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Democrat Andrew Yang is running for president to make sure his party debates the future of work — and he says the Uber and Lyft driver protests that could disrupt thousands of commutes today shows why that's urgent.
Entrepreneur Yang, a long shot for the nation's top office, says the drivers staging the global strike have legitimate complaints. The lack of job stability for independent contractors who do not have the same benefits and protections as traditional employees is a big reason Yang's top campaign issue is creating a universal basic income that would provide every American adult with a baseline income of $1,000 per month. He's seeking to protect gig economy workers whose income fluctuates, or those whose jobs are at high risk of being automated.
“We need to stop living in a fantasy land where we think these companies are supposed to treat us like family members and employ us for years,” Yang said in an interview. “Their incentives are in the opposite direction.”
The surge of driver activism ahead of Uber's long-awaited initial public offering this week could put pressure on other 2020 presidential Democrats, who have largely been talking about the impact of technology on the economy in broad strokes, to define their positions on the gig economy.
Few have offered proposals as specific as Yang's about how to bolster a workforce whose benefits and other protections are no longer tied to their jobs. And the political pressure is unlikely to end soon: The expected initial public offerings of other companies such as Airbnb and Postmates are drawing greater attention to the future of work.
Yang — who likens Democrats' discussion about how technology is changing work so far to “hand waving” — is likely to get his shot to press the issue on the debate stage, as he qualifies with both polling and donor requirements. “There needs to be a much more robust debate,” Yang told me.
As Uber and Lyft seek lofty valuations from Wall Street, much of their promise to investors relies on spending less on human labor, and over the long term, replacing those human drivers with computers. That's why Yang's proposal for a universal baseline income would be paid for by companies benefiting most from automation.
Yang thinks the automation of millions of manufacturing jobs helped propel Trump's victory in 2016. He said if the party doesn't start getting serious about debating technology's impact on the economy, “we may be destined to have history repeat itself.”
The Trump administration's own actions could also force Democrats to define their own stances. The Labor Department recently affirmed that workers at one gig economy company were contractors — which could give a boost to companies seeking to defend the status quo.
“The Trump administration did those workers a disservice,” Yang told me.
Yang isn't the only 2020 presidential candidate weighing in on today's strike — it's an issue that resonates with progressives who support worker protections such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Sanders said in a tweet earlier this week that he stands with the striking drivers. He criticized Uber for not offering drivers more money, and he has previously introduced legislation that would make it possible for gig economy contractors to join unions, known as the Workplace Democracy Act.
“This legislation prohibits employers from misclassifying their employees as independent contractors and would protect workers by ensuring companies do not deny or delay a first contract with workers who have unionized, protecting their right to secondary boycotts and picketing,” Sarah Ford, a spokeswoman for his campaign, told me in a statement. “Bernie understands when the United States has strong protections for unions, we have a strong middle class.”
But Yang warned that giving drivers collective bargaining rights would only be “one piece of the puzzle.” He said unions have weakened over the past 50 years, and that alone would not solve the drivers' problems.
He noted companies no longer have the incentives in place to give workers broad benefits, and policymakers need to adapt to that reality and make it possible for benefits typically associated with employers — like health care — available to all Americans.
“It's very hard to turn back the clock,” Yang told me in an interview. “We have to stop pretending it's the 1960s.”
BITS: Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg made the rounds on Capitol Hill this week -- holding private meetings with lawmakers from both parties to discuss topics including election interference and hate speech, according to my colleague Tony Romm.
Sandberg met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Monday as well as Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) on Tuesday, among other members. Sandberg's visit to Washington comes as the company is negotiating with the Federal Trade Commission over a settlement of the agency's privacy probe, and just weeks after the company faced questions about the spread of harmful content on its platform at a pair of hearings.
“As you know, we’ve been engaged in ongoing conversations about how we can put some guardrails around social media," Warner told reporters yesterday, according to a transcript his office shared with Tony. "We discussed the challenges, like election interference or hate speech. I have some concerns about the so-called privacy pivot, how that could actually create more problems than it solves. But we'll continue to engage.”
Other reporters shared their Sandberg spottings on Twitter. From The Information's Ashley Gold:
Here’s Sheryl Sandberg (beige jacket) coming through the Senate subways. Wouldn’t take questions, handlers said she’s here for “private meetings.” We know she’s at least talking to Moran, Wicker, Warner. pic.twitter.com/lK8dpUAn5P— Ashley Gold (@ashleyrgold) May 7, 2019
And NBC News reporter Frank Thorp V:
NIBBLES: Google is jumping on the privacy bandwagon after decades of broad data collection, my colleague Greg Bensinger reports.
“We strongly believe that privacy and security are for everyone, not just a few,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said at the company's annual developers conference yesterday.
Said product manager Stephanie Cuthbertson, who introduced a new version of the Android mobile operating system: “You should always be in control of what you share and who you share it with.”
Greg notes that Google is just one of several tech companies focusing on privacy as they unveil new products. At Facebook's developer conference last week, Mark Zuckerberg painted a picture of the company's future vision for privacy. Apple has aired commercials touting the company's commitment to privacy, and Microsoft has emphasized privacy in recent product announcements.
The company introduced new tools that will give people more control over their data and make it harder to track their online activites.
The search giant is bringing "incognito mode" -- the web browser setting that allows people to limit the amount of data the company collects about them -- to a host of other products. Google will role it out on maps, YouTube and search. The company will also make it easier for people to find and delete the information they have shared with the company in the past, including location data on Maps.
Nitasha Tiku of Wired writes the search giant that for decades pursued world domination of information had a much simpler message yesterday: They're here to help.
"As corporate messaging goes, it was a smart choice. After years of nonstop scandals from Big Tech, the usual buzzwords have taken on a sinister cast. In the real world, 'disruption' has translated into offloading risks on others, 'convenience' connotes data collection, and 'the transformative power of AI' sounds like the algorithms have won. But who could say no to a little help?" Tiku writes.
Pichai also wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about the company's position on privacy, stating that it shouldn't be considered a "luxury good."
BYTES: 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has five fundraisers across Silicon Valley on Friday -- signaling the South Bend mayor is becoming the newest toast of the area's wealthiest donors, Vox's Theodore Schleifer reports.
"That’s because Buttigieg, though always stressing his bonhomie upbringing in the industrial Midwest — such as when giving a ride-along of South Bend’s abandoned factories — is quite comfortable in elite corridors like Silicon Valley," Theodore writes. "He is not an anti-tech firebrand politically, nor a total newcomer to the land of the uber-wealthy."
His tech industry rolodex even reaches the highest rungs of the tech industry. Buttigieg -- a contemporary of Zuckerberg's at Harvard -- appeared in a video with the Facebook chief executive two years ago -- driving around South Bend as Zuckerberg toured the United States.
“You have all these people who have spent years cultivating Silicon Valley, but yet clearly Pete is on fire,” Joe Green, an early Facebook adviser who is the mutual friend that introduced Zuckerberg and Buttigieg, told Theodore. “Somebody who has not been on the national fundraising circuit has really taken off.”
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