Welcome back to Human Capital, where we unpack the latest in tech labor and diversity and inclusion. This week, we’re looking at the latest developments in the battle over the classification of gig workers, the rise of labor unions in tech and and Instagram’s latest move to be woke.
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Both sides of Prop 22 are going full steam ahead in their efforts to sway California voters. Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash each committed another $17.5 million to Yes on Prop 22 last Friday, according to a late contributions filing.
As of August 24, the Yes on 22 campaign had contributed just north of $110 million, while the No on 22 campaign had put $4.6 million into its efforts. The latest influx of cash brings Yes on 22’s total contributions to more than $180 million. Of all the measures on this November’s ballot, Yes on Prop 22 has received the most contributions, according to California’s Fair Political Practices Commission.
Bastian Lehmann, CEO of Postmates, also penned an op-ed on CNN about gig workers and how there needs to be a third classification of workers, which is essentially what Prop 22 is pushing.
Meanwhile, rideshare drivers took to the streets of Oakland, California to protest Uber’s ads and Prop 22.
All this Prop 22 activity comes amid a lawsuit brought forth by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a handful of local city attorneys that seek to force Uber and Lyft to classify their drivers as employees. In Lyft’s sworn statement addressing how Lyft would go about transitioning its drivers from independent contractors to employees, CEO Logan Green said the company might cease operations in all or parts of California if forced to reclassify drivers, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
This year has marked a new wave of organizing among tech workers. Unions, which act as a sort of intermediary between workers and their employers, advocate on behalf of employees for better wages, working conditions and other benefits through collective bargaining. Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had weekly earnings of $1,095, compared to $892 for non-union members in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In February, Kickstarter employees voted to form a union after months of what appeared to be union busting at the hands of Kickstarter leadership. In September 2019, Kickstarter fired two people who were actively organizing the union. Now, the National Labor Board has found merit that Kickstarter unlawfully fired a union organizer.
Kickstarter’s successful organizing made it become the first major tech company in the U.S. to unionize and join OPEIU Local 153. Then, one month later, collaborative coding platform Glitch voted to unionize with Code-CWA.*
Now, at least 10 tech companies are actively trying to unionize, according to Grace Reckers, the lead northeast union organizer of OPEIU, told TechCrunch. Part of what’s driving this increased interest in unions is the abuse of data and privacy by tech giants.
“Employees are seeing that they don’t actually have control of how the products they make are being used,” she said. “Even though most of the messaging in Silicon Valley is about creating a better world for us, making our lives easier and innovating, it also moves under the philosophy of move fast and break things.”
And “breaking things” can lead to things like employee layoffs, misuse of data or separation of families, Reckers said.
“Workers want control over how products are being created, and control of how those tools are being used,” she said. “People are realizing it’s not just about their immediate workplaces but also their impacts on local communities or global communities.”
Instagram announced a new Equity team to work on “better understanding and addressing bias in our product development” the experiences people have on Instagram, Adam Mosseri, Instagram lead, wrote. Part of the responsibilities of that team include creating fair and equitable products, as well as ensuring algorithmic fairness. According to a job posting for an equity and inclusion product manager, the team will be fully focused on equity and inclusion, and “creating the most equitable experience for our global communities.”
Instagram desperately needs an effective team in this area. In June, some Instagram influencers posted photos of themselves in Blackface in a misguided attempt to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Meanwhile, Black people have reported harassment on the platform and fears of being shadowbanned.
Instagram is also looking to hire its own diversity lead. According to the job posting, the director of diversity and inclusion will be responsible for increasing and retaining people from diverse backgrounds, among other things. Facebook has had a head of diversity in place since 2013, but given how big of a company Facebook has become, it seems worthwhile to have a diversity leader specifically focused on Instagram.
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*Disclosure: My partner works at Glitch.