- Washingtonian editorial staffers refused to publish new content Friday in response to an op-ed their CEO Cathy Merrill wrote about employees who wanted to continue doing the majority of their work remotely, which many viewed as a public threat to their jobs.
- In the op-ed, Merrill suggested that “about 20 percent” of every office employees’ job is to participate in “extras” outside their core responsibilities, including “mentoring more junior people” and “celebrating someone’s birthday.”
- If employees aren’t around to do so, she suggested managers have a “strong incentive” to change an employee’s work status to “contractor” to avoid paying for healthcare, a 401(k) match, and other benefits.
- After widespread backlash, Merrill walked back on her comments in an internal memo to staffers.
Op-Ed Triggers Outrage
Editorial staff at Washingtonian, a DC-based magazine, refused to publish new content on Friday in response to an op-ed their CEO wrote that many staffers viewed as a public threat to their jobs.
Cathy Merrill published her op-ed in The Washington Post Thursday, titled: “As a CEO, I want my employees to understand the risks of not returning to work in the office.”
In it, Merrill expressed excitement about the prospect of returning to work in person but said she was concerned about employees who wanted to continue doing the majority of their work remotely.
She claimed fellow CEOs have told her that older employees are more reluctant to return to the office because they work “from comfortable homes” and are “happy to be relieved of commuting.” Meanwhile, their younger colleagues “have been working from small apartments or their parents’ homes.”
Merrill argued that this was an issue because companies need leaders on site, and she suggested that “about 20 percent” of every office employees’ job is to participate in “extras” outside one’s core responsibilities. This includes in-person activities, such as “mentoring more junior people,” “celebrating someone’s birthday,” and doing other things that “drive office culture.”
If employees aren’t around to do so, she suggested that managers have a “strong incentive” to change an employee’s work status to “contractor.”
“That would also mean not having to pay for health care, a 401(k) match and our share of FICA and Medicare taxes — benefits that in my company’s case add up roughly to an extra 15 percent of compensation,” she continued.
“Not to mention the potential savings of reduced office space and extras such as bonuses and parking fees.”
Merrill also argued that “professional development is hard to do remotely,” and said “being out of that informal loop is likely to make you a less valuable employee.”
She closed her piece by suggesting that those who maintained personal relationships with their bosses would have more job security because “the hardest people to let go are the ones you know.”
The op-ed was met with swift condemnation from fellow members of the media, as well as readers.
They say: “I worry about the erosion of office culture”— Markus Di Mastro (@MarkusDiMastro) May 7, 2021
They mean: “I worry about the erosion of my ability to casually exploit, abuse, and manipulate my employees by making them do stuff completely unrelated to their jobs.”
By Friday morning, The Washington Post had changed the op-ed’s headline to: “As a CEO, I worry about the erosion of office culture with more remote work.”
According to HuffPost reporter Dave Jamieson, “Merrill says she did not write the original headline to her op-ed and expressed to WaPo that she felt it was inaccurate.”
The Post’s Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt said in a statement to CNN Business that he asked his staff to change the headline and said “nothing else in the op-ed has been changed.”
The change did little to ease outrage, and on Friday morning, Washingtonian staffers tweeted identical statements announcing their decision not to publish for the day.
“As members of the Washingtonian editorial staff, we want our CEO to understand the risks of not valuing our labor. We are dismayed by Cathy Merrill’s public threat to our livelihoods. We will not be publishing today,” the tweets read.
The staff is not unionized, so the refusal to work is especially notable because it carries extra risks.
CEO Walks Back
The growing outrage prompted Merrill to walk back her remarks in an internal memo to staff Friday, saying “flexible with work schedules and time in the office,” along with health and 401K benefits will not change. She said she is not going to switch full time workers to freelancer status, as she suggested in her op-ed.
“These are critical parts of our culture and also things I deeply, personally believe in,” Merrill said in the memo that reported have since shared online.
“I can and will maintain this strategy because we are a small family-owned company and I can. But I do worry about larger less personal businesses and how that may affect our country. That is precisely why I wrote the piece.”
In an earlier statement, Merrill said, “I have assured. out team that there will be no changes to benefits or employee status. I am sorry if the op-ed made it appear like anything else.”
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Wrap) (The New York Times
Instagram Testing New Tools To Verify Users Are Over 18
The new tools include AI software that analyzes video footage of a person’s face to verify their age.
Instagram Cracks Down on Underage Users
Instagram is testing new features in the United States to verify the age of users who claim to be over 18 years old.
According to a statement from Instagram’s parent company, Meta, the tools will only apply to users who seek to change their age from under 18 to over 18. The platform previously asked for users to upload their ID for verification in this process, but on Thursday, it announced there will be two new methods for confirming age.
One of the strategies was referred to as “social vouching.” Using this option, people can request that three mutual Instagram followers over the age of 18 confirm their age on the platform.
The other method allows users to upload a video selfie of themselves to be analyzed by Yoti, third-party age verification software. Yoti then estimates a person’s age based on their facial features, sends that estimate to Meta, and both companies delete the recording.
According to Meta, Yoti cannot recognize or identify a face based on the recording and only looks at the pixels to determine an age. Meta said that Yoti “is the leading age verification provider for several industries around the world,” as it has been used and promoted by social media companies and governmental organizations.
Still, some question how effective it will be for this specific use. According to The Verge, while the software does have a high accuracy rate among certain age groups and demographics, data also shows it is less precise for female faces and faces with darker skin tones.
Issues With Kids on Instagram
Meta argues that it is important for Instagram to be able to discern who is and is not 18, as it impacts what version of the app users have access to.
“We’re testing this so we can make sure teens and adults are in the right experience for their age group,” the company’s statement said.
“When we know if someone is a teen (13-17), we provide them with age-appropriate experiences like defaulting them into private accounts, preventing unwanted contact from adults they don’t know and limiting the options advertisers have to reach them with ads,” it continued.
These changes come as Instagram has been facing increased pressure to address the way its app impacts younger users.
Only children 13 and older are allowed to have Instagram accounts, but the service has faced criticism for not doing enough to enforce this. A 2021 survey of high school students found that nearly half of the respondents had created a social media account of some kind before they were 13.
The company also recently came under fire after The Wall Street Journal published internal Meta documents revealing that the company knew that it harmed teens, including by worsening body image issues for young girls and women.
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (The Wall Street Journal) (Axios)
Elon Musk Threatens to Fire Employees Unless They Work in Person Full-Time
The world’s richest man in the world previously suggested that the popularity of remote work has “tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard.”
“If You Don’t Show up, We Will Assume You Have Resigned”
On Wednesday, Electrek published two leaked emails apparently sent from Elon Musk to Tesla’s executive staff threatening to fire them if they don’t return to work in person.
“Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla,” he wrote. “This is less than we ask of factory workers.”
“If there are particularly exceptional contributors for whom this is impossible, I will review and approve those exceptions directly,” he continued.
Musk then clarified that the “office” must be a main office, not a “remote branch office unrelated to the job duties.”
“There are of course companies that don’t require this, but when was the last time they shipped a great new product? It’s been a while,” he wrote in the second email.
Later on Wednesday, a Twitter user asked Musk to comment on the idea that coming into work is an antiquated concept.
He replied, “They should pretend to work somewhere else.”
The Billionaire Pushes People to Work Harder
Musk has a history of pressuring his employees and criticizing them for not working hard enough.
“All the Covid stay-at-home stuff has tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard. Rude awakening inbound,” he tweeted last month.
Three economists told Insider that remote work during the pandemic did not damage productivity.
“Most of the evidence shows that productivity has increased while people stayed at home,” Natacha Postel-Vinay, an economic and financial historian at the London School of Economics, told the outlet.
Musk is notorious for criticizing lockdown mandates and went so far as to call them “fascist” during a Tesla earnings call in April 2020.
Not long before that, Tesla announced that it would keep its Fremont, California plant open in defiance of shelter-in-place orders across the state.
In an interview with The Financial Times last month, Musk blasted American workers for trying to stay home, comparing them to their Chinese counterparts whom he said work harder.
“They won’t just be burning the midnight oil. They will be burning the 3 a.m. oil,” he said. “They won’t even leave the factory type of thing, whereas in America people are trying to avoid going to work at all.”
That same day, Fortune published an article detailing how Tesla workers in Shanghai work 12-hour shifts, six days out of the week, sometimes sleeping on the factory floor.
See what others are saying: (CNBC) (Electrek) (Business Insider)
Apple Raises Worker Pay as Unions Gain Ground
The company’s vice president of people and retail was caught trying to dissuade employees from unionizing in a leaked video.
Labor Squeezes Apple into Submission
Apple announced Wednesday that its U.S. corporate and retail employees will see a pay increase later this year, with starting wages bumped from $20 per hour to $22, though stores in certain regions may get more depending on market conditions.
Starting salaries are also expected to increase.
“Supporting and retaining the best team members in the world enables us to deliver the best, most innovative, products and services for our customers,” an Apple spokesman said in a statement. “This year as part of our annual performance review process, we’re increasing our overall compensation budget.”
Some workers were told their annual reviews would be moved up three months and that their pay increases would take effect in early July, according to a memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, they were told the increased compensation budget would be in addition to pay increases and special awards already received within the past year.
Feeling squeezed by low unemployment and high inflation, tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have changed their compensation structures in recent weeks to pay workers more, and Apple is the latest to bend to market pressure.
Unions Gaining Traction
On Wednesday, The Verge received a leaked video of Apple’s vice president of people and retail, Deirdre O’Brien, explicitly dissuading employees from unionizing.
“I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship,” she said. “An organization that does not have a deep understanding of Apple or our business. And most importantly one that I do not believe shares our commitment to you.”
She vocalized more anti-union talking points, like the idea that the company will not be able to make important decisions as quickly with a collective bargaining agreement.
O’Brien has been personally visiting retail stores over the past few weeks in an apparent bid to combat budding union activity.
Apple stores in three locations — New York, Georgia, and Maryland — are currently pushing to unionize, with the latter two set to vote in elections on June 2 and 15, respectively. In response to these efforts, Apple has hired anti-union lawyers, given managers anti-union scripts, and held anti-union captive audience meetings.
In the United States, unionized workers make about 13.2% more than non-unionized workers in the same sector, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
As of Wednesday, Apple’s shares had fallen 21% since the start of the year, but sales grew 34% last year to almost $300 billion.