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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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Facebook Is Reviewing More Than 2,200 Hours of Footage for Next-Gen AI 

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The project, which could prove to be revolutionary, is already raising some big privacy concerns. 


Facebook’s Next-Gen AI

Facebook announced Thursday that it has captured more than 2,200 hours of first-person video that it will use to train next-gen AI models.

The company said it aims to make the AI, called Ego4D, capable of understanding and identifying both real and virtual objects through a first-person perspective using smart glasses or VR headsets. In effect, that could potentially help users do everything from remembering where they placed forgotten items to recording others in secret. 

Facebook listed five key scenarios the project aims to tackle and gave real-world examples of how each may look for people who will eventually use the AI.

  • “What happened when?” With that scenario, Facebook gave the example, “Where did I leave my keys?”
  • “What am I likely to do next?” There, Facebook gave the example, “Wait, you’ve already added salt to this recipe.”
  • “What am I doing?” For example, “What was the main topic during class?”
  • “Who said what when?” For example, “What was the main topic during class?”
  • “Who is interacting with whom?” For example, “Help me better hear the person talking to me at this noisy restaurant.”

Facebook said the amount of footage it has collected is 20 times greater than any other data set used by the company.

Privacy Concerns

In the wake of recent controversy surrounding Facebook, it’s important to note that the footage wasn’t reaped from users. Instead, the company said it, and 13 university partners, compiled the footage from more than 700 participants around the world.

Still, that hasn’t alleviated all privacy concerns. 

In an article titled, “Facebook is researching AI systems that see, hear, and remember everything you do,” The Verge writer James Vincent said that although the project’s guidelines seem practical, “the company’s interest in this area will worry many.”

In addition to the recent testimony and data leaks from whistleblower Frances Haugen, Facebook has also faced other privacy issues, as well as billions in fines

Vincent pointe out that the AI announcement doesn’t mention anything in the way of privacy or removing data for people who may not want to be recorded.

A Facebook spokesperson later assured Vincent that privacy safeguards will be introduced to the public in the future.

“For example, before AR glasses can enhance someone’s voice, there could be a protocol in place that they follow to ask someone else’s glasses for permission, or they could limit the range of the device so it can only pick up sounds from the people with whom I am already having a conversation or who are in my immediate vicinity,” the spokesperson said.

Among positive reception, some believe the tech could be revolutionary for helping people around the house, as well as for teaching robots to more rapidly learn about their surroundings.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (CNBC) (Axios)

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FDA Issues Its First E-Cigarette Authorization Ever

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The authorization only applies to tobacco-flavored products, as the FDA simultaneously rejected several sweet and fruit-flavored e-cigarette cartridges. 


FDA Approves E-Cigarette

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an e-cigarette pen sold under the brand name Vuse on Tuesday, as well as two tobacco-flavored cartridges that can be used with the pen.

This marks the first time the FDA has ever authorized the use of vaping products. In a news release, the agency said it made the decision because “the authorized products’ aerosols are significantly less toxic than combusted cigarettes based on available data.”

“The manufacturer’s data demonstrates its tobacco-flavored products could benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products — either completely or with a significant reduction in cigarette consumption — by reducing their exposure to harmful chemicals,” the agency added. 

The company that owns Vuse, R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company, also submitted several sweet and fruit-flavored pods for review; however, those were all rejected. While the FDA did not specify which flavors it rejected, it did note that it has yet to make a decision on whether to allow menthol-flavored e-cigarettes, including ones sold under Vuse.

FDA Is Reviewing All Vape Products Still on the Market

In January 2020, the FDA banned pre-filled pods with sweet and fruity flavors from being sold. While other e-cigarette related products, including some forms of flavored vapes, were allowed to stay on the market for the time being, they were only able to do so if they were submitted for FDA review.

The FDA’s primary issue with fruity cartridges stems from statistics showing that those pods more easily hook new smokers, particularly underage smokers.

In fact, in its approval of the Vuse products, the FDA said it only authorized them because it “determined that the potential benefit to smokers who switch completely or significantly reduce their cigarette use, would outweigh the risk to youth, provided the applicant follows post-marketing requirements aimed at reducing youth exposure and access to the products.”

While some have cheered the FDA’s decision, not everyone was enthusiastic. Many critics cited a joint FDA-CDC study in which nearly 11% of teens who said they vape also indicated regularly using Vuse products. 

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Wall Street Journal) (The Washington Post)

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Kaiser Permanente Health Workers Vote To Authorize Strike Over Pay, Staffing, and Safety

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The vote could inspire unioned Kaiser workers in other states to eventually approve strikes of their own. 


Workers Approve Strike

Over 24,000 unioned nurses and other healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente hospitals voted Monday to authorize strikes against the company in California and Oregon.

The tens of thousands of workers who cast a ballot make up 86% of the Kaiser-based healthcare professionals represented by either the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) or the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. An overwhelming 96% voted to approve the strike.

According to both unions, the list of workers includes nurses, pharmacists, midwives, and physical therapists.

The vote itself does not automatically initiate a strike; rather, it gives the unions the power to call a strike amid stalled contract negotiations between Kaiser and the unions. If the unions ultimately tell their members to begin striking, they will need to give a 10-day warning. 

The California and Oregon contracts expired Sep. 30, but several more Kaiser-based union contracts are rapidly approaching their expiration dates as well. That includes contracts for more than 50,000 workers in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, Washington state, and D.C. Notably, the demands from those workers echo many of the demands made by California and Oregon’s union members. 

The Demands 

At the center of this potential strike are three issues: staffing problems, safety concerns, and proposed revisions to Kaiser’s payment system. For months, nurses have been publicly complaining about long shifts spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, staffing shortages, and an over-reliance on contract nurses.

Because of that, they’re seeking to force Kaiser to commit to hiring more staff, as well as boost retention.

But the main catalyst for any looming strikes is pay. According to UNAC/UHCP, Kaiser wants to implement a two-tier payment system, which would decrease earnings by 26% to 39% for employees hired from 2023 onward. On top of that, those new employees would see fewer health protections.

The unions and their members worry such a system could lead to an increased feeling of resentment among workers since they would be paid different rates for performing the same job. They also worry it could exacerbate retention and hiring issues already faced by the hospital system. 

Additionally, the workers want to secure 4% raises for each of the next three years, but Kaiser’s currently only willing to give 1%, citing a need to reduce labor costs to remain competitive.

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (The Washington Post) (KTLA)

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