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Microsoft Employees Write Letter Supporting Tech Workers Protest in China

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  • 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.

GitHub Protest

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.

Microsoft Letter

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.

What Next?

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)

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Reddit Co-Founder Resigns From Board, Asks to Be Replaced by a Black Candidate

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  • Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned from the company’s board and called for the position to be filled by a black candidate, which CEO Steve Huffman agreed to do. 
  • The move comes days after former CEO Ellen Pao slammed the platform for allowing subreddits that promote hate, violence, and white supremacy to remain active.
  • Subreddit moderators agreed, protesting against inadequate hate speech policies by making their communities private, among other actions.
  • In his message about honoring Ohanian’s request, Huffman promised to do more to combat hate on the site. 

Resignation

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian announced his resignation from the company’s board of directors Friday, urging that his seat be filled by a black candidate.

As protests continue over the killing of George Floyd, businesses and industry leaders have faced mounting pressure to take meaningful steps that support the black community and fight against racism. “I’m writing this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks: ‘What did you do?’” Ohanian explained in a blog post, on social media, and in a video message. 

Ohanian, who is married to professional tennis paly Serena Williams, also committed to using future gains from his Reddit stock to help the black community, “chiefly to curb racial hate.” To start, he pledged $1 million to former NFL play and activist Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp. 

“I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now. To everyone fighting to fix our broken nation: do not stop,” he added in his statement.

Recent Criticism of Reddit’s Policies

The move came just days after the site faced heavy criticism for allowing subreddits to remain active, like r/the_donald, which has been known to promote white supremacist content.

It’s most vocal critic was former CEO Ellen Pao, who responded to the company’s June 1 message in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

In a letter from current CEO Steve Huffman, the company said, “we do not tolerate hate, racism, and violence, and while we have work to do to fight these on our platform, our values are clear.”

To that, Pao said: “I am obligated to call you out: You should have shut down the_donald instead of amplifying it and its hate, racism, and violence. So much of what is happening now lies at your feet. You don’t get to say BLM when reddit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long.”

Pao wasn’t alone in that opinion. Following her comments, many subreddit communities took collective action to protest police brutality and racism, as well as Reddit’s failure to adequately deal with racist rhetoric and hateful content on its platform.

On Wednesday subreddits like r/NFL, r/military, r/AskReddit, r/EDM, r/DankMemes, r/AskHistorians and dozens of others across a variety of genres went private. In a post on r/MaleFashionAdvice, a moderator called out Reddit’s “blatant hypocrisy” in allowing hateful subreddits to exist while publicly condemning police brutality.

“To us, actions speak louder than words,” the moderator u/BespokeDebtor wrote Wednesday. “The admins have repeatedly demonstrated a tolerance for such behavior and provided sanctuary to the very people they’re supposedly condemning.”

Protest action varied across each community, but many moderators banned new posts for either a full day or eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time Geoge Floyd had a knee pressed into his neck by a white officer before dying. 

CEO Responds to Resignation and Criticism 

Following Ohanian’s announcement, Huffman published another message to the Reddit community promising to honor the co-founder’s request.

However, he spent a great deal of time addressing how the company plans to address hateful content. 

“We’re working with mods to change our content policy to explicitly address hate,” Huffman added. “I want to take responsibility for the history of our policies over the years that got us here, and we still have work to do.”

Huffman said there are three problems Redding is most focused on.

  • Parts of Reddit reflect an unflattering but real resemblance to the world in the hate that Black users and communities see daily, despite the progress we have made in improving our tooling and enforcement.
  • Users and moderators genuinely do not have enough clarity as to where we as administrators stand on racism.
  • Our moderators are frustrated and need a real seat at the table to help shape the policies that they help us enforce.

Though he admitted that the site is already trying to address these issues, he promised more urgency.  

“We will update our content policy to include a vision for Reddit and its communities to aspire to, a statement on hate, the context for the rules, and a principle that Reddit isn’t to be used as a weapon,” he continued. 

“We have details to work through, and while we will move quickly, I do want to be thoughtful and also gather feedback from our moderators (through our Mod Councils). With more moderator engagement, the timeline is weeks, not months.”

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (DailyDot) (CNBC

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How Companies Have Responded to the Killing of George Floyd

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Photo: Andy Manis/ The State Journal

  • As protests continue over the killing of George Floyd, many have pushed brands to speak out against racism and police brutality. 
  • Countless companies have responded, with some donating supplies and legal defense funds.
  • Others in the music industry plan to suspend operations Tuesday and instead discuss how they can support the black community. 
  • However, one of the most criticized statements came from the NFL, who was slammed as disingenuous given their handling of Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protests.

Target’s Statement

Like celebrities, many companies have also been hit with pressure to address George Floyd’s death. So over the last week, several have released statements condemning racism and expressing their solidarity with the black community. 

One of the biggest companies people turned to for comment was Target, which is actually based in Minneapolis. Target stores have been notably ransacked and set on fire in protests across the country. But even so, Target released a statement Friday in support of the demonstrations. 

Company Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell penned a letter acknowledging the pain felt across America over the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, adding, “We say their names and hold a too-long list of others in our hearts.”

Then, he said teams were preparing truckloads of first aid equipment, bottled water,  and other essentials “to help ensure that no one within the areas of heaviest damage and demonstration is cut off from needed supplies.”

He also promised to give full pay and benefits to all displaced team members, including over 200 from the Minneapolis store that was set on fire last week. This response was met with a ton of praise from those who were glad to see Target prioritize people over property and replaceable goods. 

Still, while the company supports the protests, it made a decision the following day to temporarily close or shorten hours at nearly 200 stores for the safety of employees and guests. Team members impacted by this will be paid up to 14 days of scheduled hours during closures, including COVID-19 premium pay.  

Countless Others Show Support 

Target was just one of the countless brands that addressed the topic of racism and police brutality. We saw brands like Nike and Adidas speak out. Others like Hot Topic and Glossier have promised to donate money toward legal defense funds. 

Tech giants like Twitter, Google, Apple, Facebook, and TikTok all raised their voices, along with other entertainment players like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube, Warner Brothers, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and many, many others. 

The music industry, for its part, has organized a blackout for Tuesday, June 2, using the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. As part of the initiative, several record labels have vowed to postpone new music releases and suspend business operations, calling it a day to “take a beat for an honest, reflective and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the Black community.” 

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#theshowmustbepaused

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But while a flood of companies have released statements, in some cases, it actually took a lot of pushing and public call outs for brands to speak up. 

For example, beauty YouTuber Jackie Aina called out clothing stores like Fashion Nova, Pretty Little Things, and Revolve for staying silent about issues facing the black community. That eventually prompted brand CEOs to reach out to her for advice or make official statements on their own.

NFL Statement Receives Criticism 

And just because a company released a statement, doesn’t mean it was well-received. In fact, one of the most criticized statements came from the National Football League.

In a message from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFL expressed condolences to the families of Floyd, Taylor, and Arbery. It also said: “We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society. We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address the systemic issues together with our platers, clubs and partners.”

That statement did not sit well with a lot of people given the NFL’s history with Colin Kaepernick, who in 2016, famously began kneeling during the national anthem to protest the very same issues people are speaking up against now. 

Many feel the NFL failed to back Kapernick at the time when he and others faced criticism from the President and team owners. Many also believe he’s been blacklisted from the league as a result of his activism. So now, this statement is being viewed as disingenuous since the organization already had a major opportunity to support the black community. 

Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills said “Save the bulls—,” in response to the statement. 

Director Ava DuVernay tweeted: “Shame on you. This is beyond hollow + disingenuous. This is a lie. Your actions show who you are. ” 

Sports reporter Jemele Hill wrote, “The NFL tweeting about what happened with George Floyd is the equivalent of when the CIA recognizes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. Loved him so much y’all helped to kill him. Get outta here with the bullshit.”

As of now, it seems like people are continuing to push for action from their favorite brands and celebs, arguing that silence is complicity.

Though there have been an overwhelming amount of companies condemning racism, it’ll be important to see which of these groups actually remain committed to supporting the black community in the long run. 

See what others are saying: (Insider) (Forbes) (Billboard

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Customers Have Mixed Opinions About COVID-19 Surcharges

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  • Customers have begun noticing “COVID-19 surcharges” on their bills at some restaurants across the U.S.
  • Those outraged by the fees have been calling and harassing restaurants that are adding them, meanwhile, others argue that it’s a small price to pay to help keep these businesses open. 
  • Business owners have said the temporary fees are adjusted weekly to help cover the increased costs of meat, protective gear, and take-out packaging. 
  • They have also stressed that they are not trying to “get rich” off these charges but are just trying to take care of their staff and businesses during the pandemic.

Negative Reactions to Surcharges 

Several customers across the country have noted a coronavirus “surcharge” attached to the bottom of their restaurant bills, prompting a flood of different reactions online.

A $2.19 charge spotted at a restaurant in Missouri sparked a ton of frustration. “Scuse me … what? A covid surcharge…?” a woman posted on Twitter after she found the viral photo online and shared it.

That was met with loads of comments from users saying they would never pay such a charge, while others called it a small price to pay to help support the business.  

Billy Yuzar, the owner and manager of the Japanese steakhouse and sushi lounge, told Fox News that the surcharge was advertised online, as well on the store’s front door and register. He also added that he hadn’t heard any complaints from customers but was bombarded with negative reviews from people who haven’t ever visited his establishment. 

The restaurant eventually took to Facebook to defend itself after employees began facing harassment over the photo. “Please understand we are not doing this to take advantage of you guys!” it said.

“We are doing this hoping we can adjust the surcharge weekly rather than just raise all of our prices on our menu due to increase prices from our supplier on meat, poultry, seafood & produce.”

The restaurant also noted that businesses in the community, which use the same suppliers,  were also adding similar fees. “So why are we the one that [is] being harassed??!! Stop calling names to my employees!!” the post continued.  

In the end, the restaurant apologized, saying it will remove the charge and instead increase prices. It also linked out a CNBC report about changes in the meat supply chain related to the pandemic.

It is true that other restaurants in the area have implemented similar policies. Bootleggers BBQ, another West Plains restaurant, announced it was adding a 5% charge starting on May 8, and customers were initially supportive.

However, the restaurant was later met with several calls and messages accusing it of ripping off customers. “Sadly, these calls were from people out of our area and mostly out of state, not even our customers,” the owner Brian Stacck told NBC’s TODAY.

It too eventually decided to increase prices and remove certain items from its menu in place of the surcharge, promising to print new menus at least once a week to reflect its current limitations and changes. 

Staack told TODAY, “I have 26 employees that we have managed to keep at the same hours, or more, throughout this.”

“All I was trying to do was cover our added food cost and keep them working. But people who wouldn’t take the time to listen to me on the phone, or read our explanation on Facebook, would rather make threats.”

Not Just in Missouri, Not Just Restaurant 

Though most of the reported outrage seems to be coming from Missouri, there are other businesses across the country that have been implementing the fees and price increased for coronavirus related circumstances. 

In San Diego, one Mexican restaurant added a $1 extra charge for carne asada due to meat shortages.

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Covid carne asada surcharge: $1.

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A Texas BBQ joint also noted a price increase for brisket until the “market stabilizes.” 

And it doesn’t just end with restaurants. A dentist’s office in Jacksonville Florida reportedly started charging an extra $10 per appointment to cover personal protective equipment. Meanwhile, in Texas, some hair salons have started adding a $3 sanitation charge, according to KTRK-TV Huston. 

While many might be upset by these extra charges, they are legal, according to Gregory Frank, a New York City-based attorney.

“Generally, restaurants are allowed to structure their pricing however they like,” Frank told TODAY. “The important question is whether the restaurants are disclosing to consumers what they are paying before they pay it, so they can make their own informed choices.”

It’s also important to note that the cost of adjusting and reprinting menus might not make the most economic sense for every restaurant, especially if it hopes that the increased prices will only be short term. 

By adding the added fee to the final sale, Frank says business can also make customers feel more comfortable because they’ll know the temporary charge is related to the current circumstances. 

Positive Reactions to Surcharges 

Still, not every business has faced as much hate for their surcharges. At Goog’s Pub & Grub in Holland, Michigan, the response to surcharges was much more positive.

The store’s general manager and co-owner Palmer White told The Daily News Thursday that it recently increased prices by $1 per order from 86 cents before. “We’ve received overwhelming support. People have been very understanding,” White said.

Like at other businesses, this change is in response to increase meat prices, but its also aimed at covering the large amount of packaging take out orders require. 

“Takeout averages about 82 cents more per meal just to put that meal out cause you’re not just putting it on a plate or tray and washing that again. It’s the silverware, the boxes,” the pub’s other co-owner, Brad White, told Fox 17. 

“When this started, we were running about $50 for a case of burgers and then it was up to $55, $62, $66, $72 last week and they just told me next week it’ll probably be up to $88 a case, so almost double what we were paying.”

The pub also noted that it had given its remaining servers raises “so they can maintain a consistent income.” 

“They’re still getting tips. Actually, we’ve been blown away by people’s generosity. But tips are based on percentages, and sales just aren’t as high without all the alcohol and desserts,” Palmer added. “We’re trying to make sure they’re being taken care of.”

Both have said they plan to remove the extra charge once the damage from the virus settles.

“We’re not doing this to get rich,” said Palmer. “We just want to see our staff is taken care of, make sure people are fed, make sure our lights are on.

See what others are saying: (The Daily News) (Fox News) (TODAY

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