Brishen Rogers is Associate Professor of Law at Temple University Beasley School of Law, where he teaches torts, employment discrimination, and global labor law. Prior to joining the Temple faculty, Professor Rogers was a Climenko Fellow and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School. His scholarship draws from various social sciences and normative political theory to better understand the challenges facing low-wage and informal workers in conditions of neoliberal globalization. Professor Rogers’ current research focuses on the role of law in constituting and governing global value chains; on the relationship between employment regulations and liberal distributive justice; and on the influence of information technology on the world of low-wage work.
Regarding technology and work, his first article, “Toward Third-Party Liability for Wage Theft,” argued in part that Wal-Mart and other mega-retailers’ use of sophisticated monitoring technologies to drive down prices and otherwise to discipline their suppliers should expose them to liability for those suppliers’ subsequent violations of wage and hour laws. A cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and a former union organizer, Professor Rogers has also taught international labor law as part of Harvard Law School’s Institute for Global Law & Policy, and informally advises various workers’ rights organizations on legal and strategic matters. His work has been published, among other places, in the Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, the Harvard Law Review Forum, The Harvard Civil-Rights Civil Liberties Law Review, and the Texas Law Review.
Information Technology and Low-Wage Work: Conceptual and Distributive Issues
Information technology is altering low-wage work, yet legal scholars currently lack a good map of how exactly it is doing so. This paper will canvass various ways in which information technology is impacting low-wage work and its regulation. It does not aim to develop a comprehensive approach to these questions. Rather, by analytically separating various relationships between information technology and low wage work, it hopes to lay the groundwork for future treatments of the distributive and moral consequences. It will try to gain traction, for example, on the following questions:
- In what sectors of the economy is information technology “destroying” or disrupting low-wage or relatively low-skill jobs (examples: Uber vs. Taxi drivers; 3D printing vs. assembly workers)? In what sectors may it be creating low-wage or low-skill jobs, whether directly (ex: informal Amazon delivery drivers) or indirectly (ex: increased demand for low-wage services in food, hospitality, etc.)
- What are the most important mechanisms by which information technology and Silicon Valley firms alter low-wage work? For example, in the industrial era, technological innovations often enabled substitution of capital for labor. To what extent does information technology tend to have the same effect, versus opening new markets? Or does it tend to affect work in previously unknown ways?
- How, if at all, does information technology alter traditional capitalist property relations? So far, it is largely deployed as a particularly robust form of productive capital, the control of which enables control over labor and various forms of profit-taking. Is it possible to imagine worker cooperatives developing and deploying innovative forms of information technology suited to more egalitarian forms of production?
- How does information technology affect social relations at work? For example, many companies are now utilizing information technology to decrease monitoring costs vis-à-vis their own employees, as well as their suppliers. At the same time, workers can utilize certain forms of information technology to develop new forms of inter-worker solidarity and new types of protest. Are there patterns to such protest and counterhegemonic mobilization?