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Gig Economy Researchers Want Corporations to Stop Influencing Research

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On Thursday, a group of gig economy scholars published an open letter calling on academics to adopt a set of principles that would ensure independence from corporate influence in research, public policy formulation, and advocacy.

The letter, which was signed by dozens of academics across multiple disciplines, comes after controversy surrounding a July 6th study done by Cornell University researchers and commissioned by Uber and Lyft that suggested Seattle drivers did not need a minimum wage law because they were already earning over $23 per hour after expenses. On the same day, a study done by economists at the New School and UC Berkley James A. Parrott and Michael Reich (who previously studied the wages of NYC ride-hail drivers) found drivers earned just $9.73 an hour after expenses. A public debate followed, and Parrott and Reich themselves published a comparison of the two studies that highlighted flaws in the Cornell study, which they said traced back to its over-reliance on data selectively shared by Uber and Lyft that distorted how driver expenses were calculated.

“For the past decade, gig companies have actively and aggressively lobbied governments to create a regulatory environment suitable to their business practices and interests,” the open letter reads. “In the process, misleading studies created through and with corporate partnerships have had an undue influence on regulatory disputes. Often, when policymakers attempt to collect data to do their own research to inform policy decisions, the gig companies have restricted government access to even the most basic data on the operation of their services.”

According to Veena Dubal, a professor of law at UC Hastings that was involved in organizing the letter, the debates over the Seattle studies point to corporations such as Uber being able to influence academic research to reach conclusions that then inform public policy.

“The gig economy, even though it makes up such a small percentage of the broader US workforce, is a gateway to destabilizing our existing protections that workers have,” Dubal said. “So we are just calling on researchers doing work in this field to abide by basic ethical standards: data transparency; assuming that all time should be paid for, the basic assumption of our laws, instead of reformulating how we think about work through economic models; not intentionally undermining worker organizing.”

The letter points out that data provided by Uber and Lyft, as well as research funded by them, is suspect because the companies “have repeatedly made the false legal claims that de-identified data needed to determine wage trends is proprietary and protected competitive information.” This not only allows the companies to set the parameters of the data and its analysis, the letter says, but results in non-replicable studies that will be offered to policymakers as evidence that  “normalizes the companies’ systematic withholding of basic information needed by regulators to govern.”

The core principles in the letter boil down to researchers refusing to participate in studies that withhold data from peer-review,  conducting research that accurately accounts for risks and expenses, and being self-aware about whether the research will  be used to undermine workers.

In practice, the researchers want companies to make their data publicly available, not just to select researchers. Failing that, the letter calls for researchers to make the data they receive from said companies public as well.

“With data transparency, our point was two-fold. One: these are principles that the American Economics Association has laid out already—a basic principle that you need to make your data available. The second concern we have is that by accepting this data and Uber’s argument that this is proprietary normalizes this kind of secrecy,” Dubal said.

In the case of the Cornell study, Dubal said, the data that Uber claimed was proprietary had in fact been shared with New York regulators. “If everyone says ‘no, we’re not going to do this research with you unless we make this data transparent’ then it undermines their false argument that this is proprietary data,” she said.

In a statement, an Uber spokesperson defended the Cornell study and derided Parrott and Reich’s analysis, saying it was based on “limited data” and “flawed assumptions.”

“Cornell’s study is the first to provide an independent, data-driven picture of the full earnings experience of rideshare drivers by combining records from both major ridesharing companies,” the statement said. “Parrott and Reich’s study is based on limited data and flawed assumptions about drivers’ experiences that are unsupported by facts, evidence or reality. Parrott and Reich throw the kitchen sink into their per-mile cost estimates to artificially depress driver net earnings estimates and wildly inflate the pay standard needed to ensure that drivers earn minimum wage, which would drive up prices for the public and reduce work for drivers. We hope policymakers will take a fact based approach as they consider new policy proposals by using the insights from Cornell’s in-depth analysis of detailed data.”

At this moment, Uber is engaged in multiple European legal battles over whether its data and algorithms are exempt from the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that allows individuals to access personal data collected on them by any organization.

If the lawsuits are successful, it would open the door to showing that Uber drivers are effectively treated like employees, and illuminate how Uber has obscured those facts to avoid regulations that would have achieved more just outcomes for cities and drivers at the cost of profit.

“Repeating the company’s line on [proprietary data] leads to repeating the company’s line on assumptions around what sort of financial risks drivers take on. The whole [Cornell] study is based on this assumption that most drivers are working casually so we don’t need to consider overhead costs,” Dubal added. “Except, most drivers who work casually are still bearing those overhead costs and most of the work is completed by full-time drivers. They also didn’t consider hybrid insurance, which all drivers have to have even if they are casual drivers but they included tips. To me, this is all just so fundamentally unethical.”

The issue of behind-the-scenes influence in research and policy is not limited to the gig economy, but also extends to antitrust research. There, corporations (and right-wing networks) have systemically compromised the independence of academic research by hiring critics, funding think tanks, and leveraging large donations to weigh in on university appointments.

Now that gig economy scholars are getting wise, however, a new direction in research that illuminates the bad practices of some of today’s most powerful companies without interference may be taking shape.

“What’s important about this letter and these principles is not that they’re going to change things immediately, but that they’re going to keep asking us to change,” Katie Wells, another one of the letter’s organizers and a research fellow at Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor told Motherboard. “Letters, principles, media stories, these all help change the way we think about the world and act in it. They’ll push researchers and they’ll push policymakers to demand independence from corporate influence.”

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IWGB wins workers status and rights for gig economy couriers at CitySprint

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CITYSPRINT couriers’ status as workers with rights was confirmed once and for all today after the company was dragged back to an employment tribunal for the third time.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) claimed victory in its battle to gain basic employment rights for five gig-economy workers at the company. 

CitySprint had changed workers’ contracts rather than comply with a previous ruling that they are entitled to holiday pay and the legal minimum wage. 

The company could now be forced to give them thousands of pounds in lieu of the holidays they were denied once its financial liability is established at a final hearing in October.

Claimant Phil Weber said: “This victory over CitySprint shows what strength there is in being part of an active front-line union like the IWGB. I hope it gives others courage. 

“So many ‘gig economy’ courier companies wrongly classify their workforce as self-employed independent contractors. 

“We all know they’re playing the system to deny basic rights like holiday pay and pension contributions, but most workers are afraid to stand up for themselves because, as it is, there’s not enough work to go around and so little job security. We’re left fighting for scraps. 

“But when we are united and fight together, things can turn out very differently.”

The IWGB said it was appalled that it had had to take the company to an employment tribunal three times because the company “was so determined” to deny workers basic protections. 

But yesterday’s victory shows that even when terms of contracts are manipulated, union organising can still win the fight for workers’ rights, the IWGB added. 

General secretary Dr Jason Moyer Lee said: “CitySprint and other ‘gig economy’ companies are making a mockery of the British legal system.  

“If the law were enforced and sanctions were real, CitySprint wouldn’t have dreamed of simply acting like it hadn’t already lost a tribunal claim over its couriers’ workers’ rights. 

“In the absence of the state enforcing the law, the IWGB will continue to hold these cowboy companies to account.”

A separate £43,668.86 holiday pay claim is being made against Royal Mail-owned eCourier on behalf of three couriers transferred from CitySprint.

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Gig-Workers Across CA Protest in Advance of Judge’s Ruling

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Gig-Workers Across California Protest on Thursday 8/6 in Advance of Judge’s Ruling

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Q2 2020 hedge fund letters, conferences and more

Gig-Workers Demand That Uber And Lyft Obey AB 5

This Thursday, August 6, gig-workers across the state of California will be participating in actions demanding that Uber and Lyft obey AB 5 and immediately reclassify their workers as employees. Workers will also be demanding that the companies drop their Prop 22 Ballot Initiative (which the company’s have committed to spend $110m on) which would roll back gig-workers’ rights. This statewide day of action comes in advance of a judge’s ruling on the preliminary injunction motion filed by the California Attorney General in the state’s lawsuit against Uber and Lyft, which will come down at 1:30 PM on Thursday.

Volatility

“Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe this moment,” Seth Klarman noted in his second-quarter letter to the Baupost Group investors.  Commenting on the market developments over the past six months, the value investor stated that events, which would typically occur over an extended time frame, had been compressed into just a few months. He noted Read More

In Oakland, drivers from Gig Workers Rising, Rideshare Drivers United & We Drive Progress will be holding a rally titled “Workers Can’t Wait” to demand the employee status they are legally owed under AB 5. Workers will gather at the East Oakland Lyft Hub and, starting at 11:30 AM, various drivers will speak about the grave mistreatment by the companies and demanding that voters vote no on Prop 22.

In Los Angeles, Mobile Workers Alliance and Rideshare Drivers United will host a joint press conference at a Lyft hub. The action is scheduled to begin at 10:30 AM.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a coalition of city attorneys filed an injunction in June to require Uber and Lyft to immediately begin obeying AB 5, which took effect in January. AB 5 requires the companies to reclassify their drivers as employees. Uber and Lyft argue that they shouldn’t be required to follow the law until after voters vote on Prop 22 in November. Becerra argues the harm currently facing drivers is so great that it would be neglectful to wait until the end of the current litigation. The law is clearly on the workers’ side.



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GiG Expands in Buenos Aires with Grupo Slots Alliance

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Gaming Innovation Group (GiG) is set for expansion in Argentina after recently signing a head of terms agreement with local gambling company Grupo Slots.

Under the terms of the newly announced agreement, GiG will provide its new partner with a full online gambling turnkey solution that will support its entry in the regulated iGaming market of the City of Buenos Aires.

GiG will supply Grupo Slots with its technical iGaming platform, its sportsbook solution, front-end development, the GiG data platform and GiG Logic. The deal has an initial contract period of four years with an automatic extension for another year.

GiG and Grupo Slots are set to sign a final agreement before the end of this year’s third quarter. The deal is based on a revenue share model and set up fees. Details about the portion of revenue GiG will get from Grupo Slots have not been disclosed.

Grupo Slots is one of Argentina’s leading gaming and entertainment groups. The company boasts more than three decades of experience in the gambling industry. It is headquartered in San Luis and operates more than 20 casino locations, gambling, and bingo halls around its homeland. It also conducts lottery activities and manages the Jugadon.com gaming website. In addition, the company operates hotels, dining outlets, and convention centers.

LatAm Expansion

Grupo Slots is among the companies to have expressed interest in obtaining a license to conduct online gambling activities in Buenos Aires as part of the reorganization of the city’s iGaming market. The company will be looking to leverage its popularity and leading position in Argentina’s land-based gambling market as it expands online.

Commenting on their partnership with the operator, GiG CEO Richard Brown said that they “see great potential in the regulated markets within Argentina”, and that they consider it a great opportunity to partner one of the largest land-based operators there and to be thus able to showcase their product in the LatAm region “while delivering the platform for online gambling transformation for Grupo Slots.”

Grupo Slots General Manager Juan Ignacio Torres said that they are extremely pleased to have teamed up with GiG and that this agreement complements them and provides them “a tool of quality and excellence to continue growing in this market with so much future potential.”

The Buenos Aires legislature passed last year legislation that authorized the reorganization of the city’s gambling market to permit online sports betting and casino activities. The move aimed to create a well-regulated environment and curb the proliferation of unregulated offshore gambling.

The Buenos Aires gambling regulator, Loteria de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (LOTBA), launched this past February a license application process for operators interested to conduct online gaming and betting activities within city limits. LOTBA said back then that it anticipated first licenses to be issued by the end of the fourth quarter of the year with regulated website launches following shortly.

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