Blogs

Uber Agrees to Pay $100 Million to Drivers in Historic Class Action Settlement

| Fri Apr. 22, 2016 12:30 AM EDT

Ride-sharing giant Uber announced that it has agreed to pay $100 million to settle two class action lawsuits, in which thousands of drivers alleged that they were improperly classified as independent contractors instead of employees. 

The California and Massachusetts lawsuits were set to go to trial in June.

As part of the agreement, which was announced Thursday evening, drivers will keep the contractor classification, but Uber will pay out $84 million to the drivers, and an additional $16 million if the company goes public and the Uber's valuation hits certain growth levels.

The settlement is one of the largest ever achieved on behalf of workers who alleged that they were improperly classified as independent contractors, wrote Shannon Liss-Riordan, the attorney who represented the workers in both cases, in an email. Depending on how many miles they've driven and several other factors, individual drivers could receive up to $8,000 in settlement money, she said.

The agreement has several other significant terms, including that Uber will now be required to tell passengers that tips are not included in their fare. Drivers will be allowed to put small signs in their cars that say as much. Uber will also facilitate and help fund the creation of driver associations in both California and Massachusetts, where drivers will be able to elect peers to leadership positions, and bring drivers' concerns to management. 

For two years, Uber pulled out all the stops to fight this case. The company hired lawyer Ted Boutrous, who successfully represented Walmart before the Supreme Court in the largest employment class action in US history and it twice inserted arbitration clauses into contracts to prevent more drivers from signing on to the class action.

That's likely because classifying workers as independent contractors instead of employees is a major cost-saver that has helped Uber grow into a $60 billion company; losing that classification could have cost the company untold millions.

And Uber is not alone: Classifying workers as independent contractors is a common cost-cutting strategy among popular Silicon Valley startups (Lyft, Postmates, Washio, and more) that have relied on cheap, gig economy freelancers to provide services and have grown rapidly as a result.

While this historic agreement is a significant win for her clients, the question of worker classification in Silicon Valley has yet to be resolved, Liss-Riordan said in an email.

"No court has decided here whether Uber drivers are employees or independent contractors and that debate will not end here," Liss-Riordan wrote. "This case, however, with this significant payment of money, and attention that has been drawn to this issue, stands as a stern warning to companies who play fast and loose with classifying their workforce as independent contractors, who do not receive the benefits of the wage laws and other employee protections."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The FBI Spent More Than $1 Million to Hack One Potentially Useless Phone

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 5:08 PM EDT

It turns out the FBI's 11-hour solution to its huge public fight with Apple didn't come cheap.

FBI director James Comey said on Thursday that the agency paid more than $1 million to unnamed private-sector hackers for help in unlocking the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. The FBI first attempted to make Apple write software that would allow law enforcement to unlock the phone quickly, but the company refused and said the request could unconstitutionally expand government authority. The case sparked an uproar over digital privacy as well as a major court battle, which stopped only when the FBI announced it had received the hackers' help and withdrew its order to Apple.

Comey, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, didn't give a specific price for the hack, but said it cost the agency more than he would make in the next seven years of his term as director. The FBI director makes at least $181,500 a year by law, putting the cost of the hack at a minimum of $1.27 million, by Comey's estimate. An FBI press officer could not confirm the accuracy of Comey's estimate or provide a specific cost.

"It was worth it," Comey told the audience in Aspen. But it's not clear how much value the hacking method or the phone actually has. Comey has repeatedly said that the method used to break into the phone would work only on an iPhone 5C running iOS 9, like the San Bernardino phone, and that Apple could discover and fix the security flaw that allowed the hack to work. And on Tuesday, CNN reported that the phone "didn't contain evidence of contacts with other ISIS supporters or the use of encrypted communications during the period the FBI was concerned about." The FBI argues the lack of information is valuable evidence in and of itself.

We Dare You to Not Break Down Watching Prince's Tribute to Freddie Gray

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 4:19 PM EDT
Prince at Coachella music festival in 2008

Prince wasn't just a major pop icon—he was also a staunch supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. Last May, after weeks of protests in Baltimore that followed the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, he released a tribute song, "Baltimore," which honored Gray and those demonstrating against police brutality. Prince performed the song live that month at a free show in Baltimore. He also gave a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement while presenting the award for Album of the Year at the 2015 Grammys. "Albums still matter," he said. "Like books and black lives, albums still matter."

Today fans are mourning the death of the legendary pop star. This week also marks the one-year anniversary of Freddie Gray's death. Check out the video for Prince's tribute to Gray below.

Hillary Clinton Really Loves Military Intervention

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 3:17 PM EDT

Here's what's in the New York Times Magazine this week:

How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk

But...no. This piece doesn't really tell us how Hillary became a hawk—and that's too bad. It would be genuinely interesting to get some insight into how (or if) her views have evolved over time and what motivates them. Still, even if he doesn't really tell us why Hillary is so hawkish, Mark Landler makes it very, very clear that she is, indeed, a very sincere hawk:

Clinton’s foreign-policy instincts are bred in the bone — grounded in cold realism about human nature and what one aide calls “a textbook view of American exceptionalism.” It set her apart from her rival-turned-boss, Barack Obama, who avoided military entanglements and tried to reconcile Americans to a world in which the United States was no longer the undisputed hegemon. And it will likely set her apart from the Republican candidate she meets in the general election. For all their bluster about bombing the Islamic State into oblivion, neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas have demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has.

For all intents and purposes, Landler says that Hillary has been the most hawkish person in the room in almost literally every case where she was in the room in the first place. For example:

Adm. Robert Willard, then the Pacific commander, wanted to send the carrier on a more aggressive course, into the Yellow Sea....Clinton strongly seconded it. “We’ve got to run it up the gut!” she had said to her aides a few days earlier.

....After 9/11, Clinton saw Armed Services as better preparation for her future. For a politician looking to hone hard-power credentials — a woman who aspired to be commander in chief — it was the perfect training ground. She dug in like a grunt at boot camp.

....Jack Keane is one of the intellectual architects of the Iraq surge; he is also perhaps the greatest single influence on the way Hillary Clinton thinks about military issues....Keane is the resident hawk on Fox News, where he appears regularly to call for the United States to use greater military force in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan....The two would meet many times over the next decade, discussing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Iranian nu­clear threat and other flash points in the Middle East.

....Keane, like Clinton, favored more robust intervention in Syria than Obama did....He advocated imposing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria that would neutralize the air power of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, with a goal of forcing him into a political settlement with opposition groups. Six months later, Clinton publicly adopted this position, further distancing herself from Obama.

....The Afghan troop debate....Her unstinting support of General McChrystal’s maximalist recommendation made it harder for Obama to choose a lesser option....“Hillary was adamant in her support for what Stan asked for,” Gates says....“She was, in a way, tougher on the numbers in the surge than I was.”

And Landler doesn't even mention Libya, perhaps because the Times already investigated her role at length a couple of months ago. It's hardly necessary, though. Taken as a whole, this is a portrait of a would-be president who (a) fundamentally believes in displays of force, (b) is eager to give the military everything they ask for, and (c) doesn't believe that military intervention is a last resort, no matter what she might say in public.

If anything worries me about Hillary Clinton, this is it. It's not so much that she's more hawkish than me, it's the fact that events of the past 15 years don't seem to have affected her views at all. How is that possible? And yet, our failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere apparently haven't given her the slightest pause about the effectiveness of military force in the Middle East. Quite the opposite: the sense I get from Landler's piece is that she continues to think all of these engagements would have turned out better if only we'd used more military power. I find it hard to understand how an intelligent, well-briefed person could continue to believe this, and that in turn makes me wonder just exactly what motivates Hillary's worldview.

Prince Performed "Purple Rain" Unplugged at One of His Final Shows Last Week

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 2:34 PM EDT

Today, the world mourns the death of legendary musician Prince, the prolific artist who produced countless hits such as "When Doves Cry" and "1999."

Just a week before his death was reported on Thursday, the pop star played two sold-out shows in Atlanta, where he performed one of his most celebrated songs, "Purple Rain." The concert enforced Prince's long-standing ban on cameras, but one concertgoer managed to record a quick clip:

Harriet Tubman Was a Republican!

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 12:54 PM EDT

Conservatives have finally found something to like about the Obama administration:

Perhaps some of the voices calling for Tubman on the $20 just wanted any prominent African-American woman to replace one of the white males on our currency. If it was political correctness that drove this decision, who cares? The Obama administration has inadvertently given Tubman fans of all political stripes an opportunity to tell the story of a deeply-religious, gun-toting Republican who fought for freedom in defiance of the laws of a government that refused to recognize her rights.

Yeah. That's the ticket. All those folks in the Obama administration had no idea who Harriet Tubman really was. They were all like, check this out, Jack: black, female, helped slaves, done. Boxes checked. Identity politics satisfied. Put her on the twenty.

The poor fools. She was religious! She carried a gun while helping slaves escape! She was a Republican! She fought for freedom against a tyrannical government! If you think about it, she's basically the poster child of the modern-day Tea Party. And none of those idiots in the White House had a clue.

Seriously. That seems to be what they think. Next they're going to remind us that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican too.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

A "Staggering Number" of Vets End Up Homeless After Experiencing Sexual Violence in the Military

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 12:51 PM EDT

Researchers have identified a new risk factor for homelessness among veterans: military sexual trauma. Nearly 1 in 10 veterans who experienced sexual assault or harassment in the military became homeless within five years—a "staggering number," noted an editorial in JAMA Psychiatry, which published the study Wednesday.

The research, funded by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, drew on a national sample of 601,892 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who were discharged between 2001 and 2011. Those who reported experiencing sexual assault or harassment while they were in the military were twice as likely to become homeless within five years as those who did not, and the results held true even after controlling for PTSD, alcohol and drug addiction, and serious mental illnesses.

The trauma of violence during a military deployment can make returning to civilian life more difficult, the study's authors point out, with homelessness exemplifying "an extreme case of poor reintegration." Military sexual trauma, or MST, includes forcible and coerced sexual assault, as well as harassment (uninvited or unwanted sexual attention, including cornering, touching, pressure for sexual favors, or verbal remarks). According to the VA, around 22 percent of women and 1 percent of men in the military have experienced some form of MST.

According to the VA, around 22 percent of women and 1 percent of men in the military have experienced some form of military sexual trauma.

Interestingly, the researchers found a slightly higher rate of homelessness among male veterans who experienced sexual violence as compared to women. "Men with a positive MST screen are a particularly vulnerable group," the authors wrote. "In addition to the burden of issues regarding masculinity, sexuality, and self-concept among males who have experienced sexual trauma," they also may be less likely to seek mental-health treatment than women—potentially leading to worsening psychiatric symptoms and homelessness.

The link between homelessness and the experience of different kinds of traumatic events—childhood abuse, domestic violence, even homelessness itself—is well documented. The study also adds homelessness to an already long list of MST's public health consequences. Past research has found that experiencing MST increased a person's odds of mental illness by two to three times—most notably post-traumatic stress disorder, but also alcohol and drug addiction, anxiety disorders, depression, dissociative disorders. That's not to mention the links between MST and certain medical conditions: liver disease, chronic pulmonary disease, obesity, hypothyroidism, and HIV/AIDS.

According to researcher Adi Gundlapalli, an associate professor at the University of Utah medical school, potential consequences of military sexual violence include low social support, poor interpersonal relationships, and revictimization. "These types of problems may compromise employment and put one at risk for financial instability," Gundlapalli says. "Ultimately, this may lead to homelessness."

Will Trump Supporters Join Him in Opposing NC Bathroom Bill?

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 11:58 AM EDT

I'm curious about something. Here is Donald Trump opposing North Carolina's law that forces transgender people to use public bathrooms coinciding with their birth gender:

"North Carolina did something that was very strong and they're paying a big price. And there's a lot of problems." Trump said. "Leave it the way it is. North Carolina, what they're going through, with all of the business and all of the strife — and that's on both sides — you leave it the way it is. There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble. And the problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic punishment they're taking."

At a guess, Trump's supporters are mostly people who think the North Carolina law is a good idea. Or at least, they used to. But now that Trump has come out against it, will the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice become the latest rallying cry of the angry working class? Perhaps we're about to find out just how much influence Trump really has with his supporters.

Donald Trump Is Evolving. Will the #NeverTrumpers Evolve With Him?

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 10:41 AM EDT

Welcome to Donald Trump 2.0:

Donald Trump, after notching a big win in New York, is planning to roll out significant changes in his campaign, including giving a policy speech on foreign affairs and using teleprompters and a speechwriter....Mr. Trump, in an interview, acknowledged the need for a shift. “The campaign is evolving and transitioning, and so am I,” he said. “I’ll be more effective and more disciplined.” He’s changing, he said, because “I’m not going to blow it.”

It seems like I've heard this before. Maybe two or three times before, in fact. And yet, somehow nothing ever seems to change.

Still, this could be fascinating. A foreign policy speech with teleprompters and a speechwriter implies that the speech will be written with input from foreign policy experts. But who? The ragtag team Trump announced a couple of weeks ago? And how exactly would a foreign policy expert mold Trump's actual positions (take the oil, make our allies pay us lots of money, tax China, etc.) into something non-insane?

Beats me. But I suppose it can be done. And it will be interesting to watch all the conservative #NeverTrumpers start their slow conversion into Trump supporters: "He really seems to have matured." "That speech was surprisingly sensible." "We may have underestimated Trump." "Everyone gets a little crazy during primaries." "We can't afford four years of Hillary." "Trump 2016!"

Silicon Valley Not Really Feeling the Bern

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 10:08 PM EDT

Based on donor data, Brian Fung says that Bernie Sanders has a lot of fans in the dotcom biz:

This wouldn't be worth mentioning except for the fact that Sanders appears to have a broad-based appeal among Silicon Valley workers compared with his rivals. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Sanders's campaign committee seems to be by far the biggest recipient of donations from employees of Alphabet (Google's parent company), Apple, Microsoft, Amazon.com and Intel.

....This sets up a few possibilities. It's conceivable, for instance, that Clinton's support among tech companies is actually higher than what we can observe from her list....Another possibility is that tech-industry folks are donating to Clinton but in amounts too small to break into the lists we're looking at....What we can say is that Sanders appears to have much more support than Clinton across a wider range of tech companies, even if the amount of that financial support is relatively small.

Nah. Google employees are split nearly evenly between Bernie and Hillary, and employees of the other four companies probably are too. We just can't see them because their totals fall below the top 20 in Hillary's donor list. But why guess about this? All we have to do is look at the overall industry numbers. Here they are:

Compared to overall fundraising, this represents a bigger tilt toward Hillary than average. And despite the size of this sector, it represents a dismal 0.43 percent of Hillary's total campaign donations and 0.36 percent of Bernie's. So we can draw the following conclusions:

  • Hillary has broader support in the internet sector than Bernie.
  • Hillary gets a bigger percentage of her donations from the internet sector.
  • Silicon Valley is full of cheapskates who don't care much about politics.

So there you have it.