google and its buster-buddies to try to suffocate their workers communicating with each other about Google, their work, and their grievances.  Recently, the EEOC has partially kept the door open to protect workers when they are communicating collectively by email about sexual harassment, but the retreat of the NLRB is significant.  California labor law may protect some Google workers based around headquarters, but all of the signs are bad as the company begins cracking down harder.

“Do no evil” was a good early recruitment tool for Google and pretty good marketing for the rest of us, but the new Google practices are less about changing or doing good in the world and more about holding onto every penny along the way.  “Do evil” or whatever it takes to your workers is standard operating procedure for mega-companies, so put Google on that list as the same as the rest and far from the best.

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Sweating Labor in the Gig Economy and People by Tech

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

New Orleans      In a piece about climate change, one author quoted a commonplace statement that the corporate business model in a capitalist economy puts no inherent value on public resources like land, air, and water, so that the costs are for acquisition, extraction, marketing, and delivery without concern for the after affects like global warming, downstream water or air pollution, and the like.  The burden then falls on the commons, the public, and the government to force regulation or cost recovery, often too little and too late, especially when wealth is increasingly concentrated, and people with lesser income cannot afford the price of restoration.

I’m really not talking about climate change though.  It seems to be that within that business model, app-based and other tech companies fit squarely, if we add people themselves as a natural resource in the same list with land, air, and water, and likely even valued less by many.

Take the business model for Facebook and the rest of the tech companies that is based on selling people’s privacy for their own and corporate billions without paying anything for it, and without being accountable or, until very recently, worrying about the consequences.   Take as another example the continued resistance to dealing with the ubiquitous consequences of enslaving millions that still reverberates throughout every level of the American economy and culture.  Democratic presidential candidates are quick to agree to study reparations, but take my word, oil companies will pay for climate change and Facebook will give us a residual payment on using and selling our data way before reparations are paid for slavery.

In the run up to Uber going public, the company offered a slightly lower opening price valuation than investors had placed on it privately, because they continue to lose literally billions.  A sidebar noted that like Lyft, the company has said they might pay between $100 and $10,000 to longtime drivers, that they don’t acknowledge as employees by paying benefits, social security or unemployment or anything else, but increasingly are finding it harder and harder to recruit in a tight employment market.  Here is another business model that tries to sweat a common resource, people, without paying in order to extract rents or excess profits from their labor for free.  There was a long story of a fulltime driver for Uber and sometimes Lyft in the Bay Area who was barely making it because despite his share of the fares, the fact that he was classified as an independent contractor though totally dependent on the company and their arbitrary division of income, he had to pay all the cost for the vehicle, gas, and maintenance which was clearly unsustainable.

This problem is global as well.  An organizer in Buenos Aires shared with me this week the embryonic efforts to organize personas de platformas or gig workers there.  We have organized multi-union and multinational meetings of bicycle delivery drivers in Europe, but everywhere the organizing problem continues to be the lack of leverage.

Air, water, and land are voiceless.  In modern economic labor, people doing the work are becoming as voiceless as the clickers and likers on social media.  Simply another natural resource to be exploited for as long as they can get away with it.  None of this is sustainable, but stopping it is another matter.

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