Tag Archives: union

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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Uber Deal with Machinists is Worrisome

uberNew Orleans   Uber, the ride-sharing service, has announced that it has come to an agreement with the International Association of Machinists (IAM) to create a guild or association of some sorts that it will informally recognize for its drivers in New York City. James Conigliaro Jr., the guild founder and assistant director and general counsel at the International Association of Machinists District 15, which represents workers in the Northeastern US, said, “…we’ve successfully come to agreement with Uber to represent the 35,000 drivers using Uber in New York City to enhance their earning ability and benefits.”

I’m a big advocate of majority unionism and alternative organizing models and techniques, but whatever this is, it doesn’t quite smell right to me. Uber is still maintaining that its drivers are not employees, yet the union is claiming, based on an “agreement” with the company, that it can “represent” all of the workers. The Machinists are also claiming that they can improve their wages and benefits without offering details about how that will happen other than the fact that they now have a five (5), yes five year, agreement that provides for monthly meetings of some bodies with somebody from Uber.

So, if I get this right, a company without workers is signing an agreement on behalf of those workers with a union without members among those workers to create a way to talk about wages, hours and conditions of employment. Except for the fact that everyone has agreed to play-pretend that the drivers are not real Uber employees, under the National Labor Relations Act this would pretty much categorically constitute an 8(a)2 violation or what is known commonly as a “company union.”

Meanwhile, certainly known to the Machinists, more than 5000 real Uber drivers have already signed authorization cards seeking to be represented by the Transport Workers’ Union in New York City. Both the IAM and the TWU are members of the AFL-CIO, so how does this not constitute an Article XX violation of the AFL-CIO’s constitution or what is known commonly as “raiding?” If not raiding, it’s certain interference.

On Uber’s part they already are familiar with direct unionization efforts in Seattle, San Francisco and other cities. Their recent settlement of a class action suit in California was widely seen as an effort to buy time for the company’s effort to continue to pretend that its drivers are not employees, and they agreed in that settlement to also begin meeting in some form or fashion with their drivers on issues as part of the settlement.

All of this also smells a little like the company was union “shopping” for a partner here. The Machinists certainly do a bit of organizing, though that is not their primary reputation. According to NLRB statistics for the five years between 2008 and 2012 they had an excellent win rate and ranked in the top ten, but during that period they only gained 11869 workers in units they won, which isn’t much over 2000 workers per year, if they converted all of them into members, which never happens. Their organizing totals were five times less than the NLRB results for either the Teamsters or the Service Employees and half as many as the Food and Commercial Workers. Meanwhile they have fallen from 730673 members in 2000 to 570,423 in 2013. I’m not saying they won’t try to take this lemon and make lemonade, but when Uber was looking for a partner, Uber would have known the Machinists were “needy” and desperate to grow, one way or another.

When it comes to benefits, still without either talking to the drivers or the Machinists, Uber also announced that it has contracted, yes, contracted, with the so-called Freelancers’ Union in order to see what they can cook up in terms of portable benefits and the like.

It is easy to see that Uber wants, and is getting, huge cover from all of this, but when the workers are on the sideline reading the news in the paper or getting alerts on their smartphones, it seems more like a scam that something substantial for the workers.

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