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California Lodges Lawsuit Against Uber and Lyft for “Misclassifying” Drivers as Gig Workers, Not Employees

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  • California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft.
  • The lawsuit alleges that the companies are violating state law by classifying drivers as contractors, not employees.
  • Notably, employee status could give drivers access to minimum wage and health benefits.
  • Uber and Lyft have argued that their business model is in technology, not rides. They have also argued that their drivers enjoy the independence given to them by being classified as contractors. 

California Sues Uber and Lyft

After passing a law aiming to reclassify over a million independent contractors as employees, California is taking that mission one step further by suing Uber and Lyft for their defiance to do so. 

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed the lawsuit on Tuesday. He was joined by a coalition of city attorneys, including those for San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

In the lawsuit, Becerra alleges Uber and Lyft violated state law by classifying their drivers as independent contractors (AKA, “gig” workers) when they should actually be classified as employees.

“…Uber’s and Lyft’s misclassification of drivers deprives workers of critical workplace protections such as the right to minimum wage and overtime, and access to paid sick leave, disability insurance, and unemployment insurance,” the coalition said in a statement

The statement goes on to say that they are seeking “restitution for workers, a permanent halt to the unlawful misclassification of drivers, and civil penalties that could reach hundreds of millions of dollars.” 

If found guilty of violating the law, the riding-share companies could be forced to pay driver backwages, as well as fines for not paying state payroll taxes. Becerra has accused the companies of harming California taxpayers by avoiding “hundreds of millions of dollars in social safety net obligations.”

According to the lawsuit itself, Uber and Lyft utilized “…the illegitimate savings they gain from depriving their Drivers of the full compensation and benefits they earn as employees to offer their ride-hailing services at an artificially low cost, decimating competitors and generating billions of dollars in private investor wealth off the backs of vulnerable Drivers.”

Part of the reason Becerra and those other attorneys are saying these companies’ actions are illegal is because last year, California passed a law known as Assembly Bill 5. Notably, that law requires companies to treat their workers as employees instead of contractors if those companies control how workers perform tasks, or if their work is a routine part of the company’s business.

When A.B. 5 was drafted, it specifically targeted companies like Uber and Lyft. Since it went into effect on Jan. 1, both companies have resisted adhering to it. In fact, both Uber and Lyft, as well as DoorDash, have pumped $90 million into a campaign for a ballot initiative to exempt them from that law. 

Uber and Lyft Respond to Lawsuit

For its part, Uber has argued that its business lays in its technology, not its rides. Because of that, it has argued that drivers are not a routine part of its business. 

Both it and Lyft have also argued that their drivers prefer being independent and deciding when they work. 

According to a spokesperson, Uber plans to contest the lawsuit, saying that at the same time, it will push “to raise the standard of independent work for drivers in California, including with guaranteed minimum earnings and new benefits.”

“At a time when California’s economy is in crisis with four million people out of work, we need to make it easier, not harder, for people to quickly start earning,” the spokesperson added.

In its own statement, Lyft seemed to be less critical of lawsuit, saying the company is “…looking forward to working with the Attorney General and mayors across the state to bring all the benefits of California’s innovation economy to as many workers as possible, especially during this time when the creation of good jobs with access to affordable healthcare and other benefits is more important than ever.”

Could Ride-Sharing Drivers Be Classified in the Future?

Even though these companies are resisting this lawsuit, labor experts say other states with similar laws may also start to take action against them.

“Uber and Lyft have lived a kind of charmed life in terms of escaping law enforcement generally, and particularly with regard to employment law, Stanford law professor William B. Gould IV told The New York Times. “The attorney general’s action can’t help but have a positive influence on law enforcement generally against them.”

Despite Uber and Lyft saying their drivers like the independent model, California’s lawsuit still claims that those companies have enough control over drivers to classify them as employees.

“They hire and fire them,” it reads. “They control which drivers have access to which possible assignments.” 

“Uber and Lyft are transportation companies in the business of selling rides to customers, and their drivers are the employees who provide the rides they sell,” the lawsuit goes on to say. “The fact that Uber and Lyft communicate with their drivers by using an app does not suddenly strip drivers of their fundamental rights as employees.”

While the idea of independent hours and extra money is likely true for some of the companies’ drivers, for others, the work is a vital source of income. 

Facts like that have been made all the more evident since the coronavirus lockdown as many gig workers have struggled to claim unemployment or sick pay. In March, Congress included special provisions in the CARES Act to help gig workers receive unemployment benefits.

Still, even if a company like Uber doesn’t want to go all the way by classifying its drivers as employees, it does seem to agree that some level of change needs to be made on behalf of its drivers. 

In March, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi penned a letter to President Donald Trump asking for a new, third classification. Notably, that would mean drivers would be neither employees nor contractors. Under that potential classification, drivers would not see full employment benefits, though they would be provided with some health benefits.

The news of California’s lawsuit comes as Uber announced it was laying off 3,700 people on Wednesday, roughly 14% of its jobs. Additionally, Khosrowshahi has pledged to waive his base salary for the rest of the year.

That’s also on top of Lyft last week saying that it was cutting 17% jobs, putting hundreds of workers on unpaid furloughs, and trimming salaries.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (NPR)

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FDA Recalls 11,000 Ice Cream Containers and Sportsmix Pet Food Products

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  • Over 11,000 cartons of Weis Markets ice cream were recalled after a customer discovered an “intact piece of metal equipment” inside a 48-ounce container of the brand’s Cookies and Cream flavor. 
  • The FDA also expanded a recall of Sportsmix pet food over concerns that the products may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins.
  • So far, more than 70 dogs have died and more than 80 pets have become sick after eating Sportsmix food. The agency recommends taking your pet to a veterinarian if they have eaten the recalled products, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

Metal Pieces in Weis Ice Cream Cause Massive Recall

The Food and Drug Administration announced two major product recalls this week following serious consumer complaints.

The first came Sunday when the agency revealed that over 11,000 cartons of Weis Market ice cream were recalled. “The products may be contaminated with extraneous material, specifically metal filling equipment parts,” the FDA’s statement explained.

At least one customer discovered an “intact piece of metal equipment” inside a 48-ounce container of the brand’s Cookies and Cream flavor.

Those containers were available in 197 Weis Market grocery stores, but they have already been pulled from shelves. The products have a sell-by date of October 21, 2020, and customers who purchased the product can return it for a full refund.

Along with removing 10,869 units of the Cookies and Cream containers, the brand also recalled 502 3-gallon bulk containers of Klein’s Vanilla Dairy Ice Cream.

Those bulk containers were not for retail sale, but were instead sold to one retail establishment in New York and have since been removed.

Sportsmix Recall Follows 70 Pet Deaths, 80 Illnesses

The second major recall came Tuesday when the FDA expanded a recall of Sportmix dog food.

According to the agency, the product may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins – toxins produced by the Aspergillus flavus mold, which can grow on corn and other grains used as ingredients in pet food.

As of Tuesday, more than 70 pets have died and more than 80 have gotten sick after eating Sportsmix pet food. Not all the cases have been officially confirmed as aflatoxin poisoning at this time. This count also may not reflect the total number of pets affected.

For now, the FDA is asking pet owners and veterinary professionals to stop using the impacted Sportsmix products that have an expiration date on or before July 9, 2022, and have “05” in the date or lot code.

More detailed information about the recalled products can be found on the FDA’s announcement page.

Pets experiencing aflatoxin poisoning may have symptoms like sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice, and/or diarrhea. In some cases, this toxicity can cause long-term liver issues without showing any symptoms. Because of this, pet owners are being advised to take their animals to a veterinarian if they have eaten the recalled products, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

There is currently no evidence that pet owners who have handled the affected food are at risk of aflatoxin poisoning. Still, the FDA recommends that wash your hands after handling pet food.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (USA TODAY) (PEOPLE)

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Signal and Telegram Downloads Surge After WhatsApp Announces It Will Share Data With Facebook

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  • Downloads for Signal and Telegram have skyrocketed in the last week, with the encrypted messaging apps boasting 7.5 million and 9 million new followers, respectively.
  • The growth comes after WhatsApp said it will require almost all users to share personal data with its parent company Facebook.
  • It also comes after Parler’s shutdown and bans against President Trump from Twitter and Facebook, which prompted his supporters to turn specifically to Telegram.

Telegram and Signal See Big Boost

Downloads for the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram have surged in the last week after WhatsApp announced that it will start forcing all users outside the E.U. and U.K. to share personal data with Facebook.

Last week, WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, told users that they must allow Facebook and its subsidiaries to collect their phone numbers, locations, and the phone numbers of their contacts, among other things.

Anyone who does not agree to the new terms by Feb. 8 will lose access to the messaging app. The move prompted many to call for people to delete WhatsApp and start using other services like Signal or Telegram.

Now, it appears those calls to use other encrypted messaging apps have been heard. According to data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower, Signal saw 7.5 million installs globally through the App Store and Google Play from Jan. 6 to Jan. 10 alone, marking a 4,200% increase from the previous week.

Meanwhile, Telegram saw even more downloads. During the same time, it gained 9 million users, up 91% from the previous week. It was also the most downloaded app in the U.S.

WhatsApp responded to the exodus by attempting to clarify its new policy in a statement Monday.

“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way,” the company said. “Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.”

Other Causes of App Growth

Notably, some of the spikes in the Telegram downloads, specifically, also come from many supporters of President Donald Trump flocking to alternative platforms after Parler was shut down and Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook.

Far-right chat room membership on the platform has increased significantly in recent days, NBC News reported. Conversations in pre-existing chatrooms where white supremacist content has already been shared for months has also increased since the pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week.

According to the outlet, many of the president’s supporters have moved their operations to the app in large part because it has very lax community guidelines. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have recently cracked down on groups and users sharing incendiary content, known conspiracy theories, and attempting to organize events that could lead to violence.

There have been several documented instances of Trump supporters now using Telegram channels to discuss planned events and urge acts of direct violence. Per NBC, in one channel named “fascist,” users have called on others to “shoot politicians” and “encourage armed struggle.” A post explaining how to radicalize Trump supporters to become neo-Nazis also made rounds on the “fascist” channel, among others. 

Membership one channel frequently used by members of the Proud Boys has grown by more than 10,000 in recent days, seeming to directly attract users from Parler.

“Now that they forced us off the main platforms it doesn’t mean we go away, it just means we are going to go to places they don’t see,” a user posted in the chatroom, according to NBC.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Business Insider) (CNBC)

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Pornhub Removes All Unverified User Uploads, Taking Down Most of Its Videos

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  • Pornhub is now removing all videos that were not uploaded by verified users.
  • Before the massive purge, the site hosted around 13.5 million videos. As of Monday morning, there were only 2.9 million videos left. 
  • The move is part of a series of sweeping changes the company made days after The New York Times published a shocking op-ed detailing numerous instances of abuse on the site, including nonconsensual uploads of underage girls.
  • Following the article, numerous businesses cut ties with the company, including Mastercard and Visa, which both announced Thursday that they will not process any payments on the site.

Pornhub Purges Videos

Pornhub removed the vast majority of its existing videos Monday, just hours after the company announced that it would take down all existing videos uploaded by non-verified users.

According to reports, before the new move was announced Sunday night, Pornhub hosted about 13.5 million videos, according to the number displayed on the site’s search bar. As of writing, that search bar shows just over 2.9 million videos. 

The decision comes less than a week after the company announced it would only allow video uploads from content partners and members of its Model program.

At the time, Pornhub claimed it made the decision following an independent review launched in April to eliminate illegal content. However, many speculated that it was actually in large part due to an op-ed published in The New York Times just days before. That piece, among other things, found that the site had been hosting videos of young girls uploaded without their consent, including some content where minors were raped or assaulted.

The article prompted a wave of backlash against Pornhub and calls for other businesses to cut ties with the company. On Thursday, both Visa and Mastercard announced that they would stop processing all payments on the site.

“Our investigation over the past several days has confirmed violations of our standards prohibiting unlawful content on their site,” Mastercard said in a statement.

Less than an hour later, Visa tweeted that it would also be suspending payments while it completed its own investigation.

Pornhub Claims It’s Being Targeted

However, in its blogpost announcing the most recent decision, Pornhub claimed that it was being unfairly targeted.

Specifically, the company noted that Facebook’s own transparency report found 84 million instances of child sexual abuse content over the last three years. By contrast, a report by the third-party Internet Watch Foundation found 118 similar instances on Pornhub in the same time period.

Notably, the author of The Times report, Nicholas Krisof, specifically said the Internet Watch Foundation’s findings represented a massive undercount, and that he was able to find hundreds of these kinds of videos on Pornhub in just half an hour.

Still, the site used the disputed numbers to point a finger at others.

“It is clear that Pornhub is being targeted not because of our policies and how we compare to our peers, but because we are an adult content platform,” the statement continued.

“Every piece of Pornhub content is from verified uploaders, a requirement that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter have yet to institute,” the company added. 

However, Pornhub’s implication that it is somehow more responsible because it only let verified users post content is a highly impractical comparison. First of all, Pornhub is a platform created exclusively for porn, content the social media companies the company name-checked explicitly prohibit.

Second of all, and the vast majority of people who use those platforms are not verified, and it would be impossible for a company like Facebook or YouTube to limit content to only verified users without entirely undermining their own purposes.

Verification Concerns

Even beyond that, there are also still questions about Pornhub’s verification process. According to their site, all someone needs to do to become verified is to simply have a Pornhub account with an avatar and then upload a selfie of themselves holding a piece of paper with their username and Pornhub.com written on it.

While the company did tell reporters the process would be made more thorough sometime next year, they did not provide any specific details, prompting questions about exhaustive the verification process will ultimately be.

That question is highly important because, at least per its current policies, the verification process makes it so users are eligible to monetize their videos as part of the ModelHub program.

If the new verification process is still weak or has loopholes, people could easily slip through the cracks and continue to profit. However, on the other side, there are also big concerns among sex-workers that if the process is too limited, they will be able to make money on the platform.

That concern has already been exacerbated by some of the other actions taken since The Times article was published. For example, after Mastercard and Visa made their announcements, numerous sex workers and activists condemned the decision, saying it would seriously hurt how porn performers collect income —  not just on Pornbub, but on other platforms as well. 

“By targeting Pornhub and successfully destroying the ability for independent creators to monetize their content, they have made it easier to remove payment options from smaller platforms too,” model Avalon Fey told Motherboard last week. “This has nothing to do with helping abused victims, and everything to do with hurting online adult entertainers to stop them from creating and sharing adult content.”  

Other performers also expressed similar concerns that the move could spillover to smaller platforms. 

“I am watching to see if my OnlyFans will be their next target and sincerely hoping not,” amateur performer Dylan Thomas also told the outlet.

“Sex workers are scared by this change, despite not having uploaded any illegal content,” Fey continued, “because we have seen these patterns before and have had sites and payment processors permanently and unexpectedly shut down.”

See what others are saying: (Motherboard) (The Verge) (Bloomberg)

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