Post Tagged with: "work"

Unions Are Dying. What Will Replace Them?

Unions Are Dying. What Will Replace Them?

Kevin Drum writes:

The decline of union power is irreversible. Private-sector unions are all but dead, and public-sector unions are barely hanging on by their fingernails. That doesn’t mean liberals should give up on labor, or that labor should give up on organizing new industries. Of course they shouldn’t. It just means that as a broad-based force that provides a countervailing force against the power of the business community, labor’s day is over. Like it or not, liberals have to figure out something else to play that role.

Full Story: Mother Jones: Unions Are Dying. What Will Replace Them?

Drum doesn’t have any suggestions as to what that might be.

Two thoughts on this:

1) We need to disentangle the idea of labor from the idea of labor unions. Saying “unions are dead” shouldn’t mean the same thing as saying “labor is dead.”

2) One possible path forward is through professional organizations, as opposed to unions. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has had some traction in this regard. The difference between a labor union and a professional organization may seem semantic at first blush, but there is a difference. Unions engage in both lobbying and collective bargaining in the work place. Professional organizations skip the collective bargaining, and stick with advocating policy. It can be easier, and more anonymous, to join a professional group. In the near future that could be an advantage.

February 27, 2014 Comments are Disabled
65% of Advertised Robotics Jobs Are in Health Care

65% of Advertised Robotics Jobs Are in Health Care

Vice Mother Board reports on a report robotics job ads by Wanted Analytics:

So even if it seems more intuitive that robots should be taking over brick masonry, it also shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that robotics would also be in demand for health care. The first job of the robots is maintaining people, poetically enough. Still, the fact that Wanted found that 65 percent of robotics jobs were going toward health care is pretty surprising.

The robotics specialists are up to interesting things though. Physicians offices are looking for people to “design, develop, and analyze devices for the expansion of the image guided robotics program for minimally invasive procedures and surgery,” and assist in the use of those programs.

Full Story: Vice Mother Board: Where the Robots Are Creating Jobs

February 21, 2014 Comments are Disabled
How to Become a User Experience Designer

How to Become a User Experience Designer

Susan Farrell wrote a report based on a survey of nearly 1,000 user experience designers, including what they actually do, and their backgrounds and educations. It’s worth a look if you’ve ever thought about a career in usability.

From the summary:

When asked what characterizes good user experience professionals, one of our respondents said, “If you are a ‘lifelong learner’, in other words, if you are paying attention, you will be able to take previous experiences and apply lessons learned from them to your new situation. That is more important to me than specific skills you might learn in school.”

While most knowledge workers probably benefit from being lifelong learners, the point that this is more importantthan a specific education is rare and one of the defining characteristics of the user experience field.

Even though continual on-the-job learning is the most important, 90% of respondents had obtained a university degree. There’s no single degree to define the field: design, psychology, and communication were the most common major areas, sharply pursued by English and computer science. All of these fields make some sense as a partial educational background for UX professionals, but together those five disciplines accounted for only 45% of bachelor’s degrees. The majority of UX professionals hold degrees from an immense range of other disciplines, from history to chemistry, most of which don’t have a direct bearing on UX work.

The most common educational level was a master’s degree: 52% had at least one master’s degree (some had two, which seems like overkill). Only 6% of respondents were PhDs. Most of the remaining respondents with university diplomas held bachelor’s degrees and 1% had associate’s degrees.

Summary: Nielsen Norman Group: User Experience Career Advice.

Or: Download the full report.

February 10, 2014 Comments are Disabled
How Silicon Valley’s Hippie Roots Led to Its Modern Elitism

How Silicon Valley’s Hippie Roots Led to Its Modern Elitism

Fred Turner, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture and The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties interviewed on how Silicon Valley went from counter cultural cool to mustache twirling villain. Turner talks a lot about Silicon Valley’s connection to 60s communalism, and why that outlook is shaping its modern practices:

One of the great mistakes people made in reviewing my book was to say, “Wow, it’s great. Turner finally showed us how the hippies brought us computing.” Nothing could be further from the truth. What I think I did in the book was actually show how the research world that brought us computing also brought us the counterculture. In the ‘40s, we see military industrial research in and around MIT and around a variety of other centers being incredibly collaborative and open. It’s that style that actually migrates into and shapes countercultural practices. What the counterculture does for computing is it legitimates it. It makes it culturally cool. [...]

A legacy from the communalist movement that I think is pernicious is a turning away from politics, a turning toward the self as the basis of political change, of social action. I think that’s something you see all through the Valley. The information technology industry feeds off it because information technologies can so easily be aimed at satisfying individual needs. You see that rhetoric leveraged when Google and other firms say, “Don’t regulate us. We need to be creative. We need to be free to pursue our satisfaction because that’s ultimately what will provide a satisfying society.”

That’s all a way of ignoring the systems that make the world possible. One example from the ‘60s that I think is pretty telling is all the road trips. The road trips are always about the heroic actions of people like Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady and their amazing automobiles, right? Never, never did it get told that those road trips were only made possible by Eisenhower’s completion of the highway system. The highway system is never in the story. It’s boring. What’s in the story is the heroic actions of bootstrapped individuals pursuing conscious change. What we see out here now is, again, those heroic stories. And there are real heroes. But the real heroes are operating with automobiles and roads and whole systems of support without which they couldn’t be heroic.

Full Story: Harvard Business Review: How Silicon Valley Became The Man

See also:

The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman

Turner’s essay on the connections between Burning Man and Silicon Valley, particularly Google (PDF)

The R.U. Sirius’ interview with Turner

How the “Do What You Love” Mantra Enables Exploitation

The California Ideology

January 21, 2014 0 comments
How the “Do What You Love” Mantra Enables Exploitation

How the “Do What You Love” Mantra Enables Exploitation

Miya Tokumitsu writes about the myth of “Do What You Love” (DWYL):

One consequence of this isolation is the division that DWYL creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.

For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story. Under the DWYL credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love (which is, in fact, most labor) is not only demeaned but erased. As in Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from the spectrum of consciousness altogether.

Think of the great variety of work that allowed Jobs to spend even one day as CEO: his food harvested from fields, then transported across great distances. His company’s goods assembled, packaged, shipped. Apple advertisements scripted, cast, filmed. Lawsuits processed. Office wastebaskets emptied and ink cartridges filled. Job creation goes both ways. Yet with the vast majority of workers effectively invisible to elites busy in their lovable occupations, how can it be surprising that the heavy strains faced by today’s workers (abysmal wages, massive child care costs, et cetera) barely register as political issues even among the liberal faction of the ruling class?

In ignoring most work and reclassifying the rest as love, DWYL may be the most elegant anti-worker ideology around. Why should workers assemble and assert their class interests if there’s no such thing as work? [...]

Ironically, DWYL reinforces exploitation even within the so-called lovable professions where off-the-clock, underpaid, or unpaid labor is the new norm: reporters required to do the work of their laid-off photographers, publicists expected to Pin and Tweet on weekends, the 46?percent of the workforce expected to check their work email on sick days. Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they are doing what they love.

Instead of crafting a nation of self-fulfilled, happy workers, our DWYL era has seen the rise of the adjunct professor and the unpaid intern?— people persuaded to work for cheap or free, or even for a net loss of wealth. This has certainly been the case for all those interns working for college credit or those who actually purchase ultra-desirable fashion-house internships at auction.

Full Story: Jacobin: In the Name of Love

I’ve certainly seen these shenanigans in journalism.

Fred Turner wrote about this blurring of lines between labor and recreation at Google in his Burning Man at Google essay(PDF):

by granting them limited powers of choice over their activities, it simultaneously engages their individual creative interests and encourages them to reimagine their workspace as a congenial, high-trust environment. It also blurs the line between workers’ social and professional worlds in ways that are highly advantageous to the firm. Within their ‘20% time’ at least, the subsidy suggests that engineers should stop thinking of working for Google as just a job and reimagine it as a way to pursue individual growth.

Sara Robinson has traced this trend to the early days of Silicon Valley, and to the writings of Tom Peters.

Previously: Overtime kills productivity

January 19, 2014 2 comments
Amazon’s German workers strike as Christmas orders peak

Amazon’s German workers strike as Christmas orders peak

Reuters reports:

Germany is Amazon’s second-biggest market behind the United States and sales there grew almost 21 percent in 2012 to $8.7 billion, a third of its overseas total. Amazon took its most daily orders in Germany last December 16, when almost 4 million articles were bought, with shipments peaking on December 17.

Amazon, which employs 9,000 warehouse staff in Germany plus 14,000 seasonal workers at nine distribution centers, said 1,115 staff had joined the strike at three sites, but there had been no delays to deliveries.

“Our customers can continue to rely on us for the prompt delivery of their Christmas presents,” a spokeswoman said, adding that Amazon uses its whole European logistics network over the Christmas period to ensure delivery times.

The Verdi union said up to 700 workers joined the strike in Amazon’s logistic center in Bad Hersfeld, plus 500 to 600 in Leipzig. For the first time, the union also called a strike in Graben, where Verdi said 600 workers took part.

“The Amazon system is characterized by low wages, permanent performance pressure and short-term contracts,” Verdi board member Stefanie Nutzenberger said in a statement.

Full Story: Reuters: Amazon’s German workers strike as Christmas orders peak

See also:

Amazon’s Drone Delivery Hoax Distracts from Working Conditions at Amazon Warehouses

Union 2.0: How a Browser Plug-in is Organizing Amazon’s Micro-Laborers

The Alt-Labor Movement: Low-wage workers fight to make bad jobs better

December 16, 2013 0 comments
Mindful Cyborgs: The End of the Firm as We Know It

Mindful Cyborgs: The End of the Firm as We Know It

In the latest episode of Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy and I journeyed to the belly of the beast at Defrag and interviewed investor Chris DeVore from Founders Co-Op on “industrial entropy”:

KF: Yeah, one of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is that in the 80s there was dystopian sci-fi people would talk about the mega corporation and you would see these big conglomerates but now what seems to actually be taking over or becoming more prevalent or mega networks . . . so, Y Combinator is one example though. Maybe the founders [00:04:06] would be as well but Paul Graham has explicitly said that part of the point of Y Combinator is to be a distributed peer to peer replacement for the traditional company to give the members of it the benefits of being part of a large company without having to be part of the structure of a large company. Do you have any thoughts on that? Do you think that’s actually happening?

CDV: I definitely do and I think this is where the pattern that I think is interesting and there’s a dark [00:04:31] that we’ll get to in a minute is, when everyone is responsible for their own career pathing, like no man is an island, right? We all need different mixes of skills and abilities and kind of promotional states to build an organization that’s capable of things that more than one human can do but this idea of going from hierarchies of organizations with organization design and managers and leadership into networks where you essentially have these flat as Paul says peer-to-peer networks of people that they collaborate in more dynamically as they come together around a project and then they disassembled and reassembled different products. I think that’s fundamentally true about the nature of work today.

Even an enterprise work you might have a project manager but they’re going to hire this sort of coalition of vendors to come together to build a software or to ship certain kind of product and then when that’s over and they then ships over they’re going to disassemble and they’re going to reassemble very organically and I think it’s again very empowering for people who have the skills and ability to navigate and set their own career path and build their own digital identity and kind of how work come to them and be called in to these dynamic networks.

The thing that I worry about is from a skilling standpoint who’s being left behind, who doesn’t have the ability to surf on this very organic dynamic networked economy and how do you make that economy as open or as porous as it can be so that people who are coming out of school right now it used to be they go to a career fair and they get a job. If those jobs don’t exist, what does exist and what are the gateways and points of access for people into the network at this point?

Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: Episode 15 – Industrial Entropy and the Turks! The Turks! The Mechanical Turks!

December 8, 2013 0 comments
Amazon’s Drone Delivery Hoax Distracts from Working Conditions at Amazon Warehouses

Amazon’s Drone Delivery Hoax Distracts from Working Conditions at Amazon Warehouses

James Ball writes that although Amazon’s drone plan is unlikely to happen, it did manage to minimize criticism of Amazon’s corporate practices during cybermonday:

Bezos’ neat trick has knocked several real stories about Amazon out of the way. Last week’s Panorama investigation into Amazon’s working and hiring practices, suggesting that the site’s employees had an increased risk of mental illness, is the latest in a long line of pieces about the company’s working conditions – zero-hour contracts, short breaks, and employees’ every move tracked by internal systems. Amazon’s drone debacle also moved discussion of its tax bill – another long-running controversy, sparked by the Guardian’s revelation last year that the company had UK sales of £7bn but paid no UK corporation tax – to the margins. The technology giants – Amazon, Google, Microsoft et al – have have huge direct reach to audiences and customers, the money to hire swarms of PR and communications staff, and a technology press overwhelmingly happy to incredulously print almost every word, rather than to engage in the much harder task of actually holding them to account.

Full Story: The Guardian: Amazon to deliver by drone? Don’t believe the hype

A bit more about why this won’t work from Wired

December 3, 2013 0 comments
Mindful Cyborgs: Power and Privilege in the New Working Order

Mindful Cyborgs: Power and Privilege in the New Working Order

This week Chris Dancy and I talked to Shanley, a tech product manager and feminist in the Bay Area, about sexism and micro-aggression in the work place.

KF: How can people be more aware of what’s going on there? I mean, one of the things I was wondering about when I read it is how often managers are really intentionally doing this because I imagine there’s some element of desire to be the boss and express power in those ways but I’m guessing actually that there’s a fair amount that’s completely subconscious and that if managers were more aware of they actually would perhaps not do these things.

First of all, do you agree that some of it is unintentional and secondly like how can people become more aware of this stuff?

CD: One of the things I heard Shanley you say was when I become or when we become managers the things we observe so I think to Klint’s question is some of this just kind of picked up like lint on your mind because you’ve watched people manage?

SK: Yes absolutely. I think we tend to emulate what we see around us, we tend to try to emulate and live up to the mythologies around us. I think that most this type of behavior is not conscious at all. No one is sitting there thinking how can I make my team feel bad, how can I make them feel inferior, how can I make them feel less than … but there’s something amazing about that realization because it starts with this realization that like managers have a profound impact on the lives and experiences of their teams.

We know this is true because when you ask people about bad managers that they’ve had you see the tremendous negative impact that managers can have and not just affecting you as an individual but ask someone’s partner, their friends about the bad managers they’ve had and they’ll give you an earful too. And then you talk with managers and they have this really strong desire to really help their team but there’s a disconnect going on there. When you can sort of star in this shared position of being like okay, like this is a really powerful space, the space of interaction is really powerful. It’s something that sometimes goes horribly wrong but no one wants it to you and how can we sort of start from that position of like good intention but more awareness and honesty.

As always, you can find it on Soundcloud, iTunes or Stitcher, or download it directly.

Show notes and transcript are here.

October 18, 2013 0 comments
The Alt-Labor Movement: Low-wage workers fight to make bad jobs better

The Alt-Labor Movement: Low-wage workers fight to make bad jobs better

Nicole Aschoff on the “Alt-Labor” movement, such as the Walmart and fast food strikes:

University of Colorado-Denver management professor Wayne Cascio has shown, through a comparison of Walmart/Sam’s Club and Costco, that low wages are not necessary for high profits and productivity. Costco employees average roughly $35, 000 per year ($17 per hour), while Sam’s Club workers average roughly $21, 000 per year ($10 per hour) and Walmart workers earn an average of less than $9 an hour. Costco also provides it workers predictable, full-time work and health benefits. However, contrary to popular assumptions, Costco actually scores higher in relative financial and operating performance than Walmart. Its stores are more profitable and more productive, and its customers and employees are happier.

Costco is not exceptional. Zeynep Ton, of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, has studied retail operations for a decade and argues that “the presumed trade-off between investment in employees and low prices can be broken.” “High-road” employers like Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, and the Container Store have all found ways to make high profits and provide decent jobs. Catherine Ruetschlin’s research shows that a modest wage increase—bumping up the average annual salary of Walmart or Target workers to $25,000—would barely make a dent in big retailers’ bottom line, costing them the equivalent of about 1% of total sales. Even if a company like Walmart passed on half the cost of the increase to customers, the average customer would pay roughly $17 more per year, or about 15 cents per shopping visit. And, considering most low-wage workers spend nearly their entire paycheck on necessities, the industry would see a boost in sales ($4 billion to $5 billion more per year) to its own workers. Fast-food companies are highly profitable. McDonald’s alone saw profits more than double between 2007 and 2011. They could easily send some of these profits downstream to franchise owners and workers.

So why do most big retailers and fast-food chains insist on a bad-jobs or “low road” model? There are a few reasons. MIT’s Ton argues that labor costs are a large, controllable expense, and retailers generally view them as a “cost-driver” rather than a “sales-driver.” Store-level managers are pressured by higher-ups to control labor costs as a percentage of weekly or monthly sales. And because store managers have no control over sales (or merchandise mix, store layout, prices, etc.) they respond to pressure from above by cutting employment or forcing workers to work off-the-clock when sales dip. Another factor is financialization—the increasing dominance of finance in the economy. Firms feel a lot of pressure from Wall Street to be a Walmart and not a Costco. As Gerald Davis has argued, the rise of finance and the dominance of “shareholder value” rhetoric have resulted in an emphasis on short-term profits that register in increased share prices and big CEO bonuses.

Full Story: Dollars and Sense: Low-wage workers fight to make bad jobs better.

(via Metafilter)

This is encouraging, but the possibility of fast food companies switching to “less-costly, automated alternatives like touch-screen ordering and payment devices” is not an idle threat. I’ve seen something like this setup in the food court at the JFK airport. But as I wrote earlier, cultural issues could stop this from becoming widespread — it’s not clear that customers will settle for robots and touch screens over human beings. But I sure wouldn’t rule it out.

October 8, 2013 0 comments