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Silicon Valley startups too often exploit the defenseless

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Whether it’s Homejoy or Alfred Club, well-funded Silicon Valley startups are seriously exploiting the impoverished and using dubious ploys not to pay employment taxes and insurance.

Homejoy cleaners gets $19 per house and at least some of them are homeless. Alfreds are servants that run errands for you and keep the house clean for $99 a month. Even though they are at the beck and call of the startup and the client, they are independent workers and thus the startup pays no employment tax and provides insurance. And the pay is a pittance.

Another favored ploy in Silicon Valley and elsewhere is to import foreign workers on temporary visas. Cringely has a fine rant on how this H-1B visa abuse hurts the country.

Both major political parties embrace the H-1B program with varying levels of enthusiasm. But Bill Gates is wrong. What he said to Congress may have been right for Microsoft but was wrong for America and can only lead to lower wages, lower employment, and a lower standard of living. This is a bigger deal than people understand: it’s the rebirth of industrial labor relations circa 1920. Our ignorance about the H-1B visa program is being used to unfairly limit wages and steal — yes, steal — jobs from U.S. citizens.

A longtime reader of this column speaks up:

“I have been a practicing immigration attorney for over 13 years. I have done many H-1B visas and like any other government program it was loaded and is still loaded with abuses… In my opinion, employers who need H-1B Visa workers should have to go through a screening process before they are allowed to submit the application and a bond should be posted if they violate the law.

Homejoy and Alfred Club seems especially odious, as they pay their serfs tiny amounts to tend to the needs of their social betters. Say hello to the new boss same as the old boss.

Silicon Valley has a contract-worker problem.

As the [Homejoy] cleaner laid out his tools, we made small talk, and I asked him where he lived. “Well, right now I’m staying in a shelter in Oakland,” he said. I paused, unsure if I’d heard him right. A shelter? Was my house cleaner — the one I’d hired through a company that has raised $40 million in venture-capital funding from well-respected firms like Google Ventures, the one who was about to perform arduous manual labor in my house using potentially hazardous cleaning chemicals — homeless?

He was, as it turned out.

And he was being paid $19 to clean a house. Not $19 per hour, $19 for the entire job.

Some Silicon Valley insiders are beginning to worry that start-ups’ overreliance on contract workers could come back to haunt them if they run afoul of longstanding labor rules. If that happens, these high-flying disruptors could be facing serious disruption themselves.

This isn’t disruption, this is vicious, nasty exploitation hidden under a cover of Silicon Valley buzzwords.

Silicon Valley has officially run out of ideas.

It’s a Boston-based venture called Alfred Club, and as far as I can tell the idea is basically “Uber for servants.”

Alfred, explains TechCrunch writer Sarah Perez, who must have drawn the short straw in the office pool, is “the first service layer on the shared economy that manages your routine across multiple on-demand and local services (like Handybook, Instacart, and the local dry cleaner).”

I was unable to find a precise English translation for that sentence

Heh. However, let me attempt a translation. Alfreds get $99 a month, which I’m guessing works out to something well below minimum wage.

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