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Nationwide strike for gig workers delivering groceries

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With help from John Hendel and Leah Nylen

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— Front-line gig workers revolt: Instacart shoppers across the country are set to go on strike today to demand more physical and financial protection from the grocery delivery platform that has seen its business surge in recent weeks.

— Amazon walkout: After employees in at least 10 Amazon warehouses across the country tested positive for coronavirus, workers at a New York City facility are walking out today to demand the company do more to protect them.

— Valley vs. virus: Leading Silicon Valley tech companies are shelling out millions (Facebook) or hundreds of millions (Google) to support global response efforts and accelerate the search for a Covid-19 cure.

HEY ALL YOU COOL CATS AND KITTENS; WELCOME BACK TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Alexandra Levine. Yes, the president signed the CARES Act into Law on Friday, but the mega-bailout leaves mega-questions.

Got a news tip? Write Alex at [email protected] or @Ali_Lev. An event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. Anything else? Full team info below. And don’t forget: add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.

TODAY: GIG WORKERS GO ON STRIKE — Many of Instacart’s hundreds of thousands of shoppers are going on strike today to protest the grocery delivery app’s handling of their safety concerns during the worsening pandemic. The countrywide campaign, led by Instacart Shoppers and Gig Workers Collective, demands that workers receive basic safety essentials (like hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectant products) at no cost and get “hazard pay” made up of an extra $5 per order and a default in-app tip amount of at least 10 percent. The groups also want to expand protective benefits like sick pay to workers beyond only those who’ve tested positive for the virus or have been put into mandatory quarantine by officials to also include those with pre-existing conditions or other risk factors. The groups said they “will not return to work until our demands are met.”

“Instacart has turned this pandemic into a PR campaign, portraying itself the hero of families that are sheltered-in-place, isolated, or quarantined,” they wrote in a blog post. “Instacart has still not provided essential protections to Shoppers on the front lines that could prevent them from becoming carriers, falling ill themselves, or worse.” They continued: “We will not risk our safety, our health, or our lives for a company that fails to adequately protect us, fails to adequately pay us, and fails to provide us with accessible benefits should we become sick.”

— Remember: The $2 trillion emergency relief package passed Friday was a key win for self-employed, contract and gig economy workers, who are now set to receive expanded unemployment insurance benefits, as we reported in MT. “This bill is an incredible victory for the millions of freelancers who are unable to work due to this crisis,” Freelancers Union President Rafael Espinal said Friday afternoon. Instacart workers are calling “for more substantial and preventative help.”

— Instacart told MT on Sunday that it would begin providing free disinfecting supplies to full-service shoppers (a majority of the platform). The company also announced a new customer tip setting on Sunday that defaults the tip to the amount the user tipped on the previous order. A spokesperson did not address MT’s questions on how the platform plans to handle the shopper shortage during the strike and whether the company will make further concessions to those workers.

MEANWHILE: PROTEST AT AMAZON — Employees at Amazon’s JFK8 facility in New York City are walking out today to amplify their complaints that the company isn’t doing enough to protect warehouse workers as some have tested positive for coronavirus at facilities across the country. “All employers need to prioritize the health and safety of their workforce at this time,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Amazon appears to be prioritizing maximizing its enormous profits even over its employees’ safety — and that is unacceptable.”

— Amazon has called allegations of unsafe working conditions at its warehouses “unfounded,” as Cristiano reported Friday for Pros.

— Scrambling to respond to demands for grocery deliveries, Amazon is also offering many of those same warehouse workers more money to switch over to picking and packing groceries at Amazon-owned Whole Foods, Reuters reports.

COVID UPDATES FROM SILICON VALLEY — Silicon Valley giants continue to put their money and power behind the battle against Covid-19.

— Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced Friday that the search giant is committing more than $800 million to support coronavirus crisis response by health organizations, governments and businesses around the world. That includes $340 million in Google Ads credits for small and mid-size businesses and $250 million in ad grants for the World Health Organization and more than 100 government agencies. Google is also lending financial support, supply chain resources and engineering and health care expertise to help partners and suppliers more quickly produce facemasks for the CDC and ventilators, Pichai said.

— Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Friday that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are donating $25 million to study existing drugs that could be used to prevent or treat the fast-spreading virus, which lacks an imminent cure. “Since these drugs have already gone through clinical safety trials, if they’re effective, it will be much faster to make them available than it will be to develop and test a new vaccine — hopefully months rather than a year or more,” he said.

— Apple CEO Tim Cook announced Friday that the tech giant had worked with the White House and FEMA to launch a new app and website updating users on coronavirus testing information and the latest CDC guidelines, as POLITICO’s Mohana Ravindranath reported for Pros. “As always,” Cook said on Twitter, “the data is yours and your privacy is protected.”

Sign up for POLITICO Nightly: Coronavirus Special Edition, your daily update on how the illness is affecting politics, markets, public health and more.

FTC, DOJ RESUME EARLY TERMINATIONS — The U.S.’s two antitrust agencies said they will resume so-called early terminations for mergers that don’t raise competitive concerns, Leah reported for Pros. Starting today, companies can ask the FTC or DOJ to let them finalize non-problematic deals more quickly, instead of waiting the 30 days required by statute. “Covid-19 has changed the game for merger review,” said Megan Browdie, a partner at Cooley. The agencies “do not want to be a bottleneck in an already stressed economy and so do seem to be making efforts to facilitate procompetitive transactions.” The agencies moved to an online system for merger reviews on March 17 and suspended early terminations at that time. Browdie told MT that the agencies’ announcement likely means they haven’t been experiencing problems with the new system and employees’ move to telework.

PLUS: FTC DELAYS SCRUTINY ON INSTA INFLUENCERS The FTC extended its deadline for public comment on whether the agency should revise its endorsement policies for social media influencers who use Instagram and YouTube to plug products and brands, an effort MT examined earlier this year. Due to the pandemic, the April 21 deadline was moved to June 22.

FCC FINDS TIME TO WEIGH INTERNAL CONSOLIDATION Media industry, take note: As of the past week, an FCC action item is now circulating that could spell some structural changes within the commission, specifically within its Media Bureau that deals with TV and radio issues. “If adopted, this proposal would consolidate the Media Bureau’s Engineering Division with the Bureau’s Industry Analysis Division,” an FCC spokesperson told John.

— Context on a shrinking bureau: For the coming fiscal year, the FCC requested funding for 131 full-time employees for its Media Bureau, a number that’s been dwindling in recent years amid the changing media landscape. By comparison, there were 171 full-time staff for the bureau in fiscal year 2015, 183 in 2012 and more than 250 just a few years prior.

Tony Samp, a government affairs policy advisor at DLA Piper focusing on the law firm’s artificial intelligence practice, has joined the Center for a New American Security as an adjunct senior fellow in the technology and national security program. … Pat Garofalo, formerly of Talk Poverty, will begin soon as director of state and local policy at the American Economic Liberties Project.

Eyeballs watching emoji: TikTok is hiring a privacy policy counsel.

Layoffs continue: The clothing rental platform Rent the Runway laid off its entire retail staff via Zoom on Friday, The Verge reports.

Tech for good: “How I’ve been using free virtual Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to connect and stay sober while in COVID-19 isolation,” via Business Insider.

Blog OTD: The Future of Privacy Forum put together a repository on how countries around the world are addressing data and privacy issues related to Covid-19. Here is the repository, and here is the organization’s Privacy and Pandemics blog.

Wedditors: Reddit’s most popular wedding planning channel “has become a source of detailed information on coronavirus for frustrated couples whose dream days have been derailed by the pandemic,” WIRED reports.



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Buckle Reinvents Insurance Model for Gig Economy with $31 Million Series A Funding

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JERSEY CITY, N.J.–()–Buckle, a tech-enabled financial services company, has filed its Regulation D and disclosed it raised $31 million through its Series A funding round co-led by HSCM Bermuda and Eos Venture Partners. Addressing gaps in conventional insurance policies that leave gig workers underinsured, Buckle is using the funding to reinvent the insurance model with new sources of data to underwrite risk, making insurance comprehensive, affordable, and easy to obtain for rideshare drivers.

“Whether rideshare drivers are on duty or driving their family around on personal time, Buckle will have them covered,” said Dustin Walsey, co-founder of Buckle. “We are excited to offer comprehensive, easy-to-understand insurance to active rideshare drivers for overall better personal protection.”

In 2019, Buckle launched its core rideshare insurance policy that combines personal and commercial coverages, in collaboration with Munich Re’s Digital Partners. Earlier this year, it expanded the program through a partnership with Lyft.

In June, Buckle announced the acquisition and recapitalization of Gateway Insurance Company (Gateway), including its 47 state insurance licenses. Now, through Gateway, Buckle is expanding insurance coverage to include transportation network companies (TNCs), traditional taxi, limo, and livery businesses using the Curb app.

“The ride-hailing market is expected to grow globally to approximately $260 billion by 2024,” said Vikas Singhal, Partner and CIO of Insurtech at HSCM Bermuda. “As the market grows, demand for straight-forward and affordable insurance coverage for both providers and TNCs will grow with it. We’re excited to help the Buckle team take the company to the next level.”

“The rideshare and dispatched delivery markets need specialized insurance expertise,” said Jonathan Kalman, Founding General Partner at Eos Venture Partners. “Buckle has built a comprehensive insurance solution to this growing market.”

Buckle plans to launch other products and partnerships as it expands nationwide.

About HSCM Bermuda

HSCM Bermuda is an asset manager focused on investments in the Re/Insurance and Transportation sectors. HSCM was launched in 2016 and focuses on core economic sectors that are likely to outgrow global GDP, offer low correlations with broader markets, and are experiencing a shift from balance sheet and to market financing. For more information about HSCM Bermuda, please visit www.hscm.com.

About Eos Venture Partners

Eos Venture Partners is a global independent Strategic Venture Capital Fund focused exclusively on InsurTech, investing in early and growth stage technology businesses that accelerate innovation and transformation across the insurance industry and value chain. Eos was founded in 2016 to bridge the “digital chasm” between InsurTech start-ups and traditional (re)insurance companies. Investors in the Eos fund, EVP I, are from the insurance sector, forming a close strategic relationship with the Eos team to capture both strategic and financial value from the innovation and technology change in the insurance industry. See more at: www.eosventurepartners.com.

About Buckle

Buckle offers total insurance coverage specifically for rideshare and other gig economy providers and TNCs, looking to get coverage that’s fair and simple. Buckle Rideshare Insurance isn’t a gap product that supplements an existing policy, but replaces a driver’s current auto insurance, providing continuous 24×7 coverage on-and-off the clock with one low rate. Connect with Buckle on Facebook and LinkedIn and visit www.buckleup.com.

All trademarks recognized.

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CERB 2.0? Trudeau Hints at New Benefit for Gig Workers

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The CERB may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean out-of-work Canadians can’t still get benefits.

That’s the takeaway from a recent statement by PM Justin Trudeau, who announced that his government had been working on a “21st century EI system.” In covering Trudeau’s statement, the Canadian Press reported that the revamped EI system would replace the CERB, bringing more Canadians under coverage — including one group of Canadians who had been sorely neglected until the CERB came into effect.

An “EI-like benefit” for gig workers

One of the main beneficiaries of Trudeau’s “transitional EI-like benefit” would be gig workers. Under current rules, gig workers are considered self-employed. That means that they’re opted out of EI by default. Gig workers can indicate that they want to pay in to EI, but usually don’t. The self-employed pay twice the usual rate on CPP; passing on EI premiums is a way to partially offset that extra tax. As a result, many self-employed Canadians aren’t covered by EI.

Trudeau’s new EI benefit could remedy that. While details on the plan are scarce so far, it appears that there will be an interim benefit to cover non-EI eligible Canadians, followed by a totally revamped EI system. It’s hard to predict exactly what the latter will consist of, but the former will probably be regular EI with looser eligibility requirements.

Why this is good news

While many out-of-work Canadians may bemoan the loss of the $2,000 a month benefit, it may ultimately be a good thing. The CERB has always been beset by concerns about eligibility and fraud. Many Canadians have reported being “scared” to spend their CERB money, and ominous CRA statements probably haven’t helped with that.

Getting back to EI could therefore be a welcome development. While the average monthly amount isn’t as high as the CERB, EI has fewer eligibility questions hanging over it. As a result, individuals receiving EI may feel more free to spend it.

For example, if you received $1,000 a month in EI, you could spend that money on investments. If you took $1,000 worth of EI and spent it on shares in Fortis, you’d be within your rights to do so. After all, it’s a program you paid in to, and if you’ve been laid off, you’re eligible to benefit from it. It doesn’t matter how you spend the money.

With the CERB, it’s not quite so simple. There’s been a big question mark about eligibility ever since the program began, and spending CERB money on non-essential items has been frowned upon. If you took $1,000 worth of CERB money and bought FTS shares with it, that wouldn’t make you ineligible. However, it could be inconvenient if the shares declined in value, and you were later forced to repay the CERB. With EI, you always know that you’re entitled to the money you’re getting, as applications are pre-screened for eligibility. As a result, you can sleep soundly no matter how you spend the money — be it on groceries, Fortis shares, or anything in between.

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Observers call on National Wages Council for more aggressive wage support, office to look after gig workers, Manpower News & Top Stories

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In September and October 1998, as the full impact of the Asian financial crisis on Singapore’s economy became more apparent, the National Wages Council (NWC) was convened a second time that year to revise its annual wage guidelines.

Its original guidelines, issued in May, had called for wage restraint and non-wage cost-cutting measures, as the Trade and Industry Ministry forecast economic growth for the year of between 2.5 per cent and 4.5 per cent.

But as the crisis deteriorated, the growth forecast for the year was revised downwards in June to between 0.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent.

The NWC in November proposed that in addition to a 10 percentage point cut to employers’ Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions recommended by the Committee on Singapore’s Competitiveness, total wages for 1998 be cut by 5 per cent to 8 per cent, as compared with 1997.

This year, with Singapore headed for its worst recession since independence due to the Covid-19 pandemic, observers suggested that the council consider calling for more aggressive wage support, an office to look after gig workers and pay hikes for low-wage staff.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in a Facebook post yesterday that the NWC will reconvene this year. The council made its annual wage guidelines in March this year.

Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) chief executive Mayank Parekh said that without the prospect of a near-term recovery of demand, there could be more job losses and wage cuts on the horizon.

“It is timely for the NWC to review its earlier recommendations and seek support for additional measures to safeguard jobs and enhance employability,” he said.

“More aggressive wage measures, higher support for job redesign and re-training and additional guidelines on retrenchment payments could be considered.”

Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem suggested the council look at whether the Jobs Support Scheme of wage subsidies can be extended, as well as the need for funding to facilitate job redesign for future-ready jobs.

It could also propose the setting up of a tripartite office to help and protect gig workers, who tend to fall under the radar because they do not have employers, she said.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari said the NWC should continue to push for wage increases for low-wage workers, even amid the pandemic.

“Instead of recommending a quantum wage increase, I would like NWC to set a long-term target of where wages of these vulnerable low-wage workers who are performing essential services should be at. This could then act as a guideline for the wage increases and the necessary productivity initiatives that must be embarked upon to make it sustainable,” he added.

This is only the fourth time since being set up in 1972 that the council has been convened twice in the same year.

Aside from 1998, it also released revised recommendations in 2001, after the Sept 11 attacks on the United States, and in 2009 amid the global financial crisis.

In January 2009, the council updated its guidelines to recommend – among other things – that companies work with unions and workers to manage costs, such as through wage freezes or wage cuts, to save jobs.

The NWC had in March this year considered whether to recommend reducing CPF contribution rates to cut wage costs.

But Permanent Secretary for Manpower Aubeck Kam had said then that as the Jobs Support Scheme wage subsidy far exceeds the employer CPF contribution rates of up to 17 per cent, the Government did not feel that a cut to the rate was warranted.

DBS Bank senior economist Irvin Seah said that short of extending the JSS payouts for worst-hit industries, a temporary cut in employer CPF contribution rates could be an option the NWC considers.

But he cautioned that such a move would need to be weighed very carefully. “It would be a reduction in workers’ savings, on top of already widespread wage cuts.”

Amid reports of major retrenchment exercises in recent weeks, Mrs Teo also commented yesterday on the Fair Retrenchment Framework proposed by the NTUC last month. It includes protecting the Singaporean core of the workforce, while foreigners with special or critical skills could be retained as well.

She said in her Facebook post that the Singapore National Employers Federation will consider the framework and discuss a mutually acceptable way forward with NTUC.

In the meantime, the Manpower Ministry will continue its work on the Fair Consideration Framework, she said, adding that there would be updates soon.

“Tripartite partners are aligned on one thing – the need to support our workers and businesses through the storm brought about by Covid-19. Much work ahead,” she said.



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