Watson Assistant, the latest entry into the AI-powered virtual assistant market, made its debut on Tuesday at IBM’s Think conference in Las Vegas, CNET’s Ben Fox Rubin reports. Unlike Amazon’s consumer-focused Alexa, however, Watson Assistant is an enterprise-oriented technology that “will function as the behind-the-scenes brains for a variety of new digital helpers made by a variety of businesses”:
For example, Watson Assistant is already in use at Munich Airport to power a robot that can tell you directions and gate information. The assistant is in development by BMW for an in-car voice helper. Also, Chameleon Technology in the UK created a Watson Assistant-driven platform called I-VIE that helps people manage their energy usage.
“We looked at the market for assistants and realized there was something else needed to make it easier for companies to use,” said Bret Greenstein, IBM’s global vice president for IoT products. …
Starbucks in Taipei (Richie Chan/Shutterstock.com)
At its annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, Starbucks announced that it “has achieved 100 percent pay equity for women and men, and for people of all races, performing similar work in the United States” and expressed a commitment to closing its gender pay gap worldwide as well:
Announced today, Starbucks has committed to achieving and maintaining 100 percent gender pay equity for partners in all company-operated markets globally, setting a new bar for multinational companies. This is an effort supported by equal rights champion Billie Jean King and her Leadership Initiative (BJKLI) and leading national women’s organizations, the National Partnership for Women & Families and the American Association of University Women. …
Starbucks has also formulated Pay Equity Principles that led to the successful closure of the pay gap at Starbucks in the United States. Recognizing the importance of this issue for women all around the world, Starbucks is sharing these principles so other companies can follow suit, and address known systemic barriers to global pay equity.
A number of major US companies with multinational reach, including large financial institutions and tech companies, have recently released pay equity audits demonstrating gender and racial pay gaps of 1 percent or less in the US and committing to closing the small gaps that exist. These audits have come in response to pressure from the activist investor Arjuna Capital, which filed shareholder resolutions at a number of large companies requesting them. Arjuna had submitted such a proposal at Starbucks as well, but withdrew it last year after the coffee chain issued a report showing 99.7 percent pay equity between male and female employees performing similar work.
Taco Bell announced this week that after piloting a program to provide employees at 700 of its restaurants with education benefits in partnership with Guild Education, the fast-food chain is expanding the program to 210,000 employees at its 7,000 locations, including many franchises, Amanda Eisenberg reports at Employee Benefit News:
Through Guild Education’s reduced-cost courses and degree programs, both corporate and hourly Taco Bell workers have access to more than 2,000 classes and programs in their pursuit of undergraduate or graduate degrees, college-level education, a GED, or mastery of English as a second language. Combined with the company’s education benefit of up to $5,250 in tuition assistance, paid upfront, and access to federal financial aid, employees are expected to pay little to nothing for the benefit. …
Two thousand Taco Bell employees enrolled in the nine-month pilot program, and 98% of those employees stayed at the company for more than six months, says Rachel Carlson, CEO and co-founder of Guild Education. “That’s phenomenal, especially in fast casual,” she says, noting the retention rates of workers in the program were 34% higher than those who were not enrolled.
Taco Bell took inspiration for its education benefit from Chipotle, which also partnered with Guild Education to help its employees finish college, and McDonald’s, whose employees can earn high school diplomas through the company’s “Archways to Opportunity” program, a partnership with Cengage Learning.
Bilal Aliyar m/Shutterstock
For the second year in a row, US Citizenship and Immigration Services has suspended premium processing for all cap-subject petitions for H-1B visas during the filing season for fiscal year 2019, which begins on April 2, Roy Maurer reports at SHRM:
“Premium processing will be delayed … to give USCIS sufficient time to take in the expected large numbers of filings,” said Scott J. FitzGerald, a partner in the Boston office of the global immigration law firm Fragomen. “We do not anticipate that this will delay notification of whether such cases have been selected in the H-1B lottery. Instead, this will delay the time in which the case is approved, subject to a request for evidence, or denied.” …
“The fact that USCIS is only now finishing up its processing of H-1B cap cases filed at this time last year is absolutely unprecedented,” FitzGerald said. “These delays are presumably related to the substantial increase in the issuance of RFEs for those cases. The fact that these cases, filed under regular processing, are receiving final determinations almost a year after they have been filed and almost five months after the requested start date [Oct. 1] is disappointing and seems a clear reflection of the agency’s new and tougher mission statement.”
Quartz’s Ananya Bhattacharya adds that the suspension will likely have a negative impact on the India-based outsourcing firms like Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services that are the most extensive users of the H-1B program, as well as the Silicon Valley tech companies that count on skilled foreign workers hired on these visas to meet their insatiable demand for talent.
McDonald’s and the National Labor Relations Bureau have reached a settlement in a dispute over whether the fast-food chain was liable as a “joint employer” for unfair labor practices allegedly committed by some of its franchisees, Nation’s Restaurant News reported on Monday:
” The settlement allows our franchisees and their employees to move forward, and resolves all matters without any admission of wrongdoing,” McDonald’s told Nation’s Restaurant News in a statement released Monday. “Additionally, current and former franchisee employees involved in the proceedings are receiving long overdue satisfaction of their claims.”
Attorneys for the employees say they are not satisfied, however:
Micah Wissinger, an attorney for Fight for $15, said the labor advocacy group opposes the settlement. The group maintains that McDonald’s should take responsibility for the firing of employees who fought for higher wages during organized protests dating back to 2012.
The McDonald’s case is one of several high-profile complaints brought by labor activists against major chains asserting that they were responsible for the labor practices of their franchisees. These cases concern whether franchisors count as “joint employers” for the purposes of labor law; in the 2015 Browning-Ferris case, the NLRB expanded the definition of this term to include entities with which a business has a “horizontal” relationship, exercising indirect control over their practices, as well as those with “vertical” relationships that manage employees more directly.
A group of more than 400 tech entrepreneurs and CEOs have formed a coalition called Founders for Change to press for greater diversity and inclusion in the venture capital industry. The group includes the chief executives of major startups like Dropbox, Lyft, and Airbnb, as well as public companies like Stitch Fix, and represents a reversal of the traditional founder-VC relationship, Pui-Wing Tam reports for the New York Times:
On Tuesday, in a statement underlining the importance of diversity in the tech industry, the tech executives said the racial and gender makeup of a venture capital firm would be “an important consideration” when they were raising money …
The entrepreneurs’ public statement is unusual. In Silicon Valley’s start-up ecosystem, founders and investors have generally maintained a delicate power equilibrium. Venture capitalists strive to get into the hottest start-ups, aiming for a big payoff when those companies go public or are sold. Entrepreneurs, in turn, take money and guidance from the investors to help their start-ups grow and flourish.
Fathers in the UK who wish to play a significant role in raising their children and seek parental leave or flexibility at work to do so are still hindered by outdated assumptions about gender roles and stigmas against fathers as active parents, according to a new report from the Women and Equalities Committee in the House of Commons. Despite the good intentions behind government efforts like the Shared Parental Leave scheme, the report says, these initiatives are not doing enough to enable fathers to work flexibly, the BBC reports:
“Workplace policies have not kept up with the social changes in people’s everyday lives,” according to committee chair Maria Miller, who describes “outdated assumptions” about men’s and women’s roles in relation to work and childcare” as a further barrier to change. …
The MPs found today’s fathers were doing a greater proportion of the childcare than ever before – but still only about half the amount women do – and men who are agency or casual workers are least likely to get flexible work that suits their childcare needs, as they don’t have access to full employment rights.
The report identifies several policy recommendations that could help improve the situation, such as advertising all jobs as flexible, augmenting rights for casual or agency workers, and improving paternity pay.