Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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"Can you spy on me now?" Union organizers have criticized Verizon's "snitch app."

Verizon, facing a potential strike by 39,000 unionized workers, has rolled out a smartphone app designed to help its managers document and report violations of its "code of conduct" during a work stoppage.

Contract negotiations between the CWA and Verizon have stalled in recent days after the union objected to reduced job security, increases in health care costs, and slashed retirement benefits for its members.

A Verizon spokesman says the app, which allows users to snap geo-tagged photos of striking employees and send them to company executives, was designed in response to unspecified past incidents of vandalism and harassment during strikes. "We believe strongly that this is not an invasion of privacy," says spokesman Raymond McConville. "This is completely lawful and necessary to ensure that our employees are safe."

"This particular thing is just an example of how arrogant and obnoxious they are," counters Bob Master, the vice-president of the Communication Workers of America District 1, which is negotiating the new contract on behalf of Verizon fiber optics workers in New York and eight other East Coast states.

The worker concessions sought by Verizon are related, in part, to its decision to focus on its wireless business at the expense of building out its fiber optic network—a shift that hurts consumers, the union says. Indeed, a New York City audit found that Verizon had failed to meet its promise to deliver high-speed fiber optic internet and television to everybody in New York City who wanted it.

The CWA contends that the app is just another way for Verizon, which earned $9.6 billion in profits last year, to gain the upper hand. "I think they definitely projected this as a way of intimidating people," Master says. "At the bargaining table [our negotiators] call it the snitch app."

In a widely expected move, a panel appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recommended today that the state's minimum wage for employees of fast-food chain restaurants be raised to $15 an hour.

The recommendation comes three years after strikes by New York City fast-food workers set off a national labor movement that has led to the passage of a $15 minimum wage in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. But unlike those cities, New York doesn't have the power to set its own minimum wage—it's up to legislators in Albany.

When New York lawmakers balked at raising the minimum wage last year, Gov. Cuomo convened a board to examine wages in the fast food industry, which employs 180,000 people in the state. The state's labor commissioner, a Cuomo appointee, has the power to issue an order putting the proposal into effect. If he approves the wage hike, fast-food workers currently earning the state's minimum wage of $8.75 will get a 70 percent raise, effective by 2018 in New York City and 2021 in the rest of the state.

"It's hard to explain to my children why they can't do things other kids do," Barbara Kelley, a Buffalo mother who works at Dunkin' Donuts and takes home an average of $150 a week, said in a statement released by labor organizers. "With $15 an hour, I will be able to get by and maybe reward my kids in little ways, like ice cream after a long day, and in big ways like being able to save for the future." Labor organizers are optimistic that the $15 wage will be adopted and will spur raises in other industries.

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