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Ken Jennings on his new ‘Jeopardy!’ producer gig, Alex Trebek and filming the show in a pandemic |

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Back in January, longtime “Jeopardy!” executive producer Harry Friedman did something he never had in two decades of running the show: He called a contestant on the phone.

Normally, that’s strictly against the rules — but Friedman had a good reason to break protocol. He knew that night, America would see Ken Jennings win the “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” tournament. He also knew that Jennings, who became a franchise icon with his 74-game winning streak in 2004, had vowed that would be his last appearance as a contestant. And Friedman, who was set to retire in May, didn’t want to let Jennings just walk away from the iconic quiz show.

“He said, ‘Hey, we’ve been talking, and if you’re serious about being retired from ‘Jeopardy!,’ would you want to come aboard? Like, move to the front office?’ “ Jennings recalled in a phone interview. “That was nice, because I was kind of already missing the show.” (And no, he also can’t believe that the tournament aired before the pandemic shut everything down. “Who knew that the GOAT tournament would be the last thing in human history textbooks?” he joked.)

So that’s how Jennings officially joined the staff of “Jeopardy!” — which debuted its 37th season Monday — as a consulting producer. His new responsibilities include what he calls a “vague portfolio”: contestant outreach, consultations about clue writing, appearing in video clues (his first one airs Tuesday) and just generally being an ambassador for the show, which he has already been doing informally.

“I’ve been watching for 36, 37 years, so I have the fan’s point of view, and I have the contestant’s point of view; I’ve played more hours of ‘Jeopardy!’ than anybody on the planet,” said Jennings, 46. “So I thought: I’m probably going to be doing this type of stuff for free anyway, why not get on the payroll?”

As with most Hollywood productions, the show stopped filming in the spring because of the novel coronavirus, so fans missed out on eight weeks of new episodes — not bad, considering, but still a disappointment for viewers who watch it religiously every night. Jennings calls “Jeopardy!” the ultimate comfort food, which is something especially valuable in a time of pure chaos.

“It’s a little slice of normality every night for half an hour,” Jennings said. “Every time you see ‘Jeopardy!,’ you’re in some timeless space where you’re reminded of all the other times you saw it and how you used to watch it with Grandma, or watch it in the dorm in college, whatever it is. It’s real continuity in our culture, and there’s not much of that, especially nowadays.”

The show is back to filming in the studio — but with strict pandemic-related precautions, including only a very small crew on site, refitting the set so there’s more space between contestants and no studio audience. Host Alex Trebek’s health is also obviously a priority; he was diagnosed last year with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Jennings said he heard that no one was saddened more by the unexpected pandemic hiatus than Trebek.

“Despite battling cancer and being 80 years old, he could not wait to get back to work,” Jennings said. “ ‘Jeopardy!’ still tapes five shows in a day. That’s a long and grueling day … and Alex just thrives on it, from what I hear. He’s having good days and bad days, but he can still do the job and enjoy it.”

Meanwhile, millions of viewers will also be thrilled to have the distraction of “Jeopardy!” back, especially as everything (TV, social media, the country) starts to become more election-centric than ever. Miraculously, “Jeopardy!” may be the one bipartisan thing we have left in our culture.

“You think it would be the post office or national parks or public airwaves, but then all those things have been politicized,” Jennings said dryly. “But ‘Jeopardy!’ has been studiously apolitical, and I think not by design, but just by the strength of the format, it’s enormously popular with both Americas. Nobody has a bad thing to say about ‘Jeopardy!’

“I think that’s good,” he added, “because it does represent this half-hour every night where, actually, questions have answers, and correct answers, and facts matter. That’s important to have some universally agreed-upon outpost of that on the airwaves.”

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Why California Prop 22 Is A Vote On The Gig Economy

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Proposition 22 is, essentially, a special law just for app-based companies like Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Instacart, and DoorDash. Under Prop 22, they would not be subject to the existing laws around employee classification. This exemption would essentially create a lesser class of employees who are deprived of the full workers’ protections and benefits that other employers have to provide.

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Gig economy: California Appellate Court affirms Uber and Lyft must reclassify California drivers as employees

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By Jack Schaedel and Jamin Xu, Firm:  FordHarrison

Uber and Lyft will be required to reclassify drivers and riders previously considered independent contractors as employees following a ruling from a California appeal court affirming the preliminary injunction that imposed this obligation on 10 August 2020.

On 22 October 2020, a California appellate court affirmed a preliminary injunction requiring Uber and Lyft to reclassify California drivers from independent contractors to employees and to comply with the California Labor Code, the Unemployment Insurance Code, and the Industrial Welfare Commission wage orders, as requested by California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the City Attorneys of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. A further discussion of that original 10 August 2020 San Francisco Superior Court’s original 33-page decision can be found here.

Summary of the Order

The appellate court unanimously sided with the Superior Court in holding that the State and city governments are ultimately likely to succeed on the merits in arguing that Uber’s and Lyft’s drivers are employees, not independent contractors, under the rigorous ABC test set forth under California Assembly Bill 5 (‘AB 5’).

AB 5, which took effect at the beginning of 2020, codified the test to determine whether a worker can be classified as an independent contractor set forth under the California Supreme Court case Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles (2018) 4 Cal.5th 903, which presumes workers are employees unless an employer can establish three factors:

(A) that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact;

(B) that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and

(C) that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.

Click here https://theword.iuslaboris.com/hrlaw/insights/us-worker-or-independent-contractor-californias-new-test for a full discussion of Dynamex.

Because Dynamex was issued over two years ago, the Court reasoned that companies like Uber and Lyft, who utilise independent contractors as a significant portion of their workforce, have had significant time to contemplate how they can proceed with reclassifying workers as employees. Therefore, the Court reasoned that requiring Uber and Lyft to comply with the preliminary injunction would not result in irreparable harm. On the contrary, the court specifically affirmed the trial court’s reasoning that:

‘rectifying the various forms of irreparable harm shown by the People more strongly serves the public interest than protecting Uber, Lyft, their shareholders, and all of those who have come to rely on the advantages on online ride-sharing delivered by a business model that does not provide employment benefits to drivers.’

Therefore, the Court required Uber and Lyft to comply with the San Francisco Superior Court’s preliminary injunction order beginning 30 days after the Court issues its forthcoming remittitur of the appeal.

Likely impact and Proposition 22

Although the legislature has recently enacted exemptions for certain types of workers, including certain writers, musicians and artists, as well as individuals providing certain ‘professional services,’ from the AB 5 test (see here), this most recent decision signifies that under the current ABC test, Uber’s and Lyft’s drivers are unlikely to be able to remain as independent contractors, in the absence of subsequent intervention from the legislature or the passage of Proposition 22 on California’s ballot initiative this November (see here for details of Proposition 22).

However, employers should keep in mind that even the passage of Proposition 22 is unlikely to provide their specific businesses with exemptions from AB 5, as it is intended to apply specifically to ride-hailing companies so that their drivers can be classified as independent contractors in exchange for increased worker protections such as guarantees in minimum earnings, expense reimbursements, healthcare subsidies and insurance coverage for on the-job injuries.

Furthermore, this decision signifies that a government enforcement action brought by the state and local governments of California will be able to seek compliance with AB 5 through the use of preliminary injunctions even at the early stages of a lawsuit, while the case is ongoing.

If a preliminary injunction is granted, employers could find themselves having to provide workers, on very short notice, all benefits commonly associated with non-exempt employees in California, including minimum and overtime wages, meal and rest period premiums, reimbursements for business expenses, sick leave, workers’ compensation coverage, unemployment insurance, paid family and sick leave, and wage replacement programs like disability insurance. Employers could also find themselves having to pay taxes and penalties on very short notice.

Additionally, even if Proposition 22 or any other legislative exemptions pass in the near future, their effects are unlikely to be retroactive. Therefore, entities who use independent contractors may continue to be exposed to legal liability through government enforcement mechanisms and/or class and representative Private Attorneys General Act (‘PAGA’) actions.

Businesses utilising independent contractors are advised to continue to track legal developments and consult with experienced labour and employment counsel to evaluate the continuing viability of this classification for their specific business.

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Cardinal Nation happy for Tony La Russa’s new gig

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ST. LOUIS – Former Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa is returning to manage the Chicago White Sox. La Russa and World Series wins are no strangers here in St. Louis.

Cardinals broadcaster Mike Claiborne, a La Russa friend, believes the Hall-of-Famer will do well in Chicago.

“He’s got a good team to work with; some good young talent. They need a little leadership,” he said.

The White Sox and Cardinals are expected to meet in interleague play next season.

“Everybody wanted to see Tony do well,” Claiborne said. “And I want to see him do well, except when he plays the Cardinals.”

Claiborne said he texted Tony and congratulated him. Tony replied: “It should be fun.”

At Ballpark Village, there was well-wishes from fans.

“He’s a good guy,” said Armando Sierra. “He’s done good for baseball and for him to get another chance, why not?”

La Russa, 76, managed the Cardinals from 1996 to 2011.

“You’re never too old; you’re never too old,” Sierra said. “That’s just a number.”

Down the street at the Midwestern, more well wishes from Cardinal supporters who believe La Russa will get a warm welcome when the White Sox play at Busch Stadium.

“Probably get the reaction that (David) Freese got when he came back; everybody cheered for him,” said Cardinals fan John Pizzitola.

Claiborne added: “Warm would be an understatement. It will be seismic for sure.”

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