Technology

Human Capital: Workers are upset about labor practices, and Amazon and Apple are on the defensive

Happy Labor Day and welcome back to Human Capital, where we unpack the latest in tech labor, and diversity, equity and inclusion. Human Capital will soon be available as a newsletter. Sign up here so you don’t miss it when it drops!

This week, we’re looking at Pinterest’s newest edition to its DEI team, a California bill that seeks to increase racial diversity at the board level, Amazon’s messy week and a court decision forcing Apple to pay its workers for time spent in security screenings.

But first, a quick history of Labor Day, which was first celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City following a proposal by the Central Labor Union in the city. On that day, between 10,000 to 20,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from NYC’s city hall to Union Square in what became the first Labor Day parade.

In the time between the first Labor Day parade and when it became a federal holiday in 1894, railroad workers went on strike after George Pullman laid off hundreds of employees and cut wages by 30 percent for those who remained. In May 1894, workers walked out and their union, the American Railway Union, called for a boycott on Pullman train cars. Shortly after, the group representing Chicago’s railroad companies called on the federal government to help shut down the strike. Once federal troops arrived in Chicago, the strike turned deadly as the National Guard killed as many as 30 people.

The troops left in July and, that same month, Labor Day became a national holiday to be celebrated the first Monday in September every year. The strike ended in early August. It’s a complicated history, but it shows labor struggles have been at the heart of American capitalism since the country’s inception (slavery). Now, more than 100 years after the first Labor Day, workers are still fighting for better protections, pay and working conditions.


Stay Woke


Pinterest brings on new head of inclusion and diversity

As Pinterest grapples with some internal unrest over claims of racial and gender discrimination, the company has brought on a new head of inclusion and diversity. Its last head of diversity, Candice Morgan, quietly left earlier this year for venture firm GV. 

Tyi McCray, the company’s new global head of inclusion and diversity, previously worked at Airbnb where she held a few different roles. She began as Airbnb’s interim director of Diversity and Belonging before becoming a diversity strategy lead and ultimately, a government affairs and strategic partnerships lead.

McCray will report directly to Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann. This marks the first time Pinterest is having a head of diversity report directly to the CEO, rather into HR. Facebook did something similar earlier this year when it began having its chief diversity officer, Maxine Williams, report directly to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. But Facebook still fell short of having Williams report directly to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Diversity advocates for years have been calling for heads of diversity to report directly to the CEO. Many companies, however, have yet to do that. More often, tech companies have their heads of diversity report into the head of HR.

California may soon require more diversity at the board level

The tech industry has been under scrutiny for its lack of diversity for years now. Some progress has been made in terms of representation of Black and brown folks within companies, but not always at the leadership level. AB979, which is heading to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk, aims to accelerate diversity at the board level.

The bill would require public companies based in California to have at least one board member from an underrepresented group. If signed into law, the bill would also require companies with between four to nine directors to have at least two board members be from an underrepresented group. For boards with nine or more directors, the bill would require a minimum of three people from an underrepresented group.

The bill defines an individual from an underrepresented community as someone who self-identifies as Black, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, Indigenous and/or as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

This bill seeks to build on top of preexisting law that went into effect in 2018 that mandated publicly held corporations based in California would have a minimum of one female director on its board by the end of 2019. By the end of 2021, companies with five or more directors must have a minimum of two female board members while companies with six or more directors must have at least three female board members.


The 99%


Amazon is a mess

Amazon found itself under scrutiny again over its labor practices. It started when reports surfaced that Amazon was looking to hire an intelligence analyst. Specifically, Amazon in a job posting said it was seeking someone who would inform higher-ups and attorneys “on sensitive topics that are highly confidential, including labor organizing threats against the company.” 

Amazon swiftly took down that job post, saying it was “not an accurate description of the role – it was made in error and has since been corrected,” Amazon spokesperson Maria Boschetti said in a statement to TechCrunch. While Amazon did not give a specific revised description, the company said the role is meant to support its team of analysts that focus on external events, like weather, large community gatherings or other events that have the potential to disrupt traffic or affect the safety and security of its buildings and the people who work at those buildings. 

However, that same day, Vice reported Amazon had been spying on workers for years to monitor for any potential strikes or protests. Amazon has since said it will stop using its social media monitoring tool.

“We have a variety of ways to gather driver feedback and we have teams who work every day to ensure we’re advocating to improve the driver experience, particularly through hearing from drivers directly,” Boschetti said in a statement. “Upon being notified, we discovered one group within our delivery team that was aggregating information from closed groups. While they were trying to support drivers, that approach doesn’t meet our standards, and they are no longer doing this as we have other ways for drivers to give us their feedback.”

Amazon did not comment on how long it had been monitoring closed Facebook groups.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported some Amazon Flex drivers have resorted to hanging smartphones in trees in order to get more work in Chicago.

Apple owes its retail workers backpay for time spent in security screenings

Apple has had intense security practices for some time now. Part of that has meant requiring workers to go through security screenings before leaving the store at the end of their shifts. 

The case dates back all the way to 2015, when a group of Apple retail workers in California filed a class-action suit arguing they should be paid while waiting for their bags to be searched.

From the ruling:

Employees estimate that the time spent waiting for and undergoing an exit search pursuant to the Policy typically ranges from five to twenty minutes, depending on the manager or security guard’s availability. Some employees reported waiting up to forty-five minutes to undergo an exit search. Employees receive no compensation for the time spent waiting for and undergoing exit searches, because they must clock out before undergoing a search pursuant to the
Policy.

In February, CA Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. But a US District judge later granted Apple’s request for a summary judgment since some workers part of the class were not required to go through searches since they didn’t bring bags or devices to work. This week, however, an appeals court ruled that it wasn’t relevant if workers did or did not bring their devices or bags to work. Now, Apple must pay more than 12,000 class members for time spent waiting for security screenings.

Apple did not respond for our request for comment.


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