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Washington, D.C., lawmakers add insult to injury after overturning tipped minimum wage increase

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Sadly, it’s not just Republican lawmakers who overturn the will of the voters to keep workers underpaid and vulnerable. The Washington, D.C., mayor and council seem to be going out of their way to show that both sides do it.

D.C. voters passed Initiative 77, a measure gradually raising the tipped worker minimum wage to the full minimum wage, back in 2018, by a 12-point margin. Months later, the council and mayor overturned the will of the voters and booted tipped workers back down. To make that repeal vote seem more palatable, the lawmakers passed some provisions that would supposedly make life better for tipped workers—but more than a year later, those provisions haven’t been funded.

The District was supposed to publicize the rights of tipped workers, form a commission to support them, and set up an anonymous tip line for workers to report wage theft. Neither Mayor Muriel Bowser nor Council Chair Phil Mendelson included funding for those measures in the budget. Bowser isn’t commenting, while Mendelson, who pushed for the repeal of Initiative 77, told The Washington Post essentially that it was the fault of everyone who didn’t want Initiative 77 repealed to begin with. “The mayor should try harder this year to include it in her budget, but I would also note the so-called, self-proclaimed worker advocates did not lobby us as far as I know,” Mendelson said. Those worker advocates were putting their energy toward electing better council members and eventually passing—again—something raising the tipped worker minimum wage, but sure, it’s their fault that the jerks who repealed a voter-passed measure then didn’t fund their own so-called compromise measures.

This is obnoxious assault on workers layered on top of obnoxious assault on workers, and the lawmakers responsible should pay with their jobs.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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“The Algorithm Made Us Do It”: How Bosses at Instacart “Mathwash” Labor Exploitation

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Instacart is messing with workers’ tips, again. The company’s workers are so fed up hundreds of them are out on strike this week.

Instacart—a gig economy company for same-day grocery delivery—has had problems with tipping date back to 2016. At that time, Instacart removed tipping from the app, before being shamed into reinstating a tipping policy the next month. Then, in 2018, the company altered its policy again by counting customer tips toward workers’ guaranteed $10 base pay—leading to situations where customers were paying almost the full base, with little contribution from Instacart. Now, Instacart is taking aim at the default tip amount. When customers finish their Instacart orders, the app had previously suggested a tip of 10%. This was unilaterally discontinued and replaced by a 5% default.

In response to the default tip change, Instacart worker and organizer Vanessa Bain penned an impassioned Medium post last month which inspired a walkout of more than a thousand workers demanding reinstatement of the 10% default. Instead of improving conditions in the workplace, their collective action was met with discouraging news. Two days after the walk-out, Instacart slashed workers’ “quality” bonus pay—one of the only remaining pay incentives on the app, and an incentive that has been alleged to make up to 40% of the average Instacart workers’ already low income (some estimates put this between 30 and 35%). The company also did not respond to the concerns workers aired in the Medium post.

Starting December 16 and extending to December 21, over 300 Instacart workers are expected to strike again to challenge Instacart’s incentive cut, tip default changes, and declining work conditions generally, with events scheduled each day.

Amid mounting outrage, Instacart has attempted to deflect criticism by vaguely citing data. “During the last year, we offered a new version of the quality bonus and found that it did not meaningfully improve quality,” the company told shoppers over email in November, after the first walkout. “As a result, we will no longer be offering the quality bonus beginning next week.”

Through this statement, the company blamed unverified, unexplained metrics for the cuts, not its own exploitative model. The metric is presumably based on data, but workers and consumers are never given insight into that data. While the jargon is new, the underlying reality is not: A closer examination reveals this is just a justification for good, old-fashioned exploitation.

By what metric does Instacart measure whether an incentive can “meaningfully improve” quality? For an improvement to be “meaningful,” what quantitative or qualitative factors must be present? Is there a specific “quality” that is being measured, and how does it take into account worker quality of life? Furthermore, how does the company justify the gap between its lowest- and highest-paid employees? The average Instacart executive compensation is $279,596 a year—with the most compensated executive making $790,000. In contrast, the average Instacart worker is making between $9.81 and $12.96 an hour.

By brushing off worker complaints through references to unexplained data that is available to neither workers nor consumers, Instacart is attempting to utilize an insidious rhetorical tactic: “mathwashing.”

Coined by tech-entrepreneur Fred Benenson, the term “mathwashing” can be used to describe attempts to use math terms like “algorithm” to gloss over a more subjective reality. In the case of Instacart, algorithms are being used to justify poor work conditions, since a faceless algorithm is more convenient to blame than the greedy bosses behind the decisions. Benenson is clear in describing why this is a problem.

“This habit goes way back to the early days of computers when they were first entering businesses in the 1960s and 1970s,” he stated, in an interview with Technical.ly Brooklyn. “Everyone hoped the answers they supplied were more true than what humans could come up with, but they eventually realized computers were only as good as their programmers.”

Though Benenson originally used the term to describe how Facebook’s trending topics were not neutral, but instead manipulated by Facebook’s data engineers, it arguably applies to Instacart and a lot of the “don’t blame the bosses, blame the algorithm” language that is common across the gig economy. While other companies like Uber and AirBnb have relied on this rhetoric, however, Instacart is a particularly egregious abuser.

Talking with TechCrunch in 2016, CEO Apoorva Mehta relied on jargon and abstract language to defend workers’ low wages. He praised his workers’ “NPS score” and noted that wages were “not a zero-sum game” because “the problem that we’re trying to solve is very hard.”

Instacart’s process for deciding how to delegate orders is described by its website as a “Stochastic Capacitated Vehicle Routing Problem with Time Windows for Multiple Trips.” In describing delivery scenarios, Instacart’s website discusses using “time-based simulations” to replay “the history of customer and shopper behaviors with the existing algorithm and the new one.” The section shows colorful graphs and charts that fail to describe most of their variables, including one that simply lists “metric” instead of even pretending to have a quantity for measuring efficiency. The language is so loaded with jargon and italics that it is likely inaccessible to the average consumer or worker.

While this jargon conveys little, Instacart uses it to market the company’s “genius” design. To help readers understand that they are dealing with a company that is much smarter than themselves, Instacart includes a grocery-inspired illustration of Albert Einstein to accompany explanations of its black-box algorithim. Instead of leaving with a sense of awe, however, readers leave with a sense of having participated in a game of smoke and mirrors. The explanation reads less like a helpful primer and more like a desperate attempt to get consumers to believe anything other than the truth. Namely, that the company is the “despot” in control of its own algorithm.

This is not a marvel of technological innovation. It is a marvel of exploitation. You don’t need an advanced mathematics degree to know the score.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on December 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Audrey Winn is a Skadden Fellowship Attorney working and writing in New York City. She is passionate about workers’ rights, algorithmic transparency, and the inclusion of gig workers in the future of the labor movement.

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DoorDash changes its tip-stealing policy after outcry, this week in the war on workers

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Delivery app DoorDash decided to change its ways after getting some very bad publicity this week around its policy of taking tips that customers thought were going to workers. The way the policy went, “dashers” got a set rate for a given delivery, and if that rate was $6 and a customer tipped $4, well, the dasher still got $6 but DoorDash only had to pay $2. Now, tips entered in DoorDash will go to workers.

“The new model will ensure that Dashers’ earnings will increase by the exact amount a customer tips on every order. We’ll have specific details in the coming days,” the company’s chief executive tweeted. But the devil may be in those specific details, because Dashers aren’t convinced the company will do right by them.

On a forum for DoorDash workers on Reddit, some Dashers greeted the news with concern that DoorDash would simply pay them less to make up for the revenue it expected to lose after no longer being able to subsidize labor costs with tips.

“I’m worried that the orders will guarantee less now, but we get all the tips,” wrote a Reddit user named Dmillz648. “Meaning a previously guaranteed 10-dollar order might now only guarantee 5 bucks, and you get a 2 dollar tip, meaning you got 7 bucks for that order.”

If so many people who order delivery didn’t fail to tip, there’d be less of an issue (seriously, tip your delivery person!), but this is very much on the company as well.

Here are the tip policies of some other delivery apps.

 

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 29, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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Minimum Wage Increases On the Ballot In Four States

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Terrance HeathThere’s a lot more going on in this election than the presidential race between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. Borne out of the dedication and hard work of activists, ballot initiatives give citizens the opportunity to vote directly on legislation and constitutional amendments at the state and local level, sometimes even bypassing the legislature.

This year, People’s Action affiliates in four states have seen their hard work pay off by successfully getting initiatives to increase the minimum wage on the ballot.

 

Arizona

In Arizona, voters will decide whether to pass The Fair Wages and Healthy Families Initiative. The ballot initiative, if passed, will raise Arizona’s minimum wage to $10 per hour in 2017, and gradually raise it to $12 by 2020. It also provides “earned paid sick time,” which workers can use if they or a family member gets sick, and prohibits retaliation against employees who use the benefit. The measure does, however, retain the state’s law on tipping, which allows employers to pay workers who receive tips up to $3.00 less than minimum wage.

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According to Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families:

– A minimum wage worker in Arizona only earns $17,000 per year.
– More than half of minimum wage workers in Arizona are women.
– More than 27 percent of Arizona’s low-wage earners are parents.
– 45 percent of Arizonans don’t have access to earned sick days.

Those numbers tell the stories of people like Riann Norton, a single mother two, who often has to miss work in order to care for her chronically ill young daughter, or Iraq War veteran Luis Cardenas, who came home only to join the ranks of veterans struggling to meet their basic needs with low wages.

The measure is supported by a number of coalition partners, including Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), which is part of the Fight for $15 movement, and organized community members to petition fast-food chains like McDonald’s and grocery stores like El Super to pay their workers living wages.

Colorado

Colorado’s State Minimum Wage Amendment will raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.30 per hour effective January 1, 2017, and increase it by $0.90 every January, until it reaches $12 per hour in 2020. After 2020, the wage will be adjusted for increases in the cost of living. The law allows employers to pay employees who also make tips up to $3.02 less than minimum wage.

The Colorado People’s Alliance, which worked to get the initiative on the ballot, says that nearly half a million Coloradans will see their wages increase if the measure passes — including 263,000 women, or 22 percent of female workers in the state. One in five Coloradans would get a raise, and 86 percent of them will be adult workers over 20 years old. Currently in Colorado, full-time minimum-wage workers earn about $300 per week, or $17,000 a year.

According to a recent University of Denver study, increasing Colorado’s minimum wage would pump up to $400 million into the state’s economy and raise the standard of living for one in five households.

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About 400,000 Colorado households, half of those families with children, will see higher incomes if the amendment passes.

Colorado’s minimum wage amendment currently holds a 13-point lead in the first publicly released poll on the proposal. Of likely 2016 general-election voters, 55 percent support the amendment, while 42 percent oppose it, and 3 percent remain undecided. That’s good news for workers like Marilyn Sorenson, a home health care worker who finds after more than 20 years, her paycheck hasn’t kept up with her basic expenses; and business owners like Vine Street pub owner Kevin Daily, who says that increasing the wage will boost productivity by lowering workers’ financial stress, and increase the number of people “with more money in their pockets so they can afford a beer and a meal.”

Maine

The Minimum Wage Increase Initiative, Question 4 on Maine’s state ballot this year, will increase the general minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. The initiative also increases the wage for tipped workers from half of minimum wage to $5 an hour in 2017, then increases it by $1 every year, until it is equal to the general minimum wage by 2024.

Republican Governor Paul LePage joined business groups in an attempt to push a smaller wage increase through the state legislature. Republicans on the legislative budget committee took the budget hostage, saying they would only negotiate new spending if Democrats supported a smaller wage increase. However, none of the competing proposals passed the House, so there is no competing measure on the ballot.

According to a study by the nonprofit poverty relief group Oxfam, Maine has the highest percentage of low-wage workers in the Northeast. “So 32 percent of Maine workers are currently paid less than $12 an hour,” says Mike Tipping of the Maine People’s Alliance. Neighboring states Vermont and New Hampshire came in at 26 and 24 percent, respectively.

Washington

Washington state’s Initiative Measure No. 1433 will increase the state’s minimum wage to $11 per hour in 2017, $11.50 in 2018, $12 in 2019, and $13.50 in 2020. The initiative will also require employers to provide paid sick leave and follow related laws. Washington’s Democratic governor Jay Inslee volunteered to help Raise Up Washington collect signatures for the initiative, and spoke out in favor of it:

“No one who works 40 or more hours a week should struggle to make ends meet,” Inslee said. “And no parent should have to choose between staying home to take care of a sick child or losing a paycheck. Initiative 1433 will lift up workers and families across this state and boost our local economies.”

Washington’s initiative will help women in two important ways. Women are the primary breadwinners in almost half of all households with children. But women make up 60 percent of minimum wage workers in Washington state. Women are also 10 times more likely to stay home with a sick child than their male partners.

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If the initiative passes, women will earn more, and will no longer have to choose between their jobs and their families.

Other Initiatives

Increasing minimum wage isn’t the only progressive issue on the ballot this year:

– In Maine, Question 2 will create an additional 3 percent tax surcharge on incomes exceeding $200,000 per year. The revenue from the increase will be earmarked to help fund K–12 public education.

– In Howard County, Maryland, voters will decide if they want a citizen-funded campaign system, to boost the power of small, individual donations, and encourage more candidates to run without the burden of raising major funds. The initiative, Question A, is supported by Fair Elections Howard, Progressive Maryland, and other progressive organizations.

State and local progressive activists are leading the way and not waiting for Congress to act on important issues that impact America’s working families. As a result, this year’s election could yield a number of progressive victories.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on September 15, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Terrance Heath is the Online Producer at Campaign for America’s Future. He has consulted on blogging and social media consultant for a number of organizations and agencies. He is a prominent activist on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues.

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Good News for New York’s Tipped Workers: Your Minimum Wage is Going Up

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in these timesNew York Governor Andrew Cuomo is no friend to labor, but this week his policies helped one of the most vulnerable segments of workers. On February 24, Commissioner of Labor Mario Musolino announced he would be following the earlier recommendation from the Wage Board to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers 50 percent to $7.50 an hour.

The move is the culmination of a process that began when Cuomo appointed the Wage Board last fall. Tipped workers were explicitly exempted from the 2013 minimum wage increase in New York state.

New York’s minimum wage for other workers is currently $8.75, and will be increasing to $9.00 on December 31. While servers are entitled to making at least that same minimum wage, with employers legally obligated to make up any shortfall, the law is often ignored. Cuomo says he would eventually like to see the state minimum wage increase to $10.50 and go as high as $11.50 in New York City.

While a big win for the hospitality industry as a whole, some groups are emphasizing the importance of the measure for women especially. According to the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), a workers organization with groups around the country that has worked to eliminate the two-tier tips-no tips wage system altogether, 71 percent of servers in the food industry are female—workers who, because of the tipped system, often say they face high levels of sexual harassment on the job.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for the thousands of New York women who have been demanding a more just and hospitable work environment in one of the fastest growing and largest economic sectors in the country—the restaurant industry,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of ROC United, in a statement. Jayaraman said they would continue to work toward the elimination of the two-tiered system.

Seven states have eliminated the two tiered structure already.

The increase will help of thousands of workers. According to ROC’s statistics, one in three tipped workers are parents, one in six of those have children that qualify for free lunch, one in seven tipped workers relies on food stamps.

Tipped workers have been subject to a separate wage in New York since the Minimum Wage Law of 1937. Since then, tips have been taken into account so that employers could pay lower wages. Forty-two other states have a similar system.

This article originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on February 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Kevin is an educator and freelance writer in Chicago.


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Tipped Workers Score A Victory In New York In Fight For Better Pay

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Isaiah J. PooleTipped workers in New York state have won a major victory, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s Hospitality Wage Board announce that their minimum wage, which had been frozen at $5 an hour, will be increased to $7.50 an hour starting December 31.

This order follows years of protest and campaigning by low-wage workers throughout the state, who have not seen an increase in the tipped wage since 2011.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for the thousands of New York women who have been demanding a more just and hospitable work environment in one of the fastest growing and largest economic sectors in the country – the restaurant industry,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, one of the organizations at the forefront of the mobilization effort. (Jayaraman received the 2014 Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award from the Campaign for America’s Future.)

This increase will affect workers in restaurants, hotels and in occupations where workers are dependent on tips for a portion of their income.

The new tipped wage will still be below the $9 minimum wage for untipped workers that is scheduled to go into effect on December 31. (The state’s minimum wage today is $8.75.) And Jayaraman says she is going to keep pressing toward the workers’ ultimate goal, which is to eliminate the tipped minimum wage entirely and move toward “one fair wage.”

Cuomo has endorsed the wage board’s recommendation that the tipped wage be eliminated entirely. Seven states plus Guam have done away with the tipped minimum wage for most, if not all, workers. The biggest of these is California. (Montana has an exception for some small businesses.)

Ondre Johnson, a ROC-NY restaurant-worker member and attendee at today’s announcement, issued a statement that put today’s announcement in perspective. “Relying largely on tips not only affects my dignity but also interferes with my service to customers,” she wrote. “I have to fight for tips and to get tables. Tips vary from day to day and there are months in a year, especially during the winter-time, where there is no work available at all. And I’ve seen my female co-workers tolerate customers grabbing their legs, withholding tips till they get a server’s phone number, and worse in order to not ruin a tip.”

At least for now, the coming raise “will help me to have a decent life by giving me fair compensation for my hard work,” she wrote. But for her and millions of other workers, the struggle for fair pay and dignity is by no means over.

This article originally appeared in ourfuture.org on February 24, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.


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$2.13 Often Means Zero-Dollar Paychecks for Tipped Workers

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Laura ClawsonThe basic facts of the tipped worker minimum wage are appalling:

  • It’s $2.13 an hour, and has been since 1991, because whenever the minimum wage is raised, the restaurant industry launches a massive lobbying effort to keep tipped workers from being included.
  • The median wage for tipped workers is $8 an hour, and one in five lives in poverty.
  • While restaurants are supposed to make up the difference when workers’ tips don’t raise them to the full minimum wage of $7.25, they often don’t.

What the absurdly low tipped worker minimum wage combined with restaurants not following the law by bringing workers up to minimum wage when their tips fall short means is this:

Like millions of Americans across the United States, 23-year-old Anna Hovland worked a waitressing job earlier this year to make ends meet. Her restaurant in Washington, DC, paid her the local minimum wage for tipped workers, $2.77 an hour, which meant that after taxes, her paycheck was usually zero. Her tips, never dependable, ranged from $20 to $200 a shift. “In a city as expensive as DC, I’ve been able to make ends meet by the skin of my teeth,” Hovland says. “Sometimes it will only be in the last week or two of a month that I’ll realize I’ve made enough to pay all my bills.” […]Hovland tells Mother Jones that before she got in touch with the Restaurant Opportunities Center last fall—to find out why she was getting zero-dollar paychecks—she had no idea that her employer was supposed to make up the difference in tips. “We never logged our tips or reported them to our employers,” she says, unless they were on credit cards. She adds, “Even after I shared information about the minimum wage difference with coworkers, nobody felt comfortable asking employers about it.”

Forcing workers to ask to be paid the minimum wage is a recipe for wage theft. Any worker who asks has to know that they’re putting a target on their back and any halfway savvy employer knows that, while they can’t admit they’re firing a worker for asking to be paid minimum wage, it won’t be hard to find an excuse to fire the worker for something else.

A few states have the same minimum wage for all workers, and recently, Hawaii included tipped workers when it raised its minimum wage to $10.10. So clearly a tipped minimum wage above $2.13 doesn’t spell doom for the restaurant industry, contrary to the industry’s lobbying efforts. Whereas the current state of affairs genuinely does spell poverty for an unacceptable number of workers.

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on May 12, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.


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