If the myth of tech over the past decade has been one of constant innovation, algorithmic scale, and new products and devices that “simply work,” the truth is that all of those illusions were made possible by the obfuscation of labor: the contract content moderators who sanitize the feeds of Facebook and YouTube from violence and extremist content; the warehouse workers at Amazon fulfillment centers trying to meet the guarantees of same-day shipping; the gig workers of all kinds — Uber drivers, food delivery cyclists, Instacart shoppers, among them — all of whom are at the whims of increasingly efficient platforms and wayward legislation. And that’s not even to speak of the white-collar tech workforce that, while better compensated, is still being taken advantage of by NDAs and mandatory arbitration clauses that keep hidden the realities of discrimination and harassment in the office. But now, some workers across tech companies are organizing for better treatment and pay. Others are making efforts to unionize. Most importantly, the movement will reach everyone who works in tech — and anyone who uses those platforms. The story of the tech industry over the next decade will be the reckoning brought on by its workforce.
Should the Screen Actors Guid’s upcoming talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers not result in a new labor contract that both sides agree on, the entertainment labor union will be in a position to strike now that an majority of SAG-AFTRA’s members voted to authorize the move.
As Variety notes, SAG-AFTRA’s vote to strike comes as the WGA’s ongoing strike enters its sixth week.
Disclosure: The Verge’s editorial staff is also unionized with the Writers Guild of America, East.
Members of the Writers Guild of America spoke out against the deal, as seen in a report in Deadline. Several with membership in one or both guilds tweeted complaints that the DGA had “made a deal behind our backs” and didn’t get “close to no AI source material.”
WGA negotiating committee co-chair Chris Keyser was quoted in another Deadline article today:
If [AMPTP President] Carol Lombardini thinks negotiating with the DGA while we’re out on strike is some kind of trump card, she’s going to find out that her 2007-08 playbook doesn’t belong in the negotiating room; it belongs in a museum.
You are never gonna guess what happened.
That’s right, the chatbot started giving people with eating disorders advice on losing weight! (See also: Vice, Daily Dot)
“RTO, layoffs, and a broken Climate Pledge all show leadership is exhibiting Day 2 behavior and taking us in the wrong direction,” the organizers wrote. The walkout is scheduled to begin at 3PM ET.
In TV critic Maureen Ryan’s forthcoming book Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood, multiple writers and actors who worked on ABC’s Lost describe the hit network show’s inner workings as a toxic nightmare of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse’s making:
“It’s very easy to think, well, it can’t have been that bad or someone would have done something. It was that bad, and no one did anything because retribution was a constant and looming presence.”
That’s according to LCSPA executive director Phil Aram, who tells The Verge the two sides will be meeting. Professional North American League of Legends esports players recently voted to walk out over rule changes that have largely decimated the amateur league.
According to a report from Gizmodo, NEDA fired the employees that run its eating disorder helpline after they successfully unionized. In their place, NEDA says it will start using an AI-powered chatbot, named Tessa, in June.
The union that represents the workers condemns the decision, stating: “A chat bot is no substitute for human empathy, and we believe this decision will cause irreparable harm to the eating disorders community.”
As if it wasn’t already painfully obvious how ready studios are to further devalue the labor workers do to make their films and TV shows possible, Max’s new interface has done away with listing writing and directing credits in favor of a catch-all “Creators” label.
Because hey, what’s the difference between a writer, a non-writing producer, and a director? They’re all just little content machines, right?
Inside the fight for Kickstarter’s union
The crowdfunding company’s organizing effort was divisive but still remains a landmark moment in the tech labor movement.
The e-commerce giant is downsizing again, cutting around 20 percent of its 11,600-strong workforce after Flexport takes over its logistics business.
Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke in a blog post announcing the change:
After today Shopify will be smaller by about 20% and Flexport will buy Shopify Logistics; this means some of you will leave Shopify today.
Shopify has only recently finished laying off around 1,000 employees.
YouTube Music contractors voted 41-0 in favor of becoming a union on Wednesday. The workers first filed for a union election in October.
Around 100 employees in Amazon’s gaming divisions are being laid off as part of the company’s broader cuts, according to a report from Bloomberg. While some of the affected employees work at the company’s game studio in San Diego, work will apparently still continue on an unannounced game.
Grubhub has been ordered to pay $65.11 in minimum wage violations to a former driver after a federal court ruling in Los Angeles recognized him as an employee, and not an independent contractor.
The ruling could cost the gig economy industry a lot more than that if it impacts whether other ride-hailing and food delivery drivers qualify for employment benefits like overtime and minimum wage under California law.
Alphabet has appealed the National Labor Relations Board’s decision that it counts as a joint employer for the workers, but the election is still happening. It’s set to start on the 22nd, according to the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA.
You can catch up on the story so far here:
It’s another addition to the growing list of tech workers trying to organize. According to Rolling Stone, employees cited wage disparity and a lack of transparency around Epic Games’ purchase of the music website as reasons they want to unionize.
The autonomous car unit shares its parent company, Alphabet, with Google, which in January cut over 12,000 jobs or about six percent of its workforce. The Information reports that after a new round of layoffs affecting primarily engineers, Waymo has let go of about 8 percent of the people working there.
Like the other recent tech layoffs, it’s a sharp turn from a few years ago — in 2017, Bloomberg reported some Waymo staffers were quitting because the jobs paid so well.
AI is based on low-paid labor. This interview with one of the people who help decide what Google will show you is worth a read — for starters, he says he makes $3 less per hour than his daughter, who works in fast food.