Hannah Levintova

Hannah Levintova

Reporter

Hannah Levintova reports and edits in Mother Jones' DC bureau. Previously she worked at NPR and the Washington Monthly. A proud New Englander, she enjoys tea, good books, and cold weather.

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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."

Ted Cruz's Daughter Schools Him on Taylor Swift

| Wed Apr. 13, 2016 11:49 PM EDT

The CNN town hall with Ted Cruz and his family on Wednesday night began with host Anderson Cooper talking to the candidate about the usual political subjects, including his thoughts about GOP front-runner Donald Trumps' vocal opposition to the current system of gathering delegates in advance of the Republican National Convention. Cruz said Trump is acting like a "union boss thug" by threatening delegates and noted that he's only complaining about the process because recently he has lost several key primaries. "In the last three weeks there have been 11 elections in four states. And we have beaten Donald in all of 11 of them," Cruz said. "He's unhappy about that."

When Heidi Cruz joined her husband on stage and audience members came to the mic, the questions moved from the political to the personal: What was their first date? (A dinner when the two were working on the Bush campaign in 2000.) What did she think was his "most annoying" quality? (His iPhone.) Cruz also told the audience that he loves movies but his wife isn't interested in them, and that, after The Princess Bride, his favorite movies are The Godfather series, including The Godfather Part III.

But the real highlight of the evening came when Cruz's two young daughters, dressed in identical yellow dresses, were asked whom they would first want to invite to visit the White House. Caroline, whose eighth birthday is on Thursday, and five-year-old Catherine, were shy about naming their favorite pop star, but their mother, Heidi, answered for them: "The girls would love to have their first guest be Taylor Swift," she said.

The girls may not have had much to say on the Cruz versus Trump delegate fight, but they weighed in on a different kind of "Bad Blood" (#sorrynotsorry). The whole family exchange was pretty adorable.

 

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