What does it mean to “gig” American workers?

No doubt you will be thrilled to learn that we now live and work in a “gig economy.”
That’s the latest corporate buzz-phrase from Silicon Valley. CEOs are hailing a Brave New Workplace in which we lucky worker bees no longer have to be stuck in traditional jobs with traditional hours, traditional middle-class pay scales, traditional benefits, traditional job security, and all those other fusty “traditionals” of the old workplace. In fact, in the gig economy, you don’t even get a workplace. Rather, you’ll be “liberated” to work in a series of short-term jobs in many places, always being on-call through a mobile app on your iPhone or through a temp agency. How exciting is that?
Well, they use “exciting” in the sense of distressing and nerve-wracking. The gig economy means you’re on your own – you’re not an employee, but an “independent contractor,” with no rights and no union. You might have lots of calls to work this week, but there’ll be many weeks with no calls. Don’t get sick or injured, for no health care or workers’ comp are provided. A pension? Your retirement plan is called “adios chump.”
This “alternative work arrangement” is not a futuristic concept – it’s already here and spreading fast. Some 16 percent of US workers are now in this on-call, temporary, part-time, low-pay, you’re-on-your-own economy, up from only 10 percent a decade ago. Corporate chieftains (backed by the economists and politicians they purchase) are creating what they call a workforce of non-employees for one reason: Greed. It directly transfers more money and power from workaday families into the coffers of moneyed elites.
Their gig economy is aptly named, for “gigs” are crude four-hook fishing devices that’re drug by commercial fleets through schools of fish to impale them, haul them in, and cash in on the pain.

How Uber goobered and Lyft slipped down

Pouty, whiney, spoiled-bratism is not nice coming from a four-year-old – but it’s grotesque when it comes from billion-dollar corporate elites like Uber and Lyft.
The two for-hire car companies call their service “ridesharing,” but these internet-based brats are takers, not sharers, and the bulk of the fares they charge end up in the pockets of their hedge-fund owners. Still, they insist that they are new-economy, tech-driven geniuses that are above the fusty old local laws that other transportation companies follow. So Uber and Lyft have made it a corporate policy to throw hissy fits when cities – from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Houston to Portland – have dared even to propose that they obey rules to protect customers and drivers.
The latest tantrum from the California giants came in Austin, when the city council adopted a few modest, perfectly-reasonable rules. The petulant duo then used high-pressure tactics to force a special election to overturn the council’s action. Being brats, they assumed that locals would flock to do whatever the popular service wanted.
But they picked the wrong city. First, they ran a campaign of blatant lies, as though Austinites wouldn’t question them. Then they shoved a sickening level of corporate cash into their campaign, apparently thinking that the sheer tonnage of mendacious ads would win the day for them. However, the slicks from California turned out to be ueber-goobers. Despite spending $9 million (more than the combined spending of all city council candidates in the past decade), they went down, 56-to-44 percent.
So Uber and Lyft have now left town in a huff – but who needs them? A new Texas-based upstart called GetMe has already moved in to fill the void with community spirit rather than pouty corporate arrogance, saying that it is happy to comply with sensible rules that the people want.

How do coal barons get away with murder?

Coal mining is a filthy business.
Literally. Miners not only get covered in the soot of their trade, but also suffer the suffocating death called “black lung.” The industry explodes mountaintops, contaminates mountain streams and drinking water, and causes both acid rain and climate change. Then there are the murders.
Oh, they’re not called murders, but, intentionally sending workers 1,000 feet underground into poorly-ventilated tunnels filled with explosive methane gas and coal dust – without providing proven safety equipment – amounts to signing a murder contract with the Lord of the Underground. That’s what Don Blankenship did as CEO of Massey Energy. Recklessly pushing profits over safety, he oversaw the corporate murder of 29 West Virginia miners in the predictable horror of an enormously violent detonation deep inside Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in 2010.
Now, at long last, Boss Blankenship has been convicted and sentenced in federal court. Not for murder, though. Under our nations’ feeble Mine Safety Act, killing 29 workers is a misdemeanor, and the “punishment” handed down to this multimillionaire corporate crime boss was merely one year in jail and a $250,000 fine!
Such soft-on-crime leniency is not the fault of the jury or judge – they did the most with what the law allows for punishing industrial criminals. In fact, Blankenship is the first mining CEO ever convicted of conspiring to violate safety protections for miners. Rather, our corrupt, corporate-serving congress critters are to blame. Key lawmakers have taken millions of dollars in campaign donations from barons like Blankenship in exchange for reducing corporate murder to a misdemeanor.
The filthiest thing about Big Coal is its immoral use of filthy political money to let its bosses literally get away with murder.

“Judgment Day for Reckless Executives,” The New York Times, April 8, 2016.
“The Undoing of a Coal Baron,” The New York Times, April 8, 2016.