A California Court of Appeals heard oral arguments yesterday from Uber, Lyft, and the State of California about whether the state can recognize drivers as employees with rights to certain benefits under the state’s law AB 5. The companies were ordered to comply with wage and unemployment requirements by a California Superior Court judge in August, but the order was stayed during appeal. The Washington Post reports, Uber and Lyft presented arguments that a shift to employment would cause the ride-hailing app business irreparable harm. They argued employment would lengthen wait times and raise fares, as well as require the companies to potentially exit some markets. During the argument, Uber sought to distinguish itself from Lyft by highlighting changes its business made to increase driver independence, including allowing limited flexibility to set prices and allowing riders to request trips with a specific driver. Judges hearing the arguments questioned the companies’ claims that they are not subject to minimum wage requirements. The court is expected to rule in the coming months, but the questions at stake could be changed drastically by the outcome of Proposition 22, currently being decided by California voters.

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia stoked fears about cancel culture and religious freedom in a “Columbus Day commemoration” speech at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio this Monday. As Bloomberg Law reports, Scalia praised the origins of the national holiday as a symbol of religious inclusiveness, and condemned racial justice activists who have toppled multiple statues of Columbus this year. While he avoided discussing the pandemic or the millions of workers who remain unemployed, Scalia did take time to emphasize that white people are not inherently racist, parroting a talking point of President Trump’s. On that same topic, Scalia discussed his agency’s involvement in enforcing the president’s recent executive order prohibiting federal contractors from “inculcate[ing]” views that promote “race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating” in their employees through workplace diversity and inclusion trainings. The Department of Labor recently created an FAQ page on the executive order, where it defines “race or sex scapegoating” as “any claim that. . . members of any race are inherently racist or are inherently inclined to oppress others.” Under examples of such scapegoating, DoL lists “concepts that. . . an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members or the same race or sex [or that] any individual should feel. . . guilt. . . on account of his or her race or sex.” The order has prompted wide criticism from both employer representatives and worker advocates.

Princeton University has agreed to pay nearly $1 million in back pay to female professors following an investigation into alleged pay discrimination, NPR reports. The agreement resolves a multi-year investigation brought by the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. The investigation involved more than 100 female full professors and spanned the years 2012-2014. Princeton made the agreement to pay back pay and future pay without admitting liability, claiming that university officials did an internal analysis and found no meaningful pay disparities based on gender. Princeton will pay $925,000 in back pay and at least $250,000 in future wages.

The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint accusing HCL America, a Google contractor, of violating its employee’s labor rights. According to the complaint, HCL illegally discouraged workers from belonging to a union and failed to bargain with the union in good faith. The complaint alleged that managers at HCL interrogated workers about their colleague’s organizing activities and told workers that promotions and wages would be delayed because of the union campaign. The company also began shifting some work overseas to Poland, the complaint alleges. HCL employees, who perform work including data analysis under contracts HCL has with Google, voted to unionize last fall. According to The New York Times, while some blue-collar workers in the tech industry have formed unions, the HCL union was believed to be the first group of white-collar tech employees to organize while working for a major company.

According to a survey released Tuesday by the New York Federal Reserve, U.S. consumers became slightly less worried about losing their jobs and more optimistic about their earnings in September. The average perceived chance of becoming unemployed over the next year dropped by 1.4% from August to September, driven by an improvement in feeling among people above age 60 with incomes below $50,000. Despite this optimism, data from the DoL released earlier in the month indicates the recovery of the labor market is slowing.