A New Age of Feudalism for the Working Class?

In the past, fears of job losses from automation were often overstated. Technological progress eliminated some jobs but created others, and often better-paying ones. In the early days of the high-tech revolution, many of the pioneering firms—such as Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and IBM—were widely praised for treating their lower-level workers as part of the company and deserving of opportunities for advancement, as well as benefits including health insurance and a pension.

The labor policies of the newer generation of tech giants tend to be vastly different. Firms like Tesla have been sued for failing to pay contract workers the legally mandated overtime rates, and for depriving them of meal and rest breaks. The Tesla plant has wages below the industry average, according to workers, and risk of injury higher than the industry average, notes a pro-labor nonprofit. Given that the high housing prices keep them living far from the workplace, some workers sleep in the factory hallways or in their cars.

“Everything feels like the future but us,” complained one worker.

The largest tech employer today is Amazon, with 798,000 employees worldwide in 2019. Amazon tends to pay its workers less than rivals do. Many employees rely on government assistance, such as food stamps, to make ends meet. When the company announced it was adopting a minimum wage of $15 an hour, it also cut stock options and other benefits, largely wiping out the raises, at least for long-term employees.

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