On the News With Thom Hartmann: Automation Means Fewer Jobs, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Automation and self-service means fewer jobs available for US workers; Apple has finally come up with a way to keep the government from spying on our cell phones; a recent court decision could threaten the future of Uber; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this. It’s no longer far-fetched to say that soon we will be able to shop, work, travel and commute, all without interacting with a single person. And, while that may sound appealing to the introverts out there, it’s also the reason that we need a basic minimum income. All of that automation and self-service means fewer jobs available for US workers, and that means more people will find themselves unemployed. According to a recent article by Paul Buchheit over at CommonDreams.org, “Today’s tech and telecom companies build products that require less American workers, less middle-income workers, and less workers overall.” He explained that before long, we may find ourselves competing with robots that don’t complain or ask for higher wages. And, that may leave us, the actual human beings, in need of a steady paycheck. A basic minimum income is the perfect solution for this dilemma, and it could be paid for with a few simple, corporate reforms. By instituting a carbon tax on our biggest polluters and a transaction tax on Wall Street, we could cover much of the cost of guaranteeing that everyone has enough money to meet their basic needs. The difference could be covered by making it harder for corporations to skip out on their taxes, and putting more reasonable limitations on corporate patents. With a few reforms like these we could once again be a nation that values people over profit, and we could prepare ourselves for the future economy. If we don’t, we’re likely to spend the money anyway on the various social programs that we’ll need when more and more Americans find themselves out of work. A basic minimum income would guarantee that all of our fellow Americans have a basic standard of living, and it would leave us the time to design even better robots.

Apple has finally come up with a way to keep the government from spying on our cell phones – use encryption that Apple themselves can’t break. Last week, the tech giant rejected a court order that demanded they hand over text messages sent between two iPhones. The Department of Justice requested those text messages as part of a criminal investigation, but Apple says that their new operating system doesn’t allow them to access that information. In the wake of Edward Snowden blowing the whistle on government spying, the company released a new operating system with these privacy safeguards. At that time, the government argued that stronger encryption could prevent law enforcement from fighting crime and terrorism, but Apple and other tech firms dispute that claim. For now, we’ll have to wait and see how the Department of Justice will respond to Apple’s rejection, and wait to see whether our privacy will be protected.

A recent court decision could threaten the future of Uber. A judge in California has granted class action status to drivers for the ride-share service who claim that the company treats them like regular employees, without providing the corresponding benefits. And, this case could have broader implications for the so-called “sharing economy” as a whole. As more Americans start providing services on-demand through apps and websites, labor law experts worry what it means for the future of workers’ rights. Without the benefits that come along with full-time employment, including sick time and social security contributions, more workers are missing out on protections that they would receive as regular employees. The “sharing economy” may force our nation to redefine what it means to be an employee, and find a way to protect workers who don’t fall into traditional categories. We can’t stop technology, or erase the need for individuals to supplement their stagnant wages, but we can make sure that workers are protected in this new age.

The Department of Education is finally working on a plan to help some struggling students. Last week, that agency issued an update for the students who were defrauded by their for-profit colleges. Although the progress towards relief has been slow, this announcement is another victory in the Debt Collective’s efforts to fight crippling student debt. According to Joseph Smith, who has been appointed as a special master for borrower defense, the department may allow these students to apply for relief as a group, instead of individuals. If the students have to apply on their own, the cost and difficulty of ever getting relief becomes nearly insurmountable. By allowing the students to apply as a group, they can pool resources, and have a better chance of standing up to the massive for-profit college industry. More than 3,000 applications for relief have already been approved by the Department of Education, and that only includes students who attended one of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges. It’s only a matter of time before the agency extends relief to all students, and we must keep fighting until then.

And finally… Bath & Body Works will stop making workers wait around to see if they are needed. Last week, that company announced the end of on-call scheduling, which often prevents workers from getting second jobs, going to school or simply taking some time to relax. That announcement is a direct response to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who sent letters to various retailers about their scheduling practices and whether they violate state law. Despite that law, about 40 percent of retail employees in New York City say that they have no set minimum hours per week, and at least a quarter of workers have dealt with being on call. In response to Bath & Body Work’s announcement, Schneiderman said, “I am proud that the inquiry my office launched into on-call scheduling is yielding positive results.” Unfortunately, workers all around the country continue to deal with the problem of on-call scheduling, but that tide is beginning to shift. San Francisco has already passed a law requiring at least two weeks notice of schedule changes, and Democrats in Congress have even introduced legislation to implement protections nation-wide. Every worker should have the right to a predictable schedule, or be paid for the time spent waiting around.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of September 14, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.