Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label Planet Money. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Planet Money. Show all posts

Monday, January 17, 2022

With DeJoy still at helm, U.S. Postal Service seems determined to demonstrate its own inutility

It looks like the U.S. Post Office is catching up on a backlog—and maybe trying to annihilate itself.

At home in Rhode Island, I was surprised this week when my cousin in Denver messaged me to report receipt of his birthday card from August.  Then my mother in Baltimore emailed to report receipt of a Halloween greeting from my daughter in Atlanta, as well as a Valentine's Day card—from February 2020.

Media reported this week that a Massachusetts widow just received the letter her husband had written to his mother from World War II Germany in 1945.  (NPR, WUSA 9.)

I was frustrated in recent weeks with inability to send a Christmas gift to a friend in New Zealand, given the Post Office's suspension of service to there, Australia, and elsewhere (furious reaction).  As if it's not already sufficiently outrageous that it costs $25 to $40 to send a small box.  The USPS blamed the suspension on covid-related shipping cancellations. 

I could be mistaken—I can't confirm this—but I thought that some years ago, the USPS eschewed ground shipping for all international mail (save hazards, animals, and the like), preserving only priority air.  No-hurry ground vanished, and rates spiked to their present levels.  So how can it be that shipping cancellations have caused service suspensions?

Planet Money recently tried to explain how Amazon manages "free shipping" thanks to scale.  I was utterly unconvinced.  No matter how much cost savings is realized by volume, negotiation, and incorporation into price, I find ordinary commodities such as my daily vitamins still cheaper on Amazon than my local big-box retailer, which should have some of those advantages, too.  Anyway, no one paid $40 to ship my $10 product in a bigger-than-medium box.  I smell corporate subsidies....

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., Louis DeJoy persists in office as Postmaster General.  Supposedly making the Post Office run in the American market tradition seems to mean disregarding the needs of people in favor of the profit margins of corporations, if not diverting public revenues to pad the latter.

I have come to suspect that DeJoy's whole undertaking is to turn the Post Office into such a parody of itself that Americans, in their outrage, abolish the institution.  Corporations, in the sparse numbers to which our antitrust regulation seems blind, will be left to occupy the field and fix prices that effectively kill off the nuisance of personal correspondence for good.  Transportation channels will be left to commerce and commerce above all else.

I guess that is the American way.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Secret civil justice undermines employee rights

Pintera Studios
A story investigated by ProPublica and featured on Planet Money highlights the problem of secret justice in perpetuating the willful abuse of at-home gig workers.

I expected that "Call Center Call Out," reported by Planet Money's Amanda Aronczyk and ProPublica's Ariana Tobin, Ken Armstrong, and Justin Elliott, based on the ProPublica story, would be a sad and frustrating tale of work-from-home gig economy labor being exploited, principally by the misclassification of employees as independent contractors to reap savings in compensation, work conditions, and employee benefits.

Turns out, there is even worse dissimulation afoot.  And there are worrisome implications for the health of the civil justice system.

To work these call-center jobs, for intermediary contractors such as Arise Virtual Solutions, the not-quite-employees are compelled to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), arbitration agreements, and class action waivers.  These all are enforceable, even when the workers do not fully understand their implications.

When a worker has the temerity to commence arbitration proceedings, challenging misclassification as an independent contractor, the worker wins.  In one example in the story, a worker easily qualified as an employee under the labor test applied by the arbiter.  A worker can win thousands of dollars in reimbursement of expenses—they have to pay out-of-pocket for the privilege of their training and then buy their own computers and telecomm equipment—and back wages to bring their compensation history up to minimum wage.  

But here's the rub: the workers already are bound by their NDAs, and the arbitration is secret, too.  So there is no public record of the misdeeds of the employer.  The arbitration-winning complainant cannot even tell other mistreated workers that their labor rights are being violated.

According to the reporters, the secret justice system of arbitration is actually part of the business model for enterprises such as Arise.  They can pay liability to a small percentage of workers while willfully exploiting most others.  Because of the NDAs, arbitration clauses, and, most importantly, class action waivers, a lawyer said in the program, she can fight this abuse only behind a veil of secrecy, one case at a time, amounting to thousands of cases, even though every case is winnable on precisely the same analysis.

There's a classic scene from Fight Club (1999) when the Narrator (Ed Norton) is telling an airliner seatmate about his car company's "formula" for issuing a recall only when it's cost effective, regardless of the cost of human life.  (Think GM ignition switch recall.)

"Which car company do you work for?" the seatmate asks.

The Narrator pauses, staring her in the eyes.  Then, nodding knowingly, he answers,

"A major one."

So what companies use these call centers to take advantage of the cheap and ill-begotten labor forces organized by companies such as Arise?

Major ones.  Ones you've talked to.

Have a magical day.

 

The stories are Amanda Aronczyk & Ariana Tobin, Call Center Call Out, Planet Money, Oct. 2, 2020; and Ken Armstrong, Justin Elliott, & Ariana Tobin, Meet the Customer Service Reps for Disney and Airbnb Who Have to Pay to Talk to You, ProPublica, Oct. 2, 2020.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Oops. We accidentally linked healthcare to your job.

mohamed_hassan (pixabay.com)

I stand with the rest of the world in awestruck horror of America's stubborn insistence that access to healthcare should be a function of both one's wealth and the largesse of one's employer.

Critics of the free market are quick to conclude that it has failed the American worker.  Economic libertarians are just as quick to tout the essentiality of free contract.  Before we make any decisions about the free labor market, maybe we should try it out.  A market in which a worker can't change jobs for fear of a recurring cancer or a bankrupting accident is not a free labor market.

For the NPR podcast Throughline, Lawrence Wu set out recently to explain how we arrived at the problem of employer-dependent healthcare.  The description of the episode, "The Everlasting Problem" (Oct. 1, 2020), reads:

Health insurance for millions of Americans is dependent on their jobs. But it's not like that everywhere. So, how did the U.S. end up with such a fragile system that leaves so many vulnerable or with no health insurance at all? On this episode, how a temporary solution created an everlasting problem.

For This American Life and Planet Money, Alex Blumberg and Adam Davidson also addressed this subject back in 2009.  Their bit ran only 11 minutes, but I have never forgotten the shocking fact that "four accidental steps led to enacting the very questionable system of employers paying for health care."


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Planet Money tackles litigation financing, champerty

One of my long-term favorite podcasts, Planet Money, last week tackled litigation financing.  We talk a lot in Torts in law school about America's runaway transaction costs and how they affect, or impede, civil justice.  Litigation financing can seem like manna from heaven when one thinks of tragedy-of-the-commons problems such as climate change.  But then there are the problems of corporatocracy, secrecy, and the distastefulness of commodification. Planet Money traces our distaste to champerty in British common law.  Here's the introduction:
Litigation financing allows third-party funders like Burford Capital to invest in other people's lawsuits, but it's long been considered unethical, and is illegal in many places.  But justice can often hinge more on how much money each side has than on what's actually right or wrong. So Burford argues that allowing investments in lawsuits will give more people access to better justice. And it's been a good business for them. But others worry it might warp the justice system.
Listen to "Capitalism in the Courtoom," episode 942, at NPR, here, or wherever you get your podcasts.