Friday, March 16, 2018

Big Tech’s Purple Cheerleaders

SEIU’s Andy Stern and David “Mini Me” Rolf are facing more criticism for partnering with Uber executives.

Jay Youngdahl -- a civil rights attorney and journalist -- says Rolf and Stern have become “cheerleaders” and “circus barkers” for Uber and other tech firms pushing poverty jobs on millions of US workers. 

The companies, says Youngdahl, use “an 18th-century business model dressed up for the 21st century.” (Jay Youngdahl, “Poverty's 'Progressive' Cheerleaders,” East Bay Express, March 14, 2018.)

Even as Rolf and Stern appear to be hypnotized by the glare of their iPhones and the tech companies’ vast wealth, Youngdahl reminds us of the story of drivers like Douglas Schifter.

Last month, Schifter -- who worked for 30 years as a livery driver in New York -- shot himself to death in front of New York City Hall to protest the economic ruin brought on by Uber, Lyft and other companies. According to the New York Times, Schifter…
was now sometimes forced to work more than 100 hours a week to survive… He had lost his health insurance and accrued credit card debt… preferring, he said, to die in hope that his sacrifice would draw attention to what drivers, too often unable to feed their families now, were enduring.

(Ginia Bellafante, “A Driver’s Suicide Reveals the Dark Side of the Gig Economy,” New York Times, February 6, 2018.)

Here’s a recent segment from Democracy Now about Schifter and the impact of Uber and Lyft on drivers.

Youngdahl writes:
[H]onest analyses show that profits for gig economy companies come from not paying for employee health care, pension, and paid leave, as well as foregoing outlay for governmental safety net benefits such as social security, workers' compensation, and unemployment insurance.
To protect their cash flow and flawed business model, these new economy capitalists have assembled a group of "progressive" circus barkers to shape public opinion so the companies can continue, as one driver leader recently wrote, an 18th-century business model dressed up for the 21st century.
Schifter's post on Facebook at the end of his life
Led by former Obama and Clinton strategists, think tanks desperate for operating revenue, foundation-financed nonprofits, and a few past and present Service Employee International Union officials with wealthy benefactors, these companies have constructed a marketing campaign that puts Mad Men to shame. The cast of characters, preaching a rosy "Future of Work," appear in media outlets throughout the land. They have been described as a progressive "Brain Trust," by New Yorker writer Nathan Heller.
Apparently terrified of worker power and solidarity, they oppose traditional unionization and extol company-controlled worker organizations. They promise pie-in-the-sky future benefits and "freedom" and "flexibility." But they're unwilling to face what life is like today for these workers. The "freedom" they're extolling is, as Janis Joplin sang, "just another word for nothin' left to lose."

At least one official inside SEIU is critical of Rolf’s and Stern’s handiwork in support of Uber, the $48 billion startup. In additional comments, Hector Figueroa, the President of SEIU 32BJ in New York, told BuzzFeed:
This isn't just a matter of Washington state. Washington is opening the door for something we believe is harmful for workers. So we’re going to oppose it, even though a sister union is actively involved.

(Caroline O'Donovan, “Uber’s Latest Concession to Drivers Could Spell Trouble for Gig Workers,” BuzzFeed News, January 26, 2018.)

One day after Rolf recently co-signed a letter with Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and a venture capitalist, Figueroa posted a statement on his union’s website that says in part:
“We… we don’t support the plans being pushed by Uber and other companies to classify workers as independent just to avoid the responsibilities that employers have to their employees under labor law. All workers, whether they are considered employees or self-employed, should have meaningful health and retirement benefits, paid leave and sick days and enough income to support themselves and their families. They should also have the right to bargain collectively with their employers... We are deeply suspect of Uber’s intentions given their track record of misclassifying, underpaying, harassing and exploiting workers and opposing worker organization and we will judge them and others by their actions, not their words.”

Figueroa and Rolf both serve on SEIU’s International Executive Board.