Gig News: Uber, Lyft & Airbnb Respond to Trump’s Muslim Ban

Major players in the gig economy have responded to President Donald Trump’s action to bar refugees and citizens of seven Muslim countries from entering the United States.

Most controversially, in the face of a 1-hour strike at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport yesterday by the union representing 19,000 New York taxi drivers in protest of Trump’s Muslim ban, Uber suspended surge pricing.  In effect, Uber broke the strike despite their claim that it wasn’t their intent to do so.  Both Buzzfeed and Slate report on a movement by consumers to cease using Uber and delete the application in response.

Uber also released a email sent to employees by CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick, in which he stated Uber is “working out a process to identify…drivers [affected by Trump’s executive order] and compensate them pro bono during the next three months to help mitigate some of the financial stress and complications with supporting their families and putting food on the table.”  Kalanick serves on President Trump’s business advisory group.

Uber’s chief rival Lyft, on the other hand, released a much stronger statement.  Per Mashable, in an email to consumers entitled “Defending Our Values,” co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer called Trump’s order “antithetical to both Lyft’s and the nation’s core values,” noting they stand firmly opposed to the action.  Most notably, Green and Zimmer stated that Lyft is “donating $1,000,000 over the next four years to the ACLU to defend our constitution.”

Airbnb, for its part, “has offered free accommodation to people left stranded by President Donald Trump’s travel restrictions,” according to the BBC.

Today’s News & Commentary — May 24, 2016

Nowadays, you can order a pizza by tweeting an emoji and have it delivered to you in a car equipped with a built-in pizza warmer. But technology hasn’t just changed the way that pizza arrives on your doorstep; apparently, it has changed the way that employers underpay workers as well. The New York Times reports that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has filed a lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza alleging that the computer system it provides its franchisees “systematically undercounted hours worked by employees, shortchanging them hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The suit comes on the heels of a number of recent legal victories against Domino’s franchisees in the Empire State, but differs from those actions in that it targets the franchiser for “forcing franchisees to use a computer accounting system even though it was aware it was flawed.” In fact, Schneiderman claims, “Domino’s corporate executives knew about the violations, denied responsibility and failed to take action.” Accordingly, Schneiderman promises to “prove that the Domino’s corporate franchiser is legally responsible for rampant wage theft occurring at its stores.” Exactly how rampant is the problem? According to Schneiderman’s office, “78 percent of franchisees listed instances of subminimum wages, and 86 percent . . . listed instances of unlawfully low overtime rates.”

As the recent dust-up over SEIU’s proposed agreement with Airbnb suggests, the growing gig economy has forced a bit of an existential crisis upon organized labor. Writing in Fast Company, Sarah Kessler takes a closer look at how unions are responding to rapidly advancing technology and its spiraling effects on the economy. On the one hand, says SEIU president Mary Kay Henry, “technology gives [unions] a leg up in being able to connect people to each other and activate them.” Some unions have also expressed willingness to organize gig workers, even if the shape of that organization does not fit the contours of a traditional union. On the other hand, however, “[e]ncouraging on-demand companies to rely on a workforce of independent contractors who lack the rights and protections of employees” may be “bad public policy.” That’s why the AFL-CIO — of which SEIU is no longer a part — continues to insist that “working people in the gig economy share a single common designation: employees.”

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Today’s News & Commentary — April 26, 2016

Once a friend of the United Auto Workers, Volkwagen has truly become a foe.  The New York Times reports that yesterday “Volkswagen announced that it would go to federal court to appeal a recent victory by the U.A.W.  Late last year, a majority of the Chattanooga plant’s 160 maintenance workers voted to accept representation by the union.”  While Volkswagen had previously been committed to bringing German-style councils to the plan, management turnover and company troubles have resulted in a changed strategy.   The NLRB has called on Volkswagen to begin bargaining with the workers, but the company wants all 1,500 plant workers to vote on unionization.

The court battle over right-to-work continues in Wisconsin.  According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “a Dane County judge declined Monday to put on hold his ruling that found unconstitutional a Wisconsin law barring unions and businesses from reaching labor deals requiring workers to pay union fees,” and attention will now turn to the state’s Court of Appeals.  Notably, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court is “controlled 5-2 by conservatives.”

Not all gig economy firms are fighting organized labor.  Skift notes that Airbnb has been negotiating with the SEIU over the use of organized housekeeping services by hosts.  No agreement was reached, but representatives from the SEIU and UNITE HERE did meet with Airbnb.  The American Prospect has more on how the Uber settlement and “the SEIU-Unite Here brouhaha has created more questions than answers to how unions—and the labor movement more broadly—can effectively combat the harmful consequences of Silicon Valley’s disruption of the employer-employee relationship.”

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Today’s News & Commentary — September 24, 2015

Workers at the busiest distribution warehouse in the Western Hemisphere are on strike, Buzzfeed reports.  Since Tuesday, workers at the Los Angeles warehouse, which serves giant retailers like Amazon, Kmart, Sears, and Lowes have been protesting their working conditions.  The workers’ complaints includes wage and hour violations, unsafe working conditions, and retaliation by employers against organization attempts.  As one worker put it, “This warehouse moves products for some of the largest companies in the world, but pays us barely more than minimum wage.”  This case may present a high-stakes test of the real impact of the NLRB’s Browning-Ferris decision–discussed further here.  After all, warehouse workers are directly employed by California Cartage, but Amazon accounts for a third of the warehouse’s business.  As Professor Sachs points out in the article, the law is becoming increasingly friendly to joint employer claims, “even in cases where there is no direct or immediate supervision by the putative joint employer.”  In other words, Amazon might be held liable for the workers’ conditions at the warehouse.  For now, the workers vow to strike until they see some changes made.

Pope Francis has arrived in the U.S., and the labor movement is eager to welcome him.  Lydia DePillis at the Washington Post reports that low-wage workers from federal facilities in Washington have been striking over the past couple of days carrying signs in the Pope’s image.  She writes that labor groups “are making an unprecedented show of unity with the Catholic church at a time when its leader is more focused on issues of inequality and economic justice than any other pope in recent memory.”  Friar Clete Kiley, who founded the Priest-Labor Initiative in 2012, spoke at the AFL-CIO’s conference in June; Cardinal Donald Wuerl, one of Pope Francis’s closest confidants in the U.S., also attended the AFL-CIO conference; and the Pope has made appointments across the country who are reaching out to organized labor.

Union leaders joined together to welcome the Pope at the White House yesterday.  According to Politico, the guests included AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, and other union leaders and activists.  Notably, the Pope’s motorcade is also embracing American unions; Pope Francis has ditched his Mercedes for a Fiat, and Fiat-Chrysler has the closest relationship with the UAW of Detroit’s Big Three.

In gig economy news, Lydia DePillis at the Washington Post reports that a hospitality workers union in Washington, D.C., has proposed a bill for regulating Airbnb.  UNITE HERE Local 25 represents about 6,500 workers in the D.C. area, and they explain they seek to protect hospitality workers’ jobs as well as the housing market in the area.  Their proposed legislation attempts to address hosts who own and rent many units; their bill limits the number of rentals a user may have at a given time to 5.  Solomon Keene, president of Hotel Association of Washington, explains that it’s not an attempt to drive Airbnb out of the market, but rather, an attempt at preventing entrepreneurs from using Airbnb to set up a more lightly regulated, geographically distributed hotel. Continue reading