Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Sunday Globe Special: The Death of Labor

Let me guess. You didn't get the gig.

"For workers, 21st century technology undercuts stability" by Katie Johnston Globe Staff  September 05, 2015

Work is becoming a much less pleasant place.

From Uber drivers without job security to salesmen whose every move is electronically tracked to accountants expected to answer e-mails at all hours of the day and night, the nature of work is evolving — often in worker-unfriendly ways.

As more employers rely on a so-called contingent workforce of freelancers, contractors, and temporary employees, more workers are left without company-subsidized health care, retirement plans, and other traditional benefits. Technology makes it easier for consumers to find restaurants, track daily exercise, and stay in touch with friends, but it has also increased the power of employers to monitor, schedule, and contact workers at all hours.

Now you know what is not only behind the record corporate profits, but it also flies in the face of the rosy employment numbers promoted by the government and Fed.

Companies fighting to deliver the next big thing and stay ahead of competitors are also creating a cutthroat workplace culture.

It's called the greatest economic $y$tem ever devised; you got a problem with that?

At the online retailer Amazon.com Inc., the New York Times recently reported, workers cry at their desks and anonymously criticize each other to management using a special feedback tool, and e-mails not immediately answered at 3 a.m. are followed by text messages.

See: The Herd at Amazon 

Just go along.

Even some of the so-called perks companies are introducing are less beneficial than they sound. The trend of offering unlimited vacation days, for instance, saves companies money because they don’t have to pay unused time when employees leave — and many workers don’t take off additional days anyway.

Throw in the decline of unions, global competition for jobs, stagnating wages, and eroding retirement benefits, and the average worker faces a far less stable outlook than in the days when someone could get hired by a company and stay there — clocking in at 9 and leaving at 5, getting regular raises and promotions, and collecting a nice pension on the way out the door.

“We’re living in an era of real uncertainty and dislocation when it comes to the world of work,” said Benjamin Sachs, a Harvard Law School professor who studies labor issues. “It’s a moment where we need to think carefully and reevaluate the policies we have governing the labor market.”

Granted, this doom and gloom isn’t universal. Plenty of companies treat employees like royalty, with free lunches and cushy lounges. A few have increased paid parental leave. A number of federal labor protections have been proposed in recent months, such as expanded overtime rights for salaried workers, and advocates for low-wage workers have made headway. In Massachusetts, employees are now guaranteed sick time; in New York, fast-food workers at large chains are poised to make $15 an hour.

Despite these advances, many American workers still face a dark future with less job security, more competition, and hostile workplaces, labor specialists say.

In America?

Technology is largely to blame.

Mobile phones tether people to the office, eroding the wall between work and private lives and forecasting a 24/7 work week. Scheduling software calculates how many workers are needed at certain times and alerts managers when business is slow so they can send people home early. That has prompted employers to suddenly alter shifts with little notice to workers.

Machines that can build cars, take customers’ orders, and do taxes are taking over many tasks once performed by humans. By 2025, automation will displace 22.7 million jobs, according to Forrester Research, a Cambridge research and advisory firm. 

I'm starting to see why they need to depopulate the planet. The ruling cla$$ no will no longer need us.

And it’s not just factory workers and cashiers getting pushed out by machines. The reams of digital information transmitted through online clicks and social media posts will need to be analyzed and put to use, which would suggest plenty of jobs for smart, tech-savvy people, said Robert Tercek, author of the new book “Vaporized,” about how digital information is transforming the economy. But that work will be done by computers, not humans.

“The new jobs that haven’t even been created yet are being taken by software,” Tercek said. “Those could be great white collar jobs for thinking people.”

It's turning into a Terminator-style future, with the ubiquitous spying programs to be coalesced by computer.

Software is also a way for employers to monitor productivity, with programs that track when workers log in, how many hours they spend on specific projects, and where they are at any given time. VoloMetrix, a Seattle startup just bought by Microsoft Corp., analyzes employee activities such as e-mail habits and meetings on their digital calendars.

Meet the new boss.

Earlier this year, a sales executive in California sued her former employer, claiming she was fired for deleting an app that her company used to track her whereabouts even while she was off duty — a violation of privacy she compared to “a prisoner’s ankle bracelet.” The company has not responded to media requests for comment.

To be sure, technology has helped make workers more productive. But they are reaping few of the rewards that come from producing more in less time, and at lower costs. From 2000 to 2014, net productivity rose by nearly 22 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. The gain in hourly compensation during that time? Less than 2 percent.

Where do you think all that wealth went?

Nearly all the benefits of the surge in productivity have gone to top executives, in the form of bigger pay packages; to owners, as higher profits; and to investors, as better returns, the Economic Policy Institute said.

Those f***ers.

The rise of what’s being called the gig economy gives people the flexibility to work when and where they want — a great advantage for many workers. But few of these jobs come with benefits, or a guarantee of steady work. Many workers take them by necessity, not choice.

Always a "but, still, however, whatever" with by propaganda pre$$. 

Bad words for a report, or so I was told in college.

These types of arrangements are growing, and not only with so-called sharing economy firms such as the ride-hailing service Uber or TaskRabbit, which finds labor for daily chores. 

I have to do my own, which is why I'm so far behind here.

A recent study by the Government Accountability Office, an independent congressional watchdog agency, found that as many as 40 percent of employed Americans in 2010 were contingent workers — part-timers, temps, day laborers, or independent contractors — up from 35 percent in 2006.

These work arrangements, which help companies lower costs and increase their flexibility to respond to changing business conditions, have led more firms to illegally misclassify employees to get around labor laws to avoid paying payroll and unemployment taxes, according to the US Department of Labor.

And they also had to get health insurance through Obummercare.

As their leverage continues to weaken, more workers will have to settle for contingent jobs down the road, said Randy Albelda, a labor economist at the University of Massachusetts Boston. And without health care or retirement benefits, this could be a recipe for disaster.

And we were told the job market was healing, blah, blah, blah.

“The lack of employer-based benefits undermines both current and future economic stability,” Albelda said. “The big problem that we’re going to have down the road is workers with no money to retire.”

We are already there.

Standards that have historically protected workers from exploitation, many of which were passed decades ago, don’t reflect the changing labor market. Several recent regulations have moved to expand workers’ rights: making millions of salaried workers eligible for overtime, giving home care workers overtime and minimum wage protections, and making it easier for subcontract and franchise workers to bargain collectively with parent corporations.

But so far, there is little to protect workers in the exploding gig economy, whom companies treat as independent contractors.

“Employers are saying, the less I have to be responsible for the people who work for me, the better,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities research institute in Washington D.C. “I worry that all of this just tips the balance of power more toward employers.”

It's already been tipped over.


RelatedIndependent contractors, or abandoned workers?

"It’s time for a change in economic security policies" by Michael D. Goodman   September 05, 2015

Both Social Security and unemployment insurance were designed in response to a series of economic and demographic changes that increased the financial insecurity of millions of Americans. As is often the case, it took a national crisis — the Great Depression — to push our political institutions to help the nation adapt to its transformation from an agrarian to an industrial society, and to provide a measure of financial security in a more economically volatile world.

We are now six years from the end of the Great Recession, the greatest national economic crisis since the Great Depression. But it is increasingly clear that as our society continues its transformation from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy, our public policies designed to promote economic security are failing to meet the needs of a growing number of our workers and their families.

The recession ended for the rich back then; for the rest of us it has been what history has recorded as the Grand Depression (because we are recording history here, live, for you).

Consider the changing employer-employee relationship. Recently, we have witnessed the birth and rapid growth of what some have called the “gig economy,” exemplified by the emergence of firms like Uber and TaskRabbit. 

Ahhh, another "gig."

These firms rely almost exclusively on a pool of contingent labor that is paid on a fee for service or commission basis.

We are all illegals on the street corner now (they must do work for the judge).

The technological developments that allow for service providers and customers to be directly connected have introduced considerable flexibility into the labor market. They also offer real value to consumers, who have flocked to these services and helped make firms like Uber, whose market capitalization was recently estimated to be $50 billion, very valuable.

I'm all done with Uber.

But these developments also have had the effect of shifting the risks associated with employment from the employer to the employee. This highlights the growing disconnect between legacy economic security policies and the realities of today’s labor market. These policies rely on payroll taxes and the assumption that most employers are willing to permanently hire workers and pay their share of taxes to finance Social Security and unemployment insurance — which is frequently not the case.

The social business contract that was reached with AmeriKan fa$ci$m, 'er, capitali$m so the society would not go Communist has been broken. Not needed now.

Take unemployment insurance, for example. This system excludes independent contractors, leaving those reliant on the gig economy on their own in the event they are displaced from one or more of their jobs.

Gig economy workers are eligible for Social Security benefits, but they must pay a self-employment tax, which means they are paying both the employer and employee share of the tab.

Oh, they have really nailed you there.

Whether Uber drivers or other contingent workers should be classified as independent contractors remains an open legal question. Nevertheless, it is clear that attaching rights and benefits mainly to full-time payroll jobs is an increasingly problematic way to define eligibility for economic security programs. A more effective set of policies would broaden coverage and better reflect the reality facing millions of American workers and their families.

In a recent article in the journal Democracy, serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer and labor leader David Rolf called for what they termed a “21st century social contract” that would reform existing economic security policies by making them all as portable as Social Security, pro-rated for part-time employees, and universally available to all workers, whether independent contractors or payroll employees.

Reasonable people can disagree about how these policies should be reformed; however, the need for reforms that better align our safety net programs with economic reality is hard to dispute.

While the recent track record of our national political institutions does not inspire great confidence, adapting policies, much as they did following the Great Depression, would have a profound and positive impact on the lives of millions of Americans who are being denied protections and benefits that have been taken for granted by many of their friends, neighbors, and relatives for the past 80 years.

Meager protections and rights taken for granted (Pinkerton thugs must have knocked out any memories of the violent repression of labor this country has seen for so long) paired with national political institutions that have abetted if not enabled all this. 

But they gonna fix it, yup.


At least the immigrants got work:

"Nonunion employees turn to worksite committees for protection" by Steven Greenhouse New York Times  September 07, 2015

SANTA FE — Jorge Porras, Luis Muñoz, and eight co-workers became so fed up that they took an unusual step. They formed a workers committee (not a labor union) and sent a certified letter to the carwash owner.

Porras, an immigrant from Guatemala, said in Spanish, “We knew that if we formed a committee we’d be protected.”

I wonder if he is worried about home.

An advocacy group for immigrant workers, Somos Un Pueblo Unido, advised Squeaky Clean’s workers to set up such a committee because the National Labor Relations Act — enacted during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 — prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for engaging in “concerted” activity to improve their wages and conditions, even when they are not trying to unionize.

In an era when the traditional labor unions envisioned by Depression-era supporters of that law have weakened steadily, many advocates now see worksite committees as an alternative way to strengthen workers’ clout and protections. 

I'm so glad I have a paper of the .01% to help out workers.


Days after the Squeaky Clean workers sent their letter in 2012, the owner fired Porras, Muñoz, and four others. The fired workers and Somos complained to the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office in Phoenix. That office soon filed a civil complaint against Squeaky Clean, accusing it of unlawfully retaliating against the workers for engaging in what the courts call “protected, concerted” activities.

Ultimately, the labor board ordered Squeaky Clean to reinstate the workers and pay $6,000 in back wages. The carwash agreed separately to pay $60,000 to settle claims for minimum wage and overtime violations.

The workers say that, in response to the worker committee’s pressure, the carwash has improved conditions for those who complained (but not necessarily for the rest of the crew) — paying them for their full eight hours and giving a one-hour lunch break and one-week paid vacation.

I'll bet that has divided the workforce.

Jay Ritter, Squeaky Clean’s owner, did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment.

These newfangled worker committees have been accumulating victories. In recent years, workers at 12 New Mexico companies have complained to the NLRB that they were fired for pushing to improve conditions. In 11 of those cases, the labor board’s Phoenix office found that the firings had been unlawful and pressed for the workers’ reinstatement.


Somos, a 20-year-old immigrants’ advocacy group, originally focused on persuading New Mexico lawmakers to let immigrants without legal papers obtain driver’s licenses.

That means they are ILLEGALS!

That effort succeeded. The group has since found a fresh calling, fighting for immigrants who face workplace problems, sometimes by staging raucous protests after workers filed claims alleging wage theft or illegal firings....



Maybe not:

"A steady push toward mechanization in Maine’s blueberry industry is reducing the number of migrant farmers who rake the crop, which is vitally important to the state’s economy — worth about $250 million per year in economic value. The harvest attracted more than 5,000 migrant farmers 10 years ago but is down to 1,500 today, said David Yarborough, a University of Maine professor of horticulture. They can earn several hundred dollars per week. Many of today’s rakers are of Latin American or Caribbean origin. Others are Native American or aboriginal people of Canada. The season typically begins in late July and ends around Labor Day. Reliance on migrants grew as the crop exploded from 20 million pounds per year in the 1970s to 90 million pounds now, Yarborough said. Some blueberry operations have been almost completely mechanized, and more are headed in that direction. Mechanization is also making things more difficult for the human rakers who remain. They are left to work in places mechanical harvesters can’t reach, like ditches and uneven land. That makes a form of labor that already includes repetitive lifting and bending in the hot sun even more difficult."

I'm sure the women know just what you are talking about:

"The world’s 20 leading economies have launched a new grouping aimed at boosting the role of women in global economic growth. The W-20 — a grouping of female leaders — was launched on Sunday in the Turkish capital Ankara, where finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of 20 were meeting for talks on the global economy. The group aims to work toward empowering women and ensuring their participation in economic growth. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said women’s participation was paramount to economic growth and said one of the best indicators for the prosperity of a country was the smile on the face of its women. Davutoglu said: ‘‘If the women are smiling . . . you can be sure that their country is happy.’’

Looks sexist to me.

Also seeNagging Nannies

Not happy, and so much four going back to babysitting after getting out of school. 

What's with the Globe anyway? 

Are Jews and immigrants the only sources they have?

Also see: The Death of Corporate Governance

China is trying to revive it.

"China is burning through its foreign exchange reserves at the fastest pace yet as it seeks to prop up its currency and stop money from flowing out of the country. China still has the world’s biggest cache of foreign reserves, $3.56 trillion, but that’s down from nearly $4 trillion in June 2014. China’s central bank has sold huge amounts from its foreign reserves to maintain the strength of the currency, the renminbi. The exodus of investors’ money accelerated last month after China devalued the renminbi; foreign reserves fell $94 billion in the month, according to a report on Monday. Also, China’s statistics agency lowered its estimate for gross domestic product in 2014, saying the economy grew 7.3 percent, not the 7.4 percent previously reported. But some exporters report an uptick in business, because a weaker currency makes China’s products cheaper overseas. Since the devaluation, the central bank has kept the currency more or less steady at roughly 6.4 renminbi to the dollar. Julian Evans-Pritchard, at Capital Economics, calculated the net amount of money leaving China rose to a record $130 billion last month, up from about $75 billion in July.... 

They are dumping the dollar, folks.

Lawyers for people who sued more than a year ago, saying their homes were ruined by drywall made in China, are still trying to get the lawsuit served on the agency that oversees China’s biggest state-owned companies. And six other defendants — sued as parents of the drywall company — say they’re shielded because they’re government agencies. US District Judge Eldon Fallon is considering damages for as many as 4,000 homeowners who say sulfur emissions from Taishan Gypsum Co.’s drywall ruined their homes. Damages could exceed $1 billion, attorneys say. Generally, foreign governments are immune from civil lawsuits, but laws and treaties provide exemptions, including commercial activity. An attempt to serve the lawsuit was rejected; the Chinese government also refused to accept a registered mail package. China and the United States have signed the Hague conventions — standard international protocols for serving legal papers. But, analyst Kevin Rosier wrote, ‘‘China interprets its obligations under these treaties in a manner that effectively protects Chinese firms from US litigation.’’

Maybe it was delivered late.

A week before contracts with Detroit’s automakers expire, the United Auto Workers union hasn’t chosen a target company. But president Dennis Williams said he’ll pick one before the contracts end. Typically, a target company becomes the focus of bargaining and could be hit with a strike if negotiations stall. A deal with one company sets a pattern for the others, though there are differences. Williams gave no details about how the labor talks, which cover 140,000 workers, are progressing. This year’s talks are expected to be contentious, because all three companies are profiting, and longtime workers haven’t had a pay raise in a decade. The union also wants to close the gap for entry-level workers, who make about half the $29 hourly that veteran employees get. The companies want to cut costs to stay competitive."

They are all making record profits.

Give that stock market a quick check:

"After stocks’ big plunge, ETFs draw scrutiny" by Beth Healy Globe Staff  September 08, 2015

They were meant to be plain vanilla investments, cheap and simple. Even their name is dull.

Yet they are surging past mutual funds in popularity, becoming big business for the region’s financial firms. And they appear to have played a role in the most serious market upset since 2010.

Known as ETFs, exchange-traded funds are similar to index mutual funds. They let investors own a whole list of stocks, like the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, in the form of a single share. ETFs trade all day long, unlike mutual funds, which can be bought or sold just once daily.

Convenience and reliability have been considered two big selling points for ETFs. Until Black Monday, that is. On Aug. 24, when stocks plunged 1,000 points in a matter of minutes, ETFs were right in the middle of the mayhem.

One investment research firm described it to clients as “the great ETF crash of 2015.” Another called it “a meltdown in the ETF sector,” exaggerated by high-speed computer trades.

They create volume so brokerage houses can collect lots of commissions on the trades.

These once-bland investments are now in the sights of federal securities regulators. The Securities and Exchange Commission in June launched a public comment period on the increasingly complex products, whose assets have more than doubled to $2 trillion in just four years. The scrutiny heightened two weeks ago, amid the market’s volatility, according to two officials briefed on the agency’s ETF watch.

“There was significant uncertainty, significant pressure,’’ that day, said Tim Coyne, head of the ETF capital markets group at State Street Global Advisors in Boston, which manages $422 billion of the investments, including the biggest ETF on the market. “We’re still piecing this together and continue to get data points from the exchanges.”

In essence, ETFs became part of a domino effect on Black Monday. With hundreds of high-profile stocks plunging, exchanges temporarily halted trading of many shares, in accordance with new rules. ETFs with big price swings stopped trading, too. But when they resumed, some of the stocks they owned were still on hold.

That meant it was hard to properly price the ETFs, leading to guesswork by market makers handling the trades. Certain ETFs suddenly dropped in value by as much as 35 percent.

It was the first real test of new rules, imposed after the 2010 meltdown known as the flash crash, to briefly pause trading in shares that move significantly in a five-minute period. Black Monday appeared to lay bare possible flaws in the rules, causing wild price movements in ETFs.

Those swings, in turn, triggered computer-generated selling in other securities, as arbitrageurs and others who keep close tabs on index prices reacted to the ETF trades.

Coyne acknowledged that changes may be needed in light of the Black Monday experience.

“It’s something that we’re looking at,’’ he said. “We want to make sure that we’re on top of that and have a voice, an opinion, in ongoing market structure that may impact ETF trading.”

Some investors who tried to trade ETFs amid the recent volatility learned a lesson the hard way. A so-called market order, which directs a broker to sell as soon as possible at prevailing prices, created steep losses for some. In such rocky markets, ETF investors would have been better off placing “limit orders,” instructing brokers to sell only within specific price ranges.

It's reminiscent of the whole mortgage-backed securities swindle.

These investments are not just owned by sophisticated Wall Street giants. An estimated 60 percent of ETF assets are held by individual investors, according to FUSE Research Network in Needham Heights. The other 40 percent are held by hedge funds, mutual funds, pensions, and other large investors.

Whoever it is, it's not me and you.

Last year, investors put $238.4 billion into ETFs, more than they invested in mutual funds for the third time since 2008, according to the research firm Morningstar Inc. The trend is continuing this year, with $118.3 billion going into ETFs through July, compared with $106.3 billion directed to mutual funds.

The wealthy have to do something with all that loot.

To be sure, the $12 trillion still invested in mutual funds is a mountain of money that tends to stay put because so much of it comes from retirement savers. 

So your pension fund is taking another hit.

But when it comes to investing outside of workplace retirement plans, ETFs are becoming a growing threat to the business of actively managing mutual funds, which employs thousands in the Boston area.

“I don’t question that five years from now, ETFs will be much more prevalent,’’ said T. Neil Bathon, founder and a partner in FUSE, the research firm.

The stampede into ETFs is clearly having an impact on the mutual fund industry right now. Even Fidelity Investments, whose reputation is based on active stock funds, has succumbed to the trend. The firm’s clients have $2.8 billion invested in 11 industry-sector ETFs subadvised by New York-based BlackRock Inc. Fidelity also runs three bond ETFs on its own.

The Investment Company Institute, a Washington trade association, said it will start a report tracking ETF assets this fall. Otherwise, its weekly report on mutual fund assets could soon become meaningless as a market snapshot because so much money is flowing out of domestic stock funds and into stock ETFs, institute officials said.

Robert Pozen, a former head of Fidelity’s mutual fund group, in the new edition of his tome, “The Fund Industry,” has dedicated a whole chapter to ETFs. The growing shift to index funds and exchange-traded index funds, he said, “was driven more by the financial crisis, where people felt that they didn’t get what they wanted from a fund.”

Financial advisers are steering investors into ETFs, in part to drive down the fees that clients pay for investments. Those clients are already paying their advisers a fee for portfolio advice.

Boston’s Eaton Vance Corp., a mutual fund firm that sells its products through advisers, holds a patent on a new product called NextShares. They are actively managed ETFs, which offer some of the cost and tax savings of conventional exchange-traded funds that stick with a fixed list of investments.

The SEC approved the product last year, and Eaton Vance aims to license it to other firms. The question is whether regulators have a handle on all the permutations of ETFs that have hit the market — and the risks they may present in volatile markets.

When the new trading rules were put in place, Pozen said, “No one was even thinking about ETFs.”


You learn a lesson?