California Bill Would Tie Traffic Fines To Violator’s Income

As reported by CBS13:

SACRAMENTO — If you’ve ever gotten a traffic violation, you know it all too well that California’s traffic fines are among the highest in the nation.

But a state Senator wants to lower fines for people who don’t make much money while making it illegal for the state to suspend your driver’s license if you can’t afford to pay.

Devon Olson is in the passenger’s seat, while mom drives her around town.

“I’m Uber mom these days,” mom said.

Devon lost her license because of $3,600 in unpaid traffic tickets. The biggest penalty is a red light camera violation. But she says she wasn’t home to receive the tickets in the mail. Then the late fees kept building and she had to give up the car. …

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Bay Area companies paying employees to protest Trump

While many conservative claims about paid protesters demonstrating against President Trump have been met with skepticism and dismissal — in the Bay Area — some of them might actually be getting money for being there.

Companies in the region are increasingly offering their employees paid time off to participate in protests, marches and other demonstrations as part of civic engagement policies.

“Democracy is a participatory institution; it’s not just something that takes place every four years when you have a candidate in a race,” Adam Kleinberg, CEO of San Francisco ad firm Traction, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The company gives its workers two paid “Days of Action” per year.

Furthermore, tech giants like Facebook recently allowed their employees to take a day of paid leave to participate in the May Day immigration rights demonstration in San Francisco — a rally that was largely a protest of Trump’s agenda.

“At Facebook, we’re committed to fostering an inclusive workplace where employees feel comfortable expressing their opinions and speaking up,” a spokesman explained in an emailed statement. “We support our people in recognizing International Workers’ Day and other efforts to raise awareness for safe and equitable employment conditions.”

Major tech figures like Facebook COO Sharly Sandberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and co-founder Sergey Brin have all spoken out against the president, illustrating this administration’s frosty relationship with the industry.

And even those who showed a willingness to work with the White House have faced a wave of scrutiny. For example, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned from the president’s business advisory council earlier this year after facing intense backlash, seeing #DeleteUber trend at the top of Twitter over his decision to offer guidance on a job growth agenda.

The policies appear to reflect a growing discontent in the heavily liberal region that Trump presents more than just policy differences — but an existential threat to their well being and daily life.

“It’s a recognition of the fact that civic engagement is something that we should be doing not just as individuals but as a company,” Buoyant CEO William Morgan told CS Monitor about his software company’s policy. “I wanted to make it more clear that we could not be passive citizens in this world.”

While the policies aren’t new — as companies like Comcast have been offering such leave for years — they appear to be taking on new life in the Trump era.

“People were wishing that I was dropped off in an (Islamic State) territory, calling me an idiotic libtard, candy-ass, saying they hope we’ll go out of business. Really nasty stuff,” Kleinberg told the Chronicle about the backlash to the policy.

Overall, Trump’s policy proposals have been met with a particularly strong response in Silicon Valley due to his stance on issues like the controversial H-1B visa program that tech companies say they rely on to recruit top talent — but one critics say comes at the expense of American workers.

And the president’s rhetoric may be having some effect, as the number of H-1B applications dropped to under 200,000 in 2017 — a 15 percent decrease from a year earlier.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Uber pulls self-driving cars from California roads

As reported by the Chicago Tribune:

Uber pulled its self-driving cars from California roads after state regulators moved to revoke their registrations, officials said.

The move comes after a week of talks between the ride-hailing company and state regulators failed.

Hours after Uber launched the service in its hometown of San Francisco last Wednesday, the Department of Motor Vehicles threatened legal action if the company did not stop. The cars need the same special permit as the 20 other companies testing self-driving technology in California, regulators argued.

Uber maintains it does not need a permit because the cars are not sophisticated enough to continuously drive themselves, although the company promotes them as “self-driving.”

The DMV said the registrations …

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Beverly Hills Backs Self-Driving Uber in Fight with California

UberBeverly Hills Mayor John A. Mirisch has taken Uber’s side in its fight with the State of California over the company’s effort to roll out self-driving cars without a special permit.

Mirisch backed Uber even as other civi leaders, such as San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, have opposed Uber’s provocative move.

After losing labor court disputes and failing to get the patent protection for ride-hailing, Uber Technologies, Inc. seems willing to bet the company that it can continue to operate un-permitted self-driving cars in California.

Breitbart News noted that after successfully launching the nation’s first legal “autonomous” (self-driving) ride-hailing pilot in Pennsylvania in August, Uber on December 14 launched a commercial self-driving service in California, without obtaining a Department of Motor Vehicle permits, as Google and 20 manufacturers have done.

After DMV general counsel Brian Soublet wrote a cease-and-desist letter to Uber’s Head of Advanced Technology, Anthony Levandowski, threatening legal action, he only acknowledged that there was a “debate” over Uber needing a permit to operate self-driving cars. Levandowski claimed that with a stand-by driver “behind the wheel” making the vehicles “less than fully autonomous,” Uber does not need any California permit.

The hard-ball play by Uber comes as the company is under enormous and legal and regulatory assault worldwide, including the legality of utilizing contract operators without treating them as employees, and its failure to be awarded key ride-hailing patent rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen in August denied Uber’s $100 million offer to settle a class action lawsuit involving about 380,000 Uber drivers that were misclassified in the U.S. as contractors, rather than employees under state and federal labor law.

Two months later in October, Uber lost what was billed as the UK employment law “case of the year,” when an employment tribunal ruled that the correct legal definition for two of its “App Only” PHV (Private Hire Vehicle) operators were “employees,” rather than “partners.” That means that approximately 60,000 Uber operators are entitled to all the “attendant statutory protections” of sick pay, minimum wage and guaranteed holiday time.

Given the similarity of labor laws in the European Union and the British Commonwealth nations around the world, the ruling my have significant ramifications impacting about 250,000 international drivers that can now sue Uber for misclassification financial damages.

Uber’s ability to dominate the ride-hailing industry it created with the “fundamental idea of a taxi-calling app” rests entirely on U.S. Patent Application 13/672,658 that covers

A method for determining a location relating to an on-demand service on a computing device is provided. One or more processors receiving a transport request from a user. The transport request specifies at least one of a pick-up region or a drop-off region…

But U.S. Patent Office and the courts have refused to grant the issue of that patent several times. Uber is so desperate to secure the issuance of the application that it is still making further appeals for a “Request of Continued Examination,” according to report by Seeking Alpha’s Andrew Connor.

General Motors, which made a $500 million investment in Uber rival Lyft, acquired the intellectual property rights of former ride-sharing company Sidecar. One analyst suggests that the Sidecar acquisition now gives GM “the power to shut down Uber” in the ride-hailing business.

Uber now faces an enormous set of legal and financial challenges due to its current business model relying on individual drivers using their own vehicles for “ride-hailing.” But with 34 issued patents, including 8 acquired recently from Microsoft, Uber is positioned to dominate a “ride-dispatch” service that relies on self-driving cars owned by Uber.

Google and insurance interests led an intensive lobbying campaign in 2012 to pass several pieces of California legislation that authorized the DMV to create regulatory rules and implement autonomous vehicle tests across the state.

Uber was only a start-up at that time, but has been actively lobbying the DMV in Sacramento over the last two years regarding issues surrounding ride-hailing services and autonomous vehicle regulations.

Uber may be calculating that the potential implosion they face with their current business model is so risky, it may be worth “betting the farm” in a battle to convince Gov. Brown and the Democrat-controlled Legislature that California needs to fully-deploy autonomous vehicles.

Beverly Hills has already planned for “a robot fleet of mass transit vehicles” to ease traffic in the congested area — hence the mayor’s support for Uber.

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Tech founders want California to secede

As reported by CNN Money:

Shervin Pishevar, an early Uber investor and cofounder of Hyperloop, posted a series of tweets Tuesday night announcing his plans to fund “a legitimate campaign for California to become its own nation.”

And no, he’s not joking.

“Yes it’s serious,” Pishevar told CNNMoney in an e-mail. “It’s the most patriotic thing I can do. The country is [at] a serious crossroads.”

Within hours, several other tech founders offered their support for the plan.

“I was literally just going to tweet this. I’m in and will partner with you on it,” Dave Morin, an investor and founder of private social networking tool Path, tweeted in response to Pishevar.

“I support you in this effort let me know what I can do to help,” Marc Hemeon, a former Google employee and founder of Design Inc., wrote on Twitter. …

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Judge Rejects Uber Settlement, Saying It Lowballs California Labor Claims

As reported by Forbes.com:

A federal judge has thrown out a proposed $100 million settlement negotiated by a Boston lawyer on behalf of more than 200,000 Uber drivers in California and Massachusetts, saying it places too low a value on potentially costly claims drivers could bring under California labor laws.

U.S. District Judge Edward Chen, who has consistently ruled in favor of attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan over Uber’s fierce objections, rejected the settlement because it allocated only $1 million for claims under California’s Private Attorneys General Act, a law that allows employees to sue for civil penalties on behalf of the state. The California Labor and Workforce Development Agency estimated the value of those claims to be $1 billion if a court determined Uber drivers were employees and not independent contractors, as Uber maintains.

The judge also dismissed as meaningless an unusual provision in the settlement that would increase it from $84 million to $100 million if Uber held a successful initial public offering, saying he couldn’t consider that part of the deal since he had no assurance it would happen. (Uber, which has a private market value of $28-$60 billion based on recent venture capital rounds, told the judge “it would not be proper” to respond to his questions about an IPO.)

The settlement came on the eve of the first trial, and Chen’s rejection puts …

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Unions Target Uber and Lyft as Next Payday

UberLabor groups have sought out relationships with Uber drivers, whom the company recently settled with, but has yet to classify as employees.

“A day after Uber announced a $100 million settlement with some drivers in California and Massachusetts, the Teamsters announced plans to form an association for workers in California’s ride-hailing industry,” USA Today reported. “The Teamsters said drivers had approached the transportation union seeking help with benefits, a dispute resolution procedure, legal and tax services, advocacy assistance, and a stronger voice on the job,” the paper added, although the way such assistance would be organizationally formalized remained unclear. “Members would probably not join the actual union, but would instead join an association, which could possibly be funded, though not controlled, by Uber.”

Crunching the numbers

So long as Uber and its fellow ride-share companies stay away from the employer-employee model, unionization would be off the table. “One problematic aspect for the Teamsters is that Uber and Lyft drivers are still classified as independent contractors,” as Fortune noted. “As a result, these workers would not be able to form a traditional union. Instead they would have to form an association, which would have limited bargaining abilities and be allowed to speak on the behalf of drivers.”

For that reason, Uber was willing to shell out substantial cash in its California and Massachusetts settlements — “up $84 million,” as the Verge observed, plus “another $16 million if the company eventually goes public.”

“In exchange, Uber gets to keep its business model — drivers are ‘partners’ with the flexibility to make their own schedules, but lacking access to traditional benefits like health care — which has helped fuel its growth across the world, as well as its other worldly valuation of $62.5 billion –€” making it the most valuable technology startup on the planet.”

“If the lawsuit had gone to trial, and a jury decided that drivers indeed deserved to be full employees, then Uber could have suddenly found itself responsible for all sorts of extra costs, from Social Security payments to minimum wage requirements,” the Verge suggested. But while some Uber drivers have hoped for more benefits, some analysts have questioned whether Uber could sustain itself at all without relying on its unusual business model.

More hurdles

And in California, the settlement will not become law without clearing at least one more hurdle. “Uber’s settlement depends on the approval of a single judge,” Forbes noted. “This is by no means a foregone conclusion, as Uber’s rival Lyft learned earlier in April when Judge Chhabria rejected its $12.25 million settlement of a similar class action. Among other reasons given for the rejection, the amount Lyft would pay was ‘glaringly’ inadequate monetarily, did not provide sufficient payment to the state of California under the Private Attorney General Act claim, and the non-monetary relief, which did not meet one of the lawsuit’s primary goals of reclassifying drivers as employees, was insufficient to overcome these problems.”

At the same time, according to the site, the state’s Private Attorney General Act could allow future suits by “unions such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which continues to attempt to organize Uber drivers in California and in the state of Washington,” or “the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board, which have made clear their skepticism of the independent contractor model and intention to allow organization by misclassified employees.”

In fact, this March, the NLRB already sued Uber in a San Francisco federal court, “demanding it obey subpoenas related to five unfair labor practices cases,” as Politico reported. “And just last week an NLRB regional director filed a complaint against a Los Angeles company for allegedly misclassifying its trucking workers as independent contractors. That gives the board an opportunity to rule that misclassifying workers is an unfair labor practice, an issue with obvious relevance to Uber.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California regulators permit Uber and Lyft to offer carpooling services

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

State regulators on Thursday granted companies such as Uber and Lyft permission to offer carpooling, sanctioning a service that has allowed fast-growing San Francisco companies to offer lower-cost rides.

After weeks of delays, the California Public Utilities Commission voted 4-1 on Thursday to approve commercial carpooling. Commissioner Mike Florio cast the sole vote opposing the motion because he wasn’t convinced that the decision was legal.

“If I were in the Legislature, I’d vote for this, but I’m not,” Florio said during the PUC meeting in San Francisco. “I think what the Legislature has said is clear: An individual fare is an individual fare, and we cannot go with this approach.”

Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) introduced a bill a year ago to change a 50-year-old Californian law that …

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Unintended Consequences of Uber Boom

There’s been a lot of chatter in California these days about Uber, Lyft and so-called “transportation network companies,” or TNCs – and why not?  After all, these evolving services were “born” in the Golden State, which has earned renown as a beacon and world leader of innovation and technology. Consumers, the media and many politicians have focused their attention on this popular phenomenon as it moves as rapidly as its driver-owned fleet.

UberBut, looking closer at the issue, this baby boomer can’t help but cite a few choice words from a Crosby, Stills and Nash hit: “Traveling twice the speed of sound, it’s easy to get burned.”  What many leaders are now rightly taking into consideration are the unintended consequences of these TNCs – a safe and competitive landscape for consumers, the marketplace and our highways.

Thankfully, many leaders in the State Capitol are realizing that we need to know more about the Ubers of the world – what they do, how they operate, how they are regulated, and what this means for the future. In recent weeks, a joint legislative hearing was convened to focus on just that, and the facts speak for themselves. There was general unanimity that these new technologies are a good thing if done right, but too many uncertainties remain. Will this new service lead to less traffic or more? Does it exclude certain California consumers while favoring others? What are the views and perspectives of both driver and passenger? How seamless is the background check process for all drivers? Many unknowns persist all-around. In fact, the lobbyist for one TNC wasn’t even aware of the rough number of cars they have on the highway.

Much of the emphasis during this hearing and otherwise has been on the fallout this new “app” service has had on other people-moving services, notably taxis and limousines, but there has been little, if any, public discussion about its impact on another major contributor to jobs, the economy and our communities: California’s same-day delivery industry.

These are the mostly mom-and-pop family businesses that deliver vital goods and products like blood, medical supplies, rare construction parts and legal documents to local customer’s door-to-door, business-to-business, in real time. To be clear, the owners of these businesses are not “anti-TNC”, and they realize they must keep up with the times to be competitive. As times change, so must they and their business models to court the customer with best-in-class pricing, cutting-edge technologies and quality customer service. And the majority of these companies are, in fact, doing just that.

We believe in a free and competitive marketplace. That’s not our concern. What is problematic is that the delivery industry, many that have been in existence for 20, 30, 40 years or more and operating on razor-thin margins, are required to comply with specific motorist regulations and requirements while these TNCs are not being subjected to the same level of enforcement and accountability.

The current law requires that delivery companies must possess a Motor Carrier Permit through the DMV to move goods for hire. TNCs are not being held to the same standard and are, in fact, moving products from Point A to Point B with no permit and ignoring the law.

Delivery companies must obtain adequate insurance to ensure that the general public is protected. TNCs aren’t held to that same standard. Not only is this unfair, it puts the lives of millions in our communities at risk.

As our legislative leaders debrief from this recent hearing and consider next steps, we urge them to consider policy that will bring accountability and safety for all of us:

  • A better-defined Motor Carrier Permit that spells out guidelines for transporting both goods and people
  • Reasonable insurance requirements for drivers and companies in the transportation community
  • Improved accountability and uniformity for background checks and fingerprinting for all related personnel to maximize safety for consumers, employees and others on the highways and roads
  • And better clarification and simplification of the definition of “independent contractor” versus “employee”.

The goal here is to identify changes and a proposal that all motorist stakeholders – delivery companies, TNCs, taxi services, livery services and others – have had a role in shaping and support.

Our small business members believe in running the race – after all, they do it every day when they open the doors of their business – but our leaders in Sacramento need to foster an environment that allows all of us to compete on a level – and safe – playing field.

Executive Director, California Delivery Association.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

“Sharing” Economy Puts Democrats Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Sharing.

It sounds so simple, but as an economic trend, sharing is a divisive issue for Democrats.

Tension over the so-called “sharing economy” has been on full display in Sacramento, with Democrats who control the Legislature facing mounting pressure. On one side are trendy tech ventures that are gearing up their political lobbies. On the other: Democrats’ traditional allies in organized labor, who remain highly influential.

California-based companies that allow people to make money by “sharing” their homes and cars have hit the mainstream. Uber, the smartphone-based ride-hailing service, operates in 300 cities globally. And Airbnb, a website that allows homeowners to rent a room to vacationers, now has 55 million users around the world.

The expansion has sparked predictable pushback from the traditional providers of rides and rooms: the taxi and hotel industries. Now union leaders are trying to convince Democrats that the trend in economic “sharing” represents a fundamental shift that will harm workers.

“Is this the future of our economy, where you have no security of getting a regular paycheck, no security… if something happened to you on the job?” said Angie Wei, a lobbyist for the California Labor Federation.

Her group represents several unions, including those for hotel workers and cab drivers. These old-school industries have longtime ties to many Democrats in the Legislature today. Taxi companies, for example, routinely give political donations in local races, leading to relationships with politicians who advance from city councils to seats in Sacramento. Hotel worker unions are big donors in legislative races, with one group spending $1.2 million in California during the last election cycle.

uberDespite the clout, Wei worries “we’re losing on this issue. … Uber has romanced legislators [into thinking] that they are a new, innovative company and that if you oppose Uber or their model, you’re opposing innovation.”

The Internet-based companies are relative newcomers when it comes to political influence in Sacramento. But they’re showing they can play the game:

  • Ride-sharing company Lyft began making political contributions in California last year, including $15,000 to Gov. Jerry Brown’s ballot measure committee and $4,100 to Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. Uber spent nearly $200,000 on lobbyists in Sacramento so far this year – more than Walmart and Bank of America, as the Los Angeles Times has noted.
  • Airbnb recently hired Chris Lehane, a well-known Democratic political consultant who worked in the Clinton White House. The company also retained its first Sacramento lobbyist this year.
  • A national trade group called the Internet Association opened a Sacramento office for the first time last year. It has hosted numerous events for California lawmakers, including a $16,000 reception at the state Democratic convention in Anaheim last spring.

Robert Callahan, the association’s lobbyist, said lawmakers’ familiarity with internet-based brands has helped the new industry break in.

“Legislators are waking up and searching Twitter and going on Instagram and posting on Facebook and sending Gmail. They have a personal attachment with our companies,” he said. “That helps us when we go in and say, ‘We have an issue we think you should resolve.’”

A recent example was a bill that would allow state employees to be reimbursed for using companies like Uber and Airbnb when they travel for work. The bill sparked a heated debate between Democrats on the Senate floor last week.

“Why does this industry deserve a special status?” said Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, who worked in his brothers’ taxi business for 15 years before he was elected. “Why do they deserve protection from the Legislature?”

The bill, AB229, is now on the governor’s desk after it passed the Senate with the support of all Republicans and less than half of the Democrats.

The new companies don’t always get their way, though. Two bills backed by Uber stalled in the Senate committee chaired by Hueso. His spokeswoman said he plans to hold a hearing this fall to deal with ride-sharing issues more comprehensively.

On the home-sharing front, Airbnb fought back legislation that sought to make it easier for cities to collect taxes on vacation rentals made through web-based services.

Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, the bill’s author, said the trend has been a burden on his wine country community, with wild parties and public drunkenness reported at houses booked through the sites. Still, the measure stalled in a committee. McGuire said he will try again next year.

Airbnb’s vast user network is an obstacle he’ll have to confront. Lehane said its customers flooded the statehouse this spring with more than 769,000 emails asking lawmakers to reject McGuire’s bill.

“When people find out about issues, they really mobilize,” Lehane said. “This is a company that is, at some level, redefining capitalism.”

Originally published by CALmatters.org