While the latest big news on the US government vs Facebook front is the Dec. 9 antitrust suits that target the social media giant’s acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, just a week earlier the big news was an attack from another flank. On Dec. 3 the Department of Justice accused Facebook of discriminating against U.S. citizens in favor of hiring foreign workers on visa.
Let’s just say business groups, especially in tech, are not happy about this. The D.O.J.’s lawsuit could have a huge impact on the tech industry, which has long relied on hiring foreign workers who have temporary work visas that they can later convert to permanent visas (aka, green cards).
Here’s what you need to know.
Why did D.O.J. sue Facebook?
D.O.J. says it’s protecting American and other authorized workers against discrimination and trying to save American jobs.
According to the press release: “Facebook intentionally created a hiring system in which it denied qualified U.S. workers a fair opportunity to learn about and apply for jobs that Facebook instead sought to channel to temporary visa holders Facebook wanted to sponsor for green cards.”
What is Facebook’s response?
“Facebook has been cooperating with the D.O.J. in its review of this issue, and while we dispute the allegations in the complaint, we cannot comment further on pending litigation,” said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone.
How did Facebook allegedly discriminate?
The D.O.J. says that, from January, 2018, to September, 2019, Facebook used special recruiting methods that in effect reserved more than 2,600 jobs for foreign workers who hold temporary work visas, mostly H-1Bs. The suit alleges that jobs were posted only in print outlets, not on Facebook’s careers website, which would cast a wider net. Also, applicants had to apply by mail, not online like for other jobs – both of which created a pool of pre-selected candidates based on immigration status.
So the allegation is that Americans couldn’t apply for jobs they didn’t know about, which let Facebook effectively game the system by meeting the legal requirements of posting jobs and saying that no or few qualified U.S. citizens applied – meaning they could keep employees who had already been working there for between 3 and 6 years.
Why is this illegal?
The D.O.J. says Facebook violated the Immigration and Nationality Act, which “prohibits employers from discriminating against U.S. citizens and other work-authorized individuals
based on their citizenship status or national origin.”
What does the lawsuit ask for?
The suit asks for “civil penalties” (aka, money), back pay for U.S. workers who were denied employment because of the alleged discrimination, and changes to Facebook’s hiring procedures. (One thing that’s not clear is which U.S. workers would be included in back pay and how they would show they lost out on a job they didn’t know about.)
What’s behind the suit?
Short answer: It probably depends on your politics.
It could be part of the Trump administration’s continuing attack on immigration. It could be “techlash,” part of the Trump administration’s continuing attacks on social media giants. Or it could be the Trump administration’s fight to save jobs for Americans in a time of high unemployment, as well as to prevent companies from taking advantage of relatively cheap labor that depresses wages for U.S. citizens.
How does the work visa system work?
Most temporary work visas come through the H-1B system, but there are also H-2A, H-2B, and F-1 visas. After an employee has been in the job 3 years, the employer can ask for the temporary visa to convert to a green card, which makes the holder a permanent lawful resident. However, employers must demonstrate that they were not able to find qualified U.S. workers.
The H-1B visa program has been embroiled in an ongoing battle this year, with President Trump attempting to impose bans, caps, and new restrictions and courts knocking down those attempts. So things like how many visas are awarded, how workers are chosen, and regulations on minimum salaries and education levels designed to allow only higher-skilled workers – that all could change seemingly at any time. (Check out Investopedia for a fuller explanation of the ins and outs.)
Who knows? It’s wait and see on whether the new administration of President-Elect Joe Biden will address the lawsuit, although he has pledged to undo Trump’s immigration policies.
Big retailers are opting for refunds instead of returns
(BUSINESS NEWS) Due to increased shipping costs, big companies like Amazon and Walmart are opting to give out a refund rather than accepting small items returned.
The holidays are over, and now some people are ready to return an item that didn’t quite work out or wasn’t on their Christmas list. Whatever the reason, some retailers are giving customers a refund and letting them keep the product, too.
When Vancouver, Washington resident, Lorie Anderson, tried returning makeup from Target and batteries from Walmart she had purchased online, the retailers told her she could keep or donate the products. “They were inexpensive, and it wouldn’t make much financial sense to return them by mail,” said Ms. Anderson, 38. “It’s a hassle to pack up the box and drop it at the post office or UPS. This was one less thing I had to worry about.”
Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc., and other companies are changing the way they handle returns this year, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to weigh the costs of processing physical returns versus just issuing a refund and having customers keep the item.
For instance, if it costs more to ship an inexpensive or larger item than it is to refund the purchase price, companies are giving customers a refund and telling them to keep the products also. Due to an increase in online shopping, it makes sense for companies to change how they manage returns.
Locus Robotics chief executive Rick Faulk told the Journal that the biggest expense when it comes to processing returns is shipping costs. “Returning to a store is significantly cheaper because the retailer can save the freight, which can run 15% to 20% of the cost,” Faulk said.
But, returning products to physical stores isn’t something a lot of people are wanting to do. According to the return processing firm Narvar, online returns increased by 70% in 2020. With people still hunkered down because of the pandemic, changing how to handle returns is a good thing for companies to consider to reduce shipping expenses.
While it might be nice to keep the makeup or batteries for free, don’t expect to return that new PS5 and get to keep it for free, too. According to WSJ, a Walmart spokesperson said the company lets someone keep a refunded item only if the company doesn’t plan on reselling it. And, besides taking the economic costs into consideration, the companies look at the customer’s purchase history as well.
Google workers have formed company’s first labor union
(BUSINESS NEWS) A number of Google employees have agreed to commit 1% of their salary to labor union dues to support employee activism and fight workplace discrimination.
On Monday morning, Google workers announced that they have formed a union with the support of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the largest communications and media labor union in the U.S.
The new union, Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) was organized in secret for about a year and formed to support employee activism, and fight discrimination and unfairness in the workplace.
“From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade,” stated Program Manager Nicki Anselmo in a press release.
AWU is the first union in the company’s history, and it is open to all employees and contractors at any Alphabet company in the United States and Canada. The cost of membership is 1% of an employee’s total compensation, and the money collected will be used to fund the union organization.
In a response to the announcement, Google’s Director of People Operations, Kara Silverstein, said, “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course, our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”
Unlike other labor unions, the AWU is considered a “Minority Union”. This means it doesn’t need formal recognition from the National Labor Relations Board. However, it also means Alphabet can’t be forced to meet the union’s demands until a majority of employees support it.
So far, the number of members in the union represents a very small portion of Google’s workforce, but it’s growing every day. When the news of the union was first announced on Monday, roughly 230 employees made up the union. Less than 24 hours later, there were 400 employees in the union, and now that number jumped to over 500 employees.
Unions among Silicon Valley’s tech giants are rare, but labor activism is slowly picking up speed, especially with more workers speaking out and organizing.
“The Alphabet Workers Union will be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company, from the kinds of contracts Google accepts to employee classification to wage and compensation issues. All issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members,” stated the AWU in a press release.
Ticketmaster caught red-handed hacking, hit with major fines
(BUSINESS NEWS) Ticketmaster has agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after hacking into a competitor’s network specifically to sabotage.
Live Nation’s Ticketmaster agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after admitting to hacking into a competitor’s network and scheming to “choke off” the ticket seller company and “cut [victim company] off at the knees”.
Ticketmaster admitted hiring former employee, Stephen Mead, from startup rival CrowdSurge (which merged with Songkick) in 2013. In 2012, Mead signed a separation agreement to keep his previous company’s information confidential. When he joined Live Nation, Mead provided that confidential information to the former head of the Artist Services division, Zeeshan Zaidi, and other Ticketmaster employees. The hacking information shared with the company included usernames, passwords, data analytics, and other insider secrets.
“When employees walk out of one company and into another, it’s illegal for them to take proprietary information with them. Ticketmaster used stolen information to gain an advantage over its competition, and then promoted the employees who broke the law. This investigation is a perfect example of why these laws exist – to protect consumers from being cheated in what should be a fair market place,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.
In January 2014, Mead gave a Ticketmaster executive multiple sets of login information to Toolboxes, the competitor’s password-protected app that provides real-time data about tickets sold through the company. Later, at an Artists Services Summit, Mead logged into a Toolbox and demonstrated the product to Live Nation and Ticketmaster employees. Information collected from the Toolboxes were used to “benchmark” Ticketmaster’s offerings against the competitor.
“Ticketmaster employees repeatedly – and illegally – accessed a competitor’s computers without authorization using stolen passwords to unlawfully collect business intelligence,” said Acting U.S. Attorney DuCharme in a statement. “Further, Ticketmaster’s employees brazenly held a division-wide ‘summit’ at which the stolen passwords were used to access the victim company’s computers, as if that were an appropriate business tactic.”
The hacking violations were first reported in 2017 when CrowdSurge sued Live Nation for antitrust violations. A spokesperson told The Verge, “Ticketmaster terminated both Zaidi and Mead in 2017, after their conduct came to light. Their actions violated our corporate policies and were inconsistent with our values. We are pleased that this matter is now resolved.”
To resolve the case, Ticketmaster will pay a $10 million criminal penalty, create a compliance and ethics program, and report to the United States Attorney’s Office annually during a three-year term. If the agreement is breached, Ticketmaster will be charged with: “One count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, one count of computer intrusion for commercial advantage, one count of computer intrusion in furtherance of fraud, one count of wire fraud conspiracy and one count of wire fraud.”
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