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Uber and Lyft Drivers Offered Incentives to Fight Bill That Targets Gig-Economy

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  • On July 9 hundreds of Uber and Lyft drivers gathered outside the California State Capitol for a rally about Assembly Bill 5, which would impact how the state determines if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. 
  • On Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the I’m Independent Coalition, a group who works closely with Uber and Lyft, offered to pay drivers to attend the rally against Assembly Bill 5. 
  • Drivers say they also received emails and in-app offers from Uber and Lyft if they attended the rally against the bill.  

The Rally

Drivers for Uber and Lyft say the ride-share companies offered incentives to workers that lobbied against a proposed bill that would allow drivers to be employees instead of independent contractors.

On Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that drivers for Uber and Lyft who attended the July 9 rally outside California’s State Capitol were compensated for their “travel, parking and time.” 

According to the report, an email from the I’m Independent Coalition was sent to drivers, offering them anywhere from $25 to $100 if they rallied on the group’s behalf. I’m Independent is a coalition that is funded by the California Chamber of Commerce and works to change the proposed legislation. According to their website, both Uber and Lyft are supporters of I’m Independent.

Following the rally, the LA Times says that another email was sent out, reassuring workers that their compensation would be sent over soon. 

“We want to thank you again for taking time to attend the State Capitol Rally on July 9,” the email states. “Your voice had an impact and the Legislature heard loud and clear that you want to keep your flexibility and control over your work! Please expect a driver credit in the next five business days for your travel, parking, and time.”

I’m Independent later confirmed to the paper that the drivers who attended the rally had been paid.

However, the report says the coalition was not the only group offering vouchers and compensation for attending the rally. A Lyft spokesperson confirmed that the company had offered drivers $25 to help cover parking, while Uber sent a $15 lunch voucher through their app and told drivers it was for them, their families, “and anyone you know who also has a stake in maintaining driver flexibility.”

The Bill

The rally outside of the state capitol was held ahead of a Senate labor hearing for Assembly Bill 5, a bill that states it “would provide that the factors of the “ABC” test be applied in order to determine the status of a worker as an employee or independent contractor.” 

The “ABC” test comes from an April 2018 California Supreme Court case, Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court. During that case, the Court ruled that in order to determine if a worker was an independent contractor, three qualifications must be met. According to court documents, those requirements are: 

“(A) that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of such work and in fact.”

(B) that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business,” and “(C) that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity.” 

Under AB5, drivers for both Uber and Lyft would no longer be classified as independent contractors but instead employees. The main difference between an independent contractor and an employee is the regulations and requirements their employer must follow. If a worker is determined to be an employee, they receive things like sick pay, a required minimum wage, and a limit on the hours they can work. 

However, Assembly Bill 5 states that certain occupations are exempted from the “ABC” test, such as health care professionals like doctors and dentists, among others.  

In May, the bill passed in the state assembly in a 59 to 15 vote. Earlier this month the State Senate Committee on Labor, Public Employment, and Retirement voted the bill through. 

Uber and Lyft on AB5 

Uber has previously said the company will not take a side when it comes to the bill, but they do believe there are better solutions than Assembly Bill 5. 

However, at the beginning of June, Uber sent an email to their drivers saying the bill could “threaten your access to flexible work with Uber.” 

Lyft has taken a similar approach and also sent an email to its drivers, telling the workers that the ride-share company is trying to “protect” their jobs. 

“Legislators are considering changes that could cause Lyft to limit your hours and flexibility, resulting in scheduled shifts,” the email, which was later shared by Lyft, states. “We’re advocating to protect your flexibility with Lyft, in addition to establishing an earning minimum, offering protections and benefits and giving drivers representation so that you have a voice in the company.”

Previous Responses to AB5

In May, Uber and Lyft drivers around the world went on strike asking for similar requirements employees receive, such as a minimum hourly wage. The strikes took place just three weeks before the state assembly voted and passed Assembly Bill 5 and advocated for similar requirements for drivers. 

Previous responses from Uber and Lyft drivers

Even though the strikes did not create any massive change to the companies, according to a June 2019 Ipsos study, the majority of drivers from both Uber and Lyft still want “the same workers’ rights as those in more traditional employment positions.”

Assembly Bill 5 advanced to the appropriations committee earlier this month but the committees are currently in summer recess.

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (International Business Times) (SF Gate)

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Robinhood Crypto Trading Crashes Twice as Dogecoin Multiplies in Value, Enraging Users

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  • Robinhood users found themselves unable to buy or sell cryptocurrency Thursday night, an issue reminiscent of the app’s decision to restrict GameStop trades earlier this year.
  • While Robinhood resolved the problem within a matter of hours, it came amid a massive rally on Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that started out as a joke. The app’s crypto services briefly went down again Friday morning as the rally continued.  
  • Robinhood has denied that its crypto trading outages were an intentional effort to drive down Dogecoin prices and instead blamed the outages on “unprecedented demand for Robinhood Crypto services.”
  • By Friday morning, Dogecoin briefly soared to $0.45, more than 400% of the value it had at the beginning of the week and more than 4,500% of the value it had at the beginning of the year.

Robinhood Crashes Amid Dogecoin Rally

The joke cryptocurrency Dogecoin has surged more than 400% this week alone, but around 10 p.m. EST Thursday night, the free-to-trade app Robinhood tweeted that it was “experiencing issues with crypto trading.” In turn, that caused many of the app’s users to find themselves unable to execute trades.

Dogecoin first began to spike Tuesday ahead of the market debut of the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, which raised $86 billion in its first day of trading. That morning, one Dogecoin amounted to about $0.07. By midnight, it had doubled in value. Those gains continued Thursday evening when Dogecoin spiked to around $0.33.

That may not seem like much, but if a person invested $1,000 in Dogecoin when it was selling for around $0.01 at the beginning of the year, by Thursday evening, that person would be sitting on a small fortune of around $33,000 before taxes. 

Robinhood Users Angry Yet Again 

Many Robinhood users found themselves frustrated when they were unable to sell off their existing dogecoins, especially since the cryptocurrency’s value was rapidly falling. 

In fact, within the matter of just over an hour, it had dipped to around $0.25. Using the last example above, that would mean thousands of dollars of missed opportunity.

“Are you going to cover my account?!?” one user asked Robinhood when she found herself unable to sell her dogecoins. “This is a technical error, not my own risk. Ive been trying to execute this transaction for almost two hours! None of my crypto comes up!” 

This is not Robinhood’s only bout with controversy. Earlier this year, the company infamously blocked its users from buying GameStop stock during a frenzy that sent shares from under $20 to nearly $500 at one point; however, Robinhood still allowed users to sell their existing shares — a move that even if it lacked the intention, had the effect of attempting to drive share prices for GameStop down. 

Though CEO Vlad Tenev later argued that the company “had no choice” but to restrict buying, Robinhood’s decision nonetheless sparked the ire of its users and even prompted Congressional investigations.

Many Robinhood users were quick to point that out Thursday when they once again found themselves unable to execute trades. Some even accused the company of more nefarious intentions. 

Service Restored… Until It Went Down Again 

At 11:46 p.m. Thursday night, Robinhood tweeted that crypto trading had been “fully” restored.

“Like others, we were experiencing unprecedented demand for Robinhood Crypto services, which created issues with crypto trading,” the company said. “We’ve resolved the issue and apologize for the inconvenience.

Multiple times since Thursday evening, the company has denied that it intentionally halted crypto trading to affect Dogecoin prices. 

“Unprecedented demand for Robinhood Crypto services created temporary issues with crypto trading,” a Robinhood spokesperson told the New York Post Friday. “That’s it, plain and simple.” 

On Friday morning, Dogecoin went on to spike at a current 52-week high of $0.45; however, it soon dipped back into the mid- to upper-thirty-cent range, where it remained around 3 p.m. EST.

Meanwhile, amid the surging demand, Robinhood experienced yet another crypto outage around 10:30 a.m. EST Friday. Just before 11 a.m., it said that trading had been restored for most customers. 

See what others are saying: (New York Post) (Business Insider) (Coindesk)

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Child Safety Advocates Urge Facebook To Scrap Plans for Instagram Kids

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  • Nearly 100 child safety experts and international organizations sent a letter to Facebook Thursday criticizing its plans to develop an Instagram app for children under 13.
  • Facebook claims the app will offer parental controls and is meant to create a safer space for kids, who are often lying about their age to access the normal version of Instagram.
  • Still, critics point out that children already on Instagram are unlikely to switch to a kids version. Many also cited concerns about screen time, mental health, and privacy, arguing that younger children are not ready for such a platform.
  • U.S. Lawmakers expressed similar concerns earlier this month, saying, “Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation.”

Instagram for Kids

An international group of 35 organizations and 64 experts, coordinated by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, released a letter Thursday urging Facebook to abandon its plans to release an Instagram app for kids under 13-years old.

Plans for Instagram Kids have been public for about a month after Buzzfeed News obtained emails about the app in mid-March. Since then, there have been widespread concerns about how such an app could affect children.

Thursday’s letter argues that a version of Instagram targeting under-13-year-olds raises concerns about privacy, screen time, mental health, self-esteem, and commercial pressure. Stephanie Otway, a spokesperson for Facebook, said the company understands the concerns presented by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“We agree that any experience we develop must prioritize their safety and privacy, and we will consult with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates to inform it,” she said.

“The reality is that kids are online. They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate. We also want to find practical solutions to the ongoing industry problem of kids lying about their age to access apps,” Otway added, noting the reality of how many children interact with age-gated apps.

Unlikely To Stop Children From Joining Regular Instagram

The idea that children would just switch to Instagram Kids received pushback from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. In fact, the group’s executive director, Josh Golin, pointed out that most kids who are currently on Instagram are between 10 and 12-years-old, and they likely wouldn’t migrate over to Instagram Kids because it will be perceived as “babyish and not cool enough.”

The children this will appeal to will be much younger kids,” Golin explained. “So they are not swapping out an unsafe version of Instagram for a safer version. They are creating new demand from a new audience that’s not ready for any type of Instagram product.”

It’s unknown exactly how the app would work, but it would feature content similar to what is allowed in other age-appropriate apps, such as YouTube Kids. One of the few details given out so far is that Instagram Kids will be ad-free and feature parental control options.

Concerns over Instagram Kids has also come from lawmakers. On April 5th Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), alongside Representatives Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressing concerns that “children are a uniquely vulnerable population online, and images of kids are highly sensitive data.”

“Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation.”

See what others are saying: (TechCrunch) (BBC) (NBC News)

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Retail Sales Jump Amid Stimulus Spending, Unemployment Claims Plunge To Pandemic Low

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  • The Commerce Department released a report Thursday recording a 9.8% spike in retail sales for the month of March.
  • That surge was largely driven by stimulus check spending, with restaurant, sporting goods, clothing and accessory, and auto sales all being among the top-performing sectors in retail for the month. 
  • Coupled with that news, the Labor Department reported that 576,000 unemployment claims were filed last month — a pandemic low. 
  • That figure is still significantly higher than the roughly 200,000 weekly unemployment claims filed before the pandemic. 

Retail Sales Spike

U.S. retail sales for the month of March jumped 9.8% from February, according to a Thursday morning report from the Commerce Department.

That spike is largely thanks to the most recent round of stimulus checks from Congress.

March was the best month of retail spending since May of last year, which at the time saw an 18.3% gain following the first wave of stimulus checks.  

Sales in the bar and restaurant industry rose 13.4%, making them among the retail sectors that saw the biggest spikes last month. That’s largely a result of relaxed lockdowns stemming from the country’s current pace of around three million vaccinations a day. Meanwhile, sporting goods spending rose 23.5%, clothing and accessory sales rose 18.3%, and motor vehicle parts and dealer sales rose 15.1%.

“Spending will almost certainly drop back in April as some of the stimulus boost wears off,” wrote Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, “but with the vaccination rollout proceeding at a rapid pace and households finances in strong shape, we expect overall consumption growth to continue rebounding rapidly in the second quarter too.” 

Unemployment Hits Pandemic Low

The retail sales data came around the same time that the Labor Department released this past week’s unemployment figures, which dropped to a new pandemic low of 576,000 claims. 

That’s a massive difference from almost exactly a year ago when 6 million people filed for unemployment in a single week. It’s also a significant decline from the 769,000 people that filed jobless claims last week, especially since some analysts had predicted there would be around 700,000 jobs lost with this week’s report.

That said, unemployment claims are still much higher than the around 200,000 a week that were being filed prior to pandemic closures.

“You’re still not popping champagne corks,”  Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton, said according to The New York Times. “I will breathe again — and breathe easy again — once we get these number[s] back down in the 200,000 range.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (Fox Business)

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