What We’re Reading is a monthly roundup of current news, commentary, challenges and trends that impact our industry as well as those of our clients. From Facebook’s news blackout in Australia, to employer mandated COVID-19 vaccines, to D&I in the workplace, here’s a look at the news that stood out to our team in February:
LABOR & EMPLOYEE RELATIONS
Survey: Only 6% of US employers plan to mandate COVID-19 vaccination – Ryan Golden, HR Dive
I found this article fascinating. It highlights one of the many challenges employers face in bringing employees back to the workplace. While many people can’t wait to be vaccinated, others are skeptical. Forcing employees to be injected with a vaccine (especially one with a novel mode of action) is risky, and could cause morale and retention problems. The survey referenced in the article shows that developing and communicating incentives for employees to get vaccinated vs. requiring it is the way to go. – Nick Kalm
Uber Drivers Are Entitled to Worker Benefits, a British Court Rules – Adam Satariano, The New York Times
Britain’s Supreme Court dealt a major blow to Uber’s business model in the UK after ruling a group of 25 drivers must now be classified as workers, rather than as self-employed contractors. While a later decision from an employment tribunal will determine how the Supreme Court’s ruling impacts the remainder of the ride share company’s 60,000 drivers in the UK, it could have significant implications for Uber and the broader gig-economy on a global scale.
For years, Uber and other gig-economy businesses have argued they simply function as technology platforms to connect individual contractors with customers (in Uber’s case, drivers with passengers). But a key section from the ruling disagrees with that assertion and could impact how Uber and other businesses operate around world. According to the judgement, “drivers are in a position of subordination and dependency in relation to Uber such that they have little or no ability to improve their economic position through professional or entrepreneurial skill. In practice, the only way in which they can increase their earnings is by working longer hours while constantly meeting Uber’s measures of performance.”
The ruling almost guarantees challenges to gig-economy businesses will gain momentum around the world. It will be interesting to see if labor advocates adopt the judgement from the British Supreme Court in those efforts, how Uber and the rest of the gig-economy will respond and the impact it will have on decisions from regulators in other countries. – RJ Bruce
Colectivo Workers Petition for Union Election – Graham Kilmer
Colectivo, a popular Milwaukee and Chicago coffee shop and restaurant, and its workers are undergoing a union election. The election, and ensuing media coverage, is a good example of how it isn’t just big business or corporations that encounter unionization efforts. Small and growing businesses can face reputation and brand risks via collective bargaining and unionization, and how they respond to those efforts is critical for preserving its reputation for its employees, investors and consumers. – Michael Grimm
CSR & SUSTAINABILITY COMMUNICATIONS
Big Business squirms as Biden tightens climate regulations – Zachary Warmbrodt, POLITICO
President Biden’s election, and his appointees to the SEC, bring an intensified magnifying glass on corporate sustainability reporting. These policies, if implemented, will force corporations to up their sustainability and climate change reporting or face significant reputation, legal, investor and bottom-line risks.
Investors like BlackRock’s Larry Fink, consumers and now the federal government are increasingly demanding companies to be more sustainable, and to transparently report how their business impacts the world’s climate and environment. Pres. Biden’s SEC appointees, notably the Treasury department’s Chief of Staff, Didem Nisanci, come from backgrounds of sustainability reporting as she helped lead the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). The United Kingdom is already mandating corporate SASB and TCFD reporting, and may be an indicator of where U.S. policy is heading.
How can companies be prepared for this shift and quickly adapt to and adopt these potential sustainability reporting requirements? Are they ready? We’re happy to help companies of all sizes and types answer these questions and to avoid the mounting reputational risks of staying on the sustainability reporting sidelines. – Michael Grimm
People are more likely to trust—and buy—purpose-driven brands – Adele Peters, Fast Company
We all have an implicit bias – that’s just what makes us human. This particular article stuck out to me because whether we realize it or not, our implicit bias plays a role in our everyday, simple decisions, specifically when it comes to choosing brands. This recent analysis from Porter Novelli emphasizes consumers’ call on brands to have a purpose. Overall, more people would buy from brands that are associated with the words “responsible,” “sustainable,” “trustworthy,” etc. This truly illustrates the importance for brands to really integrate those strong, positive words when developing new products in order to keep their customers. – Haley Hartmann
Facebook, Google, Twitter CEOs will testify about misinformation before U.S. Congress – David Shepardson, Reuters
I found this article to be extremely interesting because throughout 2020 and into 2021 social media has perpetuated the spread of disinformation. This hearing could be a pivotal point in the age-old debate – should these companies be held responsible for what their users post on their platforms? Will this be the hearing that finally impacts Section 230? – Natalie Wanner
Facebook just handed its critics in Washington a lot more ammunition – Nancy Scola, POLITICO
Facebook recently blocked Australian users from sharing or viewing foreign and international news on the platform in response to new legislation introduced by the Australian government that will require digital platforms to pay news publishers for displaying their content.
The tech giant claimed the new legislation “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content” in a recent blog post. Following a five-day blackout, Facebook reached an agreement with the Australian government to restore access to news – but the damage had already been done.
What was meant to draw attention to Facebook’s value to publishers, unsurprisingly backfired and likely expedited the adoption of similar legislation from governments across the globe. Not to mention, the move underscores heightened concerns in the U.S. surrounding Facebook and its growing, verging on ungovernable, power.
I’m interested to see how quickly other countries begin introducing similar legislation and how Facebook adjusts its response moving forward. – Paige Borgmann
DIVERSITY & INCLUSION
How to support Asian American colleagues amid the recent wave of anti-Asian violence – Jennifer Liu, CNBC Make It
I thought this was a good article to read because there has been an increase in violence against the Asian American community in the US. It provides really great tips on how we can support the Asian American community inside and outside of the workplace. – Ruben Castro
Why so many companies’ diversity numbers fall flat – Pavithra Mohan, Fast Company
As part of its new podcast called “The New Way We Work,” Fast Company recently reflected on diversity reports. Notably, the podcast reported the transparency shared in these annual reports is “no longer enough” and that the “metrics [do] little good if companies don’t use the data to set clear, realistic goals.” In our role as communicators, this poses a crucial challenge and opportunity. If the reports no longer hold significant merit, how else should we show progress? How and when should we counsel clients to think beyond the report? – Frances Fyten
FUTURE OF MEDIA
Alden Global Capital Agrees to Buy Rest of Tribune Publishing – Lukas I. Alpert, The Wall Street Journal
I have been following a few stories this month that speak to the diverging fortunes of media companies. First, it was the news last week that Alden Global Capital was purchasing the remaining portion of Tribune Publishing that it did not already own. An interesting note here, as part of the deal Alden is selling several of Tribune’s publications to a nonprofit. The assumption is that for those publications that remain part of the deal there will be cost cutting measures coming soon. Contrast that with news this week that Pocket Outdoor Media, which owns a number of outdoor/active lifestyle publications has raised Series B funding for additional acquisitions. Two publishing groups, two very different perspectives on the future for media. – Andrew Moyer