TaskRabbit, Zaarly, Agent Anything and the other supposedly high-tech companies bill themselves as new and improved takes on the modern working world, but their model actually comes from a much older concept: piecework. It was common in the late 19th and early 20th century that, instead of working in a factory for a wage or a salary, workers sewed or assembled goods at home and were paid by the finished item rather than for their time. The new wave of piecework may look different – working for an individual rather than a big company, working for many different clients instead of just one, and having a website act as a broker (and take 20% off the top) – but it has very similar roots.Now, changes at TaskRabbit are taking away the flexibility that's supposedly the draw of this type of work, and many the "taskers" aren't happy. What's more:
This "revolutionary" work built out of Silicon Valley convenience is not really about technological innovation – it's just the next step in a decades-old trend of fragmenting jobs, isolating workers and driving down wages.
... while technology has made it easier for clients to find workers to do low-paying gigs, it has also made it easier for workers to find each other. And despite the competitiveness engendered by the TaskRabbit system, there are multiple groups on Facebook where TaskRabbit workers and users of other "gig economy" apps talk to one another – including at least one that formed specifically in response to the latest changes, and multiple location-based groups.Continue reading below the fold for more of the week's labor and education news.
A fair day's wage
- The recent bill increasing the minimum wage in Massachusetts had another important provision, putting into law an existing Joint Task Force on the Underground Economy started by Gov. Deval Patrick and having real success fighting wage theft:
Recent reports show that in 2013 alone the JTF recovered $15.6 million in back wages, unemployment insurance premiums, penalties and fines following over one thousand investigations. Since its inception, the JTF has recovered over $56 million.
- Kristen Bell as Mary Poppins makes the case for raising the minimum wage. Worth getting through the ad for:
- The voice of Thomas the Tank Engine is quitting over low wages?
- Unions join a climate change campaign:
Climate initiatives are still controversial in the labor movement. But dozens of unions in New York, jarred by memories of Superstorm Sandy, have lined up to join the People’s Climate March, planned to coincide with a United Nations summit that will draw world leaders to the city.The whole article is worth a read.
“Let’s be clear, climate change is the most important issue facing all of us for the rest of our lives,” said John Harrity, president of the Connecticut State Council of Machinists, which endorsed the march.
“Climate protection is the single most essential issue for us now,” said J.J. Johnson, a Service Employees (SEIU) 1199 retiree, at a June union planning meeting.
- Farmworkers in New Mexico were only being paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour by many employers, rather than the state minimum wage of $7.50. It seemed like that might be about to change after reporter Joseph Sorrentino reported the wage theft to the state and the state notified growers that they needed to pay $7.50. But not so fast—Sorrentino finds that workers at most farms are still being paid below minimum wage.
- The Department of Labor is telling 83 coal miners to reapply for black lung benefits after they were initially rejected at least in part because of medical reviews by a doctor who was paid by coal companies and rejecting every black lung case that came across his desk.
- Teachers unions are mobilizing members for the 2014 elections.
- Five former players sue NFL players union over concussions:
Five former players filed a lawsuit against the NFL Players Association last week, asserting that the union did not do enough to protect its members from the dangers of concussions during their careers. [...]
The suit, which names former NFLPA presidents (and players) Kevin Mawae, Troy Vincent, and Trace Armstrong as defendants, asserts that the union failed to act in the best interests of its dues-paying members.
- Workers at a Subway sandwich shop vote to unionize. The vote, somewhat humorously, was at a New Jersey Subway outlet in a Pilot Flying J rest stop. Pilot Flying J is owned by the family of vehemently anti-union Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
According to an examiner with the National Labor Relations Board, the vote came out 8 to 5 in favor of the union. Pilot Flying J has a week to file any objections to the election before it's certified by the board. [...]
As HuffPost reported in February, a group of cashiers, gas pump attendants and maintenance workers at the same Pilot Flying J travel center in Bloomsbury voted in favor of joining RWDSU. After those employees had their election, workers at the Subway shop reached out to the union about getting representation, according to Kathy Campbell, secretary-treasurer at RWDSU Local 108.
- United Airlines outsourcing jobs to low-wage company:
On October 1, United Airlines is planning to outsource 630 gate agent jobs at 12 airports to companies that pay near-poverty level wages. The airports affected include Salt Lake City; Charlotte, North Carolina; Pensacola, Florida; Detroit and Des Moines, Iowa.
As a result hundreds of employees who formerly made middle-class, living wages will be forced to transfer to other cities, take early retirement or seek employment elsewhere. Union employees who have been with the company for years -- many making a respectable $50,000-per-year salaries -- will be replaced by non-union employees who will be paid less than half -- between $9.50 and $12 per hour.
- PBS reporter John Merrow details how Michelle Rhee tried to smear him when he was reporting on her cheating scandal.
- StudentsFirst has pulled out of several states and laid off some staffers, though it remains absurdly well funded.