Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Workers in California protest Amazon's pandemic-era policies. Photo: Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus is spotlighting longstanding shortcomings in worker power at big companies — and that could lead to lasting change, experts say.

What's happening: "When the pandemic hit us and the protests emerged, it just illustrated that workers don’t have a voice," Tom Kochan, a professor of industrial relations, work and employment at MIT, tells Axios.

  • "Whether it's economic conditions or dignity at work or ways of appealing safety concerns or freedom from discrimination or freedom to speak their minds," workers have little power to change their fates, and recent events have made that starkly clear, he says.

The big picture: Amazon fired employees who protested for safer working conditions amid the outbreak.

  • A Vox investigation found a disconnect between what CEOs are saying about safety standards and what workers are experiencing on the ground at Walmart and Kroger, among other places.
  • On top of that, conversations spurred by the recent anti-racism protests have highlighted how Black workers are disproportionately dealing with the hazards of essential work during the pandemic.

What's next: "The key to going from isolated protests at a place like Amazon or Walmart to a force that’s really going to get the company to respond is the customer," says Kochan, whose brief on how the U.S. can bolster worker power after the pandemic will publish tomorrow as part of M.I.T.'s Work of the Future report. "Customers are the hidden source of power for workers."

  • We've seen plenty of examples of companies changing their ways because of protesting consumers.
  • Consumer outrage against giants like Amazon and Walmart aren't yet loud enough for these firms to open a dialogue with their workers, but the pandemic's exposure of conditions at these workplaces could push us to that tipping point, Kochan notes.

Yes, but: There are major barriers to workers organizing at big companies.

  • Unions have steadily gotten weaker in the U.S., and big firms have shown that they're determined to stop unionization campaigns, says John Logan, a U.S. labor historian at San Francisco State University.
  • "The law makes it virtually impossible for employees to unionize in the private sector if the company has the resources and the stomach for a fight," he says.

Go deeper: "Disposable workers" doing essential jobs

Go deeper

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
Oct 13, 2020 - Economy & Business

The winners of the stay-at-home economy

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic has created a stay-at-home economy worth trillions.

The big picture: While the pandemic is killing scores of businesses that depend on office workers, it's also making way for startups and titans alike to conquer a new industry — powering our remote lives.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
Oct 13, 2020 - Economy & Business

Breaking down Microsoft's telework move

Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters. Photo: Wang Ying/Xinhua via Getty

Microsoft is the latest big company to embrace the work-from-home experiment, announcing it will allow all employees to telework up to 50% of the time and some employees to work remotely forever.

Why it matters: Microsoft's approach will be a test of whether the hybrid workplace model can succeed at a massive scale.

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!