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Making dresses for Campbell kids dolls in a dirty tenement. The older boy, about 12 years old, operates the machine when the mother is not using it, and when she is using it, he helps the little ones break the threads. New York City. Circa 1912.
Piecework the old way.
Working in the "gig economy" is supposed to provide flexibility and control over your own life and work, according to its boosters. But, Sarah Jaffe points out:
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.

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.

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:
... 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.

    “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.

    The whole article is worth a read.
  • 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.


Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 10:55 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  used to be oil tankers (5+ / 0-)

    stopped in Bombay so little kids could clean their tanks, a nasty job that required small size and large hunger, they'd stop at highest poverty least protections for children place.  

    One reason we'd been making a middle class was not all immigrants were educated professionals, many were at the lowest end and would do the least appealing jobs.  Which is why business owners are always for lax border control, if they hired those workers.  

    Guilds, then unions, and now connections-guilds vs. all the wealth, richer over all but not lower percentage of all the wealth, back to all the wealth?  What happens when they own everything?

    plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

    by anna shane on Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 11:08:58 AM PDT

  •  Only massive investment in infrastructure... (5+ / 0-)

    ...can change, temporarily, the trends towards a labor force that is mostly expendable service workers in the mind of corporate America.

    Given the political polarization in DC and elsewhere this will not happen.  Government service jobs can also make a difference but this clashes with the Tea Party/GOP Ayn Rand ideology.

    This from The Atlantic;

    Where Did All the Workers Go? 60 Years of Economic Change in 1 Graph

    Finance, insurance (health insurance I suppose) and real estate jobs are the only significant growing sectors with professional and business services.

    The 1% will increasingly live in gated and fortified mansions and communities with private bunkers and the only gigs will be related to satiosfying their needs.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 11:21:09 AM PDT

    •  I'm not so sure (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shockwave, enhydra lutris, jbsoul, llywrch

      We undeniably live a vastly different existence than the 0.1% or even the 1%, enough so to justify the phrase "two Americas."

      I don't think it follows that we will be fated to satisfy their needs, though. Some will, obviously, many even.

      It seems entirely possible that the two-track system may result in a stodgy monied-class, and another which will be no less vibrant despite the lack of funds. Through barter and exchange, currency may become less relevant.

      Isn't that, to some degree what happened in the old Soviet Union? The "official system" was defunct long before the Berlin Wall was torn down.

      The carrot only works as an enticement when there is at least the illusion that it may be obtained; when it's clearly, and forever, out of reach other food will be sought.

      Likewise, when the wealthy use financial sticks too much they risk creating a donkey which knows a beating is coming either way--so refuses to comply.

      We, most of us, empower those who will exploit us when we accept life on their terms: revolving credit; ever increasing appetites; etc.

      There is always a danger (from their perspective) that too many will conclude the "game is fixed," and refuse to accept their rules anymore.

      If your strategy depends on having fewer people show up to vote, that is not a sign of strength. That is a sign of weakness. President Obama

      by Had Enough Right Wing BS on Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 12:14:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Precarity (8+ / 0-)

    requires flexibility of the working class, while anihilating any sense of security.  Up to and including your own control of your time and life.  Instead, everything must daily be put on hold awaiting the edict of your employer.  It's a concept on which Europeans are much more knowledgeable, because Euro workers have for many years enjoyed far more social and legal protections than American workers, and thus have further to fall.  And have been falling since the turn of the century.  Sooner or later this disastrous social "peloton" overtakes us as well, and is rapidly doing so.

    From the P2P Foundation:

    Precarity is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare. The term has been specifically applied to either intermittent work or, more generally, a confluence of intermittent work and precarious existence.
    Precarious work refers to all possible shapes of unsure, not guaranteed, flexible exploitation: from illegalized, seasonal and temporary employment to homework, flex- and temp-work to subcontractors, freelancers or so called self employed persons.
    Precarization at work means an increasing change of previously guaranteed permanent employment conditions into mainly worse paid, uncertain jobs. On a historical and global scale precarious work represents not an exception. In fact was the idea of a generalization of so called guaranteed working conditions a myth of a short period, the one of the so called welfare state. In the global South, in eastern Europe as well as for the main part of women and migrants in the north all together the big majority of global population precarious working conditions were and are the norm. Precarization describes moreover the crisis of established institutions, which have represented for that short period the framework of (false) certainties. It is an analytical term for a process, which hints to a new quality of societal labor. Labor and social life, production and reproduction cannot be separated anymore, and this leads to a more comprehensive definition of precarization: the uncertainty of all circumstances in the material and immaterial conditions of life of living labor under contemporary capitalism. For example: wage level and working conditions are connected with a distribution of tasks, which is determined by gender and ethnic roles; the residence status determines the access to the labor market or to medical care. The whole ensemble of social relationships seems to be on the move.

    Pay no attention to the upward redistribution of wealth!

    by ActivistGuy on Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 11:30:59 AM PDT

  •  industrial geography suggests that this may not (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rikon Snow, maryabein, blueoasis, ER Doc

    be quite so new in that putting-out did exist during the 19th Century Industrial Revolution(s)  

    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.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "If we appear to seek the unattainable, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable." (@eState4Column5)

    by annieli on Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 11:33:26 AM PDT

  •  Supercalifragisticexpealabullshit. (8+ / 0-)


    A drowning man can not learn to swim. -- Chris Lonsdale

    by Rikon Snow on Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 11:40:02 AM PDT

  •  Hmmm. Not surprising from United, the most (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ER Doc, jbsoul, llywrch

    clueless airline ever.

    I wonder how much robust our economy would be if we passed a law forbidding the employment of MBAs?

    LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

    by dinotrac on Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 11:50:40 AM PDT

  •  Michelle Rhee exposed as the shill she is.. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    imagiste, barbwires, jbsoul, llywrch

    ..excellent reporting by John Merrow and very good news to hear making headlines - her true union busting republican agenda brought to light:

    Rhee also has publicly backed reform efforts by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, among other state-level efforts. Her nonprofit contributed to an outside group called Better Education for NJ Kids that pushed hard for Christie’s agenda.
    Siphoning off public education funds in service to "special interests"
    Politico’s Morning Education newsletter reported on July 3rd that “Rhee, who earns nearly $350,000 a year, also spent heavily on political activism in the year covered by the tax forms.

    StudentsFirst gave $500,000 to a business-backed committee in Michigan that successfully worked to defeat a union effort to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution.

    It also spent $250,000 to support a charter-school campaign in Georgia. StudentsFirst gives to candidates and committees from both parties but many of its biggest political donations went to Republican caucuses and conservative alliances in states including Florida, Maine, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

    An anti-teacher fraud:
    Michelle Rhee is smart, talented, hard-working, charismatic and ambitious, but, in the public education arena, she is a fraud.
    Thx Laura Clawson
  •  I still remember the push for (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "contract" work in the 1980's.  All the youngsters gushed about how they would make their own hours, only work when they wanted to, etc.

    W tried to warn them, but they didn't want to hear it.  Now look where we are.....

    "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.: Maya Angelou

    by PsychoSavannah on Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 01:23:22 PM PDT

  •  My Mother Did "Piecework" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    barbwires, llywrch

    If you grew up in Rhode Island in the 50s and 60s, you know what piecework is.  There was an old colloquialism that said "Italian girls were born with a pair of pliers in their hand," thus referring to the booming (at the time) costume jewelry industry that often involved piecework, production quotas, lousy working conditions, constant sexual harassment, and minimum wage (or below).

    Con los pobres de la tierra, Quiero yo mi suerte echar

    by mojave mike on Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 02:37:38 PM PDT

  •  I belonged to a website that let you (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jbsoul, llywrch

    submit "bids" for jobs. Some were obviously scams and got deleted by the company. Good for them.

    The one request for bids that stands out was the one where the requestor wrote: If I wanted to pay minimum wage, I'd hire a high school student.

    Since it was an international site, many of the bids were from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, et al. They bid $1.00 per hour for skilled worked that in the US (esp. CA) would require a minimum of $20 an hour. I did a couple of jobs, but stopped doing anything on the site because it was impossible to actually survive on the money that was offered.

    I reject your reality and substitute my own - Adam Savage

    by woolibaar on Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 04:33:07 PM PDT

  •  I'm an "independent contractor" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    But not by choice.  I was fortunate that when the small company I worked for closed; a family member and an old friend both needed my skills, so I'm juggling what are in effect two full-time jobs.

    I'm basically working one of the jobs so I can put money aside for taxes, since I have to pay the "self-employment tax" of both haves of Social Security and Medicare.

    Trying to not complain - I'd previously run out of unemployment, so without these gigs I'd be on the streets - but the lack of any sort of benefits (thank you, ACA!) or job security is wearing me down.  I'm just not tempermentally suited to piecework.

    No point, I guess, just putting in my two-cents worth  I'm seeing this more and more, especially in IT, and I can't believe people are doing it by choice.

    (aka NobleExperiments). ‎"Those who make a peaceful revolution impossible make a violent revolution inevitable" ~ John F. Kennedy

    by smrichmond on Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 08:28:29 PM PDT

  •  United is without question the worst US airline... (0+ / 0-)

    United is without question the worst US airline. Not surprised to learn they're getting worse.

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