Forums » Ideas » Let's talk about unionizing and why it will/won't work and how we can get the word out to the massed about how WE feel about it.

Let’s talk about unionizing and why it will/won’t work and how we can get the word out to the massed about how WE feel about it. Vote for it here!

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light_dragonfly

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I saw a comment today from a well meaning person that we should put up a HIT to start a union, or something of the like. I wanted to open up a cross-forum conversation here about unionizing and why it will or won’t work. I want to talk about the details and hash them out until we have a clear set of information on how unionizing would affect Turkers that we can direct these people to. Here are some ideas to start with:

Argument:We can’t afford dues. Counterargument: Amazon should pay our dues.

Argument: Laws in certain countries prohibit unionizing and it’s impossible to match a union up to the laws in countries where unions are legal, too. Counterargument: Great social movements have often been illegal.

Argument: There is no way to ensure that all Turkers are members (we don’t know who signs up on mTurk) Counterargument: Not all Turkers have to be members for it to represent the consensus. (I know, bad argument!)

Argument: There is no way to ensure all Turkers engage in actions (striking, etc.) Counterargument: Not all Turkers have to engage in actions for effectiveness (this is easy to argue against)

Argument: There is no way to know if we truly have consensus on votes (since we don’t know who Turks, we can’t say any vote is representative of the whole) Counterargument: We don’t need consensus to represent the “best interests” of Turkers

Argument: Turnover is so high that organizing Turkers would be next to impossible Counterargument: But forums, Dynamo, TO are already doing it.

Argument: Electing a representative likely incite fighting and other social issues in the community. Counterargument: Nothing important is easy!

Argument: Hourly wages don’t work on projects that take 5 minutes, become unfair for those who are faster at work, etc. Counterargument: Then we’ll set a minimum pay per HIT that is higher instead, like five cents. Countercounterargument: A higher minimum pay won’t work because requesters will just stick more work into a single HIT. Countercountercounterargument: Then we’ll figure out a way to limit the time a HIT takes based on pay. Countercountercountercounterargument: The slowest workers will benefit, but the fastest will actually lose money this way.

Argument: Not all Turkers want to unionize. Counterargument: Not all women wanted the vote either, but it was still the right thing to do.

What I’d like to see come out of this is that we force these people who continually tell us what is right for us to TALK TO US before saying anything publicly. That means researchers, academics, journalists, and other do-gooders.

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light_dragonfly, jittery_orangutan, wandering_bandicoot, and terrible_cat

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Thanks for opening up this discussion dark_bird_or_paradise, it’s going to be an interesting debate and I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts on it.

My personal take on this is that we don’t have to solve all the problems of the world up front. For instance, there might not be a single specific rule by which we can ensure fair payment on all types of HITs, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t reach agreement on what is not fair and act on it.

I think a good way to take this discussion forward is by making sure we are all on the same page first. Dark_bird_of_paradise, as someone who initiated the discussion can you portray an image of a Turker union for us? How do you imagine people could register on it? Would they pay a fee? What are examples of scenarios that you can imagine of the union taking action? Of course I’m not saying you should have clear answers to all of these questions. I just want to make the idea of a union more tangible for myself and others who might join in the discussion.

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dark_bird_of_paradise

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I can’t come up with any way that a union can work

The primary way that unions work is by taking actions that affect the institution that you are trying to change. The first thing that comes to mind is striking or with-holding labor power. That requires communicating a stated goal to a group, naming a time, and not showing up for work. Unions have what are called strike funds, that is, in order for strikes to work, you need to be able to eat and pay your bills without money coming in. That may not work for many Mturkers. Another tactic is petitions. Writing letters to Amazon Jeff can be seen as a form of this, but I am not sure that it will bring about the changes that we want to see made. A third way is through supporting regulation and legislation to see that certain standards are met. Right now, we can appeal to college departments and IRB’s with moderate success. It would be interesting to know what jurisdiction that Health and Human Services has over crowdsourced labor online. I know that Universities that accept Federal monies have to answer to them, but don’t know if people like Qualtics and Amazon do or not.

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dark_bird_of_paradise

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A third way is through supporting regulation and legislation to see that certain standards are met. Right now, we can appeal to college departments and IRB’s with moderate success. It would be interesting to know what jurisdiction that Health and Human Services has over crowdsourced labor online. I know that Universities that accept Federal monies have to answer to them, but don’t know if people like Qualtics and Amazon do or not.

I like that. Qualtrics and Amazon definitely do not answer to any ERBs/IRBs, but they’re both third party services and I think we want the change to happen with Requesters themselves. What about business Requesters who don’t answer to IRBs? They answer to shareholders and customers, so I think we’d have to look at how we can reach those groups and make them consider our needs/wants/demands/etc.

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Qualtrics and Amazon definitely do not answer to any ERBs/IRBs, but they’re both third party services and I think we want the change to happen with Requesters themselves.an

My question was whether or not Qualtrics and Amazon might be answerable to HHS. I didn’t figure that they answered to IRB’s. Yes we want SOME change to happen with requesters, but Amazon is a big part of what is happening. For instance, a person (requester) can hard block hundreds of people in a single day without it raising red flags at Amazon. Also, Requesters can routinely refuse to answer messages that we send to them by way of AMT and we can’t do any thing about it except click the violates policy button on a hit.

“Any time you see a HIT and try to contact the requester with no response you can report the HIT as it violates Amazon Mechanical Turk policies (https://www.mturk.com/mturk/help?helpPage=policies) and we would appreciate you report that to us.”

Often times, qualtrics and other providers have trouble with pages, servers and software that adversely affect workers, and we can’t do anything about that either. We send messages from Mturk not a requester run web site. It seems to me that the people/organizations who operate the system are as responsible as requesters are for making sure that the system is working to our benefit as well as to theirs. I am not a lawyer, but if I were I would look into it.

At some point in my contact with NPR, I will raise the issue about HHS involvment.

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dark_bird_of_paradise

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