LONDON (AP) — Riders for the app-based meal delivery platform Deliveroo held a strike in London Wednesday over pay and working conditions, part of a broader backlash against one of the U.K.’s biggest gig economy companies.
A prominent nuclear engineering professor in California with influence over millions of dollars in federal research funds is also a prominent player in Dveri, a far right-wing party in Serbia that publicly supports a convicted war criminal, among other extremist stances.
Jasmina Vujic has been on the faculty at the University of California Berkeley since 1992. She formerly served as chair of UC Berkeley’s nuclear engineering department, and is the founding director of the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium, a key hub for nuclear security research and training, where she directs 50 affiliated faculty members and hundreds of researchers from eight universities across the country.
In recent years, Vujic has occupied positions on the Berkeley admissions and diversity committees, and she helps dish out at least $10 million in research funds at the multi-university research center, which is underwritten by the U.S. Department of Energy.
She’s also a longtime, prominent member of Dveri, having served as the Serbian far-right party’s vice president for three years, according to Serbian-language media accounts, interviews and social media postings. She regularly appears at its political events in her home country, has fundraised and lobbied for the group, and has appeared alongside some of the most controversial figures in Serbia’s recent history.
Experts say Dveri’s ascension to parliament and formal politics, even in a country governed by a right-wing party, are representative of a broader acceptance of previously unacceptable ideological stances throughout Europe.
But Vujic’s involvement in the group has raised alarm among some colleagues and peers in the nuclear engineering field because it is a foreign political entity that opposes long-established U.S. policies in the Balkans. Vujic’s affiliations with Dveri prompted at least one individual to report her affiliations to the Department of Energy as a potential security concern last year, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.
An open letter to UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ was also published online last year, raising Vujic’s involvement with Dveri and the party’s extremist views. Still, no official action has been taken by the university.
There is no indication that Vujic’s beliefs and political convictions have influenced her decision-making at UC Berkeley or her treatment of people who may be part of the groups Dveri loathes. But three people familiar with Vujic’s academic work and involvement with Dveri said her role in a party with an aggressive stance towards past Serbian atrocities during the 1990s dissolution of Yugoslavia, and virulently anti-LGBTQ positions has raised discomfort on campus.
Vujic did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story. In response to queries from The Daily Beast, University of California Berkeley spokesman Dan Moguloff said that Chancellor Christ’s office had not received letters about Professor Vujic’s activities. “The activities as described, if true, are outside the scope of the professor’s employment with the university,” Moguloff said. The Department of Energy did not respond to a request for comment.
But Berkeley sources couldn’t help but wonder whether the professor’s ties to the far right could—or should—impact their ability to receive security clearances and funding from the Department of Energy. “It’s really alarming for someone who is in a position to shape the next generation of nuclear security scholars to hold such extremist views,” said one of the individuals, who requested anonymity for fear of professional retaliation.
In applications for clearance, DOE requests information about a person’s associations, past or present, with anyone associated with an extremist ideology or organization, as well as involvement with foreign political parties. In this context, experts say that Vujic’s involvement with a political party at least ideologically linked to a nuclear power (Russia) hostile to American strategic interests is a major red flag from a counter-intelligence perspective.
“It’s the kind of thing that if it didn’t come up in a clearance review, there’d be a problem with the process,” said Alex Wellerstein, a professor of science and technology studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology. “The group that she’s affiliated with sounds especially distasteful.”
However, Wellerstein said the Department of Energy might still grant her a security clearance, or not view her political affiliations to be of concern if she didn’t have access to particularly sensitive information.
Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, said dual citizens like Vujic are routinely vetted for their overseas contacts and political affiliations as part of the security review process.
“It’s not automatically disqualifying—it is possible for people who hold dual citizenship to obtain a clearance. But it involves an additional layer of review, in particular from a counter-intelligence perspective,” said Aftergood. Such scrutiny typically drills down on the political leanings and allegiance of the person in question, and whether there is a possibility they would use their position to work against the interests of the United States.
Born in the Serbian city of Banja Luka in 1953, Vujic completed her initial education in nuclear engineering at the University of Belgrade before beginning a nuclear science doctorate at the University of Michigan in the mid-1980s. After graduating in 1989, she worked on reactor analysis at the Argonne National Laboratory for three years before joining UC Berkeley’s faculty in 1992, where she specializes in reactor design and security.
Although she has lived in the U.S. for the better part of three decades, Vujic has kept strong ties to her home country, including its fractious internal politics.
Archives of Dveri’s website show Vujic served as the party’s vice president from 2016 until January 2019. She previously occupied a position on Dveri’s political council, where her responsibilities included outreach to the Serbian diaspora, and fundraising.
Dveri got its start in 1999 as a publication issued by Bosko Obradovic, who now serves as Dveri’s leader. It coalesced into a formal political party in 2011, and, riding a wave of xenophobic sentiment prompted by the 2015 global migration crisis, won its first seats in Serbia’s parliament in 2016.
The party is part of a resurgent right-wing movement throughout European politics. For instance, members of Dveri have recently met with Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD), the German far-right party, to discuss political coordination and common ground.
Dveri not only opposes NATO—a popular stance in Serbia given NATO’s role in the 1999 bombing of Belgrade—but also membership in the European Union, instead favoring a pro-Russian position shared by the current government.
“They showed how a far-right mouthpiece organization could become legitimate and gain seats in parliament,” said Valery Perry, a senior associate at the advocacy and research group Democratization Policy Council in Sarajevo, who studies extremism in the Balkans. “The genocide denial, the denial at what happened at Srebrenica are core tenets of their beliefs.”
Almost exactly 25 years ago, some 8,000 Muslims were slaughtered in Srebrenica, in July 1995, by Bosnian Serbs.
But Dveri openly celebrates the more controversial figures in Serbia’s recent past, including General Ratko Mladic, who commanded the Serbian military during the Yugoslav wars and was convicted by an international tribunal for war crimes related to the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre. Dveri has also tried to rehabilitate the image of the Chetniks, the Serbian military detachments that collaborated with Hitler’s occupying army during World War II and committed acts of terrorism against neighboring Croat and Bosnian communities.
A pair of tweets posted to Dveri’s official Twitter accounts illustrate the party’s position towards Mladic. One features a photo of Mladic alongside American General Wesley Clark, accompanied by a caption reading “which one is the war criminal?” A second tweet includes a photo of a saluting, uniformed Mladic accompanied by the phrase “Fighting ISIL since 1992,” drawing an oblique comparison between the Bosnian Muslims Mladic massacred and the contemporary jihadist movement.
“They’re very open and explicit about their support for Serbian ultra-nationalist heroes of the 1990s like Mladic—there’s no attempt made to obscure that part of their identity,” said Jasmin Mujanovic, a professor at Elon University in North Carolina who recently published a book about contemporary Balkan politics.
Dveri is also “extremely anti-LGBTQ and distinguished themselves by taking on that sort of family-first language, playing up the Serbian Orthodox, traditionalist position,” Mujanovic added.
Dozens of people were injured during the 2010 Belgrade Pride parade when right-wing groups—including Dveri—violently disrupted the event and engaged in running battles with police. In 2011, threats of violence from Dveri and other far-right extremist organizations prompted the Serbian Interior Ministry to ban the annual Belgrade Pride parade for the following three years over security concerns. Last year, police again clashed with far right, homophobic demonstrators during Belgrade Pride.
Vujic appears to embrace many of the party’s positions. In 2011, she signed a petition issued by Dveri opposing the 2011 Belgrade Pride Parade, which was noted in a report by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia. The petition stated that Dveri regarded “the march of gay activists as the most direct nullification of the basic values of our society and the beginning of a definite destruction of the Serbian family,” and overtly hinted at the possibility of violence if it was allowed to proceed.
That same year, in a video posted to YouTube, speaking in Serbo-Croat, Vujic urged young people “whose energy hasn’t been tapped into” to join Dveri, stating she supports the party because it backs traditional families and morals, and because it opposes the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. Vujic also said she opposed Serbia’s ascension to the European Union and a 2015 resolution passed by the Serbian parliament acknowledging the Srebrenica massacre.
Vujic has also publicly appeared with controversial figures from Serbia’s past. In March 2014, she appeared at an event alongside fellow Dveri member Vesna Kalabic, the granddaughter of a prominent Chetnik commander and the head of the Ravnogorsk movement, which openly advocates genocide against Croats and Bosnians. According to press reports, Vujic and Kalabic vowed to do “everything that [Vladimir] Putin did in Russia” if elected.
And in 2013, she accepted the Order of the Republika Srpska with Golden Wreath from Milorad Dodik, the president of the Serbian region of Bosnia and Herzegovina who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government for interfering with the Dayton Accords, the 1995 international agreement that brought an end to hostilities in Bosnia. Like many in Dveri and the broader Serbian right-wing universe, Dodik refuses to accept the Srebrenica massacre as an act of genocide and openly admires Radovan Karadzic, the former Serbian Republic president who was found guilty of war crimes by an international tribunal and imprisoned for life.
Vujic also participated in private seminars seeking to attract investment to the Serbian Republic in Bosnia, according to Serbian media reports: A former Dveri member publicly claimed that Vujic accompanied Dveri president Bosko Obradovic on an American tour to try and raise funds from the Serbian diaspora.
In a public letter in April 2019, Dr. Emir Ramic, a Canadian academic of Bosnian ancestry, called on the UC Berkeley chancellor’s office to re-examine Vujic’s tenure and work at UC Berkeley.
“[H]er activities and the activities of the organizations she actively leads and supports has disturbed many American Bosnians who survived the Serbian aggression and genocide,” Ramic’s letter reads.
The letter continued, “We are astounded by the knowledge that a world-renowned expert in nuclear engineering such as Dr. Vujic is actively engaged in financing and lobbying activities of the extreme and nationalistic Serbian movements that have committed great crimes both in World War II, and in the aggression and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
New Chart Positions In Gig App Provider Ranking
Unemployment claims are up one week, down the next in the topsy-turvy world after COVID-19. Where does that leave gig workers? In the driver’s seat, as this update to PYMNTS’ Provider Ranking of Gig Economy Apps tells us loud and clear.
Not only are there gigs, but it’s never been easier to pull up those postings on your smartphone and peruse them like a restaurant menu. Makes getting a gig a whole lot simpler. We’ve got a job, so get out the Ranking Machine for the Provider Ranking of Gig Economy Apps.
The Top Five
Our four top-ranked apps seem to have entrenched to some degree (although you never know).
Now for a changeup to close out this section: Amazon Flex moves up one spot to enter the top 5 at No. 5.
The Top 10
Rideshare legend Lyft likes preferred parking at No. 8, just where we left it last time.
Hare beats tortoise, as it were, as the TaskRabbit app jumps up a spot to No. 9, pushing the mighty Grubhub for Drivers to No. 10 and completing this edition of the Provider Ranking of Gig Economy Apps.
That’s what we call part of a full day’s work.
Mark Melancon runs a turf installation company as a side gig
It’s not uncommon for pitchers to meet up with their opposition before games and swap trade secrets: pitch grips, deliveries and ballplayer wisdom are all part of the secret language that hurlers share amongst themselves. But a pitcher swapping tips with the opposition’s groundskeeper?
That’s a little less usual, but simply par for the course (excuse the pun) for one of the Padres’ many offseason acquisitions and new closer, Mark Melancon.
That’s because Melancon — a three-time All-Star and one-time MLB saves leader — moonlights with his very own turf installation company, Diamond Turf.
“Arizona’s grounds crew was great,” Melancon told me in a phone call recently. “I’ve spent a lot of time with them. Toronto last year, spent a lot of time in Texas. You know, every field’s done a little bit different. You can learn from each of those grounds crews that deal with that type of field.
“Obviously, they’re trying to replicate something for 81 games that’s perfect to a natural product,” Melancon added. “And so they’re very picky on the ball bounce and stuff like that. Depending on the infill that you use, yeah, it will bounce differently.”
It’s a strange confluence of events that led to this moment for the Padres’ stopper. Landscaping wasn’t a family business, and he didn’t grow up with a deep obsession for turf and turf supplies. No, Melancon’s mid-career extracurriculars came about because of two things.
First, Melancon asked his sister, Michelle, and brother-in-law, Gerardo, to move closer to his family on the west coast of Florida from their home in Colorado. While Gerardo could transfer his job, it would have involved an extremely long commute and employers that paid his previous rate were also scarce in the nearby area. Melancon wanted to help out since he was the reason for them picking up and moving their lives in the first place.
Second, Melancon had a putting green installed in his backyard and he wasn’t happy with the results. So, with the kind of gusto that leads to garage bands and plans to remodel basements into swanky hangout areas, the two leapt into it. The only difference: They followed through on their dream.
“[Gerardo] and I just said, ‘Let’s do this,'” Melancon said. “This is something we’re attracted to and we’ll figure it out. And fortunately, he was on board and excited about it. So was I. We dove right in and started learning and went from there.”
They quickly got to work, first learning with on-the-job training on Melancon’s putting green — which Melancon points out is about as hard as any turf job gets. Just like pitching, nailing it involves a close attention to detail.
“Putting greens, there’s simply nuances to it,” Melancon said. “It’s an art, it’s a skill. And believe me, we’ve trained a lot of people and it’s like any other major profession — you can’t just get anybody off the street. You have to really show them the way and they have to show you that they want to do it.”
With help from Celebrity Greens, who have helped train the people in Diamond Turf’s employ, the company quickly grew to about 20 members strong. Along with roughly 15 laborers, the main office features Mark, Michelle, Gerardo, an office administrator named Debbie Hertenstein and, oh yeah, another Major Leaguer in J.B. Shuck, who now runs sales. Shuck, who’s married to Melancon’s wife’s sister — making this a giant big league family — had signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals last year. But when COVID-19 ended the Minor League season, Shuck joined up with Diamond Turf full-time.
“Those two guys,” Melancon said about his two brothers by marriage, “work ethic off the charts and just quality people.”
Since then, they’ve installed lawns — some complete with trampolines in them — intricate design and logo work and, of course, putting greens.
And then there’s the really fun stuff. That includes a large, lumpy piece of turf in the shape of a turtle that Melancon’s children love called “Turtle Hill,” and backyard mini golf courses.
“Clients just love it,” Melancon said. “Every hole is different. It’s a legit putt-putt course on the back of your yard. We put trinkets out there, a skull, a pirate ship, bridges, different color turf. It’s been phenomenal. It’s really well done. And that’s my brother-in-law, Gerardo. His artistic ability just comes into play really well there.”
It’s not a new thing for ballplayers to have side jobs. In fact, it’s a relatively recent phenomenon for players not to work in the offseason. Nolan Ryan was a gas station attendant as a young player, Richie Hebner dug graves and plenty of players through history have used their fame to help open up a side business. Lou Brock opened a florist’s shop and Curt Flood owned a portrait studio.
But that’s the opposite of what Melancon wants. He made it clear over and over throughout our time chatting that he’s just happy to be a part of this company and has no desire to use his big leaguer status to boost sales — even if he has been recognized a few times on the job. If you went to the website and didn’t know it, you’d have no idea that Melancon ever played baseball.
And Melancon truly loves the job. Even during the season, he is constantly working, using Diamond Turf business as a nice release from the non-stop stress of baseball. Though he’s mostly involved in an admin role, working on payroll and material orders, he’s perhaps working more than even his co-workers enjoy.
“I’m heavily involved, but I’m involved in places that I don’t have to be,” Melancon jokes. “But I want to be and I enjoy being [involved, even though] things could still get done without me. It’s the times when I’m in the hotel on the road that I can spend a lot of time on it. Fortunately, I have a good team in place that can take care of those things.”
Still, even for someone who loves turf and works in turf and even espouses the environmental benefits that turf can provide, he still prefers to play on natural grass.
“From a professional standpoint, I think natural grass is always better,” Melancon said. “I don’t really care. It’s more the infielders and outfielders — I’ll go with whatever they want. Playing in Texas in the playoffs last year was great. I thought that surface was awesome. To be honest, you didn’t even really know it was artificial.”
In the end, even though Melancon is a pitcher, you wouldn’t know it from the way he talks about his side gig. He sounds perfectly at home running a turf installation company.
“Wanting the best for people — that’s been our motto,” Melancon said. “We want to do the best job that we can do for people. We’re there to make money, obviously, but we want to leave the customer with great customer service and quality, longevity. We specialize in putting greens because that’s what’s enjoyable, that’s what gets us excited. And we feel like, if we can master the putting green side, we can really do anything because those are the hardest things. And we really feel like we produce one of the best putting greens out there.”
UK Deliveroo riders strike over pay, gig work conditions | World
Scooter and bicycle delivery riders waving flags and red smoke flares rode through the streets of Central London. Socially distanced protests were also planned in York, Reading, Sheffield and Wolverhampton to demand fair pay, safety protections and basic workers’ rights.
The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, which represents migrant and gig workers, expected hundreds of riders to take part.
Deliveroo said that “this small self-appointed union does not represent the vast majority of riders who tell us they value the total flexibility they enjoy.” Rider surveys found most are happy with the company and flexibility was their priority, the company said in a statement.
The strike coincides with the first day of unconditional share trading for Deliveroo, which went public last week in a multibillion pound stock offering that was one of Europe’s most hotly anticipated IPOs this year. However, a number of institutional investors skipped the initial public offering, citing concerns about employment conditions for riders and a dual-class shareholder structure that gives founder Will Shu outsize control.
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