The COVID-19 pandemic radically changed the lives of essential workers in America, shifting the conditions, timing, equipment, and spatial practices of their work, and expanding surveillance inside the workplace. And while employers collected increasing amounts of data about workers’ health, little of it was shared with workers themselves. The result was an information vacuum that left workers in the dark about their potential exposure and risk, fueling immense anxiety and concern for themselves and those around them.
Data & Society’s forthcoming report Essentially Unprotected is based on interviews with 50 people who worked in grocery, warehousing, manufacturing, or meat and food processing during the pandemic. The report highlights their experiences and efforts to manage the confusing and often terrifying challenges of the in-person pandemic workplace.
In this conversation, we will examine the social, economic, and regulatory environment that laid the groundwork for serious information gaps surrounding infections. We will explore how technology contributed to the collection of data and worsened workers’ stress and frustration — and, in select cases, facilitated information-sharing that protected workers’ privacy and addressed their fears.