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Instacart sues Seattle over premium pay for gig workers; loophole for food delivery remains

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For more coverage, visit our complete coronavirus section here.

Grocery delivery service Instacart and the Washington Food Industry Association sued Seattle over the city’s new premium pay for gig workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, passed by the city council in June.

Council Bill 119799 required food delivery companies to provide their drivers with a $2.50 premium pay for each order completed in Seattle during the city’s civil emergency, declared by Mayor Jenny Durkan on March 3. The bill was the first of its kind in the nation to give such compensation to gig workers, and went into effect Friday.


The lawsuit, filed that same Friday, claimed that the bill violates Initiative 1634 which was passed by voters in 2018. According to Ballotpedia, that initiative prohibits local governments from enacting taxes or fees on grocery items.



“To achieve its purpose, the initiative prohibits ‘local government entities’ from imposing any charge, or exaction of any kind on ‘the ‘transfer’ or ‘transportation’ of groceries,” states the complaint. “This lawsuit arises from just such a prohibited ‘charge’ or ‘exaction’ passed by the City on food and grocery delivery services in Seattle.”


Before the premium pay bill passed, Instacart threatened to stop serving Seattle, calling the legislation “misguided” as the pay would increase their operating costs.

The bill was co-sponsored by Seattle City councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Andrew Lewis as food and grocery delivery has become an essential lifeline to those adhering social distancing guidelines. These workers, considered independent contractors, do not receive benefits from the parent company and must absorb any personal costs incurred to keep themselves safe while delivering during the pandemic.


“We heard from many gig workers asking for increased protections, including hazard pay, during the COVID-19 crisis,” Councilmember Lisa Herbold said. “Gig workers are essential workers. They’re working on the frontlines of this crisis providing for our community, including delivering meals and groceries to families and seniors who have to self-isolate. Seattle will always be a place that fights for our most vulnerable and will protect all workers.”

The bill states that the premium pay cannot be passed onto the customer or taken out of a worker’s tips or commission; however, an amendment provides a significant loophole for food delivery companies like DoorDash, Uber Eats, Caviar and Grubhub to still charge customers for the pay.



Uber Eats will be charging a "Seattle Premium Pay Fee" for orders. Photo: Uber Eats

Uber Eats will be charging a “Seattle Premium Pay Fee” for orders.


The amendment, sponsored by Councilmember Tammy Morales, prohibits entities from adding “customer charges to online orders for delivery of groceries,” allowing companies that deliver from restaurants to charge the customer instead.


Working Washington, which supported the premium pay bill, offered the following statement about the lawsuit:

“It must have been pretty expensive to pay a bunch of lawyers to dream up these absurd arguments but apparently the company has money to burn — the coronavirus pandemic has made Instacart’s CEO a billionaire and goosed the company’s value up to $14 billion. Meanwhile, the people taking on the risk of essential work during a global pandemic are getting paid less than the minimum wage after expenses.  That’s why hazard pay is popular, necessary, appropriate, perfectly legal, and bound to expand from Seattle across the country.”

The City Attorney’s Office said it is reviewing the suit from Instacart.

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WATCH: Sheffield flower arranger hosts virtual Glastonbury ‘gig’ from own home

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For the last four years, Emma McGeehan, 42, of Abbeydale, has been running flower arranging workshops from Glastonbury’s ‘green fields’ site, where festival-goers can learn new skills in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way.

However, when this year’s annual performing arts extravaganza was cancelled due to coronavirus, she instead recorded the workshop in her front room in Sheffield.

The tutorial was then shared on the festival’s website where it has since been watched hundreds of times by keen craftspeople unable to make their yearly pilgrimage to Worthy Farm.

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She said: “This would have been my fourth year of doing it and we normally run workshops for hundreds of people over the weekend.

“All the flowers we use are from Yorkshire. People choose the ones they want and we show them how to make a flower crown.

“But this year because of coronavirus they asked me to do it online. They wanted it to have a very ‘at home’ feel so I did it in my living room.”

As well as flower arranging, other workshops offered in the virtual green fields over the weekend included willow weaving, perfume making and hat designing.

A ‘floral crown’ design made in one of Emma McGeehan’s workshops.

“It is such a wonderful atmosphere and we fit the ethos of the festival really well,” said Emma.

“People always come up with weird and wonderful creations and we only work 10-4 every day so we have the rest of the festival to enjoy for ourselves.”

Glastonbury 2020 – which was due to be the festivals 50th anniversary – would have taken place between June 26-28 but was cancelled in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will return again in 2021.

As well as teaching flower arranging, Emma also works as a florist and provides flower designing services to weddings and other events including decorating bars for gin brands.

A ‘floral crown’ design made in one of Emma’s workshops.

Her studio – Orchis Floral Design – is based at Hagglers Corner on Queens Road and she can be contacted via her website at www.orchisfloraldesign.com.

Editor’s message: Thank you for reading this story. The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on our advertisers and thus our revenues. The Star is more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism. You can subscribe here www.thestar.co.uk/subscriptions for unlimited access to Sheffield news and information online. Every subscription helps us continue providing trusted, local journalism and campaign on your behalf for our city.

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Elegant little vibe for gig

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Little Village is back with a bang for the people of the South West, throwing a small party with a big line-up including Nathan Parsons, Chloe Payne and Josh Garner.

The elegant event at Driftwood Estate will celebrate local musicians and a return to live music post-COVID-19.

Parsons is back in Australia after journeying to Europe to work in a studio in Austria with new label Aton on two solo projects, including one acoustic and one electronic.

His music was inspired by the ocean, mountains and deep emotion, and he said his time in Austria had led him to miss the wild waters of the South West.

“I’ve been working pretty hard before the coronavirus hit and was going to release an EP over there,” he said.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 situation in Europe deteriorated and Parsons made the difficult decision to come home to complete his latest single Follow the Ocean.

“I was working with some American artists and European artists collaborating on some rap songs, but I ended up getting signed after the label approached me when I was busking on the side of the street,” he said.

“We went to the studio to write a few songs and now one is ready for release.”

Parsons finished Follow the Ocean in the South West and sent it back to the label to be mixed and mastered by Scandinavian music wizard Felix Sterzinger.

“I wrote it based on being overseas away from friends and family. It was difficult going from chasing the summer to having three years of winter,” he said.

“Emotionally for me, its been about finding peace after missing the ocean. I found creativity from snowboarding some of the highest peaks in the world in Austrian mountains at minus 20 degrees,” he said.

Parsons is excited to return to the Little Village stage after previously performing at the intimate shows as part of duo Salt Tree. “I think the Little Village events are really unique, the organisers tend to make it a more artistic scene for the audience,” he said.

“You never really know what to expect when you play or attend those events.

“They’ll have couches and rugs for you to chill out on the grass, but it’s a stylish and a nice warm vibe. It’s definitely a very unique experience.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions the July 16 event will be capped at 100 tickets.

Organisers and punters are also required to strictly adhere to social distancing and hygiene practices.

Tickets are on sale at www.eventbrite.com.au/.

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Histones’ secret enzyme gig may have helped power eukaryote evolution

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09826-leadcon-histone.jpg

Credit: Science

Histone proteins (orange, blue, green, and purple) act as a spool to wind up DNA (white). Two key amino acids (histidine 113 and cysteine 110) in the H3 histone protein (orange) can bind and reduce copper ions.

In our cells, 6 feet (1.8 m) of DNA gets crammed into chromosomes that fit inside a 6-µm-wide nucleus. The proteins that help pack up that genetic material are histones, which act as spools around which DNA coils. These proteins don’t just play a structural role. Through processes that unwind and re-wind these coils of DNA, histones help regulate which genes are expressed at a given time.

Now, a new study reports that these proteins also have another, more ancient gig. They can act as enzymes that reduce copper ions—which cells need for metabolic processes—from a toxic form, Cu(II), to a usable one, Cu(I). This enzymatic role may have allowed single-cell organisms to cope with a huge rise in oxygen levels on Earth. It may also have had a hand in the evolution of more complex cells, called eukaryotes, that later came became multicellular organisms.

“Our work suggests that the presence of histones was actually essential for the formation of the first eukaryotes,” says Siavash Kurdistani, a biochemist at the University of California, Los Angeles who led the study.

Scientists think that the earliest living cells used metal ions to power their biochemistry. But the sharp increase in oxygen on the planet a little over 2 billion years ago—which geologists refer to as the Great Oxidation Event—made a lot of these metals unusable because the high levels of oxygen converted them to forms that were toxic to the cells.

The histones that we carry in our eukaryotic cells descend from similar but simpler proteins in a class of ancient one-celled organisms called archaea, which existed during that oxygen jump. Unlike eukaryotes, these organisms have small genomes, and they don’t have a nucleus, suggesting that the cells didn’t need histones’ DNA-packing abilities. So Kurdistani wondered whether these ancient histones might have originally played a different role and whether that role is conserved in histones today.

Histone proteins that are present in both archaea and eukaryotes consist of a tetramer of two H3 and two H4 proteins. A decades-old study hinted that two pairs of the amino acids cysteine and histidine, located at the point where the two H3 proteins meet, might bind metal ions. Based on that study, and what Kurdistani calls a “wild guess,” he and his colleagues set out to probe whether these proteins could act as enzymes to reduce copper.

They conducted two sets of experiments. First, they mutated the amino acid sequence of a histone protein in a simple eukaryote, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, at the region where metal-binding activity had been suggested. The eukaryotic cells containing the mutant histones had lower levels of Cu(I) ions, suggesting that the histone was indeed involved in reducing copper. In another experiment, they determined that the human H3-H4 tetramer could reduce copper at a decent rate in a test tube (Science 2020, DOI: 10.1126/science.aba8740).

“They’ve shown that in isolation, [human histones] are actually quite respectable enzymes,” says Karolyn Luger, a biochemist who studies the structures of DNA and histones at the University of Colorado Boulder and was not involved in the study but did write an accompanying commentary about it. Today’s eukaryotic cells have evolved multiple other ways of keeping copper in its non-toxic Cu(I) form, but the fact that histones still seem to do so strongly suggests that it might have been their original job, she says.

“This is a big story,” says Steven Henikoff, a biologist who studies histones at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and who was not involved in the study. Around the time of the Great Oxidation Event, eukaryotic cells also started to host mitochondria, cellular compartments that act as metabolic power sources. The fact that Cu(I) is key to mitochondrial function might mean that histones play a previously unrecognized role in cell metabolism, he says.

Indeed, Kurdistani and his colleagues are now exploring the role of histones in mitochondrial diseases.

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