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The battle over the fate of gig workers continues

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Welcome back to Human Capital, where we unpack the latest in tech labor and diversity and inclusion. This week, we’re looking at the latest developments in the battle over the classification of gig workers, the rise of labor unions in tech and and Instagram’s latest move to be woke.

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Gig Work

Both sides of Prop 22 are going full steam ahead in their efforts to sway California voters. Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash each committed another $17.5 million to Yes on Prop 22 last Friday, according to a late contributions filing

As of August 24, the Yes on 22 campaign had contributed just north of $110 million, while the No on 22 campaign had put $4.6 million into its efforts. The latest influx of cash brings Yes on 22’s total contributions to more than $180 million. Of all the measures on this November’s ballot, Yes on Prop 22 has received the most contributions, according to California’s Fair Political Practices Commission

Bastian Lehmann, CEO of Postmates, also penned an op-ed on CNN about gig workers and how there needs to be a third classification of workers, which is essentially what Prop 22 is pushing. 

Meanwhile, rideshare drivers took to the streets of Oakland, California to protest Uber’s ads and Prop 22. 

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All this Prop 22 activity comes amid a lawsuit brought forth by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a handful of local city attorneys that seek to force Uber and Lyft to classify their drivers as employees. In Lyft’s sworn statement addressing how Lyft would go about transitioning its drivers from independent contractors to employees, CEO Logan Green said the company might cease operations in all or parts of California if forced to reclassify drivers, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

Tech unions

This year has marked a new wave of organizing among tech workers. Unions, which act as a sort of intermediary between workers and their employers, advocate on behalf of employees for better wages, working conditions and other benefits through collective bargaining. Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had weekly earnings of $1,095, compared to $892 for non-union members in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In February, Kickstarter employees voted to form a union after months of what appeared to be union busting at the hands of Kickstarter leadership. In September 2019, Kickstarter fired two people who were actively organizing the union. Now, the National Labor Board has found merit that Kickstarter unlawfully fired those two people

Kickstarter’s successful organizing made it become the first major tech company in the U.S. to unionize and join OPEIU Local 153. Then, one month later, collaborative coding platform Glitch voted to unionize with Code-CWA.*

Now, at least 10 tech companies are actively trying to unionize, according to Grace Reckers, the lead northeast union organizer of OPEIU, told TechCrunch. Part of what’s driving this increased interest in unions is the abuse of data and privacy by tech giants.

“Employees are seeing that they don’t actually have control of how the products they make are being used,” she said. “Even though most of the messaging in Silicon Valley is about creating a better world for us, making our lives easier and innovating, it also moves under the philosophy of move fast and break things.”

And “breaking things” can lead to things like employee layoffs, misuse of data or separation of families, Reckers said.

“Workers want control over how products are being created, and control of how those tools are being used,” she said. “People are realizing it’s not just about their immediate workplaces but also their impacts on local communities or global communities.”

Stay Woke

Instagram announced a new Equity team to work on “better understanding and addressing bias in our product development” the experiences people have on Instagram, Adam Mosseri, Instagram lead, wrote. Part of the responsibilities of that team include creating fair and equitable products, as well as ensuring algorithmic fairness. According to a job posting for an equity and inclusion product manager, the team will be fully focused on equity and inclusion, and “creating the most equitable experience for our global communities.”

Instagram desperately needs an effective team in this area. In June, some Instagram influencers posted photos of themselves in Blackface in a misguided attempt to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Meanwhile, Black people have reported harassment on the platform and fears of being shadowbanned.

Instagram is also looking to hire its own diversity lead. According to the job posting, the director of diversity and inclusion will be responsible for increasing and retaining people from diverse backgrounds, among other things. Facebook has had a head of diversity in place since 2013, but given how big of a company Facebook has become, it seems worthwhile to have a diversity leader specifically focused on Instagram.

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*Disclosure: My partner works at Glitch.

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Amazon looks for gig workers to pick up and deliver orders at Whole Foods

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Photo (c) Andrei Stanescu – Getty Images

With the gig economy continuing to grow but the COVID-19 pandemic cutting into wages, gig workers looking for work might want to pay Whole Foods a visit. Amazon is now recruiting contract workers to both shop for and deliver groceries for Whole Foods Market customers who order their groceries online.

According to a Bloomberg report, drivers can easily sign up for the Shop and Deliver program by simply reviewing an online tutorial about how Whole Foods products are picked, packed, and handled, as well as scoring a passing grade on a quiz.

Until now, Whole Foods relied on its own employees to assemble online orders, but the program model is akin to Amazon Flex, an initiative the company rolled out several years ago that relies on independent contractors to deliver packages. 

Inherent issues

From its catbird seat, various grocery industry watchers raised questions about Amazon’s move. 

“By entrusting gig workers to put orders together for Whole Foods customers, Amazon is potentially increasing the risk that items could be damaged, spoiled or delivered late that is inherent in grocery e-commerce,” GroceryDive’s Sam Silverstein wrote.

Another question raised was that while delivery service is an easy thing to learn, in-store tasks like picking aren’t.

“Delivery from A to B is a beautiful on-demand task because it’s very straightforward, very repeatable and you don’t need a lot of training, [but] tasks in stores are often much more complicated,” Jordan Berke, a former Walmart executive and e-commerce expert who runs Tomorrow Retail Consulting, told GroceryDive.

“A person that comes to your store once a day or once every two days to pick two orders is always learning, while a person that picks 50 orders five days a week” has a better opportunity to become familiar with the lay of the land inside a grocery store, and is more likely to know where items are located and how they should be handled.

Potential good news for consumers

Online grocery shopping is growing in leaps and bounds. The segment is expected to grow from about $38 million in 2018 to nearly $60 billion by 2023. Amazon and Walmart are in a pretty secure place for the moment — and keep upping the ante — but more and more companies are trying to elbow their way in like Uber and DoorDash. The upside for consumers is that companies are constantly trying to find ways to keep prices as low as possible. 

“They’re always going to look for ways to keep their cost of service as low as possible, and always look for ways to be super responsive in fulfilling customer demand,” Tom Furphy, former Amazon vice president of consumables and Amazon Fresh, told GroceryDive. 

“Those are three constants that will always exist as long as Amazon’s around, and they will absolutely look to deliver on that in the grocery environment.



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Iberdrola and GIG in 3.3GW offshore wind push in Japan

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Iberdrola has acquired local developer Acacia Renewables and entered into a joint venture with Macquarie’s Green Investment Group (GIG) to develop its 3.3GW offshore wind portfolio.

Prior to the acquisition, Acacia was Macquarie Capital’s Japanese renewable energy platform, according to its website.

Acacia’s portfolio includes two projects with a combined capacity of 1.2GW at a more advanced stage, and a further four with a combined capacity of 2.1GW.

Spanish energy giant Iberdrola and the GIG aim to enter the first 1.2GW batch of wind farms – located off the south-west coast of Japan – in upcoming auctions announced by the Japanese government.

These first two projects could be commissioned by 2028, Iberdrola claimed.

The company said it has set its sights on Japan as a “new growth platform” in renewables, and offshore wind in particularly.

Iberdrola has stakes in operational offshore wind farms worldwide with a combined capacity of just over 1GW, while GIG has backed operational offshore wind projects with a combined capacity of just under 1.3GW, according to Windpower Intelligence, the research and data division of Windpower Monthly

The two companies will both take charge of developing Acacia’s projects.

Acacia had issued public notices of Environmental Impact Assessments for the six sites. These are wind farms called Satsuma, Nanao Shika, Fukui Konpira, Shiroishi Kosugo, Fukui Konpira and Tono.

There is currently just over 40MW of operational wind power capacity installed in Japanese waters, according to Windpower Intelligence.

However, a growing number of developers are targeting the nascent market ahead of offshore wind tenders, which are expected to be opened shortly.

Last week, Equinor, Jera and J-Power joined a long list of partnerships targeting the Japanese offshore wind market, despite the nation’s apparent slow uptake of the technology.

In 2019, the Japan Wind Power Association said that the lengthy process for environmental impact assessment was having an impact on the development of offshore wind.

One of the main obstacles for wind developers in Japan comes from opposition from local fishing communities.

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In Season Of Strikes For Gig Workers, Now Swiggy Delivery Execs In Noida Rebel

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After strikes in Chennai and Hyderabad in the last 30 days, Swiggy’s delivery executives in Noida have gone on strike to protest against low wages

The delivery workers are demanding a minimum payout of INR 35 per order and restoration of monthly incentives, among other demands

Similar demands were also raised by Swiggy’s delivery partners in Hyderabad, who went on an indefinite strike last week

With similar demands as their counterparts in Chennai and Hyderabad, delivery executives with Indian foodtech unicorn Swiggy in Noida, on Thursday (September 17), went on a strike to protest against low wages. 

The strike comes just days after Swiggy’s delivery partners went on an indefinite strike in Hyderabad to protest against the low wages and to press their demands. 

In Noida, the protesting delivery workers are demanding a minimum payout per order of INR 35, a minimum payout of INR 20 per batched order (when the driver has to make more than one delivery in a single trip), and a payout at the rate of INR 10 per km after the worker has travelled more than 5 km for making a delivery, among other things.

The delivery partners in Noida, affiliated with the All India Gig Workers Union (AIGWU), have also demanded the reinstatement of monthly incentives of up to INR 3,000 for full-time work and INR 2,000 for part-time work. 

Further, the delivery partners are also demanding extra wages for deliveries made while it rains, or in nights, as also, compensation for waiting time at restaurants, while the order is being prepared. 

“Swiggy delivery workers are taking extraordinary risks by delivering food and essentials to people during this pandemic. The company cannot reward us by cutting our payouts and incentives. Our demands should be met at the earliest,” reads the letter stating the demands of AIGWU for Swiggy’s delivery workers, addressed to Swiggy’s CEO Sriharsha Majety. 

The demands of the delivery workers in Noida are similar to the demands of the workers in Hyderabad, who, earlier this week, launched an indefinite strike to protest against Swiggy paying low wages to the delivery workers. 

The workers in Hyderabad have alleged that during the lockdown, their minimum payout per order reduced from INR 35 to INR 15, while the company also removed monthly incentives to the tune of INR 5,000. 

When asked about the protest of delivery workers in Hyderabad earlier this week, a Swiggy spokesperson told Inc42, “Most delivery partners in Hyderabad make over INR 45 per order, with the highest performing partners making over INR 75 per order. This INR 15 is only one of the many components of the service fee.”

“Naturally, no active delivery partners in Hyderabad have made only INR 15 per order in the last four weeks. It is important to note that the service fee per order is based on multiple factors to adequately compensate our partners including distance travelled, waiting time, customer experience, shift completion and incentives. Regular competitive benchmarking shows that these are at par, if not higher than the industry standards,” Spokesperson added.

In what has been a season of strikes for gig workers, last month, Swiggy’s delivery executives in Chennai had gone on strike to press for their demands. A few days after the strike in Chennai, Swiggy told NDTV that the company had had a positive dialogue with the protesting delivery partners and was back to serving the entire city of Chennai with its fleet of workers.

Meanwhile, the Indian government’s new draft social security code is said to have recognised gig workers, and will mandate gig economy companies to contribute to a social security fund for gig and platform workers, reported Business Standard. Approved by the Union Cabinet last week, the code, which will have several other benefits outlined for gig workers, will come up in the Parliament’s ongoing monsoon session.



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