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In the back-and-forth over power in the workplace, U.S. employers have outnumbered workers in recent decades.

Companies have grown, giving them more opportunities to set prices and wages. Unions are shrinking, leaving workers fewer opportunities to negotiate wage increases. And court decisions, especially from the Supreme Court, have tended to side with corporations over employees or regulators.

These trends are reflected in the macroeconomic data. The share of the economy’s output that goes to corporate profits has nearly doubled since the mid-1970s, while the share that goes to workers’ compensation has fallen. Or check out this chart:

As you can see, stock prices and household incomes tracked each other somewhat closely in the decades after World War II — but don’t anymore.

The Times just published a story examining the latest manifestation of companies having the upper hand over employees. The story, by Jodi Kantor and Arya Sundaram, is called “The Rise of the Worker Productivity Score”, and it is the culmination of months of research. It describes technology-based employee monitoring that often has a Big Brother quality, employee keystroke tracking, and more.

Jodi and Arya write:

In lower-paying jobs, monitoring is already ubiquitous: not just at Amazon, where second-by-second readings became infamous, but also at Kroger cashiers, UPS drivers, and millions of others.

Now digital productivity monitoring is also spreading to white-collar jobs and positions that require a graduate degree. Many employees, whether working remotely or in person, are subject to trackers, scores, “idle” buttons, or just silent, constantly increasing records.

UnitedHealth Group employees may miss out on raises or bonuses if they have low keyboard activity. Some radiologists have scoreboards on their computer screens that compare their time of “inactivity” with that of colleagues. In New York, the transit system has told some workers they can work remotely one day a week if they agree to full-time supervision.

The trend started before the pandemic and the rise of working from home over the past two years has intensified it. “If we stop bringing people back to the office, we won’t give up managing productivity,” said Paul Wartenberg, who installs monitoring systems for businesses.

But even many personal jobs now include productivity tables. Part of Jodi and Arya’s story describes the frustration of hospice chaplains who receive “productivity points,” based in part on the number of terminally ill patients they saw in a day.

“This is going to sound terrible,” said one chaplain, “but every now and then I would do what I saw as ‘spiritual care drive-by'” to rack up points. If a patient was asleep, “I could just talk to the nurse and say, ‘Are there any concerns?’ It counted as a visit because I had the eyes.”

Trying to get the most out of employees is nothing new. And some form of accountability is crucial to the success of an organization. But minute-by-minute tracking of employee behavior, often using raw statistics, is a more aggressive form of accountability than has historically been normal.

“This is such an intimate form of scrutiny, which is part of the reason it took months of reporting to see this,” Jodi told me. “To be clear, some workers are really neglected. But for many others, this is about what happens when you need 10 minutes to clear your head, or deal with a child’s interruption, or take a few extra minutes in the bathroom.

In some cases, the monitoring systems can backfire and the story documents how they can be inaccurate. Often, however, they can also contain accurate information about how an employee is performing from minute to minute. And in doing so, they will further tip the balance of power in the workplace from employees to employers.

The growing mismatch also explains another trend: the increasing interest in unions among some workers, after decades of decline. Companies, unsurprisingly, are pushing back.

For more: Reading the full story will give you an idea of ​​what it feels like to be followed, thanks to a design by my colleagues Aliza Aufrichtig and Rumsey Taylor.

A play-off photo is set: The WNBA playoffs are here to save us from the deep summer sports hiatus. The league closed its regular season yesterday as the Las Vegas Aces claimed the No. 1 post-season seed and relegated defending champion Chicago Sky to No. 2.

A classic Premier League rivalry revamped: Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham yesterday had both head coaches red cards after the final whistle as the match-long tension boiled. The season is only two weeks old, but we may have already seen one of the defining moments.

Did Deshaun Watson Hurt the Cleveland Browns Win? Depends where you look.

When the B-52s played their first gig in 1977, the self-described “freaks” from Athens, Georgia, couldn’t imagine ever becoming rock stars. “It was a hobby,” singer Fred Schneider said. “We’d gotten stuck once or twice. We didn’t even have the money to buy guitar strings.”

But they had an undeniable appeal – sharp guitars, screamed choruses, campy wigs – that took them from underground misfits to Top 10 hits, most memorably the 1989 song “Love Shack.” Now, after more than four decades, they have announced that their upcoming tour will be their last. They spoke to The Times about their career.

For more: These bands influenced, and were influenced by, the album’s first B-52.



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