How millions from Uber and Lyft are funding the harassment o

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How millions from Uber and Lyft are funding the harassment o

Postby admin » Wed Dec 09, 2020 12:48 am

How millions from Uber and Lyft are funding the harassment of a critic
by Michael Hiltzik
Business Columnist
L.A. Times
9/2/20

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Uber and other backers of Proposition 22 are funding the harassment of Veena Dubal, a UC professor. (UC Hastings)

Veena Dubal has spent much of her professional career examining and writing about the rise of the gig economy and the loss of employment rights by workers in that sector.

An associate professor at UC Hastings law school, Dubal has been an outspoken supporter of AB5, the California law designed to rein in those employment abuses, including those by the ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft.

She’s also a critic of Proposition 22, the initiative funded chiefly by Uber and Lyft aimed at overturning AB5.

Sometimes it’s really overwhelming.

As a result of her criticism of Uber, Lyft and the gig economy business model, Dubal has become the target of harassment on Twitter, some of it obscene and some of it overtly encouraged by the Yes on Proposition 22 campaign, which is heavily funded by Uber and Lyft.

Her home address has been published online, which prompted her local police department to start regular patrols around her home. She has been falsely accused of having written AB5 and having had a “hand” in the 2018 California Supreme Court decision that led to AB5.

A Sacramento opposition research consultant working for Yes on 22 recently filed a public records act request seeking nine months of emails, text messages or “other writings” related to AB5, Proposition 22 and the gig economy between Dubal and roughly 160 organizations and individuals.

The request resembles a technique of intimidation often employed by fossil fuel, tobacco, anti-labor and other interests against researchers, scientists, activists and other critics.

One ride-hail driver filed a complaint against Dubal with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, alleging that she violated lobbying laws. The FPPC rejected the allegation and closed the case.

Dubal tries to laugh off all this activity. “I hope they have a wonderful time wading through my thousands of emails and text messages,” she told me.

But it’s also plain that it has taken an emotional toll. The posting of her home address left her “really freaked out,” she says, since it happened in the teeth of the pandemic lockdown and she has three children at home. “I kept the doors locked and the kids’ windows closed and I slept in their rooms.”

She has changed all her online passwords, hired a security consultant to scrub her personal information from the internet, even removed wedding photos that had been turned into offensive memes online. Although the initial tweet disclosing her home address has been taken offline, she’s aware that her address is still circulating on the internet.

“Sometimes it’s really overwhelming,” she says.

Some of the attacks on Dubal have come from, let us say, right field. These include a series of articles appearing on the right-wing website Communities Digital News.

They label Dubal, without evidence, the “true author” of AB5 (Dubal says that’s untrue), call her the law’s “puppet master,” and say she had a “hand” in the 2018 state Supreme Court decision.

That implies that Dubal helped to write the decision, but that’s also untrue: The 7-0 decision, which appeared over the name of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, mentions Dubal once, citing an article by her in a single footnote.


I asked the articles’ author, Jennifer Oliver O’Connell, what these assertions are based on. She told me by email that she had “documented” the claims, but didn’t reply when I asked her to provide specific documentation.

It should go without saying that this sort of treatment is detestable. Even though not all the harassment of Dubal can be traced to the Yes on 22 committee, if you’re inclined to give the Uber/Lyft initiative the benefit of the doubt in November’s election, you should consider those companies’ role in the attacks on Dubal.

The Yes on 22 ballot committee has collected more than $110 million in contributions, of which more than $70 million has come from the two ride-hailing firms. (That includes $10 million contributed by Postmates, a gig company that Uber acquired in July.)

We asked Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, a gig company that has contributed $10 million to the Proposition 22 campaign, for their comments.

Lyft didn’t respond. Uber and DoorDash referred me to the Yes on 22 campaign, but that won’t do. The question isn’t what the initiative campaign thinks about the harassment, but what Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, in whose name the campaign operates and whose money is its lifeblood, think about it. On that, they’re silent.

Let’s take a closer look at this noxious situation.

AB5, which went into effect in January, codified a 2018 state Supreme Court ruling that workers for many gig companies who had been classified as “independent contractors” — such as drivers for Uber and Lyft — were effectively employees and therefore entitled to benefits such as work expenses, workers compensation and unemployment insurance and the right to unionize.

Uber and Lyft, which haven’t acknowledged that they’re subject to the law, responded by concocting Proposition 22. The initiative would exempt them from AB5 and substitute an alternative employment scheme. As we’ve reported, this scheme would still leave the drivers and other gig workers vulnerable to being ripped off by the businesses they work for.


That brings us back to the campaign against Dubal. Uber’s record points to its interest in intimidating critics. In 2016, for example, U.S. Judge Jed S. Rakoff of New York determined that in the course of a lawsuit filed against Uber’s co-founder and then-CEO Travis Kalanick, the company had launched a secret, fraudulent investigation of the plaintiff and his lawyer, and misled the targets about it.

In 2014, then-executive Emil Michael expressed interest in looking into the “personal lives” and “families” of journalists critical of the company. Uber subsequently said it had never taken any steps Michael mentioned. In 2017, Uber critic Susan Fowler Righetti discovered that someone had been contacting her friends to glean personal information about her; she didn’t name Uber, and the company denied it was responsible.


Uber is now under new management, with Kalanick and Michael both gone. But it’s conceivable that the DNA they left at the company remains in place under new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

If Veena Dubal is standing up for drivers as she claims, why does she continue to silence those who try to engage her?

If you’ve been blocked by Veena Dubal, reply with your screenshot below! https://t.co/jHORaVyVUi

— Yes On Proposition 22 (@VoteYesOn22) August 7, 2020


What has Yes on 22 done? After her home address was posted online, Dubal — at the suggestion of her digital security consultant — started blocking Twitter accounts that had targeted her, sometimes with vile and obscene language and imagery. Yes on 22 then issued a tweet urging anyone she blocked to post a screenshot of the blocking notice.

Almost anyone familiar with Twitter knows that publicizing blockings is like waving a lunch bucket in front of Twitter trolls — it often feeds more trolling. In its tweet, Yes on 22 accused Dubal of silencing “those who try to engage her.”


Yes on 22 spokesman Geoff Vetter told me that the post was designed to ensure that “drivers who do not want to be employees and remain independent … are not erased or silenced.”

This is absurd: Dubal hasn’t “erased or silenced” anyone. Blocking just means the blocked user can’t access her tweets or respond directly to her; no one has been prevented from saying anything they wish on Twitter or anywhere else.

Vetter also said on behalf of the initiative campaign, “we strongly condemn any form of harassment and ask that it stop immediately.”

But he acknowledges that the campaign hasn’t issued a condemnation generally, only to news organizations that have raised questions about the harassment of Dubal. To date, that’s Slate.com, CNet.com, and us. Only readers of those articles will be aware of the campaign’s oh-so-valiant stand against harassment. The campaign has never taken down its original tweet, by the way.

Vetter says the company “frequently” instructs drivers who support Proposition 22 to “be respectful of everyone they interact with.”

As for the public records act request, Vetter says it’s designed to ensure that Dubal and her correspondents “weren’t using taxpayer resources to coordinate or campaign against Prop 22.”

Uh-huh. Public records act requests are effective tools for journalists and consumer advocates — we’ve used them to obtain records that public officials would rather keep under wraps. But voluminous requests like this have been used by entrenched interests to discourage public discourse by saddling their critics with time-consuming busywork.


Maria Shanle of UC’s general counsel’s office says that public records requests have mushroomed over the years to some 20,000 annually, systemwide. (Hastings manages its requests separately.)

As for requests related to faculty, “Activists across the country have seen significant impacts using public records requests as an effective strategy to undermine the work of researchers in controversial fields,” Shanle says. “In my view, this is part of a larger political trend toward discrediting the cultural authority of scientific experts, and undermining science in general.”

The consultant who issued the request for Dubal’s material, Mark Bogetich of MB Public Affairs — whose firm has been paid $240,000 thus far this year by Yes on 22 — staged a similar onslaught of public records demands related to the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), a progressive public policy group, in 2011.

Among his previous clients are Altria, the owner of the tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris; and Republican politicians including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

We’ve reported before how the California ballot initiative process has been manipulated by moneyed businesses and individuals for purposes that undermine the public interest.

It’s bad enough that Uber, Lyft and their fellow gig companies are spending nine-figure sums to promote an initiative that benefits themselves at the expense of their workers.

It’s especially contemptible that they’re using some of that money to target a critic simply because she speaks out against them, and hiding behind their initiative committee to do so.
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Re: How millions from Uber and Lyft are funding the harassme

Postby admin » Wed Dec 09, 2020 1:50 am

After Prop 22 Win for Uber & Lyft, Advocates Fear New Wave of Anti-Worker Laws Pushed by Big Tech
by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales
Democracy Now!
December 8, 2020

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[Shortened Transcript]

[Amy Goodman] We look now at how ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft scored a major victory against workers’ rights in the election with the passage of Prop. 22 in California. And how they are now pushing similar measures in other states. During the campaign to pass Prop. 22, Uber and Lyft spent a record-setting $205 Million to bombard voters and their own workers with misleading advertisements and messages that promised minimum wage, healthcare and protections that are consistent with a full-time job. One ad appropriated the words of legendary poet Maya Angelou as it showed images of Black and Brown workers getting ready for their morning drive to pick up passengers:

Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning.


One survey of California voters who voted “yes” to Prop. 22 showed 40% thought they were supporting workers’ ability to earn a living wage. But the measure will actually stop gig workers from being eligible for job protections and prevent them from accessing the benefits of being on the payroll, such as contributions for social security, medicare benefits, and overtime pay. Prop. 22 overrides AB5, a major labor law passed in California in 2019 that extended employee classification to gig workers. Now critics worry the proposition could have dire implications for labor rights across the country. The proposition was also backed by Doordash, Instacart, and Postmates which Uber now owns. It was also pushed by Tony West, the brother-in-law of Vice-President elect Kamala Harris who is Uber’s chief legal officer.

For more we go to California…. Veena Dubal joins us, Professor of Law at University of California Hastings who writes extensively about the gig economy and says during the campaign for Prop. 22, she was one of many critics who was subjected to online and offline attacks, including a massive Public Records Act request for her emails and text messages from one of the campaign’s PR firms…

[Juan Gonzales] Veena Dubal, the professor of law at University of California Hastings, I wanted to ask you about the role of these corporate democrats with some of these key gig economy firms. I think first of David Plouffe who used to be one of Obama’s closest friends and aides, who first went to work for Uber, and then eventually left Uber and went to work for Mark Zuckerberg’s charity. You also have Anthony Fox, the former Obama Secretary of Transportation who became a top official at Lyft. There’s Matthew Wing who was a spokesman for Andrew Cuomo who also became the spokesman for Uber. All of these corporate democrat top aides going to work for these firms in the gig economy.

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[Veena Dubal] Yeah, it’s striking that the law that is probably the most dangerous law to workers that we’ve seen since Taft-Hartley, that it was architected and heralded by corporate democrats, and not Republicans. It is a far-right law. The way that it was passed was anti-democratic. It is extremely, extremely dangerous to American workers. Yet, you are exactly right: the people behind it, including Tony West, who is now being potentially considered for attorney general, were corporate democrats.

[Amy Goodman] Can you talk about, Professor Dubal, about what you think was most misleading about this campaign. I mean, 58% of Californians voted, or of those who voted, voted for it. And talk about it being used as a model. You see this as one of the most serious attacks on labor in all of your studying of labor law in the United States.

[Veena Dubal] Yes. So the reason that it is such a huge attack on labor is because it’s this corporate fantasy that they’ve been trying to accomplish for the past century, it dismantles all of the New Deal protections. Workers no longer have access to a minimum wage, to overtime compensation, to unemployment insurance, to workers compensation, to all of the things we know, the very limited protections that working people have in the United States. Those are all completely gone. And these are the workers who most need those basic protections… These are low-wage, mostly people of color workers. During the campaign, and I should say these $200 million dollars were spent on a variety of things, but they were mostly spent on bombarding the California electorate, the voters of California, with misleading advertising on YouTube, on Facebook, on Instagram, even when you were searching on Google the ad that popped up, emails, in messages, just constant bombardment of messaging that was just inaccurate. In California it is legal to be misleading in political advertisements, and probably the most misleading thing that I saw was that the advertisements alleged that workers would be making a minimum wage. And that is the most important thing for your viewers and listeners to understand about Prop. 22 and the danger that it poses, is that it takes away access to a time-based minimum wage. So people are no longer getting paid for all the time that they work. They are only getting paid when they have an assignment. So all of the risks and liabilities traditionally associated with doing business are now on the workers themselves. Drivers … can no longer predict how much they will make in a given day or a given week. It is at the whim and whimsy of both demand and the corporations themselves. And if that spreads to other sectors we are going to face increasing inequality, increasing ___, the growth of the contingent workforce, it is going to make it extremely, extremely difficult for working families to survive, to put food on the table. And as we all are anticipating, we might be facing a big economic depression in the coming years, and this is the absolute worst time for workers not to have access to that very basic protection that we have come to understand is a limited right that Americans have, which is a time-based minimum wage….

[Juan Gonzales] And Veena Dubal, about this effort to roll it out nationwide, there has been discussion of trying to get federal law passed. Could you talk about that?

[Veena Dubal] Yeah, they have announced that they are ready and willing to take this really dangerous law to the federal level. They are already trying to replicate it in a number of states, including New York state. They have [been] rolling out advertisements similarly misleading advertisements to the campaign in California. And since Lyft hit the streets of San Francisco in 2012-2013, over the past seven years, almost a decade, they have, at the company’s behest, a number of bills have been written and even introduced to do exactly what Prop. 22 does, which is create a substandard category of worker under the U.S. law. And I think they think they have a blueprint now. They got this passed in California, and as we all know, what happens in California tends to spread all over the country and even the world. And so I think we are going to see a flood of misinformation in states and on the federal level about what gig work is, the kinds of benefits supposedly it offers. We’re going to hear a lot of misrepresentations of what freedom and flexibility it offers, and how people need this work. And it’s so important for people to understand, for voters, for Americans to understand that this law takes away all of the hard-won protections that workers have. We are at a point in technology and history where we should be expanding workers’ rights, and instead, this law has completely stripped them away.

[Amy Goodman] And Veena Dubal, in just 30 seconds, if you could explain what happened to you as you campaigned against Prop. 22, the mass investigation that was done of you.

[Veena Dubal] Yeah, I had extreme forms of harassment from the PR campaign, which is again, this proposition, it passed as a result of misinformation and harassment. It was very Trumpian in that sense. I got massive text and email public records act requests, I was CONSTANTLY harassed online and offline, someone put my home address up on Twitter – I was doxed. It was a lot of misinformation on the right-wing blogosphere. It was really something. They were scared of what I had to say, and I will continue to say it, because if this spreads past California, we are headed for an even worse situation of inequality than we are already experiencing.
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