Microsoft Employees Write Letter Supporting Tech Workers Protest in China
- Tech workers in China are protesting their working conditions through a GitHub project called 996.ICU, referring to 996 schedules which is a concept that tech employees should work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week.
- Some Chinese browsers have censored the GitHub project prompting employees of Microsoft, which owns GitHub, to send a letter.
- In the letter, the Microsoft employees showed their support for the project and urged the company not to cave to pressure and censor it on their browser, Bing.
Employees of the tech giant Mircosoft have circulated an open letter petition supporting tech workers in China who are protesting abusive working conditions. The letter urges the company to protect the workers from censorship.
Over the last month, hundreds of thousands of tech workers in China have started an online protest against unfair working conditions. Showing any form of dissent in China is incredibly difficult, especially online.
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China, and other social media platforms are heavily censored. In order to even find a space where tech workers could organize, they had to get creative.
That’s where the platform GitHub comes in. GitHub, which is owned by Microsoft, is the world’s biggest open-source website that allows programmers to work together on code. The Chinese tech workers created what’s called a “repository” on GitHub, which is essentially a project where any number of people can collaborate together.
Instead of writing code, they shared thousands of posts protesting “996” schedules, which is the concept that tech workers should work 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. That might sound extreme, but the 996 philosophy has become the industry standard in China.
The workers called the project “996.ICU,” referring to an apparent joke that working a 996 schedule will send you to the intensive care unit. The point of the project is to demand better working conditions and demonstrate against 996 schedules, which the workers say are illegal under Chinese labor laws.
“This is not a political movement. We firmly uphold the labor law and request employers to respect the legitimate rights and interests of their employees,” the description for the project reads.
The repository includes evidence of bad working conditions, legal resources for workers, and petitions to Chinese government ministries. It also has a “blacklist” of more than 150 companies that workers say have inhumane working conditions. This includes huge tech firms like Huawei, Alibaba, and ByteDance, which created TikTok.
Just a few weeks after it was started, 996.ICU received more than 200,000 “stars,” making it one of the most popular GitHub repositories ever.
The letter from Microsoft supporting the GitHub project was not unpromoted. Unsurprisingly, some Chinese browsers have started to block access to 996.ICU.
Now, Microsoft employees are concerned that their company will do the same. The branch of Microsoft that operates in China censors search results on its search engine, Bing, in order to comply with Chinese laws.
While Microsoft cannot stop other browsers from censoring the project, they have the power to continue to allow people to access it through Bing. That is exactly what the letter urges Microsoft to do.
“In response to these events, we, the workers of Microsoft and GitHub, support the 996.ICU movement and stand in solidarity with tech workers in China,” Microsoft employees wrote in the letter. “We know this is a problem that crosses national borders. These same issues permeate across full time and contingent jobs at Microsoft and the industry as a whole.”
“We encourage Microsoft and GitHub to keep the 996.ICU GitHub repository uncensored and available to everyone,” the letter concluded.
The letter currently has been signed by at least 100 different tech workers and will be updated by the administrators as more people sign it.
It is not just Microsoft workers that have signed on. The letter says that the employees launched the petition publicly at the same time that they announced it within Microsoft. As a result, employees at several different tech firms all over the world have signed it, including heavy hitters like Google and Facebook.
With the petition gaining traction, it will be interesting to see how Microsoft and China respond.
There have been a number of recent examples of similar petitions and letters actually having an impact on tech company policies. Just last year, Google employees circulated a letter demanding that the company shut down a censored search engine for China that Google was secretly working on. Some software engineers even quit their jobs in protest.
Google’s CEO has since said they will hold off on launching the search product just yet.
However, on the other side, there are examples of employee protests that have been less successful. In November, Google employees staged a walk-off to protest an executive who had been fired for sexual harassment and received a $90 million severance package. Those employees are now reporting that they are experiencing internal backlash and even demotion, despite the fact that the company agreed to new policies regarding sexual harassment and diversity.
In China, that kind of backlash has serious implications. One 996 programmer in China anonymously told NPR that he was “scared to death” of political retribution, continuing:
“I am not optimistic about our long-term prospects,” the anonymous programmer said, “I think the Chinese Communist Party will see us as terrorists and use the most modern weaponry to make us obey.”
Additionally, according to NPR, more than 30 students, activists, and factory workers are have been detained since last summer for trying to unionize factory workers.
The potential backlash against GitHub is especially concerning. The site has been known for being an important and influential space for programmers to create and share anti-censorship software tools in the country, which makes it a perceived threat.
This most recent project is not even the first time GitHub has been targetted in China. GitHub was briefly blocked in the country back in 2013. In 2015, GitHub was taken offline by a cyber attack that servers eventually traced back to a Chinese state-owned telecom company. In general, access to certain pages and projects have been selectively censored.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (The Guardian) (The Verge)
Bioré Apologizes For Referencing School Shooting in Mental Health Ad Campaign
“Our tonality was completely inappropriate. We are so sorry,” the skincare brand said.
Video Faces Backlash
The skincare brand Bioré apologized this week for partnering with a school shooting survivor as part of its Mental Health Awareness Month campaign.
“We are committed to continuing our mental health mission, but we promise to do it in a better way,” the company said in an Instagram post on Sunday.
Last week, influencer and recent Michigan State University graduate Cecilee Max-Brown posted a video to TikTok sponsored by Bioré where she discussed the numerous challenges she had faced throughout the year. Among them was a school shooting on her college’s campus, which killed three people in February.
“Life has thrown countless obstacles at me this year, from the school shooting to having no idea what life is going to look like after college,” Max-Brown says in the video. “In honor of mental health awareness month, I’m partnering with Bioré skin care to strip away the stigma of anxiety.
“We want you to get it all out, not only what’s in your pores, but most importantly, what’s on your mind, too,” she continued.
In the 50-second video, Max-Brown went on to discuss more details about her mental health struggles, as well as how “seeing the effects of gun violence firsthand” has impacted her and led to “countless anxiety attacks.”
“I will never forget the feeling of terror that I had walking around campus for weeks in a place I considered home,” she said before closing the video by encouraging her followers to participate in Bioré’s mental health campaign.
The video ignited swift outrage from people who accused Bioré of using a school shooting to sell products. In its apology, the brand admitted the video was misguided.
In the past, Bioré said it has worked with influencers to discuss and reduce mental health stigmas, as the subject is a top priority for its consumers.
“This time, however, we did it the wrong way,” the company said. “We lacked sensitivity around an incredibly serious tragedy, and our tonality was completely inappropriate. We are so sorry.”
Max-Brown also apologized on TikTok, writing that the video was intended to spread awareness, not suggest a product fixed the struggles she has experienced as a result of the shooting.
“I did not mean to desensitize the traumatic event that took place as I know the effects that it has had on me and the Spartan community,” she wrote.
Max-Brown has since removed the initial sponsored video from her account.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NBC News) (The Independent)
Canada’s WestJet Pilots Give 72-Hour Notice For Strike Amid Wave of American Strike Authorizations
“We kept the airline alive during the pandemic. The company is poised to have wild profits going forward and they’re giving us the stiff arm at the table,” said a United Airlines union member to The Washington Post.
Airline Staffers Ready to Strike
Pilots across North America have been inching towards industry-shaking strikes for the last several weeks.
Most recently, Canada’s WestJet Airline pilots issued their 72-hour strike notice on Monday. This means a strike could start as early as Friday, potentially leading to major disruptions for travelers over the Victoria Day holiday weekend.
WestJet pilots are looking for better scheduling and higher pay. Specifically, they want to be paid at a similar rate to their American counterparts.
However, staffers for many American airlines are also ready to fight for higher wages, among other things. Pilots with both Southwest and American Airlines have approved strikes in recent weeks. United Airlines, although they haven’t authorized a strike, spent Friday picketing major airports across the country. Pilots from all three carriers are pushing for higher salaries, better scheduling, and better rules that establish what is expected of each employee on the job.
All of these pilots are pointing to Delta as an example, which recently ratified a $7 billion contract that will raise the wages of their 15,000 pilots by 34% over 4 years.
However, despite the authorizations, an actual walkout is unlikely. In order to legally strike in the U.S., airline workers’ unions have to go through federal mediation with the airlines themselves and that mediator has to decide that negotiation is unproductive and release both sides. Even then, a strike can be blocked by Congress or the president.
However, these strike authorizations are meant to put further pressure on the airlines to come to the table with their pilots and find some solution.
“We kept the airline alive during the pandemic. The company is poised to have wild profits going forward and they’re giving us the stiff arm at the table,” Garth Thompson, chair of the United Master Executive Council of the Air Line Pilots Association, said to the Washington Post.
The response from airlines thus far has been mixed. Southwest said in a statement that the strike authorization vote has absolutely no effect on their operations. Casey Murray, the president of the pilot’s union, said the union will petition mediators to strike because they have been in negotiations with Southwest for more than three years with no solution on the horizon.
American Airlines and its pilots, on the other hand, are much closer to reaching a solution. CEO Robert Isom even said the airline is prepared to match the pay rates of Delta pilots.
“We remain confident that an agreement for our pilots is within reach and can be finalized quickly,” the airline said in a statement. “The finish line is in sight.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (AP News) (Reuters)
Dealers are Still Selling Theft-Vulnerable Kia and Hyundais Despite Insurance Companies Refusing to Cover Them
“This, again, just seems like a complete debacle — that these companies and these industries are not working together to protect the consumer,” said Reyna Garcia to NPR.
Kia Boys Challenge
Dating back to 2021, the viral “Kia Boys” challenge has caused thefts of specific Kia and Hyundai models to skyrocket. After an unanswered plea for recall by more than a dozen state attorney generals, insurance companies have taken the problem into their own hands by refusing coverage to new customers with certain Kia and Hyundai models.
The “Kia Boys” challenge included videos demonstrating how to hotwire these cars with a USB adaptor in a matter of seconds.
This type of theft is only possible because the Kia and Hyundai models in question do not have an electronic immobilizer within the vehicle. An electronic immobilizer is a popular piece of anti-theft technology where a computer chip in the engine communicates with a chip in the key to verify a match – and if there is no match, the car does not move.
Officials say that more than 8 million Kias and Hyundais lack an immobilizer and can be stolen using just a USB cable.
This viral challenge caused a massive uptick in thefts of these vehicles. Minneapolis saw an 836% increase in Kia and Hyundai thefts in 2022 and Chicago saw an 800% increase in thefts over just a month last year.
In April, attorney generals from 17 states and Washington, D.C. sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, asking them to recall the models affected by this vulnerability. As of now, no such recall has been enacted.
Kia and Hyundai are both offering free software updates to fix the problem but there are still countless cars without the update on the market.
Major insurance companies like Allstate, Progressive, and State Farm have confirmed that they are not granting new policies for certain Kia and Hyundai models due to their high theft risk. However, this hasn’t stopped used car dealerships from selling these models.
Reyna Garcia was a victim of this unfortunate situation. She purchased a Kia Forte from a used car dealership only to find, several weeks later, that her Allstate insurance would not cover it.
She then tried to sell the car back to the dealership but their offer would have put her at a $7,000 loss. Eventually, she found new coverage for her vehicles and home at a rate $150 more expensive than she’d been paying elsewhere.
“I feel super vulnerable. I feel taken advantage of by a dealer. I feel like this is their industry, and they should be knowledgeable about this,” Garcia said to NPR. “And I’m also very frustrated with the insurance industry. All of those things came colliding, and I think the consumer is definitely stuck in the middle.”
She went on to add, “I’m an intelligent person, and I feel very stuck. And the financial loss could be huge. I’m sitting here trying to figure out how I could come up with $19,000 to pay for a car that we can’t drive. This, again, just seems like a complete debacle — that these companies and these industries are not working together to protect the consumer.”
Kia and Hyundai Response
Kia and Hyundai are working with some insurance companies to make sure that new customers can get coverage.
“Kia America regrets the decision by certain insurers and its impact on owners and lessees of select Kia vehicles, which we anticipate will be temporary, “ said Kia spokesperson James Bell in a statement to NPR. “We are in contact with major insurance carriers so they are aware of the actions we have taken and we are actively working with them to ensure our customers have access to quality and comprehensive coverage.”
Hyundai recently announced that they are working with AAA-affiliated insurance companies to offer plans to drivers impacted by the vulnerability.
However, state governments have also taken notice of the insurance companies’ stall on coverage for these models. The Maryland Insurance Administration recently released a bulletin, telling insurance companies they have to offer coverage in line with rates filed with the state or else companies could be in violation of the law.