Denver, Colorado – On Wednesday, Towards Justice called on the White House to create a coordinated response to corporate surveillance and automated manipulation of workers across the country.
Towards Justice’s comments highlight several of its cases challenging such abuses. This includes litigation against Amazon under wage and hour and discrimination laws related to its use of workplace surveillance and productivity quotas that delivery workers say prevent them from having access to the bathroom at work.
It also includes litigation against Uber and Lyft under antitrust laws. Both companies use real-time surveillance to engage in “algorithmic wage discrimination” and to control workers without being accountable to them under labor laws.
Over the past two decades, corporations have exploited technological advances to vastly expand their surveillance and control of workers. Today, corporations are video recording employees at work; monitoring their keystrokes on keyboards; and tracking their heart rates, eye movements, speech patterns, and temperatures. They can see websites workers have visited, whether their workers are taking out loans to meet financial demands, review notes sent to coworkers, and even likes on social media.
Employers can sell that data to third-party data brokers, use it to impose harsh productivity quotas, or algorithmically set workers’ wages at the lowest amount they’ll accept for any given job. They are tracking every minute of workers’ days – often without their knowledge or consent.
Says Towards Justice in its comments: The White House must police abuses of corporate power that make work invasive and hostile. Workers should not have to do their jobs in fear of workplace surveillance and be subject to the coercive and hidden forces of automated management.
This issue is a multifaceted one and there is no simple solution. Towards Justice’s cases and the comments submitted to the White House highlight the complexities and legal implications of workplace surveillance, and the need for prompt action that doesn’t fit neatly into any single agency’s jurisdiction.
The White House must convene every relevant federal government department, including the Department of Labor, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, and the National Labor Relations Board to create a coordinated response that prioritizes workers and protects them from pervasive corporate overreaching.
“It’s as dystopian as it gets,” said Towards Justice’s Executive Director David Seligman. “Real-time surveillance and productivity tracking can cause injuries and even deny workers reasonable access to the bathroom. Algorithms can cut off a worker’s livelihood by imposing unfair wages. Consumer financial products tied to work can allow employers access to information about workers’ financial circumstances.”
Towards Justice has represented thousands of workers across the country and has seen firsthand that workplace surveillance undermines worker bargaining power, suppresses wages, poses extraordinary health risks, and disproportionately harms people of color.
“This is why we are currently bringing a class action lawsuit against Amazon,” said Towards Justice attorney Valerie Collins. “We’re representing Colorado delivery drivers who allege they were forced to pee in water bottles and defecate in doggie bags in order to stay on their breakneck delivery schedules, imposed via a complex web of workplace surveillance and automated control.”
This is why it’s an absolutely critical moment for the White House to develop a coordinated response to the exponential increase in worker surveillance. Towards Justice is working to make sure they do exactly that.
A leader in the fight for economic equity, Towards Justice is a nonprofit law firm that uses impact litigation, policy advocacy, and comments like those submitted to the White House to build worker power and advance economic equity.