Data collection on employees raises concerns for labor rights defenders

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(TNS) – Most people have a habit of pulling out their smartphones to track their latest orders online with an air strike-like accuracy. But the technology in some delivery vehicles is also keeping a close eye on drivers, tracking everything from seat belt wear to engine idle times and even if they take too many left turns that take too long.

This data can be fed into algorithms to determine the safest and most fuel efficient routes and fastest delivery times. It can also be used to track a particular driver’s behavior and advise of performance warnings, said Doug Bloch, policy director of Teamsters Joint Council 7, which represents many UPS drivers with these type of on-board systems in California. (A UPS spokesperson said the company is using the technology to track packages and driver behavior for safety reasons, but not for disciplinary purposes.)

Indeed, despite the passage of the California Consumer Privacy Act which went into effect last year, the way in which data is collected and used about people in the workplace and most industries is still unclear. regulated, even when it comes to remote workers connecting from their homes.


Workers currently have very little knowledge or voice about any of these technologies, or how they are used, said Annette Bernhardt, director of the Technology and Work program at UC Berkeley’s Labor Center, in an email. “They don’t know what data is collected on them or when they are being monitored.”

Bernhardt, along with Lisa Kresge and Reem Suleiman of the Labor Center, released a report on Wednesday outlining how employees in various industries are tracked and monitored in the performance of their duties, and what rights workers should have over how information concerning them is collected, stored and used.

Entitled “Data and Algorithms at Work, the Case for Worker Technology Rights,” the report examines how productivity monitoring and data collection have not only become commonplace for delivery drivers and warehouse workers, but ‘extends to almost every industry, from home grocery clerks to caregivers and many people who have swapped their desks for work from home.

The report argues that workers in all sectors should be made aware of data-based technologies that are used in their workplaces, and be alerted when electronic surveillance or algorithms are used that affect their work or working conditions.

“In the last century, we decided that workers should have the right to safe workplaces, minimum wages and the freedom to organize,” Bernhardt said in an email. “We think of technological rights in the same way – these are the new labor standards that need to be added for the 21st century workplace. “

The report also examines other uses of technology in the workplace and how it might be regulated. For example, how using algorithms to screen job applicants, check background, or monitor social media accounts can discriminate on the basis of race and gender.

Workers have no way to understand, let alone challenge, how these types of automated decisions are made, Bernhardt wrote.

The report raises a topical issue that could see bickering in the state’s legislative session next year.

While California’s landmark consumer data privacy law has been hailed by many privacy advocates, lawmakers have also primarily exempted employees and contractors from the law with respect to their privacy rights. data at work.

Since these exemptions for employees end on January 1, 2023, “you can expect this issue to come up in 2022,” said Emory Roane, policy adviser at the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

“This is an issue of critical importance,” said Assembly Member Jesse Gabriel, D-Woodland Hills, who chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection. “I expect to see some movement on this in the next legislative session.”

Remote working and other monumental changes brought on by the pandemic have also increased adoption of tracking and surveillance software and hardware, said Ken Wang, policy associate with the California Employment Lawyers Association.

Bernhardt’s report cites keystroke logging technology and webcams that can tell when a person is stepping away from their task as examples of technology that can keep up with people even when they are working from home.

While there are certain rules regarding the installation of security cameras and California requires both parties to consent to audio recordings, Wang said that most of the time, “companies can deploy whatever they want.” in terms of tracking software.

The issue of productivity monitoring was raised during the legislative sessions of 2021 with the recently signed AB 701. State law limits warehouse speed quotas so that they don’t jeopardize safety, with a particular eye on Amazon fulfillment centers. The law did not deepen workers’ rights regarding how a technology is used to set quotas.

Business groups are already preparing for a legislative battle. California Chamber of Commerce policy attorney Shoeb Mohammed said in an email that “What are often referred to as ’employee monitoring’ technologies are actually productivity tools on the job. current workplace, which ensure accountability to and for employees, customers and businesses by providing access to workplace information.

Mimicking consumer privacy law protections could create problems in the workplace, he said. “For example, if an employee uses their work email to engage in harassment or unlawful behavior, granting that employee an absolute right of deletion would affect a victim’s ability to carry such behavior. complaint later, ”Mohammed said.

In the meantime, unions and collective agreements are the primary means for workers to have a say in the technology used to them in the workplace. But “Their efforts must be complemented by strong regulations for workers who are not unionized,” Bernhardt, author of the UC Berkeley report, said in an email.

As Deputy Policy Director for SEIU Local 2015, Amanda Steele saw the problem come first hand. The chapter represents nursing home workers across the state as well as thousands of home support workers, a program funded by federal Medicaid dollars.

In 2016, when the federal government wanted to closely monitor workers’ movements with GPS and other technology to check tasks and care visits in a bid to tackle suspected fraud, Steele’s union backed down. The members of Steele in California have made a few changes to the way they record time, but their locations are not being monitored, she said.

“It’s an invasion of privacy,” said Rachell Lewis, a home helper and SEIU member, of the idea of ​​tracking one’s location at work. She said it would have been a distraction that would interfere with her caregiving, adding, “Thank goodness we have a union.”

© 2021 the Chronicle of San Francisco. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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