[Plura-list] The PRO Act and worker misclassification; $50k fellowships for critical technologists; The FTC's (kick-ass) Right to Repair report

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Fri May 7 14:30:17 EDT 2021


Later today (May 7), the Gaithersburg Book Festival is featuring me in
an interview conducted by John Scalzi; we pre-recorded the event but
I'll be in the live chat for the premiere.



Today's links

* The PRO Act and worker misclassification: A turning point in the class

* $50k fellowships for critical technologists: Become a Consumer Reports
Digital Lab Fellow!

* The FTC's (kick-ass) Right to Repair report: Years in the making,
hugely vindicating.

* This day in history: 2016, 2020

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading


🧔🏻 The PRO Act and worker misclassification

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.


🧔🏻 $50k fellowships for critical technologists

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

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

You have until May 21 to apply.


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

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


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

* 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

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

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

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

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


🧔🏻 Colophon

Today's top sources: Kyle Wiens (https://twitter.com/kwiens), Ben
Moskowitz https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/index.htm), Naked
Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/).

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:

* In conversation with John Scalzi (Gaithersburg Book Festival), May 7,

* Interoperability and Alternative Social Media, Reimagine the Internet,
May 12, https://knightcolumbia.org/events/reimagine-the-internet

* Book launch for Aminder Dhaliwal's Cyclopedia Exotica (Indigo), May
13, https://www.crowdcast.io/e/udbva8py/register

* Seize the Means of Computation, Ryerson Centre for Free Expression,
May 19,

Recent appearances:

* Hexapodia XIII with J Bradford De Long and Noah Smith

* Podcapitalism Podcast

* Talking "Robot Artists & Black Swans" with Bruce Sterling

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
(print edition:
(signed copies:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

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

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