Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Weighs Taking Leave; Key Confidant to Resign – Greg Bensinger Updated June 11, 2017 3:17 p.m. ET

Emil Michael’s exit would be among most senior of a stream of recent executive departures

Emil Michael stirred up a storm of controversy in 2014 after allegedly suggesting that the company should spend millions of dollars to investigate journalists who were critical.

Emil Michael stirred up a storm of controversy in 2014 after allegedly suggesting that the company should spend millions of dollars to investigate journalists who were critical. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News


Greg Bensinger

Uber Technologies Inc. Chief Business Officer Emil Michael is planning to resign as soon as Monday, a departure that would further worsen an already dire leadership problem at the ride-hailing firm, according to people familiar with matter.

Uber’s board on Sunday is considering the future of Mr. Michael and other executives, including the possibility of Chief Executive Travis Kalanick taking a leave of absence, the people said.

An Uber spokesman declined to comment, and Messrs. Kalanick and Michael didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The possible exit of Mr. Michael, who has been acting as a number 2 to Mr. Kalanick and is also a personal friend of the co-founder, follows the departure of Uber’s head of communications, a senior vice president of engineering, vice president of product and growth and its head of finance, among others. Uber recently fired the head of its self-driving car development, Anthony Levandowski, and is seeking a COO and CFO.

It is unclear whether Mr. Michael’s resignation is related to a report prepared by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his firm, Covington & Burling LLP, regarding Uber’s workplace culture. The report is expected to have unearthed damaging information about inappropriate behavior at Uber including sexual harassment, retaliation, bullying and other matters, people familiar with the matter said.

Uber’s board of directors is set to meet Sunday to vote on Covington’s recommendations and discuss a possible leave of absence for Mr. Kalanick, who is still reeling from the death of his mother last month in a boating accident that also left his father seriously injured. The Covington report likely makes recommendations for new human-resource processes and trainings.

On Tuesday, Uber is expected to release a summary report of the Covington report to employees and the media, provided the board approves its recommendations.

Mr. Michael helped oversee broad strategy initiatives including mergers and acquisitions and fundraising. He joined Uber in 2013 from Klout Inc., which rates users’ online reputation, and had worked as an adviser to technology companies.

Mr. Michael stirred up a storm of controversy around Uber after allegedly suggesting in November 2014 to a BuzzFeed editor at a party that the company should spend millions of dollars to investigate journalists who were critical. His comments were condemned by Mr. Kalanick at the time who called them “terrible” and “a departure from our values and ideals.”

He also was aware the company’s head of Asian operations, Eric Alexander, had obtained the medical records of a rape victim in an Uber car in India while pursuing a theory that local competitor Ola had pushed the story to damage Uber’s reputation, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Alexander was fired this week after reporter inquiries.

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VW to Meet With Regulators as Patience Frays – WSJ

BN-LI661_VWCRIS_J_20151118172033Volkswagen is meeting with U.S. regulators this week amid a contentious relationship with them and their European counterparts who will determine the penalties for its cheating on emissions.

As Volkswagen AG faces a Friday deadline for proposing how it will fix nearly half a million cars tainted by illegal software, the German auto giant is grappling with a contentious relationship with regulators in the U.S. and Europe who will determine the penalties for its emissions cheating.

Two months after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency disclosed that Volkswagen deceived diesel emissions testers for years and later falsely claimed technical problems when challenged, the details of how and why Volkswagen cheated, who was responsible and how it plans to fix affected cars are still largely unclear.

Volkswagen is set to discuss initial recall plans in meetings Thursday and Friday with U.S. and California regulators, an EPA spokeswoman said. On Friday, the company also is expected to provide details of deep spending cuts.

Source: VW to Meet With Regulators as Patience Frays – WSJ

The Suburb That Tried To Kill the Car – By T.R. GOLDMAN October 2015

What Works

Evanston was failing as a suburb, so it reinvented itself as a mini city. Now the city of Chicago wants to follow its lead.


At first glance, downtown Evanston, Illinois, doesn’t look revolutionary—just another a gentrifying urban core with the obligatory Whole Foods, the local organic sustainable restaurants serving $14 cocktails, the towering new, high-end luxury apartments filled with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. The booming downtown feels increasingly hip; this summer it was featured as a “Surfacing” destination in the New York Times Travel Section. “I have everything here,” says Joanne McCall, pausing one evening on her way inside Sherman Plaza, a soaring, 26-story condominium building. “The post office, the dry cleaner, the movies, I work out upstairs, the Whole Foods is over there, the hair dresser over here. And the Uber thing is getting big here.”

It takes, in fact, a few extra minutes in the neighborhood to realize what’s different—and what’s missing. Downtown Evanston—a sturdy, tree-lined Victorian city wedged neatly between Lake Michigan and Chicago’s northern border—is missing cars. Or, more accurately, it’s missing a lot of cars. Thanks to concerted planning, these new developments are rising within a 10-minute walk of two rail lines and half-a-dozen bus routes. The local automobile ownership rate is nearly half that of the surrounding area.

Which again, may sound like so many other gentrifying urban areas. Who owns a car in Brooklyn, after all? But Evanston isn’t Park Slope—the city, now 75,000 strong, is quintessentially a suburb, somewhere to escape the density of nearby Chicago, a place to get extra room and, especially, a place to drive your car, jetting down Lake Shore Drive or the Edens Expressway to the Windy City. The houses in Evanston were so idyllic, in fact, that filmmakers came to use it as the beau ideal of postwar suburban life—it was where Hollywood came to film all-American suburban movies like Sixteen CandlesDennis the MenaceUncle Buck, and both Home Alone 2 and Home Alone 3.

And the whole point of the suburbs, reinforced by decades of local zoning laws and developers’ plans for a car-centric lifestyle, was that you weren’t supposed to live on top of your neighbor, that there was supposed to be plenty of parking everywhere you went and that you weren’t supposed to walk anywhere.

But Evanston had a different idea: What if a suburban downtown became a place where pedestrians ruled and cars were actively discouraged? As it turns out, what looks like normal urban gentrification actually marks the success of one of the most revolutionary suburbs in America. And its approach to development is fast becoming a model across the region—a model even embraced by its urban neighbor to the south, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Evanston, Chicago and their neighbors all now want to attract more people like Tyler Hauck, 27, who pays $2,200 a month for his 1½ bedroom apartment, which he says is “definitely a high-end” building close to one of the region’s transit lines. “On the neighborhood list serve, people say things like ‘You’re paying all this money and you don’t have room for a car?’”


Urban density got a bad rap sometime in the mid-19th century—nobody found any redeeming value in the overcrowded Victorian slums of London—and by the beginning of the 20th century, the Englishman Ebenzer Howard’s concept of the “Garden City,” a series of outlying satellite villages to a larger, established central city, became the dogma of city planners around the world.

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Wage Strife Clouds Car-Sales Boom – By ANNE STEELE and JEFF BENNETT Oct. 1, 2015 7:42 p.m. ET

Auto workers’ anger over earnings grows as auto demand hits a 10-year milestone

Surging sales at Fiat Chrysler and other U.S. auto makers have union workers fuming that the industry’s good fortunes aren’t reflected in industry wage talks.ENLARGE

Surging sales at Fiat Chrysler and other U.S. auto makers have union workers fuming that the industry’s good fortunes aren’t reflected in industry wage talks.Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News

`Automobiles flew off dealer lots last month at the fastest pace in 10 years, but the good times are stirring tension between U.S. auto makers and their unionized workers that threatens to undercut the industry’s rebound.

United Auto Workers union members at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV this week rejected for the first time in three decades a tentative agreement as inadequate, and Ford Motor Co. faces a walkout at a big truck factory as soon as Sunday.

As buyers flood dealer lots, snapping up pricey pickups and sport-utility vehicles that deliver fat profits to General Motors Co. , Ford and Fiat Chrysler, factory workers are demanding an end to the concessions that put the U.S. industry back on its feet after near collapse seven years ago.

“We got a catered meal of hot dogs and hamburgers as our thanks while others, I’m sure, got big bonuses,” said Phil Reiter, a 44-year-old union member referring to a recent production milestone at Fiat Chrysler’s Toledo, Ohio, Jeep factory. That plant on Tuesday rejected a UAW supported contract by a more than 4-to-1 ratio.

The workers are angry that neither union officials nor Fiat Chrysler want to eliminate a concession put in place just ahead of the 2008 recession that pays some assembly-line staff substantially less than co-workers doing the same work. The same two-tier system exists to a lesser extent at GM and Ford.

Surging sales aren’t helping the relationship. U.S. car and light-truck sales rose nearly 16% last month compared with the same period a year ago, an annualized pace of 18.17 million vehicles. It was only the ninth time in history the monthly pace eclipsed 18 million, and the first time since 2005.

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Inside Uber’s Fight With Its Chinese Nemesis, Didi Kuaidi – By EVA DOU in Beijing and RICK CAREW in Hong Kong Sept. 2, 2015 6:46 p.m. ET

China’s huge ride-hailing market has erupted into an all-out brawl

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at Sep 3, 2015 3.35
Competition for a share of the ride-hailing market in China is heating up. But thriving rings of drivers for Didi Kuaidi and rival Uber are ginning up fake rides to qualify for incentive bonuses, angering legitimate drivers like Zhao Fengwen. Here’s how the scams work. Photo: Sean Gallagher for The Wall Street Journal

As Uber Technologies Inc. chief Travis Kalanick was preparing for an all-out push into China, he visited the country’s dominant ride-hailing company in July 2014. Mr. Kalanick suggested Uber invest in the company, the Beijing startup’s chief executive says.

“His message was they had conquered the whole world and would also conquer China,” says the CEO, Cheng Wei, who headed a company named Didi Dache.

Mr. Cheng says he rejected Mr. Kalanick’s overture after hours of discussion. “You are earlier than us” globally, he says he told the Uber CEO, “but there will be a day when we will surpass you.”

An Uber spokeswoman says the San Francisco company recalls the meeting differently, declining to say how. “It was super friendly,” she says. “Cheng Wei greeted Travis with the words ‘you are my inspiration.’ ”

Any friendliness has worn thin, as a rivalry between Mr. Kalanick and Mr. Cheng over China’s multibillion-dollar ride-hailing market erupts into an all-out brawl.

Mr. Cheng in February merged Didi with his domestic rival, Kuaidi Dache, forming Didi Kuaidi Joint Co. and becoming its CEO. The world’s most-highly-capitalized startup was now pitted against a powerful Beijing firm backed by China’s largest Internet giants, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd.

Uber and Didi Kuaidi are fighting to raise funds for expansion while they compete to woo drivers to their private-car-hailing services and navigate China’s tough regulatory environment.

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Judge: California Drivers Can Go Class-Action to Sue Uber – DAVEY ALBA PM

A federal judge in San Francisco  has granted class-action status to a lawsuit brought by three Uber drivers against the on-demand ride company.

The decision issued today by US District Judge Edward Chen means as many as 160,000 Uber drivers in California could join the case seeking mileage and tip reimbursement from the company, presently valued at $51 billion. The drivers can now collectively challenge the company on the main issue of worker misclassification—whether drivers should actually be considered employees of Uber under the law rather than independent contractors.

The decision applies to all UberBlack, UberX, and UberSUV drivers who have driven for Uber in the state of California at any time since August 2009. However, it excluded Uber drivers who work for a third-party company and more recent drivers who are bound by Uber’s 2014 arbitration clause. For now, Chen also did not grant class-certification for related expenses, including gas and vehicle maintenance.

“This decision is a major victory for Uber drivers,” says Shannon Liss-Riordan, the Boston lawyer who is representing the Uber drivers in the case.

“It will allow thousands of Uber drivers to participate in this case to challenge their misclassification as independent contractors, as well as to attempt to recover the tips that Uber advertised to customers are included in the fare, but are not in fact distributed to the drivers.”

In arguing against class-action status, Uber tried to show in court that the idea of a typical Uber driver was a false notion, meaning that no individual plaintiffs could truly represent the interests of all drivers.

“We are likely to pursue an appeal of this decision because it is based on several key legal errors,” says attorney Ted Boutrous of Gibson Dunn, the firm defending Uber in the case.

“The mountain of evidence we submitted to the court—including the declarations of over 400 drivers from across California—demonstrates that two plaintiffs do not and cannot represent the interests of the thousands of other drivers who value the complete flexibility and autonomy they enjoy as independent contractors.”

The Future of On-Demand

Judge Chen’s ruling comes as the debate around how to properly classify workers for on-demand companies is heating up. As startups like Uber and Instacart have gone mainstream, so have criticisms of the so-called 1099 economy. These startups often employ freelance contractors, a classification the companies contend is desirable because the work is more flexible than a regular 9-to-5 job. Some critics are calling for broader protections for these workers, who do not receive benefits like Social Security, Medicare, and workers’ compensation and cannot unionize. Others complain that classifying workers as contractors allows companies like Uber to save up to 30 percent of payroll tax costs, which gives them an unfair competitive advantage.


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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.

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How Google quietly revved up its very own car company – Mark Harris Saturday 1 August 2015 07.30 EDT

Documents obtained by the Guardian reveal the tech giant created Google Auto LLC to help develop its self-driving cars even as it courted big car makers

 In this 13 May 2015 photo, Google’s self-driving Lexus car drives along street during a demonstration at Google campus in Mountain View, California. Photograph: Tony Avelar/AP

In this 13 May 2015 photo, Google’s self-driving Lexus car drives along street during a demonstration at Google campus in Mountain View, California. Photograph: Tony Avelar/AP

Google has set up its own car company. The tech giant has flirted with major car firms as it explores driverless cars but has also quietly set up its own auto company, according to documents obtained by the Guardian.

Google Auto LLC is headed by Chris Urmson, project lead for Google’s self-driving cars. Urmson has been on a charm offensive with the world’s biggest automobile manufacturers. At the North American International Auto Show in January, Urmson announced talks with General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Daimler and Volkswagen. In March, he told USA Today: “Making cars is really hard, and the car companies are quite good at it. So, in my mind, the solution is to find a partnership.”

To date, no such partnership has emerged. That might be because Google already has its very own car maker in Google Auto. The company is registered with national and international organisations as a passenger vehicle manufacturer, and was licensed last year as a car maker in California. Google declined to comment on this story.

Documents obtained by the Guardian under a Public Records Act request in California show that Google Auto was formed as a limited liability company in late 2011. Initially, Google used it to modify and test the fleet of driverless Lexus SUVs that succeeded the company’s first self-driving Prius saloons. Google Auto is named as the manufacturer of all 23 autonomous Lexus cars registered with California’s department of motor vehicles, including all the vehicles involved in a recent spate of minor accidents in and around Google’s home town of Mountain View.


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