The Path Forward For Essential Tech Workers
6:42PM Mar 3, 2021
Hey, everyone, thanks so much for joining me here today really, really glad to have you all here. So we are what feels like five years into epic. And it's just, it's just been a nightmare. And I know it's especially been a nightmare for, for essential workers, whether that's those who are working at instacart or driving for Uber or those who are working, and warehouses like Amazon's warehouse like Christian, where you worked and, or regular grocery store workers, it's just been a lot. And I know that toward the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of conversation around, just, you know, the importance of getting getting these essential workers, personal protective equipment. And so I'm curious, like, is that what what's the current state of essential workers right now? And I guess, Vanessa kind of passed to you just kind of comparing how it was then versus how it was? How it is now? Sure,
I mean, I think we have a whole hell of a lot less reasons to be unprotected at this point, right. Which is sad, because unfortunately, I think a lot of employers are still failing to provide any kind of meaningful protection to us. I definitely don't feel like I can go into a store and do my job safely, or feel like I'm empowered in my workplace. At this point in the pandemic. There's a little bit I think of optimism around the idea of like, vaccines and like rates dropping, but, you know, we also have entire states that are like lifting mask mandates and doing wild, wild stuff. In my area, we just opened indoor dining again, my sister's a restaurant worker, and I really fear for her safety, and she hasn't been able to get the vaccine. So I mean, I think in a lot of ways, we aren't significantly better off than we were at the beginning. And I think that, you know, we have less excuses for it at this point from our employers.
Yeah. And Christian, I mean, you you've been very outspoken about, you know, working at the Amazon warehouse and Staten Island. And, you know, you were ultimately fired for speaking out about about your experiences there. And I'm curious, I mean, I would imagine that you're still in touch with some some workers there, like, do you? Does it sound like things have improved at all? Or does it kind of just seem like,
some old? No, absolutely not, you know, coming up on my one year anniversary, since I protested last year, in March, I'm working still at that same facility are having the same issues, they still work as in, they're still working in fear. Workers still feel like the company can be doing a lot more. Well, we were advocating for the beginning was just to have the building closed down and professionally clean, they still refuse to do that, you know, instead, they want to implement all these safety, things that they feel are protecting workers. But we all know, at this Amazon facilities with 1000s of workers that report to work every day, it's impossible to do social distancing them and operate under the scrutiny and under the rates that they want for productivity. So these employees still need to be held accountable. And that's exactly why I continue to advocate and speak up because these issues still exist. Yeah,
and obviously, I mean, there's there's a massive human drive happening at one of the warehouses in Bessemer. Alabama, how involved are you? Are you with, with that organizing,
very involved. I just came back from here last week, I drove 16 hours down there. Spent a number of days talk to several workers connected with all the union leaders. Um, you know, I continue to text them daily text workers, support anything online. We just had a rally yesterday or two days ago, actually in New York City. So we're on support Amazon workers.org. We have a whole plan for the rest of the remaining of the month, as the balance still go out today. So I'm very involved every single day. Yeah.
And what our workers asking for right now. Like why, based on your understanding, like what is the driving force that's making them want to unionize and what are they hoping to get from that?
While the perfect timing, you know, the building open up when Coronavirus started to New York City became epic sin and aspirin Bessemer facility opened up so the union got a head start on talking to workers. So that's a that's a gym for anybody or any union that plans on trying to unionize the building that you have facili in your community is about to open up when an opening, that's the best time to connect with the workers. That's what happened last year. And as a result, the workers weren't they seen or what had happened to workers that were unprotected, and they don't want that they want better for themselves. And they rightfully deserved, especially in Alabama with a right to work state statement, no state minimum, obviously a red state, so it's a lot of intangibles against them. But these workers now see the window of opportunity for change systemically. And I think that we have this time to do that. So I think they're gonna come through.
Yeah, and Jessica, I know that cos recently came out with them this this national agenda focused on labor and, and workers rights. And within that there were some some policy recommendations. And would you be able to just kind of like break down what some of the key those key recommendations were moving forward, you're
happy to and let me just explain a little bit of who we are just so folks get a sense of where this agenda is rooted at. So we're a network of about 23, community based workplace safety and health Coalition's advocating and providing training for safer workplaces. We work with a variety of worker advocates, worker leaders, such as Chris Vanessa on the ground, supporting campaigns and really looking for convergence in areas of living wages, health and safety. Really anything that applies to healthier and safer workplaces. One thing to know, Megan, is that what we now recognize is essential workers national cash has always recognized and work with what have been essential workers even pre COVID time, in terms of these are the workers, good workers, workers in some of the most low wage high hazard industries really are the essential working for us that help our economy. And really the the pandemic itself has amplified the issues that we have known already in terms of job insecurity, poor wages, lack of paid sick leave, lack of safe jobs, and really holding employers employers having no system in place and OSHA, which is a government agency essentially tasked with protecting worker health and safety completely Mia during this pandemic. So after hearing from workers on the ground, really sort of talking to people and and understanding that the crucial need for workers to to have a voice and really approach this with us workers centered approach. National cash released a national agenda on worker health and safety and it highlights essentially eight points. We want stronger safety laws, tougher enforcement, including a mandatory emergency standard to prevent the spread of infectious disease. And again, this is federally so if there is an ETS or an emergency standard pass, it applies all over and impacts all kinds of workers, stronger protections against retaliation. We know for workers who are trying to organize retaliation is the first concern for workers. I'm sure Chris and Vanessa can speak to this. Employers will funnel resources to try to scare tactics to scare workers from organizing, demanding safer workplaces, job security, and so forth. It also includes workers are included in all policy decisions. We believe strongly that workers more than anyone understand the job know the solutions and controls to health and safety issues and also Equity and Inclusion to end the misclassification and better protections for temporary gig workers paid sick and family leave for workers also worker centered health protocols, including health for high risk workers and getting access to vaccines. And we want to confront the workplace effects of climate change Finally, also prevent chemical catastrophes and harmful exposure. So I do invite the audience here to visit National crush.org for full access to the agenda. With that said, this is not working in isolation. It works in collaboration with laws, we're hoping that will pass which is the proact allowing workers to gain bargaining power when organizing, essentially giving them the ability to negotiate with the employer get access to benefits again, such as some job security paid sick leave workers comp and so forth. We know that a prop 22 for instance, was a slap in the face for California workers and setting the tone nationwide in terms of protections for for gig workers.
Yeah, I mean you definitely just head on a lot of things that I'm wanting to dive dive deeper into. And I guess maybe we can start with. Let's start with like the proact. And, yeah, just like you said, I mean, so so right now I believe it's in, it's in the Senate. And I've read some articles saying like, you know, in order for this to really kind of come through, it needs to support of President Biden. And, and I'll toss this to you, Vanessa, because I remember when we chatted last year, yeah. Last year, you mentioned that you were kind of like cautiously optimistic about the administration, but kind of ultimately, like, you know, it's, it's not like Trump was the reason why the US just kind of, you know, went to hell, but, you know, they're already the systems in places to kind of supported that. And so, I'm curious what, yeah, what do you current? Where do you currently stand on, you know, Biden support of workers, and I guess, your hope that he can maybe get the proact? Through?
Yeah, well, I mean, I want to hold him, you know, accountable to his promise that he made to workers to ensure that, you know, especially as gig workers misclassified workforce, that we would be properly classified under his administration. Again, I think, unfortunately, a lot of my optimism is still cautious at this point. And in the sense that, you know, I had a lot of optimism that, you know, for example, Gavin Newsom in California could do the right thing, and has has led us down on multiple instances, you know, in regards to prop 22, and, and refusing to take a public stance about that. I think that, you know, unfortunately, just the, the systemic powers that be are not worker friendly, regardless of whether or not they're Democrats or Republicans, right, like, maintaining the status quo is about keeping the oligarchs and, and, and big tech and people with money and power, a float and and really, it's always at the expense of us, right. Like, it's always at the expense of people that do the actual lever. So I mean, I think that, you know, do I want to believe that the President is going to come through for us? Of course, I do. Do I place all of my eggs in that basket? No. But am I still holding him accountable to his public commitments, as well as the vice president's public commitments to support proper classification and and the proact? Absolutely, yeah.
Yeah. Yeah. And just yeah, so kind of on the topic of Biden, this one's for you, Chris. But so I guess, yeah. Earlier this week, or last week, Biden kind of came out in support of Amazon warehouse workers unionizing in Bessemer. Do you do you see that as a positive? is a positive sign, like, do you do believe his, his words and feel like that, that's something he's really wanting to push forward? Yeah, I'm
gonna say the same thing. As Vanessa, I, I would love to hope that he is a man of his word. He's a pro union guy. He ran his campaign off of that, saying, he's a union guy. And unions need to be stronger. And he support unions all the way. It was powerful to see that the President, the man, the highest plateau in the country, support the union. He said, Alabama, I'll give him that. He didn't mention Amazon, for whatever. He claimed that he can't say the company's name, which I just think that's, you know, kind of BS, but, you know, it is what it is, I still want to give him credit for a knowledge in the fact that the union has gone on, and that I guess, he tried to put his foot down saying that, you know, there shouldn't be no union busting. So I give him kudos for that, you know, it hasn't been done in several decades, from a president, a commander in chief, acknowledging the fact that a union drive is going on in the country, and we all need to support that. So I was happy to see that. But once again, like Vanessa said, I don't put all my eggs in that basket either. I just want to hold him accountable. Make sure that, you know, we see this all the way through to the end. Um, you know, even if Alabama is not successful, if we were to try again, in other locations, other parts of the country, that we have the support of the highest power in the country, that is the most powerful thing that will resonate with workers. So it's good to see that it's happening now.
Yeah, for sure. And yeah, and we've kind of talked talked about prop 22 in this in this conversation, but I want to kind of give it a little bit more, a little bit more airtime. So yeah, I mean, for those who are unfamiliar, yet prop 22 California Labor Law that went into effect it was very heavily backed by Uber Lyft instacart. The works, they put in like over $200 million into it. So yeah, that went into effect earlier this year in California, which essentially made gig workers, independent contractors. And and I guess what we've seen now is that there was this like, there's this good Bloomberg article about how there's, there's kind of like this trickle effect of Prop 22. And it's now its impact on on people's jobs in other industries. And yeah, I'll tell us to you, Jessica, like I'm curious about what kind of like what you're seeing from, from some of the workers who are affiliated with CAUTI, and kind of what they're seeing and how you're maybe trying to combat that. Right. So
one of the key pieces that we do in in our through our network is education, that it has been one of the key I guess, you could say, just key key arms for us to mobilize and bring worker power. And worker power is truly what we sort of center in our approach to build some knowledge for workers and so forth. I do want to share something that's very key, as you already mentioned, these huge corporations, billionaires basically hijack the ballot measure system in California by spending millions to mislead voters, right. And what happens with that is that there was a study that showed about 40% of California residents who voted thought they were supporting workers. Again, when you have bags that are stamped with yes on 22. And people think you're supporting workers for better access to rights because people want to help the working class, the majority is the working class. There is some misinformation, prop 22 passes. And unfortunately, you have workers who have possibly died, we have a California rideshare driver who died from COVID-19. Last month, his independent classifications beings, his family will receive no workers compensation. That is a huge impact to workers in the reality of how it impacts day to day life for workers and in the midst of a pandemic. So I share that, because prop 22 sets the tone again, for what could happen nationally. I know we know like CEO, Uber, the Uber CEO has said that they will do and put all the resources they need to make sure there's no laws like this across the country. And again, when you one of the things to also note about prop 22, it reverses the momentum activists had in 2019, when they passed California, AB five, which recognize gig workers as full employees, entitling them to labor rights, like unemployment insurance, paid sick leave over time, and a path to unionizing. So with that impact again, what do we expect for the proact? I agree, I share sentiments with Vanessa and, Chris, that we, you were we are cautious about what the Biden administration can do to support us, but ultimately, is us the people workers who have the decision making power and pushing our political representatives into doing the right thing.
Mm hmm. Yeah, and this actually, this. This question comes in from from the audience from Stephanie Hogan. Yeah, they're wondering your your thoughts on the button administration, hiring Seth Harris. And his work was cited by the tech industry just to support California as prop 22.
Is there a recipient for the question or just any of us jump in?
Oh, yeah, I just don't need to jump in.
I think one of the reasons why I don't have a ton of enthusiasm about a Biden administration is largely because a lot of these exact same goons came up under Obama, right? Like, that's why this is not isolated. And it's this is not a failure of Trump per se, right. Like this is a failure of our entire structure of economy, right. And we have really allowed tech to run rampant under this pretense that somehow it's innovative, and especially within the gig economy. I mean, it's it's the opposite of innovative, right? Like it's feudalism on your phone, right? It's one 800 dial listserv. So it's like, they're not doing anything new that justifies creating an entirely different classification of labor than existed before, which is what prop 22 did right. It literally created this this category of marketplace contractor that retains neither the previous technicians have an independent contractor nor an employee. and allowing, you know, companies to write their own laws in this way. Is is a systemic failure, like this is something that, you know, we, we, we need to be doing things about at the national level, we part of why we need the proact. Right, is because these things shouldn't be at the mercy of who happens to be, you know, held to a position. These are things that should be codified and enshrined really in law, and things that should be consistent and stable protections that people can can rely on and count on. So I'll let somebody else also throw their two cents in there. But yeah, unfortunately, it's just you know, story after story of appointee after appointee. That is something that is disappointing. Right?
is Sam Harris, Kamala Harris brother in law, right, I believe, I believe he came from Amazon. So that might have been, might have been directed, Excuse me, could have been towards me, but, uh, I think I think that, uh, yeah, the lobbyists that's coming into the, the Biden administration, obviously is going to play a huge factor in to, you know, what happens to the working class in this country. And, once again, if we don't hold them accountable, like Jessica, saying, you know, we have to all the people have to come together and hold our elected officials accountable. And whatever, whoever's in this administration, whoever is a part of the cabinets, we have to play, pay close attention to them. Make sure that once again, that we have a voice in everything that's being passed into law, and legislative, and these bills, the proact, we have to be in tune, we can't be you can't wait four years to show up and vote for the next president and expect a real systemic change. So we have to start at the local level, we have to start at the city level. And we absolutely have to continue organizing. So. I don't agree with having sub parents. Ultimately, that's to answer that question. Specifically, obviously, he used to, I believe this is the same guy that came from Amazon. He came from the executive board our VP at one point. So he's obviously going in there to lobby for them, lobby for big tex. And he's not the only one in here. So we once again, we just got to make sure that bottom holds true to his campaign promises.
I completely agree with Chris, I think he said it loud and clear. One of the things also, that's important too, for us to dive into in relation to this effort and insert of these laws and holding our political representatives accountable, is to also recognize the alignment there is with these other national movements in terms of what the impact has been, for instance, of COVID, the gig economy in particular to communities of color, black, brown, indigenous folks, and I want to mention this, because we have seen that, for instance, efforts around Alabama, Amazon workers, organizing has heavily been influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement. I mentioned this because, again, we know that about 85% of the workers in Alabama, or black and brown, I think it's like over 50% are women, it's important to mention these numbers, again, the impacts we're seeing in terms of job insecurity, unsafe working conditions, is disproportionately impacting communities of color. And again, when you have a sort of, if you want to align this to terms of racial inequities, and so forth, we have to address these systematic problems in real ways that are influenced by us impacting law and policy in a real way.
Mm hmm. Yeah, yep. Absolutely. And, and, and so yeah, this is this is a question from from the audience. But from Jim Miller, what's what's the best way to collect emails from widely dispersed contract workers who don't know each other, which, and then I also kind of have something to add to it, which is, yeah, like, how do you kind of, like all three of you are doing really great work? And like, I'm wondering, like, how do how do you go about kind of building solidarity across all of these different organizations doing doing this work? And maybe I'll go with you, Vanessa.
Sure. Um, how to organize a remote atomized workforce. I have a little bit of experience with that. No, I'm just kidding. But that's unfortunately been like ruggle like the whole time I've been organizing is like, we don't have a we don't have a shop floor. We don't have a break room. We don't even have a shared work place. necessarily, right? We've always followed this thing called the five person rule, which is just what my my fellow worker organizing my you know, tournament, which is basically to like anytime that you encounter somebody, be it in a social media space or in person, reach out to them and just introduce yourself right like, part of why atomized atomized workforces are harder to organize, is because people just don't have that any sort of like co worker relationship with one another, right. And so a lot of it's about like, really like recreating that infrastructure, in some sort of more likely than not digital way. That, you know, also can be replicated in person in times of non COVID, hopefully. But, you know, it's about, like finding a way to share space. And, and, and always be organizing, like, that's the other thing is that like, you can't just like say, Okay, I'm going to go out and look for people for an hour today. And I'll, you're going to end up, you know, coming into contact with an Uber driver, or an instacart shopper, or maybe even a freelance photographer, like these are all like people that I've come across, and just everyday conversations with folks that I have. So like you keep that kind of switch on in your mind. But what I would highly recommend is just sort of like, figuring out a way to recreate some digital infrastructure for people to congregate into, you know, a community. And don't be too Don't be too open about necessarily like what you're doing in that space, you still need to probably, like get to know people a little bit better, because unfortunately, I know Chris can attest to this, like organizing spaces be sabotaged sometimes, right? Like, it sucks. But you know, you know, keep the keep the more nitty gritty details of what you guys are trying to do in in a in a more private conversation space. But I mean, just figure out a way to bring people together into some sort of like, you know, digital shop floor, right. And, and really like forge connections with people because that's really what organizing is about is figuring out how to build relationships, right? And how to improve on those relationships and how to make those relationships solid enough that when you're going to walk out the the next person is going to walk out with you and the next person is going to walk out with them. Right. hopefully that answered the full question. I don't I don't remember if there was a second component to it or not. But
um, no, I think I think you got it. Are you about to say something? Yeah, if
I may? I mean, I think it's a great question. And I think we're shifting into this new era of digital organizing truly, in terms of really using our social media platforms and more creative ways to to build commonality among workers and figure out what what do we do? What are our common issues? And how do we like move forward with that, but I do want to use this time to send a quick invite to the audience, we do have what we're calling Akash activate, which is basically a virtual space to learn a little bit more about how you can access some information around workers rights, get to know other workers in your area that are mobilizing, maybe moving forward campaigns. I know, I have my fellow co director who's on the chat, and maybe sending a link to the audience and inviting folks to that. But But I that's one very solid concrete way of getting involved as a starting point is to learn more about our network. And, and likewise for Vanessa interest.
Absolutely. Oh, yeah, for sure. Yeah. Just Yes. Ah, my offshore experience in organizing, it's been, it's been quite a journey. But one thing, one thing for sure, you have to stay resilient. Stay true to your mission, as an organizer and activist. You know, whatever works for you and your team continue to do that, you know, everybody's putting in working on their own ways. My father, for example, what we did the Congress of essential workers, we traveled, we traveled the entire pandemic, we went to different parts of the country, we continue to do that we put our lives at risk. Um, either way, we weren't protected at work. So why not do it for a good cause? So just continue to stay true to your mission. And that's, that's it, you know, organized. So have this conversation with as many people as possible.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, we are unfortunately, we're running out of time. But I just want to thank all of you so so much for joining us here today. Really appreciate it.
Thank you so much for this. Yeah. Thank
you for Megan