Uber contract drivers helped bring in more than three-quarters of the company’s revenue in this year’s first six months. But as Uber would have it, the drivers aren’t essential.
Uber raised eyebrows last month when its chief lawyer asserted that “drivers’ work is outside the usual course of Uber’s business” in a call laying out the company’s resistance to a California bill that would alter the employment status of many “gig” workers. It is a legal strategy the Silicon Valley company has been honing for years that helps it avoid responsibility for the actions of its drivers.
Documents and a 2017 deposition related to an Atlanta civil suit, Jessicka Harris v. Uber, viewed by The Washington Post offer a rare glimpse at Uber’s strategies for using drivers’ status as independent contractors as a legal shield. Asked in a document to “admit or deny that Uber is in the business of providing transportation,” the ride-hailing company’s attorneys are steadfast: “denied.”
Over the course of a nearly three-hour deposition in the Harris case, Uber executive Nicholas Valentino, then an operations manager for Atlanta, repeatedly corrected the plaintiff’s attorney when he referred to the contractors as “drivers.”
“They are not Uber drivers,” Valentino said. “They’re independent, third-party transportation providers.” He repeated the claim no fewer than 16 times, to the attorney’s apparent consternation.
“If you are going to keep saying they are not drivers, we are just going to be fussing about that all afternoon,” said the attorney, Michael Todd Wheeles.
“That’s okay,” Valentino said.
Uber faces many lawsuits, over issues ranging from fender benders to wage disputes to more-serious incidents. Harris sued Uber and driver Robert Ferguson, alleging that she nearly lost her leg after being struck by Ferguson, who she claimed veered off the road.
At stake for Uber in its many court battles is the potential for millions in new liabilities if its contract drivers are reclassified as employees, and the company is found to bear greater responsibility for their actions.
Many companies rely on contractors and gig workers. But what sets Uber and other ride-hailing companies apart is that its customers spend much more time with the drivers, en route to their destination, compared with, say, food-delivery or dog-walking services. The ratio of contractors to direct employees is high: While Uber has roughly 4 million drivers, the company has 27,000 employees.
In public statements, Uber takes pains to show its collaborative relationship with drivers. Chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi refers to them as “driver partners,” noting in an interview last October that “if you’re going to call your drivers partners, then treat them like partners.” Uber declared 2017 “the year of the driver” before it was embroiled in a series of corporate scandals. The company offered some drivers the chance to buy stock when it went public in May, and it hosts regular forums where drivers can give feedback to executives.
“Drivers are independent contractors,” Uber spokesman Noah Edwardsen said in a statement. “But that has never stopped us from making significant investments in safety. Safety will always be a long-term commitment for Uber and we will continue working to raise the bar to help protect everyone who uses our platform.”
Gig workers earn money by performing tasks such as delivering groceries, ferrying passengers or fetching prepared food — tasks generally arranged by customers through mobile apps. Because they are not full-time employees, they can log in to the app whenever they wish to work, but they also have to pay for things such as fuel and health insurance themselves.
A measure in Uber’s home state that could require it to reclassify drivers as employees, with benefits such as paid sick leave, could also open the company up to new liabilities, according to critics. Uber has pushed back against the measure — set to take effect in January — citing what it says may be the impact to drivers’ flexible work schedule.
“Liability is one of the big unspoken-about issues here,” said Lorena Gonzalez (D), a California state assemblywoman who crafted the bill, known as AB5, that would make many gig workers employees. “We want to ensure there’s responsibility at the end of the day and that they are not just passing that along to someone else."
Edwardsen said that “liability for safety incidents has simply never been part of [Uber’s] arguments or strategy around AB5” and that “suggesting otherwise is wrong.”
Uber declined to comment on the Harris case, which it settled out of court, or any other litigation. Attorneys for Harris also declined to comment, as did the driver’s attorneys. Valentino, the Uber executive who was deposed in the case, declined through an Uber spokesman to be interviewed. Harris and Ferguson did not respond to requests for comment.
Uber drivers’ employment status has been challenged in multiple lawsuits, but Uber has avoided having to broadly recognize its gig workers as employees. Uber tends to favor settling individual cases out of court rather than letting them go to trial, say attorneys who have brought suits against the company.
In materials related to the Harris case, sealed after the matter was privately settled, Uber attorneys and executives contend that the company is nothing more than a marketplace that happens to be used for arranging transportation. And its chief legal officer, Tony West, said last month that Uber’s business is “serving as a technology platform for several different types of digital marketplaces.”
But the company is more involved than many online marketplaces, such as e-commerce sites, including providing driving directions to drivers, setting fare rates and mandating punctuality and car type, among other criteria.
The distinction in the Harris case — and many others like it — is crucial for Uber. The company argues that because they are contractors, drivers and their behavior ultimately are not its responsibility.
It has made similar arguments in other lawsuits. In a case in San Francisco alleging an Uber driver made sexual comments to a 16-year-old passenger, settled in December, Uber’s attorneys said that “the partner driver was an independent contractor responsible for his own means and methods” and that Uber is “a technology company, not a transportation company."
In a case underway in Walton County, Fla., where a driver purportedly drove a passenger to his home and raped her, Uber asserts that the driver “was at all times … an independent, third-party transportation provider” and that Uber “does not and did not employ” the driver and “never had an agency, employment, partnership, joint venture or joint enterprise relationship with him.”
Courts have generally sided with Uber and other companies reliant on gig workers that have made similar arguments.
The Post reported last month that Uber’s Special Investigations Unit, which it turns to when trips go awry, is designed primarily to shelter the company from legal responsibility and quietly resolve serious allegations to avoid press or regulatory scrutiny. Uber has contested that, saying the unit’s role is to “provide specialized customer support to riders and drivers dealing with very serious real-life situations.”
Online marketplaces such as Uber and Lyft, e-commerce companies, food delivery companies and lodging providers have successfully argued that as middlemen they should not be held responsible for the goods and services they help arrange. And courts have generally sided with them, citing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields sites from legal liability for user content by treating them as distributors rather than publishers.
Gonzalez, in an interview, said she is also considering a handful of new bills for the next legislative session that would address various aspects of the gig economy, including insurance considerations.
Seattle University law professor Charlotte Garden, who has studied gig-economy labor, said the California measure could be copied in other states, increasing potential costs to Uber. She said that may require Uber to find new ways to describe its business.
“It’s part of Uber’s playbook to use colorful language to obscure the true nature of their business,” Garden said.
In the Harris case, Uber’s Valentino was asked whether he knew how many drivers Uber had in the state of Georgia. “Zero would be how many Uber drivers, because that’s not what they are,” he said. “But, if you are asking about independent third-party transportation providers — not trying to be difficult — I would say, no, I don’t know the answer.”
“Isn’t it true that Uber drivers like Mr. Ferguson are commanded to transport the Uber customer directly to their specified destination?” asked Wheeles, the attorney, with the firm Morris Haynes in Birmingham, Ala.
“He is not an Uber driver,” Valentino said. “Independent third-party transportation provider.”
Source: The Washington Post
… Shareholders applauds N24 per share payment
Shareholders of Dangote Flour Mills Plc (DFM), unanimously on Monday approved the acquisition of the company by Crown Flour Mills Limited, the Nigerian subsidiary of global food and agri-business conglomerate, Olam International Limited after a whopping payment of N120 billion to the shareholders.
Olam International has made an offer for the acquisition of 100 per cent equity in Dangote Flour Mills Plc for a consideration of N24.00 per share. The acquisition was carried out through a Scheme of Arrangement.
Most of the shareholders who spoke at the meeting lauded the company’s Management for the noble decision, describing it as one, in the best interest of the shareholders.
Nona Awoh, a notable financial analyst and one of the shareholders of the company thanked the Management on the offer of N24 per share and reminded other shareholders that the last time the share price of the company increased significantly to N20 per share was in the year 2010.
Another leader of the shareholders group, Mr. Boniface Solomon, described the deal as a very good one for the shareholders. He said the stock has really been struggling in view of the current realities in the nation’s economy, stating that the N24 per share is indeed a good price for his members.
Managing Director of Crown Flour Mills Limited, Anurag Shukia said his company intends to maintain and expand DFM’s business as well as provide enhanced manufacturing capacity and create synergies to deliver improved products to customers across the country.
With the acquisition, the entire 4,994,886,771 ordinary shares of 50 kobo each in DFM held by the scheme shareholders of the company will be transferred to Crown Flour. The N24 per share that will be given to the shareholders for 50 kobo shares held represents a 124 per cent premium on the share price of DFM as at the close of April 18, 2019 being the last business day prior to the date the proposal was received and announced on the floor of the Exchange; and a 145 per cent premium on the three-month weighted average share price of the company as at 18 April, 2019
Benefits to the shareholders include but not limited to: opportunities for shareholders of DFM, other than Crown Flour, to enhance the value of their investment in the company and exit at an attractive pricing; in addition, the Scheme is expected to create valuable synergies between the operations of Crown Flour and DFM, to ensure improved revenue generation capacity, reduced operational costs, and enhance profit.
It will also enable Olam focus on the flour business, to provide the necessary financial and technical support required to maintain and expand the business.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has expressed concerns that Nigeria’s per capita growth is weak, adding that strong measures were needed to move the growth into positive territory.
It equally called on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to unify the country’s exchange rate system in order to avoid situations where public and private sector decisions were distorted due to uncertainties.
The global body also said there was a need for the government to come up with measures to boost the non-oil revenue in order to spend more on social safety programmes.
The IMF gave these pieces of advice Tuesday during the unveiling of the World Economic Outlook report released in Washington DC.
The report titled, ‘Global manufacturing downturn, rising trade barriers’, was unveiled by the IMF Economic Counsellor, Gita Gopinath, and the Chief of the World Economic Studies Division of the IMF’s Research Department, Oya Celasun.
The Fund also urged the Federal Government to implement stronger reforms to boost the current level of infrastructure in the country.
Decrying the nation’s weak per capital growth, Gopinath said there was a need for structural reforms to address the weak per capital growth.
On measures that can be taken to address the imbalance, Celasun said foreign exchange restrictions had been distorting private and public sector decisions as well as holding back investments.
According to Celasun, there was a need for the monetary authorities to strengthen the banking sector resilience, while the fiscal authority should implement stronger structural reforms.
The structural reforms, according to her, should focus on infrastructure, power and broader governance.
She said: “Nigeria has one of the lowest rates of revenue in the world and this is hit hard by drop in oil prices. That is essential for the country to spend more on priorities, such as social safety and infrastructure.
“Other areas are the need for a tight monetary policy and a simpler unified exchange rate system. Foreign exchange restrictions have also been distorting public private and public sector decisions and holding back investments.”
A Professor of Rural Sociology, Kolawole Adebayo, says Nigeria will benefit from the recent border closure if it evolved strategies to improve local production and become more competitive.
He said this on Tuesday at the maiden Biennal Conference of Oyo State College of Agriculture and Technology (OYSCATECH) in Igboora.
Adebayo, the keynote speaker at the conference, is also the Team Leader, International and Rural Development at Livelihoods Support and Development Centre.
Adebayo said that the recent border closure was a short term solution to a long term problem, adding that such effort would only prevent neighbouring nations from flooding Nigeria market with agricultural products in a short term.
“Border closure is a short term solution to a long term problem. It means that in the short run our neighbours will not be able to flood our market with agricultural products.
“But it is not a long term solution because we can’t close the border forever. When you close the border, what are we doing locally so that by the time we open the border you become more competitive.
“And one of the ways to become more competitive is to reduce the cost of production locally. So, if the food we produce locally are cheaper than the food that are being smuggled in, people will naturally gravitate towards our own local food.
“But if the smuggled food is cheaper, it is a law of economics, people tend to buy something that makes economic sense to them,” he said.
He stressed the need for the country to work on its human development, people, their mindset and value system, a lot of which he said might have been lost.
Adebayo lamented the rate at which everyone thinks of what they would get from the nation and not how they could contribute to national development.
“And I think it comes from our school system. The kind of value we teach our children. I will like to see a country where the richest among us are the most productive,” he said.
He said that the challenges of food security are multidimensional, bordering on production, supporting infrastructure and human.
Prof. Gbemiga Adewale, the former Rector of the institution and special guest, appreciated Gov. Seyi Makinde on the rehabilitation of the old farm settlements in the state to become farm estates.
“The advantages of the farm estates will solve a lot of problem that has to do with employment of the youth. It will also solve the problem of food security, food sufficiency and will be able to provide raw materials for agro allied industries.
“And on the part of the state, it will also assist to raise or increase GDP of the state as well as IGR for the state, so that they depend less on monthly federal allocation for smooth running of the administration,” he said.
Prof. Abiodun Ayodele, the Dean, Faculty of Science, University of Ibadan, said for the nation to attain food sufficiency, it must be ready to solve the conflicts in various parts of the country.
He said that the nation must take cognizance of causes of natural disasters such as desertification and flooding, saying such could be achieved through good and conscious sustainable agricultural systems.
Ayodele stressed that there must be more focus on improved livestock production to enhance quality in terms of protein intake towards foods sufficiency.
Mr Isiaka Adekunle, the acting Rector of the institution, said the conference was aimed at providing a platform to improve teaching horizon, interact, exchange ideas and learn new innovations.
He said that for any academic staff of the institution to get promoted attendance at conferences was germane, adding failure to meet such would make them remain stagnant.
Adekunle said that the conference was also an opportunity to showcase what they have in different disciplines across the faculties of the institution.
Other stakeholders at the conference in their various remarks commended Dr Taiwo Akinyemi, the Director, OYSCATECH Global Consult for the initiative.
The three-day event also featured an exhibition of several agricultural products of the institution.