Uber’s Desperate Fight to Avoid a Massive Class Action Suit – DAVEY ALBA 08.07.15. 7:58 PM


Shannon Liss Riordan, the labor lawyer representing Uber drivers in litigation against the ride-hailing company. JOSH VALCARCEL/WIRED

Silicon Valley behemoth Uber is no stranger to court battles. Still, this week saw the tech giant face one of its biggest courtroom confrontations yet: Trying to convince a judge to block a lawsuit from proceeding to class-action status.

On Thursday, the company with a whopping $51 billion valuation, went before US District Judge Edward Chen for a hearing in which the judge pondered whether he would grant class-action status to the suit, which seeks mileage and tip reimbursement for 160,000 Uber drivers in California.

The hearing comes as on-demand companies like Uber, Lyft and Postmates surge in popularity and reach, creating a vast pool of cheap, flexible labor. According to the nonprofit Freelancers Union, 53 million Americans now work as freelance contractors. That’s about one in three US workers. And the American Action Forum says independent contractors account for nearly 29 percent of all jobs added between 2010 and 2014. And the so-called 1099 economy already appears to be emerging as a key issue in the upcoming 2016 presidential campaign.

But even as on-demand companies move into the mainstream, critics are calling for broader protections of workers, who as independent contractors do not receive benefits like Social Security, Medicare, and workers’ compensation and cannot unionize. A slew of complaints about the loss of such benefits has rocked the industry and could threaten the entire business model of the on-demand economy.

In June, the California Labor Commission ruled that a San Francisco-based Uber driver should be considered an employee and should receive compensation for mileage and other expenses. (The decision, which Uber is appealing, does not carry the force of court precedent.) In what could be considered pre-emptive moves, some companies, including Instacart, Luxe, and Shyp have announced plans to convert some or all employees to part- or full-time status. Just this week, food-delivery startup Sprig joined them, and company CEO Gagan Biyani said the lawsuits facing other on-demand companies were a factor in the decision.

Of these suits, the one facing Uber is the furthest along. It could be weeks before Chen issues a decision on whether to elevate the suit to class action status. Should he do so, the suit could involve the largest number of plaintiffs against an on-demand company so far.

Article continues:

http://www.wired.com/2015/08/uber-class-action-lawsuit/

How Much Water Are the Richest Californians Wasting? It’s a Secret – —By Katharine Mieszkowski and Lance Williams | Mon May 18, 2015 6:00 AM EDT


In 1991, the public was outraged by the amount of water that wealthy homeowners like Mark McGwire were using. These days, that information is off-limits.

Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics watches his first-inning, three-run homer sail over the left field wall on Friday, Sept. 19, 1992 in Seattle during a game against the Mariners. The homer was the 39th of the season for McGwire who finished the game with four RBI?s as Oakland beat Seattle 7-4. (AP Photo/Bill Chan)

Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics watches his first-inning, three-run homer sail over the left field wall on Friday, Sept. 19, 1992 in Seattle during a game against the Mariners. The homer was the 39th of the season for McGwire who finished the game with four RBI?s as Oakland beat Seattle 7-4. (AP Photo/Bill Chan)

This story was originally published by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and is republished here as part of the Climate Deskcollaboration.

During California’s last crippling drought, baseball slugger Mark McGwire became a poster boy for water wasters.

The burly first baseman figured prominently in a 1991 Oakland Tribune investigation that showed how residents of upscale neighborhoods skirted the conservation demands facing everyday homeowners. The Top 100 users in the East Bay used 15 times more than the typical household.

That included the Oakland A’s star, who pumped 3,752 gallons a day in the summer months at his home in Alamo. “There’s no way I would waste water,” he told the newspaper.

In response to the outcry that followed the story, the East Bay Municipal Utility District demanded that its top users cut water use by 20 percent, the Tribune reported. If customers refused, the district would limit them to about 1,200 gallons a day.

“There’s no way I would waste water,” insisted Mark McGwire in 1991, during California’s last crippling drought.

Today, nearly 25 years later, while McGwire’s had to deal with more high-profile denials, California again is in the clutches of a massive drought. And the very information that has the potential to drive smart policymaking is now off-limits to the public and journalists.

Article continues:

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/05/california-water-users-mcgwire

Americans want the government to “redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich”


Americans are eager to see the government “spread the wealth around” through heavy taxes on rich people. This, according to Gallup, is a relatively new phenomenon, with a clear preference for soaking the rich really only emerging in the past four or five years:

Redistribution

(Gallup)

On a different polling measure, Gallup finds that at least since the mid-1980s a large majority of Americans have expressed a preference for a flatter distribution of income. But that’s something that could, at least hypothetically, be achieved in a whole variety of ways. Taxing the rich in order to redistribute income to the working class is a much more specific idea and, naturally, a more contentious one.

Not surprisingly, Republicans and rich people are not particularly excited about this idea, while Democrats and the poor love it.

But in some ways the most interesting demographic sub-sample is the age one. Respondents ages 18 to 34 are supportive of redistributive taxation by a 59-38 margin, while those over 55 are much more skeptical — 47 percent say tax the rich, and 50 percent disagree. In other words, the age stratification of American politics isn’t just about gay marriage or marijuana; it cuts to the core economic policy divides in Washington and state capitals around the country.

http://www.vox.com/2015/5/4/8548009/redistribution-poll

Nashville’s boom prices out low-income, middle class residents – by Peter Moskowitz March 29, 2015 5:00AM ET


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NASHVILLE — Raydhira Abreu, a middle-class Nashvillian who works as a leasing agent for an affordable housing developer in the city, says that without being able to live in one of her company’s units, she would be forced to leave the city.

“Even with the money I’m making now, I don’t think I could afford to live here,” she said. “We have zero apartments, and every day there’s more and more demand.”

Nashville is rising in national profile and quite literally: 30-story condominium towers are popping up downtown, modest homes are being torn down and replaced with 3,000-square-foot modern houses in East Nashville, and new restaurants, bars and clubs are opening seemingly every week.

While the city is booming, incomes haven’t kept pace with costs. A city studyfound that the median family income in the Nashville area rose 6 percent from 2000 to 2013 but rents rose 21 percent for four-bedroom apartments and 39 percent for one-bedrooms.

About 19 percent of city residents live below the poverty line — a rate slightly higher than for the rest of the nation — but that doesn’t take into account the higher cost of living in the city. Activists and experts say the boom is pricing out low- and middle-income Nashvillians and that the city needs to seriously ramp up its affordable housing programs if it hopes to avoid displacement.

The city is one of the fastest-growing rental markets in the nation, according to housing website Zillow, and occupancy rates were 98 percent in 2014. And unlike some other fast-growing cities like New York and Washington, Nashville doesn’t require developers to set aside units for affordable housing in new buildings that receive tax or other subsidies.

Nashville’s economic rise can be traced at least in part to cooperation between the city and the Chamber of Commerce to draw a slew of companies of all kinds downtown. Their plan, called Partnership 2020, has the goal of attracting about 120,000 new people to the region, creating 50,000 jobs and getting at least 150 companies to relocate from other parts of the country and state by 2016. Nashville’s current population is about 635,000.

So far, it seems to be working. The city has gone from having a median household income 5 percent below the U.S. average to 7 percent above it since 2011, according to the Chamber. And major companies have been moving to Nashville in droves.

Nashville’s bids to boost economic growth have been largely successful but have come at a price. One of the biggest efforts was the 350,000-square-foot Music City Center, a convention center downtown that cost Nashville $623 million. The city has given out hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, including to the  ABC TV series “Nashville” and most recently a $50 million break to tire manufacturer Bridgestone to woo the company downtown from its suburban headquarters.

But in some places — a dilapidated apartment building for seniors downtown, an overcrowded Section 8 apartment in the east or at Operation Stand Down, a veterans’ assistance nonprofit in the southern section of the city, things seem to be moving in the opposite direction.

Article continues:

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/3/29/nashvilles-boom-pricing-out-middle-and-lower-class.html

Notorious Astroturf Pioneer Rick Berman Is Behind Business Group’s Anti-Labor-Board Campaign – —By Molly Redden | Wed Mar. 25, 2015 6:30 AM EDT


Washington’s “Dr. Evil” has been working with a group of CEOs to help companies avoid legal liability for their franchisees.

“I’ve worked hard and played by the rules to make my franchise business a success,” Ganahl said in an ad that ran on all three networks, as video showed her fawning over a golden retriever. “Now, unelected bureaucrats at the National Labor Relations Board want to change the rules. As Americans, we deserve better. Tell Washington, ‘No.'”

Bankrolled by a free-market advocacy group called the Job Creators Network, the ad painted a sympathetic picture of a business owner struggling against onerous regulations imposed by the NLRB, the agency that enforces labor law and has long been a conservative target. But lurking behind the anti-NLRB campaign is a notorious PR operative and astroturf pioneer who encourages his corporate clients to “win ugly or lose pretty” and who says he wakes up each morning trying “to figure out how to screw with the labor unions.”

The consultant, Rick Berman, is well known in political circles for funneling anonymous corporate money into vicious ad campaigns attacking various advocacy groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Humane Society of the United States, which he has accused of spending a minuscule amount of their donations on their stated missions. Berman, who heads the DC-based communications firm Berman and Company, typically launches his offensives through a network of front groups. He has used these organizations to fight regulations governing food safety, animal cruelty, workplace safety, secondhand smoke, and even tanning beds, and in the process keeps his corporate funders anonymous.

“We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors,” Berman bragged in an October speech that was secretly taped and shared with the New York Times. “There is total anonymity.” His brash M.O. has earned him a nickname—Dr. Evil—that Berman appears to relish.

Article continues:

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/03/rick-berman-job-creators-network

UBS confirms fresh tax evasion probe in the US – BBC News 10 February 2015 Last updated at 02:51 ET


UBS sign

UBS has confirmed it is being investigated by US authorities into whether it helped Americans evade taxes through investments banned in the US.

The Swiss bank said US regulators were investigating potential sales of so called “bearer bonds”.

These bonds can be transferred without registering ownership, enabling wealthy clients to potentially hide assets.

“We are cooperating with the authorities in these investigations,” the bank said.

The fresh investigation by the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and from the US Securities and Exchange Commission comes after UBS paid $780m (£512m) in 2009 to settle a separate Justice Department tax-evasion probe.

And it comes as authorities in a range of countries are considering examining HSBC’s actions in helping more than 100,000 wealthy individuals avoid paying tax.

UBS made the announcement as it revealed a better-than-expected 13% rise in fourth quarter net profit to 963m Swiss francs (£683.9m).

However, it warned the increased value of the Swiss franc relative to other currencies, following the Swiss National Bank’s decision to abandon the cap on the currency’s value against the euro, would “put pressure” on its profitability.

“The increased value of the Swiss franc relative to other currencies, especially the US dollar and the euro, and negative interest rates in the eurozone and Switzerland will put pressure on our profitability and, if they persist, on some of our targeted performance levels,” it warned.

UBS results for the full year, were hit by more than $1bn to settle past scandals. In November, it was one of six banks fined by UK and US regulators over their traders’ attempted manipulation of foreign exchange rates, paying 774m Swiss francs in total.

It also paid $300m in the second quarter to settle charges it helped wealthy German clients evade tax.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is continuing to investigate UBS over currency manipulation allegations.

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-31349135

Obama plans tax on US firms overseas to fix roads at home – BBC News 1 February 2015 Last updated at 15:17 ET


US President Barack Obama plans to close a tax loophole that allows US firms to avoid paying taxes on overseas profits, the White House says.

US President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama will present his latest budget on Monday

His 2016 budget will impose a one-off 14% tax on US profits stashed overseas, as well as a 19% tax on any future profits as they are earned.

The $238bn (£158bn) raised will be used to fund road projects in the US.

The proposal is one of the main components of Mr Obama’s latest budget, due to be presented on Monday.

The spending plan, including the proposal on overseas profits, would require approval from the Republican-controlled Congress to be made law, something seen as unlikely.

Research firm Audit Analytics calculated last April that US firms in total have $2.1 trillion-worth of profits stashed abroad.

It found US conglomerate General Electric had the most profit stored overseas at $110bn. Tech giants Microsoft and Apple and drugs companies Pfizer and Merck all featured in the top five.

No tax is currently due on foreign profits as long as they are not brought into the United States.

As a result some companies put their earnings in low tax jurisdictions and simply leave them there.

The White House said its plans for an immediate 14% tax would raise $238bn, which would be used to fund a wider $478bn public works programme of road, bridge and public transport upgrades.

“This transition tax would mean that companies have to pay US tax right now on the $2 trillion they already have overseas, rather than being able to delay paying any US tax indefinitely,” a White House official said.

The official said that after this one-off tax, the 19% permanent tax firms would have to pay on overseas profits “would level the playing field, and encourage firms to create jobs here at home.”

The tax rate is far lower than the current US top corporate tax rate of 35%.

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-31085912

Bernie Sanders wants to take on ‘billionaire class’ – By Burgess Everett 1/29/15 6:40 PM EST Updated 1/29/15 7:00 PM EST


The Vermont senator insists he wouldn’t run just to push Clinton to the left.

Sen. Bernie Sanders is pictured. | AP Photo

AP Photo

If Bernie Sanders plans to takes shots at Hillary Clinton, he’s saving his ammo.

The Vermont independent and self-proclaimed socialist said Thursday that he’ll continue to explore running in the Democratic primary with a trip to New Hampshire this weekend and a visit to Iowa shortly thereafter. But asked to critique the presumed Democratic nominee, Sanders wouldn’t go there, at least explicitly.

“All I know is if I run, I’m not running against Hillary Clinton,” Sanders said in an interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” that will air on Sunday. “What Hillary Clinton, or Mitt Romney, or anybody else has to say — that’s their business. And once we’re in a campaign, I can debate those issues.”

Absent a change of heart by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sanders is seen as perhaps the Democratic Party’s best vessel to channel populist outrage and push Clinton to the left in the Democratic primary. But he insisted that if he were to run, it wouldn’t be for that reason.

Sanders said his biggest causes on the campaign trail would be the “collapse of the middle class,” the rise of what he called the Koch brothers’ political “oligarchy” and the GOP’s position on climate change, which the senator called an “international embarrassment.”

“These and other issues are looming in front of us. And we’re going to need bold leadership, we’re going to need people prepared to take on, frankly, the billionaire class,” he said.

Article continues:

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/01/bernie-sanders-billionaire-class-114747.html#ixzz3QIOkl400

Improving the Affordable Care Act to help the chronically ill – By Larry Hausner December 20, 2014, 09:00 am


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This year, one in three Americans chose to forego medical care for themselves or a family member because of cost concerns, according to a new Gallup poll.

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to prevent those situations and extend reasonably priced health care to everyone. But insurance companies have been exploiting loopholes in the law to avoid this obligation.

Fortunately, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — the federal agency that regulates health insurance — recently proposed a new rule that will close such loopholes and strengthen patient protections.

As the organization finalizes its regulations, it has come under pressure from insurance industry lobbyists to water them down. The CMS should resist these efforts and install genuine reforms that will improve health coverage for vulnerable Americans.

These new regulations take aim at one of the biggest shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act — unreasonably high patient cost-sharing. The healthcare law caps out-of-pocket expenses at $6,350 for individual plans and $12,700 for family plans. After an insured person or family hits the cap, the insurance company must pay the rest of the treatment costs.

However, insurers have found a way around that cap by forcing families to pay all the way up to that $12,700 threshold even when only a single household member is sick. The new CMS regulations would prohibit insurance companies from charging more than $6,350 for treating any one patient.

Article continues:

http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/healthcare/227732-improving-the-affordable-care-act-to-help-the-chronically-ill