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It is a ballot fight for survival for gig companies like Uber, DoorDash

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By Kate Conger

OAKLAND: By late August, the urgency was becoming clear. Top executives of Uber, Lyft and the delivery service DoorDash met to discuss a California ballot measure that would exempt them from a new state labor law and save their companies hundreds of millions of dollars.

The survival of their businesses was on the ballot.

Days later, political strategists responded to the executives’ concerns by telling the companies, which had already pledged $90 million to back the measure, that they needed to spend a lot more if they wanted to win, said three people familiar with the discussions, who were not allowed to talk about them publicly.

The fight over the ballot measure, Proposition 22, has become the most expensive in the state’s history since then, with its backers contributing nearly $200 million and 10 days still to go until the Nov. 3 election. Along the way, the companies have repeatedly been accused of heavy-handed tactics; a lawsuit filed Thursday claims Uber is coercing the support of its drivers.

Despite the big spending and a barrage of television advertising, only 39% of likely voters said they supported Uber and Lyft in a poll last month by the University of California, Berkeley, while 36% opposed their proposal and others were undecided. People close to the campaign said they would want to see close to 60% approval in polling before they could breathe a sigh of relief.

The ballot measure, which is also being backed by Instacart and a delivery company that Uber is acquiring, Postmates, could be a harbinger for gig companies in the rest of the country.

Prop 22 would exempt the companies from complying with a law that went into effect at the beginning of the year, while offering limited benefits to drivers. The law is intended to force them to treat gig workers as employees, but Uber and its peers have resisted, fearing that the cost of benefits like unemployment insurance and health care could tip them into a downward financial spiral.

Although Uber and Lyft, for example, are publicly traded companies with a combined worth of $70.5 billion, they have never been profitable. They lose billions of dollars each year, and the pandemic has made turning a profit even more difficult. DoorDash, which has filed to go public, has also struggled. Analysts estimate that complying with California’s gig worker law could cost Uber, which lost $1.8 billion in its most recent quarter, as much as $500 million a year.

Uber said it planned to cut off work for the approximately 158,000 California drivers who were active on the platform each quarter if its ballot measure failed. It would employ roughly 51,000 remaining drivers, it said, and raise fares to meet the higher business costs.

The ballot fight gained additional urgency Thursday when the California 1st District Court of Appeal ruled that Uber and Lyft must treat their California drivers as employees under the new labor law. The state attorney general and the city attorneys of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego had sued the companies in May to enforce the law.

“If Prop 22 does not win, we will do our best to adjust,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, in a Wall Street Journal interview this week. “Where in California we can operate is a question mark, and the size and scale of the business will be substantially reduced.”

In past dust-ups with local regulators, Uber rallied its passengers for support. The pandemic has made that difficult, so it has urged its tech employees to get involved and used its app to reach out to drivers for support.

The Yes on 22 campaign also started an effort to organize drivers, a move copied from the labor groups that have long tried to organize drivers to fight for better working conditions. And it has forged relationships with high-profile advocacy groups, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the California chapter of the NAACP.

“Drivers want independence plus benefits by a 4-to-1 margin, and we’re going to fight for them,” said Julie Wood, a spokesperson for Lyft. “We believe California voters are on the side of drivers, too.”

A spokesperson for DoorDash, Taylor Bennett, said, “Our support for Prop 22 is part of our commitment to protecting the economic opportunity that tens of thousands of Californians value and the access to delivery that so many restaurants rely on, especially at such a critical time.”

A spokesperson for Instacart declined to comment. Postmates did not respond to a request for comment.

In an effort to gain support, the companies have bombarded riders and drivers with push notifications, campaign ads that appear in their apps and emails promoting Prop 22. Before logging on to start work, Uber drivers have been presented with a slideshow of warnings about how their lives could change if the proposition fails.

“A no vote would mean far fewer jobs,” one of the slides on the Uber app warned. “That’s why we’re fighting so hard to win.”

In the lawsuit filed against Uber on Thursday, drivers claim that the messages violated a state law that forbids employers to coerce their employees to participate in political activity.

“I can’t rule out that employers have engaged in coercive tactics like this in the past, but I have never heard of an employer engaging in this sort of barrage of coercive communications on such a broad level, ever,” said one of the attorneys for the drivers, David Lowe, a partner at Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe. “It is such an extraordinary thing, from my perspective, for Uber to exploit this captive audience of workers.” Lowe said he opposed Prop 22.

Matt Kallman, an Uber spokesperson, said, “This is an absurd lawsuit, without merit, filed solely for press attention and without regard for the facts.” He added, “It can’t distract from the truth: that the vast majority of drivers support Prop 22.”

In early October, the Prop 22 campaign was denounced by Sen. Bernie Sanders after a fake progressive group calling itself Feel the Bern endorsed the proposition in a campaign flyer that implied Uber had the backing of progressive leaders. The mailers were, in fact, sent by a firm that creates political mailers representing different views.

“The Prop 22 campaign is working hard to reach voters across the state and the political spectrum to ensure they know that drivers overwhelmingly support Prop 22,” said Geoff Vetter, a spokesperson for the Yes on 22 campaign, which is funded by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig economy companies.

Questions have also been raised about the NAACP endorsement. A political consulting firm run by Alice Huffman, leader of the California NAACP., has received $85,000 from the gig companies’ campaign, public records show. The payment was reported earlier by the news site CalMatters.

Vetter said the payments were for “outreach.” The NAACP did not respond to a request for comment.

Uber held an all-hands meeting this month for employees to meet drivers who support the proposition, and sent several emails encouraging staff to lobby friends and family.

Although the internal messages were upbeat, the policy staff raised concerns with campaign consultants during the meetings in late August and early September, the people familiar with those meetings said. Among their worries: that the ballot language was unfavorable to the companies and that people were voting earlier than usual because of the pandemic, meaning advertising would need to be rapid and aggressive.

“We look at the data every day, and our metrics show a tight race,” Justin Kintz, Uber’s head of public policy, said in an early October email to Uber employees, obtained by The New York Times. “At the same time, with continued strong execution against our plan, we’re confident we can win.”

While the email noted that campaigning was optional, Kintz encouraged employees to participate in texting banks to contact voters and to promote the campaign in conversations with friends.

“The big reason that you’re seeing so much spending is because of the high stakes in this election,” said Vetter, the spokesperson for the campaign. “Hundreds of thousands of jobs are on the line. These are services that millions of Californians rely on.”

The opposition campaign, which is funded by labor unions, has raised about $15 million. Supporters of the No on 22 campaign have argued that voters should reject the push by tech companies and that the measure would harm workers already at a disadvantage during the pandemic.

“Proposition 22 will make racial inequality worse in California at the worst possible time,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. “You have very clearly crossed the line when you try to claim the equity mantle for a campaign that has always been about allowing multibillion-dollar app companies to write their own law so that they can keep exploiting the labor of drivers, 8 in 10 of whom are people of color.”

No matter the outcome of the vote, the gig companies and their opponents are likely to take their campaigns to Washington. Massachusetts has filed a lawsuit similar to the one that the California court decided Thursday, and Uber hopes to avoid continued state-by-state battles by pressing for federal legislation.



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Food delivery deaths show why gig economy workers need more rights

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Australia’s gig economy road toll is growing, with five food delivery riders killed in the past two months – and those tragic deaths have ignited debate over the rights of workers.

While the companies behind the apps rake in pandemic profits, workers’ advocates warn we will see more delivery riders die and be injured on our roads, with limited rights to compensation if nothing changes.

Hungry Panda delivery rider Xiaojun Chen died after being hit by a bus while delivering food in Sydney on September 29.

Last week, representatives of the firm failed to front a NSW parliamentary inquiry looking into the death, with no explanation given.

Mr Chen’s widow, Lihong Wei, was told by Hungry Panda that they considered her husband to be an independent contractor, not an employee, so she would not be entitled to compensation.

Slater and Gordon lawyer Jasmina Mackovic is now representing Mrs Wei and pursuing a death-benefit claim under the NSW workers’ compensation scheme.

“They’ve lost the breadwinner and they don’t want this sort of thing to happen to any other family, especially given the state of that industry, and the fact that there’s all these loopholes, and there’s really no proper compensation,” Ms Mackovic said.

Mr Chen was the sole income earner for his family back in China, and his death has left Mrs Wei to support herself and their two children with no guarantee of financial compensation from either Hungry Panda or the state government.

Like many gig economy workers, Mr Chen was a migrant on a temporary visa.

These workers are not entitled to the federal government’s pandemic safety nets JobKeeper and JobSeeker, and they have little option but to take on low-paid, insecure and risky gig economy jobs to survive.

Gig economy companies have a history of pouring large sums into lobbying against workers’ rights.

In California, Uber and Lyft recently spent more than a-quarter-of-a-billion dollars to successfully fight law reform that would have seen gig economy contractors classified as employees.

In September, a Transport Workers’ Union survey of delivery riders in Australia showed that average earnings after costs were just over $10 an hour.

More than one in three riders said they had been injured on the job, with the vast majority (80 per cent) receiving no support from their companies.

The NSW government this week set up a taskforce to investigate the four delivery rider deaths on the state’s roads in the past two months.

Delivery riders in Australia earn an average of $10 an hour, the TWU says. Photo: Getty

But gig workers’ rights are a national issue and need to be addressed by both federal government and state governments, Ms Mackovic said.

“Both state and federal governments have a role to play to ensure that these companies don’t avoid their responsibilities, and to ensure they adequately protect the people that work for them,” she said.

Transport Workers’ Union national secretary Michael Kaine also called for the federal government to step in and “acknowledge its role”.

“It’s not good enough that states are in a piecemeal way trying to address the problem,” Mr Kaine said.

“We need the Federal Government to act and regulate.”

Hungry Panda did not respond to questions put to it by The New Daily.



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Pearl Thusi Bags A Huge Gig After Getting Booted Out Of Netflix

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Pearl Thusi Bags A Huge Gig After Getting Booted Out Of Netflix, She Has Partnered With Yvette Davis’ Sitota Collection

Pearl Thusi Bags A Huge Gig After Getting Booted Out Of Netflix. She Partnered With Yvette Davis' Satota Collection
Pearl Thusi Bags A Huge Gig After Getting Booted Out Of Netflix. She Partnered With Yvette Davis’ Sitota Collection

It seemed like a dead-end for Queen Sono lead actress, Pearl Thusi when the show unexpectedly got booted out of Netflix’s streaming service amid production for season two – but sis fell, stood and brushed herself fast enough.

She bagged herself yet another gig and continues to secure the bag.

She has partnered with American legendary music industry’s biggest icon, Yvette Davis Gayle to produce a new luxurious home fragrance, called the BlackRose under Sitota Collection.

Sitota Collection is one of the big home fragrance companies in America and abroad.

They boast in producing hand-poured soy candles and artisan soaps made with natural oils and kinds of butter.

The new fragrance is said to combine Bulgarian rose with blackcurrant and sweet berries.

Speaking on her recent big win after the Netflix flop, Pearl Thusi said the opportunity came at a right time for her and has always been a dream of hers to get into such business.

“The partnership with the Sitota Collection came naturally and it felt right. I am a businesswoman and venturing into luxury home products has been a dream of mine, who better to partner with than the best in the business?

I can’t wait for the local community to experience what we have put together. I feel this is my full-circle moment.

The collaboration is incredible because the soap and candle used my favourite scents and ingredients,” she said.

Yvette Davis Gayle is one of America’s legendary music icons.

She is well known in the musical circle for overseeing the day-to-day media and public relations efforts for such standout recording artists as 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, The Game, Diddy Dirty Money, Keyshia Cole, and Keri Hilson as well as various artists that graced the rosters of Aftermath and G-Unit Records back in the day.

She ventured into the fragrance collection business back in 2011 and her company, Sitota Collection has won her a fortune.

Pearl Thusi Bags A Huge Gig After Getting Booted Out Of Netflix


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Gig economy: Panacea or a silent killer?

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Image Credit: Agency

You probably never heard of Jang Deok-jin. And now you never will, because he’s dead.

27-year-old Jang, a former Taekwondo enthusiast in South Korea, was of the millions bit by the bug of the ‘gig’ economy — the new-age system typified by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. The biggest employment this has created is in the online marketplace — where millions of bike or vehicle drivers deliver packages of goods bought over the internet.

No doubt Jang thought that this would help him earn big bucks. He did, for a while. In the process, he lost 15kg after doing 18 months of night shifts, according to a BBC report. One night, he came home from a night shift last month at around six in the morning and headed for a shower. His father found him dead an hour later.

Master-slave. Landlord-serf. Bourgeoisie-proletariat. And now — Aggregator-partner.

By whatever name you choose to call it, throughout human history, the relationship between the oppressors and oppressed has always remained the same. The terminology may have changed over time, the levels of oppression may have varied, but the essence of the relationship still continues as they have been through the millennia — a miniscule group of people calling the shots, and the starving millions toiling for their lives to eke out a meagre existence.

We all thought it was a momentous event when the ‘Iron Curtain’ of communism came crashing down three decades ago. The 1990s were heralded as the beginning of a new epoch of liberty, human rights and prosperity, as the stifling conditions of the communist bloc gave way to liberal democratic regimes, championing the free market and industrial progress.

But are we really free?

With the advent of globalisation, free movement of goods followed as a natural course. The companies’ profits also ballooned as a consequence. As a result of globalisation, the factories moved from the industrialised states to countries where labour was cheap and plentiful, and more importantly, less likely to complain about low wages. So, while the workers in the West lost their jobs, the workers in the East gained employment under poor conditions. The classic example of this situation gained worldwide attention in 2013, when Rana Plaza, a building housing garment factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh, came crashing down, killing over 1,100 people, who were all sewing clothes for multinational brands.

Let us take a peek into the moulded pages of history to gauge how the present situation has come about.

In the 18th century, as the global economy was moving from an agricultural dominance towards industrialisation, it also became necessary to get the labour for the factories. The so-called ‘emancipation of serfs’ was nothing but a ruse to take the farm workers away to the assembly lines. The worker’s wellbeing was the last thing on the mind of those championing their liberties. It is no coincidence that the French Revolution — 1789 — occurred just 25 years after the first cotton mill opened in England.

As the factory owners pounded the labourers with more and more work, the issue of labour rights began to come to the fore — championed foremost of course by German philosopher Karl Marx. This explosion of the communist movement saw rising demand to improve workers’ rights, and increasing popularity of left-leaning movements.

As these movements caught on, it was in 1936 that France became the first European country to grant paid vacations for working class employees beyond national and religious holidays, with the post-war consensus steadily expanding those privileges. Other Western countries followed suit, establishing the social security network that forms the bedrock of social organisation at present in those nations.

However, by the end of the past century, two global events shook the very foundations of society as we knew it. One, the communist block crumbled, effectively removing the opposition to unfettered capitalism. Second, the advent of the internet ushered in a new world of connectedness like never before.

New ideas exploded. And as a natural consequence, new industries too. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution under way, a plethora of new work opportunities resulted. It was thought to be the ultimate panacea — knowledge-based industries.

And so it did — for a while and in some places. But then, the dark clouds gathered.

As it is with globalisation, manufacturing had largely moved from the assembly lines of the Western nations to cheaper locations in the Eastern hemisphere. The same happened here as well — with distances no barrier, companies moved a major part of their operations to similar places. A new term — ‘Bangalored’, referring to the city in India — made its way into the English lexicon, which refers to a person losing his/her job because that position was outsourced somewhere else. The ‘Business Process Outsourcing’ companies flourished in the less developed countries as a result, India being a major gainer.

But did it really mean the people working in these countries go better off, at least economically? For a while, yes. You suddenly saw 20-somethings with no skill to speak of but a rudimentary knowledge of computers and a smattering of accented English break out in the socioeconomic space, buying apartments, fancy cars and bikes. However, as this group reached the next decade of their lives, it was increasingly seen that they remained stuck to those positions. There was hardly any movement up the corporate ladder, and with unearthly working hours thrown in, the situation quickly became desperate.

And then came the ‘gig’ economy. The internet-based businesses were hailed as the solution to the masses being laid off due to the blue-collar jobs vanishing. But as the millions of bikes rode out to deliver parcels, the stark aspects of this new phenomenon —zero holiday pay, and employment only when there’s work available — became increasingly visible.

These are now becoming the default employment terms in what’s now considered the developed world. Governments have struggled to create a safety net of the same strength for this workforce as that being provided to people in traditional employment models, which is becoming increasingly scarce. This insecurity “has likely led gig economy workers to continue working, even when they perhaps should not, as the alternative risks substantial shortfalls in income,” Lazard Asset Management wrote in a recent note.

Thus the entire globe is increasingly moving towards an informal employment model, where there is unlikely to be any form of permanent labour benefits. This is bound to have ripple effects — not just for workers’ health. For example, if a worker does not find stable employment, will he/she think about setting up a family? How is he/she to support such a family without the knowledge of what he might be earning in the near future? Without a social security net, how will the children be educated? Without company-provided insurance, how will the health care of the workers and their families be taken care of?

No concrete answers have yet come up on these questions. Movements have begun in parts of the world for greater rights for these ‘partners’ in the gig economy, but hardly anything has been achieved yet. And the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, has worsened conditions for these workers while beefing up the ‘aggregator’s’ bottomline.

So the next time you sit in the cocoons of your home, sitting in front of your laptop and order that next round of food or anything else from the ‘aggregator’s’ website, spare a thought for the ‘partners’ like Jang Deok-jin, who gave his life in the process.

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