Uber plans to keep defending independent contractor model for drivers – gpgmail


In light of gig worker protections bill AB5 passing in the California State Senate last night, amendments to AB5 passing in the Assembly this morning, Uber has made it clear it plans to do whatever it takes to keep its drivers independent contractors.

“We will continue to advocate for a compromised agreement,” Uber Chief Legal Officer Tony West said on a press call today.

As Uber outlined last month, the company is pushing for a framework that would establish a guaranteed earnings minimum while on a trip, offer portable benefits and enable drivers to “have a collective voice.”

He went on to say that Uber is continuing to explore several legal and political options to lay the groundwork for a statewide ballot initiative in 2020. Uber and Lyft announced a $60 million joint initiative last month, and now, West is saying Uber is open to investing even more money in that committee account.

“This is not our first choice,” West said. “At the same time, we need to make sure we are exploring all options and all alternatives to put forward a framework that works for the 21st-century economy and we believe we have a framework that does that.”

AB5 would help to ensure gig economy workers are entitled to minimum wage, workers’ compensation and other benefits by requiring employers to apply the ABC test. The bill, first introduced in December 2018, aims to codfiy the ruling established in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v Superior Court of Los Angeles. In that case, the court applied the ABC test and decided Dynamex wrongfully classified its workers as independent contractors.

According to the ABC test, in order for a hiring entity to legally classify a worker as an independent contractor, it must prove the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, performs work outside the scope of the entity’s business and is regularly engaged in an “independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.”

If Uber were to fail this test, drivers would not be able to determine when, where and how often they work, nor would they be able to work for more than one platform at a time, West said.

“I do think there would be significant changes in the experience drivers would have,” West said.

But West believes Uber would not fail this test. While it will be required to pass this test in the likely event AB5 gets signed into law, West pointed out “we have been successful in arguing under this ABC test in the past that drivers are independent and independent contractors,” West said. “We believe that to be true.”

There would surely be a financial impact if Uber fails the test, but West declined to comment on just what that fiscal impact would be. Industry analysts, however, have estimated it could result in up to a 30% cost increase.

As noted earlier, the bill is expected to pass, as Gov. Gavin Newsom has previously expressed his support for the measure. Though, Newsom said earlier today that he’s still in negotiations with both Uber and Lyft.

“The governor has been pretty clear he is fully committed to a negotiated solution here,” West said in a press call today. “He’s been clear to us on that message in private and has publicly stated that now.”

Following the bill’s passing in the Senate, Lyft said the state missed an opportunity to support the majority of rideshare drivers who want a solution that balances flexibility with earnings standard and benefits.

“The fact that there were more than 50 industries carved out of AB5 is very telling,” a Lyft spokesperson said. “We are fully prepared to take this issue to the voters of California to preserve the freedom and access drivers and riders want and need.”

Earlier today, Lyft sent out an email to drivers regarding AB5 and how if it’s signed into law, drivers “may soon be required to drive specific shifts, stick to specific areas, and drive for only a single platform (such as Lyft, Uber, Doordash, or others).”

Despite what Uber and Lyft are saying, there are a number of drivers who have fought long and hard to ensure the bill passes. Two of the main organizations behind the actions in support of AB5 are Gig Workers Rising and Mobile Workers Alliance. In addition to urging legislators pass AB5, Uber and Lyft drivers organizing with Gig Workers Rising also want the right to form a union.

“AB 5 is only the beginning,” Edan Alva, a driver with Gig Workers Rising, said in a statement. “I talk daily to other drivers who want a change but they are scared. They don’t want to lose their only source of income. But just because someone really needs to work does not mean that their rights as a worker should be stepped all over. That is why a union is critical. It simply won’t work without it.”


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Gig worker bill AB-5 passes in California – gpgmail


Assembly Bill 5, the gig worker bill opposed by the likes of Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, has passed in the California State Senate. This comes shortly after California Governor Gavin Newsom officially put his support behind AB 5 in an op-ed.

The bill needed 21 votes to pass in the State Senate. It passed in a 29 to 11 vote this evening.

The next step is for Governor Newsom to sign the bill into law, which he is expected to do. If he signs the bill, it will go into effect at the beginning of 2020.

“AB 5 is only the beginning,” Gig Workers Rising member and driver Edan Alva said in a statement. “I talk daily to other drivers who want a change but they are scared. They don’t want to lose their only source of income. But just because someone really needs to work does not mean that their rights as a worker should be stepped all over. That is why a union is critical. It simply won’t work without it.”

The bill, first introduced in December 2018, aims to codfiy the ruling established in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v Superior Court of Los Angeles. In that case, the court applied the ABC test and decided Dynamex wrongfully classified its workers as independent contractors based on the presumption that “a worker who performs services for a hirer is an employee for purposes of claims for wages and benefits…”

Those who work as 1099 contractors can set their own schedules, and decide when, where and how much they want to work. For employers, bringing on 1099 contractors means they can avoid paying payroll taxes, overtime pay, benefits and workers’ compensation.

According to the ABC test, in order for a hiring entity to legally classify a worker as an independent contractor, it must prove the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, performs work outside the scope of the entity’s business and is regularly engaged in an “independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.”

In short, AB-5, which has already passed in the California State Assembly, would ensure gig economy workers are entitled to minimum wage, workers’ compensation and other benefits.

Uber and Lyft, two of the main targets of this legislation, are adamantly against it. Last month, Uber, Lyft and DoorDash amped up their efforts to do whatever they can to prevent it from happening. That’s in part due to the fact that the companies cost of operating would increase.

Uber, Lyft and DoorDash each put $30 million toward funding a 2020 ballot initiative that would enable them to keep their drivers as independent contractors.

Assuming Gov. Newsom signs the bill, it will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.




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How ‘ghost work’ in Silicon Valley pressures the workforce, with Mary Gray – gpgmail


The phrase “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” was originally meant sarcastically.

It’s not actually physically possible to do — especially while wearing Allbirds and having just fallen off a Bird scooter in downtown San Francisco, but I should get to my point.

This week, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services Office, repeatedly referred to the notion of bootstraps in announcing shifts in immigration policy, even going so far as to change the words to Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “The New Colossus:” no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but “give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.”

We’ve come to expect “alternative facts” from this administration, but who could have foreseen alternative poems?

Still, the concept of ‘bootstrapping’ is far from limited to the rhetorical territory of the welfare state and social safety net. It’s also a favorite term of art in Silicon Valley tech and venture capital circles: see for example this excellent (and scary) recent piece by my editor Danny Crichton, in which young VC firms attempt to overcome a lack of the startup capital that is essential to their business model by creating, as perhaps an even more essential feature of their model, impossible working conditions for most everyone involved. Often with predictably disastrous results.

It is in this context of unrealistic expectations about people’s labor, that I want to introduce my most recent interviewee in this series of in-depth conversations about ethics and technology.

Mary L. Gray is a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research. One of the world’s leading experts in the emerging field of ethics in AI, Mary is also an anthropologist who maintains a faculty position at Indiana University. With her co-author Siddharth Suri (a computer scientist), Gray coined the term “ghost work,” as in the title of their extraordinarily important 2019 book, Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass. 

Image via Mary L. Gray / Ghostwork / Adrianne Mathiowetz Photography

Ghost Work is a name for a rising new category of employment that involves people scheduling, managing, shipping, billing, etc. “through some combination of an application programming interface, APIs, the internet and maybe a sprinkle of artificial intelligence,” Gray told me earlier this summer. But what really distinguishes ghost work (and makes Mary’s scholarship around it so important) is the way it is presented and sold to the end consumer as artificial intelligence and the magic of computation.

In other words, just as we have long enjoyed telling ourselves that it’s possible to hoist ourselves up in life without help from anyone else (I like to think anyone who talks seriously about “bootstrapping” should be legally required to rephrase as “raising oneself from infancy”), we now attempt to convince ourselves and others that it’s possible, at scale, to get computers and robots to do work that only humans can actually do.

Ghost Work’s purpose, as I understand it, is to elevate the value of what the computers are doing (a minority of the work) and make us forget, as much as possible, about the actual messy human beings contributing to the services we use. Well, except for the founders, and maybe the occasional COO.

Facebook now has far more employees than Harvard has students, but many of us still talk about it as if it were little more than Mark Zuckerberg, Cheryl Sandberg, and a bunch of circuit boards.

But if working people are supposed to be ghosts, then when they speak up or otherwise make themselves visible, they are “haunting” us. And maybe it can be haunting to be reminded that you didn’t “bootstrap” yourself to billions or even to hundreds of thousands of dollars of net worth.

Sure, you worked hard. Sure, your circumstances may well have stunk. Most people’s do.

But none of us rise without help, without cooperation, without goodwill, both from those who look and think like us and those who do not. Not to mention dumb luck, even if only our incredible good fortune of being born with a relatively healthy mind and body, in a position to learn and grow, here on this planet, fourteen billion years or so after the Big Bang.

I’ll now turn to the conversation I recently had with Gray, which turned out to be surprisingly more hopeful than perhaps this introduction has made it seem.

Greg Epstein: One of the most central and least understood features of ghost work is the way it revolves around people constantly making themselves available to do it.

Mary Gray: Yes, [What Siddarth Suri and I call ghost work] values having a supply of people available, literally on demand. Their contributions are collective contributions.

It’s not one person you’re hiring to take you to the airport every day, or to confirm the identity of the driver, or to clean that data set. Unless we’re valuing that availability of a person, to participate in the moment of need, it can quickly slip into ghost work conditions.


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Last-mile training and the future of work in an expanding gig economy – gpgmail


The future of work is so uncertain that perhaps the only possible job security exists for the person who can credibly claim to be an expert on the future of work.

Nevertheless, there are two trends purported experts are reasonably certain about: (1) continued growth in the number of jobs requiring substantive and sustained interaction with technology; and (2) continued rapid expansion of the gig economy.

This first future of work trend is evident today in America’s skills gap with 7 million unfilled jobs — many mid- or high-skill position requiring a range of digital and technology capabilities.

Amazon’s recent announcement that it will spend $700 million over the next six years to upskill 100,000 of its low-wage fulfillment center employees for better digital jobs within Amazon and elsewhere demonstrates an understanding that the private sector must take some responsibility for the requisite upskilling and retraining, as well as the importance of establishing pathways to these jobs that are faster and cheaper than the ones currently on offer from colleges and universities.

These pathways typically involve “last-mile training”, a combination of digital skills, specific industry or enterprise knowledge, and soft skills to make candidates job-ready from day one.

The second trend isn’t new; the gig economy has existed since the advent of the “Help Wanted” sign. But what’s powered the gig revolution is the shift from signs and classified ads to digital platforms and marketplaces that facilitate continued and repeated matching of gig and gig worker. These talent platforms have made it possible for companies and organizations to conceptualize and compartmentalize work as projects rather than full-time jobs, and for workers to earn a living by piecing together gigs.

Critics of the gig economy decry the lack of job security, healthcare and benefits, and rightly so. If it’s hard to make ends meet as a full-time employee making a near-minimum wage, it’s impossible to do so via a gig platform at a comparable low wage. But rather than fighting the onset of the gig economy, critics might achieve more by focusing on upskilling gig workers.

To date, conversations about pathways and upskilling have focused on full-time employment. In the workforce or skills gap vernacular, upskilled Amazon workers might leave the fulfillment center for a tech support job with Amazon or another company, but it’s always a full-time job. But how do these important concepts intersect with the rising gig economy?

Image via Getty Images / PeterSnow

Just as there are low-skill and high-skill jobs, there are gig platforms that require limited or low skills, and platforms that require a breadth of advanced skills. Gig platforms that can be classified as low-skill include Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, TaskRabbit, Uber and Lyft, and Instawork (hospitality). There are also mid-tier platforms like Upwork that span a wide range of gigs. And then there are platforms like Gigster (app development), and Business Talent Group (consulting and entire management functions) that require the same skillset as the most lucrative, in-demand, full-time positions.

So just as Amazon is focused on last-mile training programs to upskill workers and create new pathways to better jobs, in the gig economy context, our focus should be on strategies and platforms that allow gig workers to move from lower-skill to higher-skill platforms i.e., pathways for Uber drivers to become Business Talent Group executives.

One high-skill gig platform has developed an innovative strategy to do exactly this. CreatorUp is a gig platform for digital video production that has built in a last-mile training on-ramp. CreatorUp offers low-cost or free last-mile training programs on its own and in conjunction with clients like YouTube and Google to upskill gig workers so they can be effective digital video producers on the CreatorUp platform.

CreatorUp’s programs are driven by client demand; because the company saw significant demand from clients for AR/VR video production, it launched a new AR/VR training track. Graduates of CreatorUp’s programs join the platform and are staffed on a wide range of productions that clients require to engage customers, suppliers, employees and/or to build their brands.

Screen Shot 2019 07 28 at 4.39.10 PM

The good news for CreatorUp and other high-skill gig platforms that begin to incorporate last-mile training is that investing in these pathways can start the flywheel that every successful talent marketplace requires. Clients only patronize talent marketplaces once there’s a critical mass of talent on the platform. So how do platforms attract talent? One way is to be first-to-market in a category. A second is to attract billions in venture capital. But a third might be to use last-mile training to create new talent.

CreatorUp believes its last-mile training programs have allowed it to grow a network that serves diverse client needs better than any other video production platform. For not only has last-mile training allowed CreatorUp to understand and certify the skills of talent on the platform, and therefore to meet the needs of more clients, it has also allowed CreatorUp to bid more competitively because newly trained talent is often willing to work for less.

Last-mile training has the potential to be a win-win for the gig economy. It’s a strategy that may allow gig platforms to scale, matching more talent with more clients. Meanwhile, by allowing workers to upskill from lower-tier gig platforms to higher skill platforms, it’s also the first gig economy solution for social mobility.


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