While D.C. delays, Washington state is quietly making tech workers’ dreams come true
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today we turn toward Washington state, which recently passed three pieces of legislation that could shape the national tech landscape, particularly when it comes to competition for talent. Then, in D.C., House Democrats are calling for antitrust investigations into Big Tech coming for automotive screens. Finally, Elon Musk’s stake in Twitter could mean the platform executes his vision for adhering to free speech.
More green in the Evergreen State
Washington is making great strides in advancing the rights of corporate tech workers. No, not that Washington. I’m talking about the salmon-loving, Nirvana-producing Washington state, which recently passed three significant pieces of legislation that will enhance the lives of tech workers — even those living outside of it.
The pay transparency bill will have the most far-reaching impact, as it could increase nationwide competition for tech talent. Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Senate Bill 5761, which goes into effect on Jan. 1 next year. The legislation requires any company with 15 or more employees to disclose salary ranges for open roles alongside a “general description” of benefits and other forms of compensation. It’s a big win for workers, as limited pay transparency has been shown to suppress wages, particularly for women and people of color.
- Colorado has a similar law, but its impact has been limited. Companies hiring for remote roles can exclude job applicants in Colorado. Doing so allows them to post remote-eligible openings without disclosing salary estimates. Tech companies such as Spotify, DraftKings, DocuSign, eBay and IBM have posted openings that exclude applicants from Colorado.
- But few tech companies can afford to exclude Washington’s pool of tech talent. As home to both Microsoft and Amazon, Washington state arguably stands behind only California in terms of tech talent. That means tech companies will have a harder time excluding Washington applicants, which in turn means greater pay transparency in job postings that can be viewed nationwide.
- And California could be next. California passed legislation in 2017 that required companies to provide a pay scale upon request — but that doesn’t have nearly the same impact as disclosing it in the job posting. “California and Washington tend to follow each other back and forth on laws — so now if we get California, now we’re covering Silicon Valley,” Cher Scarlett, a software engineer at gaming developer ControlZee and a grassroots organizer for the Washington labor laws, told Protocol.
- Expect a tight job market to become even tighter. Big Tech is dishing out Big Bucks to retain software engineering talent. According to recent reports, Apple paid out six-figure “special retention grants,” Alphabet adopted a no-ceiling cash bonus plan and Amazon raised its base salary ceiling from $160,000 to $350,000. That competition will only escalate as in-demand tech workers gain greater pay transparency.
Toward the end of March, Inslee signed into law two additional pieces of legislation that won’t affect the tech industry as much, but will still provide important protections for tech workers:
- The Silenced No More Act stops tech companies from using non-disclosure agreements to prevent workers from discussing workplace harassment and discrimination. The law goes into effect this summer. California already has a similar law on the books, but Washington’s legislation takes it further by including protections for illegal retaliation, sexual assault and wage and hour violations.
- Senate Bill 5628 adds protections for those targeted by cyber harassment. Washington state previously passed an anti-cyberstalking bill, but it was found to be unconstitutional for violating the First Amendment. “This not only codifies cyber harassment, but it also makes it so that the cyber stalking part of the law is constitutional,” said Scarlett.
You’ll notice that I specified “corporate tech workers” from the start of this article, and there’s a reason for that: Despite last week’s historic unionization victory at the Staten Island Amazon warehouse, low-wage tech workers aren’t making the same kind of progress as those with unlimited PTO and cold brew on-tap. It’s not a zero-sum game, but it’s worth noting the widening gap between high-wage and low-wage workers. Washington state is no exception in this regard. And just last week, Inslee signed a bill that prevents gig workers from being classified as employees.— Hirsh Chitkara (email | twitter)
Tim Wu, a White House official focused on competition, tweeted a shoutout to today’s efforts by reform advocates who are pushing Congress to act on two tech antitrust bills. Consumer groups, digital rights advocates and small and medium-sized rivals to Big Tech have launched their “Antitrust Day” at the same time as a push in opposition to the bills by conservative groups and tech allies.
As part of the day, Chamber of Progress also said it sent petitions to Congress signed by nearly 80,000 people opposed to competition bills aimed at Big Tech. Even as tech deals with a series of reports showing the influence of AstroTurf campaigns in policy, the Big Tech allies at the Chamber say the signatures show a genuine desire by voters for Congress not to “break the tech services they rely on.”
Ian Madrigal, the activist known for photobombing congressional hearings as the Monopoly Man, used April Fools’ Day to tweet that they “toast[ed] Big Tech for courageously lobbying to protect the status quo and stalling #antitrust reform in Congress.” Piggybacking on the dueling antitrust lobbying, Madrigal touted a “day of inaction” and teased upcoming events to save monopolies.
The head of the DOJ’s antitrust division said his staff needs to be ready to file many more lawsuits, and floated cases under a lesser-used provision banning interlocking boards between companies and criminal complaints under monopolization laws. Speaking to a conference of international enforcers, Jonathan Kanter said the DOJ is “more committed than ever to litigating when we believe a violation has taken place.”
The State Department is standing up its new cyber bureau, which is due to have nearly 100 staffers by year’s end, according to the Washington Post.Nearly a dozen House Democrats, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin, urged U.S. antitrust enforcers to scrutinize tech giants’ ambitions in the auto market, citing efforts by Google to provide platforms for digital displays in cars, Apple’s ambitions in autonomous vehicles and Amazon’s hopes to get Alexa into vehicles.
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What comes after the surprise victory of workers voting to form a union at an Amazon facility in Staten Island? Amazon may be going after the NLRB itself.
Still trying to make sense of all the crypto regulations? Today’s fintech newsletter wraps up the landscape in the EU and U.S. Fraction Chief Legal Officer Cathy Yoon noted, “I think it’s more like trying to control something that’s not understood and feared for an irrational reason.”Coming soon: Net zero. Carbon offsets. Scope 3 emissions. These are just some of the terms you’ll find in Big Tech’s climate plans. Understanding what they actually mean is vital to ensuring the industry is meeting its goals. Join us at 10 a.m. PT on April 19, when Protocol's Brian Kahn will talk with some of the people responsible for setting those goals and experts who are monitoring them to find out what tech companies are really doing. RSVP here.
Around the world
The EU antitrust division questioned Microsoft over its cloud business practices, according to Reuters. The questions could set the stage for a more formal investigation. Two European software companies — Nextcloud and OVHcloud — filed complaints against Microsoft. Germany-based Nextcloud, for instance, publicly complained that Microsoft’s integration of 365 made it “nearly impossible to compete with their SaaS services.”
Indian antitrust authorities have released preliminary findings that the payments system behind Google’s app store is “unfair and discriminatory.” App developers who have successfully taken the fight with Apple and Google over app store fees worldwide have brought particular attention to India.
In the media, culture, and metaverse
9.2%: That’s the size of Elon Musk’s stake in Twitter, as disclosed in an SEC filing. That stake was worth around $2.9 billion, though Twitter’s stock jumped around 26% in pre-market trading. Musk has criticized Twitter for not adhering to free-speech principles. My first thought: Does this mean Trump will be back?
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In an annual letter to shareholders, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon warned that increased Russian sanctions “along with the unpredictability of war itself and the uncertainty surrounding global commodity supply chains … makes for a potentially explosive situation.” However, Dimon also noted the strength of the U.S. economy with the average consumer in “excellent financial shape.” He added: “Today’s economic landscape is completely different from the 2008 financial crisis when the consumer was extraordinarily overleveraged.”
Thanks for reading — see you Wednesday!