In the United States, Jennifer Abruzzo, general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), took aim at automated surveillance. The doctor’s intention is to crack down on all types of electronic surveillance in the workplace. The automated management of workers is one of the measures to be addressed with an eye on the basic rights of employees.
Abruzzo issued a memorandum announcing that it will work to pressure the organization to crack down on these practices. For the lawyer, electronic surveillance and automated management are two events that interfere with workers’ labor rights. For the NLRB’s general counsel, the implementation of these technologies seeks to disrupt any union organizing. Dr. Abruzzo is also motivated by how this surveillance curtails activities protected by the U.S. federal government.
In its communiqué, Abruzzo understands that we are facing:
“One issue of particular concern to me, is the potential for pervasive surveillance and other algorithmic management tools to interfere with the exercise of rights.”
That is why the attorney asked the NLRB to “to the greatest extent possible, to enforce the Act to protect employees from intrusive or abusive electronic monitoring and automated management practices that would have a tendency to interfere”.
Protection by the NLRB
According to Abruzzo, these new forms of surveillance violate labor laws. Employers, the lawyer understands, cannot implement new surveillance technologies to target workers. All these labor actions are protected by the National Labor Relations Law, as is the case of unionization. This is where the different forms that this systematized control can take have been raised. We can find security cameras, portable or in-vehicle tracking devices, private investigators for monitoring social networks or apps for monitoring keystrokes, Internet traffic and communications.
Abruzzo understands that “some employers use such data to manage employee productivity.” The NLRB attorney understands that it also “includes disciplining employees who fail to meet quotas, penalizing employees for taking leave, and providing individualized directives during the workday.”
Companies in the spotlight
Among the companies that have been most criticized for this type of practice is Amazon. It has an extensive workplace organization with automated management practices and electronic surveillance. Its warehouse workers consistently cite vigilance as a motivator in the firm’s organization. Amazon’s control network also reaches out to drivers with impossible and dangerous tasks.
Amazon has a secret surveillance program to monitor Flex controllers. This was discovered fortuitously by the Motherboard platform when files were left open online. All these paths lead to surveillance by means of additional implements. Here we can also mention some specific systems to track workers in the name of productivity.