Twenty-one worker advocacy organizations issued a letter to the Biden administration asking for OSHA to protect workers from workplace surveillance technologies.
The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), Governing for Impact (GFI) and 19 other organizations want OSHA to regulate workplace surveillance technologies, which they claim the agency already has a right to do.
They want OSHA, NIOSH to monitor employer use of technology
Specifically, the organizations are asking the Biden administration to:
- have OSHA develop a standard to regulate workplace surveillance technologies based on its existing authority to regulate hazards to workers’ physical safety and mental health
- incorporate workplace monitoring in certain existing OSHA guidance on workplace injury prevention and have the agency issue new guidance identifying injury risks and solutions in warehousing, and
- require the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to fund new research into the effects of workplace surveillance technologies on workers’ physical and mental health, including its impact on job strain, industrial accidents, and workplace injuries.
Amazon’s use ‘exacerbated abysmal worker safety, health record’
The 49-page letter points to Amazon, Tesla and McDonald’s as examples of how employers are misusing electronic monitoring to make work environments unsafe for a worker’s physical and mental health.
Amazon’s electronic monitoring and disciplining systems “have exacerbated its abysmal worker safety and health record,” according to CDT and the other organizations. The company’s “crushing production quotas and speeds” are enforced by electronic surveillance, leading to an injury rate that’s twice as high as the industry average.
Tesla uses electronic surveillance and monitoring to “surveil employees and quash worker organizing efforts, a potential violation of federal labor law.”
And McDonald’s “is using technology to control its franchisees’ cashier employees while claiming it is not liable to those workers under employment or labor law.” This frustrates workers’ ability to hold the company accountable by placing the burden solely on the franchisee instead of the company itself.
While these three companies are among the biggest, most well known employers using electronic surveillance, there is an increasing number of employers across the U.S. who have begun using this technology, the letter states.
Surveillance, monitoring tech harms mental, physical wellbeing
This seriously impacts worker safety and health, CDT and the other organizations claim, and has been shown to “harm workers’ mental and physical wellbeing, hinder their ability to organize and limit their access to employment rights.”
“Employers using new surveillance and automated management techniques present a clear and present danger to the health and safety of workers across the country,” said Matt Scherer, senior policy counsel for workers’ rights and technology at CDT. “These memoranda lay out why the key federal agencies charged with ensuring occupational safety and health can and should take concrete steps to address the threats that electronic surveillance and monitoring technology poses to workers.”