LaborTech Book & Graduate Student Paper, and Social Justice Awards

Announcing the Winners of our 2023 Awards!

The Labor Tech Research Network (LTRN) is excited to announce the winners of our 2nd annual Book and Graduate Student Paper awards, as well as our inaugural Social Justice Award!

LTRN is a community of people dedicated to analyzing issues of labor and technology from an anti-racist, feminist, and transnational perspective. We have over 500 members, including researchers, tech workers, policymakers, activists, and union organizers affiliated with institutions in over 50 countries.

We encourage you to attend our virtual 4S session this Friday, Nov 10 from 3:40-5:30 PM Hawai’i time (1:40 AM GMT), where we’ll be hearing from award winners.

Social Justice Award Winner: Marta Rozmyslowicz

Marta Rozmyslowicz worked as a warehouse associate at the first Amazon Fulfillment Center in Poland, “POZ1.” Experiencing first-hand the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence to push for higher productivity and speedup of work, her colleagues opted to unionize and started the Amazon section of their larger union, OZZ Inicjatywa Pracownicza (Workers’ Initiative). Marta was elected shop steward and a representative for the warehouse occupational health and safety commission. Her union’s actions prompted the Polish Labor Inspectorate to measure work intensity in terms of kilocalories burned on the job. The resulting study found that Amazon employees expend even twice the legal limit of energy, putting in tangible terms how the company is squeezing out the energy of more than one shift from workers.

During the pandemic, Marta’s union joined with Amazon workers from around the world to make important gains through campaigns like Make Amazon Pay. Even though Amazon located this POZ1 warehouse near the German border—to take advantage of cheaper labor in Poland, and to segment the workforce by nationality and ethnicity—her union used this to their advantage. Polish workers sought out connections with Amazon workers in Germany and founded Amazon Workers International. Since leaving Amazon, Marta has continued as a union organizer and legal representative of employees in labor court. In addition, she is pursuing a Thesis in Labor Law at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań and conducting action-oriented research in a project called “Workers Fight Back Algorithms”, for which she received the 2022 Landecker Democracy Fellowship.

Social Justice Award Honorable Mention: The Tech Workers Coalition Newsletter

The Tech Workers Coalition (TWC) is a collective of volunteer organizers promoting cross-collar solidarity in tech. TWC’s commitment to social justice is built around the ‘abolitionist mutual aid’ model of activism, emphasizing the leadership of women of color in labor organizing. TWC focuses on feminist, anti-racist, international and intergenerational solidarity, and amplifies tech and labor concerns in its newsletter, for which they collaborate with journalists. 

TWC runs a semi-weekly newsletter featuring stories from workers’ perspectives. The organizers set up calls with workers who reach out to them and turn the transcripts into stories, which the workers are asked to review and edit collaboratively with the organizers. TWC also offers worker-contributors a US$150 honorarium from their mutual aid fund. This main project of TWC has engaged thousands of workers over the past three years in reading and sharing organizing stories from peers. Over one thousand workers have shared their stories in one-on-one and group interviews. This is a remarkable contribution toward labor organizing, as TWC acts as a unique bridge between workers and the media, by foregrounding workers’ voices.

The past and future projects of TWC highlight the detrimental effects of tech work on vast swathes of labor rights in diverse global contexts. Some of its projects also aim to build bridges between other organizations working on similar issues. TWC refers these workers to other legal and financial resources and shifts power to worker-led organizations. TWC also organizes teach-in sessions and learning clubs. In 2022, it held an intergenerational teach-in program for three days with 33 elder workers. In 2017, TWC hosted their first six-week Summer Learning Club. The event is now held online, with guests sharing their critical work, including book discussions. TWC is also advancing mutual aid organizing by focusing on mental health, in collaboration with social work and therapy allies, conducting trauma induced organizing interviews, and highlighting individual experiences in collective action. 

Book Award Winner: Karen Levy, Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance (Princeton University Press)

Dr. Levy’s book is an exemplary, deeply researched study of a particular kind of technology in a specific occupational context: the use of electronic logging devices (ELD) in trucking in the U.S. The book gives broad political, economic, and cultural context for the implementation and reception of ELD’s by the many different stakeholders involved, as well as deep ethnographic descriptions of the realities of this kind of workplace surveillance and workers’ resistance to it. Dr. Levy’s depth of expertise—not only in this specific context of work but in thinking about technologies of working surveillance more generally—is apparent throughout the text as she deftly weaves together the perspectives of policymakers, trucking firms, ELD companies, and truckers themselves. The book also shines a light on the role of white working-class masculinity in trucker culture.

Karen Levy is an Associate Professor in the Department of Information Science at Cornell University, associate member of the faculty at Cornell Law School, and field faculty in Sociology, Science and Technology Studies, Media Studies, and Data Science.

Book Award Honorable Mention: Carolyn M. Cunningham and Heather M. Crandall, The Climate Girl Effect: Fridays, Flint, and Fire (Lexington Books)

Drs. Cunningham and Crandall have written an excellent book that explores a wide range of activism labor and technology use for climate activism amongst girl leaders across the world. Female, non-adults and young adults have seldom been the subject of scholarship on labor and technology (excluding studies on influencers). The authors skillfully address and critique the pitfalls of the mainstream media constructions of these girl leaders as “exceptional”—and the structural roots of such framing in Western individualism and patriarchy. Informed by both eco-feminist and techno-feminist traditions, the authors showcase the labor, praxis, discourse, and technologies mobilized by “the climate girls” and the intersectional and coalitional communities they rely on and contribute towards building. The book produces new knowledge about the potentials of labor and technology, new forms of collective activism and community, and the intersections of women’s movements, labor movements, and climate actions.

Carolyn M. Cunningham is Professor and Chair of Communication & Leadership Studies at Gonzaga University.

Heather M. Crandall is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Communication Studies at Gonzaga University.

Graduate Student Paper Award Winner: Bhumika Chauhan, “Uneven Deskilling: Recasting the Smile Curve in a Transnational Software Firm.”

Rich in its theoretical framework and methodology, Chauhan’s paper presents a crucial case study of uneven deskilling in a global technology firm. Existing accounts of intrafirm offshoring optimistically conclude that when firms in the Global North offshore aspects of a particular labor process to the Global South, this offshoring might help Global South workers “move up the value chain,” or upgrade their skills to move into higher-paying roles. The software services sector, especially in India, has been considered an exemplar of this process, and many expected the differences between the Global North and South nodes of global production to disappear. However, drawing on 70 interviews with software engineers in the U.S. and India, Chauhan demonstrates that even when firms combine workers from the Global North and Global South into a single labor process, these workers remain segmented and workers in the Global South and up functioning deskilling. On the one hand, onshore workers tend to do conception tasks that involve design, branding, and distribution–all relatively high-value-added activities. On the other hand, offshore workers were delegated execution tasks, meaning they executed the onshore team’s designs, usually by coding and testing the product. This means that directive authority, without exception, always resided within onshore employees, even when offshore workers occupied higher positions the organizational chart than their onshore counterparts. Offshore engineers were effectively locked out of upper-level management and high-skill design and architecting, thus being deskilled on the basis of their offshore location alone. By challenging optimistic narratives of convergence and upgrading in the Global South, Chauhan’s paper raises important questions about the long-term potential of the software services sector for development.

Bhumika Chauhan is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology at New York University.

Previous winners

For a list of previous winners, click here.