Workplace Data and Workplace Democracy
Note: this essay draws from my monograph Data and Democracy at Work: Advanced Information Technologies, Labor Law, and the New Working Class, MIT Press (forthcoming Dec. 2022).
The COVID-19 pandemic upended our economy, but not our systems of class or racial hierarchy. A major factor in individuals’ total risk was whether they can work remotely, which reveals a longstanding technological class divide. Under social distancing mandates, professionals retreated to their homes or second homes, using videoconferencing platforms to keep working—designing products, analyzing data, writing legal briefs, coordinating strategies. This was especially trying for parents who have to care for children as they do their own jobs, and the burdens of childcare fell disproportionately on women. Yet professionals had it relatively easy. Their creature comforts depended on armies of low-wage workers in our vast service economies who must perform their jobs in-person. Those workers, who are disproportionately non-white, had a very different relationship with technology. Rather than using it to create goods and services or to manage enterprises, those workers were often managed by technology, receiving orders and even official discipline through apps, tablets, and the like.
Brishen Rogers is a professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center. He teaches torts, employment law, employment discrimination, and various labor law courses. Professor Rogers’ current research explores the relationship among labor and employment law, technological development, and economic and social equality. He is writing a book on those questions, entitled Data and Democracy at Work, forthcoming from The MIT Press.