Project Name: Emperor of Work: Chinese Restaurants, Worker Subjectivities, and the New Regime of Flexible Labor
Grantee: Tommy Wu
Funding Cycle: 2017-2018
About the Project
Using digital ethnography as the primary method of investigation, this research project focuses on the use of WeChat, an all-in-one mobile application with over 900 million users worldwide, among Chinese restaurant workers to share stories of mistreatment in their work lives. These accounts of wage theft, unsanitary work and living conditions, and other abuses by employers can be fully accessed by “friends” of the account, which is capped at 5,000 by the platform, and another 20,000+ “followers” who have limited access. These accounts are intended to be public information and shared with other Chinese workers who “float” between different restaurant jobs across the country. Most of the stories provide address locations, pictures, and personal narratives describing incidents and abuses involving employers.
This project aims to develop a mobile application to extract the stories from the blacklist of Chinese/Asian fusion restaurants across the United States and organize them in a public-facing site/repository that can be used for future policy research. By extracting and analyzing these stories, community organizers, labor activists, and policy makers can better understand why young Chinese workers prefer to organize online rather than through offline channels. Unlike much of the contemporary labor scholarship in sociology, which tends to focus on organized labor, this research sheds insight into the nature of “unorganized” workers, and how current forms of worker organizing and labor policies (e.g. federal minimum wage for restaurant workers) do not fully account for the experience of the new generation of young Chinese workers, who are more tech-savvy than their predecessors, and rely almost exclusively on social media for job and housing searches, restaurant-related issues, and general information on new immigration and travel policies. This project will explore why these young workers prefer to organize online rather than through offline channels.