Pluralistic: 07 May 2021

Today's links

'ILGWU Local 62 marches in a Labor Day parade' - A group of Black women and their daughters lead a union march, draped in colorful ponchos and waving US flags.

The PRO Act and worker misclassification (permalink)

One of the Biden admin's most important pieces of legislation is the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), which reverses decades of union-busting policies and laws that have led to widening inequality, wage stagnation, and working poverty across America.

It's the first pro-worker law since 1935's NLRA, and it restores many of the rights to organize unions and create serious penalties for employers who break the law to prevent their workers from unionizing (today, employers break labor laws with impunity).

For a great, plain-language breakdown of its contours, check out this breakdown by Kim Kelly, Teen Vogue's labor reporter. Note that the law bans many of the dirtiest tricks used by Amazon to defeat the union drive in its Bessemer, Alabama warehouse.

The PRO Act doesn't just restore the labor rights that have been stripped away from American workers – it also creates new protections to address the epidemic of worker misclassification where "gig economy" employees are falsely characterized as "independent contractors."

The gig companies – who use worker misclassification to pay sub-minimum-wage salaries and deny basic workplace protections – spent $200m to pass California's Proposition 22. Immediately, bosses fired their union workers and replaced them with gig workers.

Companies like Uber and Lyft have already showered $1.2m in a matter of weeks on DC politicians, lobbying against the PRO Act. That's not surprising, but what is interesting is their SEC-mandated disclosures about what they expect from the PRO Act:

“If a significant number of Drivers were to become unionized and collective bargaining agreement terms were to deviate significantly from our business model, our business, financial condition, operating results and cash flows could be materially adversely affected. In addition, a labor dispute involving Drivers may harm our reputation, disrupt our operations and reduce our net revenues, and the resolution of labor disputes may increase our costs." -Uber.

This is a very frank admission of what's at stake here. Corporations understand that the market allows companies to claim an ever-larger share of the proceeds of workers' labor, and that the only way to reverse that lopsided distribution is for workers to organize.

They acknowledge that when workers speak directly to customers about their labor conditions and withhold their labor in the face of unfair practices, corporations suffer – that is, the corporations win when workers are powerless and customers are ignorant.

Passing the PRO Act will not be easy. Establishment Dems like Mark Warner have signalled that they will side with bosses over workers on this bill.

Warner falsely claims that the bill will take away the right of gig workers not to be unionized. This is just not true, as More Perfect Union reminds us: "This lets independent contractors join a union. It doesn’t force them to."

The entire gig economy runs on idiotic lies like this one. Take the premise that workers are independent, organized into "two-sided markets" by apps that match workers and work, and that manage the process with cool, machine-like objectivity.

As is always the case with disciplinary technology, the gig work app isn't actually in charge – it's just a convenient way for human beings to hide their sadistic behavior behind a scrim of technology theater.

Think of Amazon Delivery Service Partner (DSP) drivers. Amazon maintains the pretense that these workers aren't employees OR contractors – they say that they're SUBcontractors, working for "entrepreneurs" who contract with Amazon to make deliveries.

DSP drivers wear Amazon uniforms and drive vans with the Amazon logo. They are surveilled by multiple interior and exterior cameras that track their location, their driving, and (checks notes) their facial expressions?!

Amazon gives its 2,500 DSP owners impossible delivery goals, and the DSP owners pass those on to their 158,000 drivers. This is why drivers have to piss and shit in bags in their trucks, a fact that Amazon denied even though they knew it was true:

But for all the electronic monitoring and micromanaging that DSP drivers endure, the exploitation they face is anything but automated. When DSP drivers are forced to work in dangerous and inhumane conditions, it's because human beings are imposing that on them.

Remember all those apps that monitor drivers? The DSP owners instruct their drivers to turn them off whenever there's a delivery crunch, and then order drivers to proceed at unsafe speeds on residential streets to make Amazon's quotas:

Workers who refuse to drive unsafely are disciplined and fired (those automated systems ensure that there's always some excuse for firing a worker, and the worker's misclassification as an independent contractor means they have no recourse in the face of unjust dismissals).

Amazon says this is all the work of rogue contractors, and not the result of its impossible quota system.

Worker misclassification lets Amazon have its cake and eat it too – force workers to shit in bags and risk their lives driving too fast, and then claim innocence.

Worker protections start with being recognized as a worker. Ending worker misclassification isn't incidental to the PRO Act, it's at its heart: without it, every worker who stands up for their rights will be reclassified as a contractor and crushed.

(Image: Kheel Center, CC BY)

A 1933 photo an electromechanical lab facility superimposed over the Matrix 'code waterfall' effect.

$50k fellowships for critical technologists (permalink)

In world of morally compromised technology and markets, a few entities stand out as consistently on the side of right. Consumer Reports is one of them.

For 85 years, they have produced rigorous, unbiased, trustworthy accounts of the manufactured goods in our lives.

As good as they are at this, understanding digital technology requires significant changes, as software-based devices (especially those that interact with remote services) are difficult to evaluate in the lab, since their characteristics can be silently altered at any time.

CR rose to this challenge with a series of excellent, in-depth cybersecurity breakdowns of products and services, but it's still early days.

Enter the CR Digital Lab, with nonresidential fellowships "to uncover and address emerging consumer harms."

These are paid ($50k!) one-year fellowships " of interest to engineers, computer scientists, information security professionals, independent researchers, academics, social scientists, and others."

Fellows work with CR's reporters and advocates, get access to its lab facilities, and work with its wide-ranging network of public-interest technologists.

You have until May 21 to apply.

EFF's Right to Repair logo: a green flag with a crossed hammer and crescent wrench in a centered yellow circle.

The FTC's (kick-ass) Right to Repair report (permalink)

It's been nearly two years since the FTC's Nixing the Fix workshop on how corporations have sabotage our right to repair. Finally, the Commission has issued its report, and it's hugely vindicating for R2R advocates.

If you don't have time to read the 56-page report, check out Ifixit's cheat-sheet, which highlights the salient points, namely:

  • Companies routinely violate federal law by voiding their customers' warranties in retaliation for seeking independent repair

  • Anti-repair tactics more heavily harm Black people and communities of color

  • The pandemic made independent repair sabotage even more important

  • Companies sabotage repair by: designing products to make it harder to fix them; withholding parts and manuals; targeting customers with anti-repair FUD; abusing patent and trademark; using DRM; and imposing abusive EULAs on customers.

The Commission found that the manufacturers claims about why they should monopolize repair are bullshit:

  • Providing independent repair info doesn't harm manufacturers' IP rights
  • The data need to make repair doesn't qualify as a trade secret

The Commission also found that the real safety concern with independent repair is that manufacturers' sabotage makes it harder for indie repairers to fix devices safely, and the answer isn't to ban indie repair – it's to ban sabotage.

The FTC also rejects cybersecurity FUD about independent repair: "the record contains no empirical evidence to suggest that independent repair shops are more or less likely than authorized repair shops to compromise or misuse customer data."

As well as arguments that independent repair inflicts "reputational harm" and liability on manufacturers: "Manufacturers provided no empirical evidence to support their concerns about reputational harm or potential liability resulting from faulty third party repairs."

The FTC wants to hear from you if a manufacturer has voided (or threatened to void) your warranty after you got independent repair. This is illegal.

They're also proposing new regulations to ban manufacturers' repair sabotage on the grounds that it represents unfair competition. The Commission's goal is now "[to ensure] consumers have choices when they need to repair products that they purchase and own."

This day in history (permalink)

#5yrsago Panama Papers whistleblower issues statement, naming and shaming failed states and institutions

#5yrsago Kobo “upgrade” deprives readers of hundreds of DRM-locked ebooks

#1yrago EU: "Cookie walls violate the GDPR"

#1yrago Wink will brick your smart home if you don't pay a monthly fee

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Kyle Wiens (, Ben Moskowitz, Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. RESEARCH PHASE
  • A short story about consumer data co-ops. PLANNING

  • A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. PLANNING

  • A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown." FINAL EDITS

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism (Part 05)
Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest book:

Upcoming books:

  • The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022

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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla