Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson


Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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A disruptive smartphone app turned Uber into a $50 billion global juggernaut. Now a group of disgruntled Uber drivers, with the help of their own smartphone app, aims to kneecap the car-hailing service precisely when and where it will be most in demand: Super Bowl Sunday in the Bay Area.

Striking drivers reportedly intend to slow traffic near the stadium and inundate the streets around crowded Super Bowl events.

For Uber, the stakes are high. The big game is in Santa Clara, about an hour from Uber's San Francisco headquarters. The company has chipped in $250,000 to $500,000 in cash and services to sponsor the Super Bowl Host Committee, according to Quartz. In return, it gets to be the first ride-sharing service allowed to access a Super Bowl game. It will even have exclusive pick-up and drop-off zones at the stadium—a coup for Uber's marketing department, assuming the company doesn't fall on its face.

And that's where Uber's labor problems may come back to haunt it. The drivers, who often make less than minimum wage, are angry because the company slashed fares nationwide over the past month. On Monday, several hundred of them protested at Uber's offices in San Francisco and New York.

The group behind the San Francisco protest, United Uber Drivers, has pledged to hold a massive strike on Super Bowl Sunday, and some Uber drivers in other cities have said they will do the same in solidarity. According to the industry publication Ride Share Report, the drivers intend to slow highway traffic near the stadium and inundate the streets around crowded Super Bowl events in San Francisco.

That might not be all. United Uber Drivers did not respond to emails from Mother Jones, but downloading the group's special iPhone app offers a bit more insight into its plans:

Other messages explain that when a push notification is received through the app, all drivers will be asked to go offline simultaneously, crippling Uber's network. "We need you to invite every Uber driver you know," urges the first message, written in November. "This communication technology will allow us to invite, unite and strike effectively without any fear or loss of the business relationship with Uber."

But that might be easier said than done. With an estimated 40,000 Uber drivers in the Bay Area, the group will need a lot of downloads to mount an effective strike. Of course, people said the same thing about some startup's harebrained bid to defeat the taxi industry. Uber proved them wrong.

It's well known that America's wealthiest have been getting richer at the expense of the middle class. But the trend looks even starker when you look at the racial aspects. According to a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, the combined wealth of those on the Forbes 400 list of America's richest dwarfs that of the nation's entire black or Latino populations.

The report found that the 100 richest US citizens control about as much wealth as all of the nation's 42 million African Americans. The total wealth of the nation's 55 million Latinos stacks up to that of the 186 richest Americans.

The average white family today has net assets of $141,900, compared with just $11,000 for black families.

This can be explained in part by the rapid erosion of the black and Latino middle classes. African Americans' net worth relative to whites has fallen by more than half since 2000: The average white family today has net assets of $141,900, compared with just $11,000 for black families—about the same paltry sum as back in 1985. Latinos have seen similar declines in net worth relative to whites.

There are many reasons for this slide: Black and Latino families were disproportionately exposed to risky subprime mortgages, had smaller amounts of inherited wealth, and were more susceptible to job and wage cuts during the Great Recession. And because these families are less likely than white families to own homes and stocks, they haven't benefited as much from the subsequent recovery.

America's stark inequality problem is evident in the Forbes 400 itself. Blacks and Latinos make up a combined 29 percent of the population but account for less than 2 percent of the Forbes list. Oprah Winfrey and the tech investor Robert Smith are the sole African Americans on the list, and just five on the list have Latino backgrounds. (They are Miami condo king Jorge Perez, billboard billionaire Arturo Moreno, and three heirs of the late Colombian beer magnate Julio Mario Santo Domingo, a major owner of the SABMiller empire.)

The dearth of black and Latino billionaires in the United States defies easy explanations, but one big factor may be Silicon Valley. The tech industry has minted more billionaires in recent years than any other sector of the economy. It also has a deeply entrenched diversity problem. According to census data, the proportion of Hispanic tech workers in Silicon Valley actually declined from 5 percent in 2000 to 4 percent in 2010—and the proportion of black techies fell from 3 percent to 2 percent. The Valley has begun to take diversity a little more seriously, but it could be another generation or more before it produces a black Mark Zuckerberg or a Latino Sergey Brin.

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