Posts with «elections» label

Lyft is spending millions to stop Massachusetts drivers from becoming employees

Lyft has already splashed out $14.4 million towards a likely November ballot measure in Massachusetts which would cement its drivers as contractors, rather than employees — and the vast majority of those funds were paid in a single, $13 million donation, the largest in the state's history by a considerable margin. It's an unambiguous opening salvo in what will likely be a bitter and protracted battle, the playbook for which Lyft and its gig work peers successfully tested in California two years ago. 

As the Boston Globereports, Lyft has thus far contributed the lion's share of the Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers committee's $17.2 million war chest, which is intended to fund the forthcoming ballot measure. The rest comes from Uber, DoorDash and Instacart owner Maplebear. The previous record for largest single donation was nearly a third the size: a $5.1 million contribution from General Motors in 2020. 

Currently Lyft and Uber are engaged in a lawsuit, filed by the Attorney General of Massachusetts, which contends that the companies have been misclassifying their driver workforce as contractors. Leveraging contractor status relieves them of many of the costs and obligations associated with employees — such as minimum wage, healthcare and overtime pay — but true contractors typically control how and when they work, and what they charge for their services. Whether or not ridershare drivers actually have that level of autonomy has become a point of legal contention in several of the states and countries in which these companies operate.

California thus far has prosecuted its defense of gig-workers-as-employees most vociferously, first through a state Supreme Court ruling in 2018, then through AB5, a successfully-passed bill that (however briefly) enshrined these kinds of drivers as employees. It went into effect on January 1, 2020 and was overturned by ballot measure Proposition 22 that November. Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates dumped a historic $224 million into the proposition — outspending their opposition, which largely consisted of labor unions, by more than 10-to-1 — the most expensive ballot measure in California history. 

Although Prop 22 was eventually ruled unconstitutional, the strategy has thus far been successful for gig work companies. Legislative changes have been tied up in court, and nowhere in the United States are Lyft or Uber drivers currently entitled to the entire slate of benefits enjoyed by full-time employees.

In making their case for Prop 22, gig companies essentially employed two lines of attack. The first, against its own workers, was a facile attempt to tie the concept of "flexibility" to contractor status, an utterly false dichotomy perpetuated by the companies themselves. The second was to convince voters in California that the costs associated with a fleet of employee drivers would either force them to scale back service or raise prices. 

After Prop 22 passed, every single company that backed it raised prices anyway. Uber's CEO also recently contended on a call with investors that, in the face of potential employee-status regulations in the European Union, Uber can, in fact, afford to "make any model work" financially. We've reached out to Lyft to ask if it's in a similar position.

Given this much publicized bait-and-switch, it seems unlikely the Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers committee will be able to successfully argue the same case regarding cost to consumers. Still, the $17.2 million already amassed has paid for, as the Globe reports, a slew of big-name political consultancies who were behind what is currently the most expensive (and likely to soon the be the second-most expensive) ballot measure in Massachusetts history, which sought to stymie a right to repair law.

Are you a gig work driver or courier working in Massachusetts? Download Signal messenger for iOS or Android and text me confidentially at 646 983 9846 and let's keep in touch.


Amazon will face a second Alabama union vote in February

It's now clear when Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama will vote in a mandatory second union election. As Motherboard's Lauren Kaori Gurley notes, the National Labor Relations Board has sent notice that employees at the BHM1 fulfillment center can start voting with secret mail ballots on February 4th, with the vote count beginning on March 28th. Anyone employed at the company from the first week of January 2022 onward is eligible to consider joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The NLRB ordered the new vote after determining that Amazon interfered with the first union election in early 2021. The RWDSU filed 23 objections after the 1,798 to 738 "no" vote, accusing Amazon of installing an unapproved mailbox to intimidate staff as well as handing out anti-union material like badges and signs. After an investigation, the NLRB found that Amazon had a "flagrant disregard" for the mail voting process that made a fair election "impossible."

The RWDSU wasn't completely satisfied with the notice. In a statement, the organization claimed the NLRB's decision "fails to adequately prevent" Amazon from skewing the vote. Amazon, meanwhile, repeated its comment from November in response to Engadget's inquiries. It maintained that warehouse workers "overwhelmingly" voted against joining the union, and found it "disappointing" that the NLRB rejected the election.

As before, the stakes are high. A pro-union vote would give warehouse workers collective bargaining rights they could use to improve pay and working conditions — both frequent points of contention. Whatever the outcome, it's safe to presume the election will draw renewed scrutiny from politicians and stars who see it as a turning point for labor at the internet shopping giant.

The US Postal Service secretly tested a blockchain mobile voting system

Mobile voting hasn't had much traction in the US, but that apparently isn't for a lack of trying. The US Postal Service has confirmed to The Washington Post that it secretly developed and tested a blockchain-based mobile voting system ahead of the 2020 election. The project was purely "exploratory" and was abandoned in 2019 after University of Colorado researchers discovered security flaws, including the risks of impersonation, denial of service attacks and "techniques" that compromised privacy.

However, it might be the lack of transparency that raises the most concern. The USPS didn't coordinate with other federal agencies, and it asked the university to sign a non-disclosure deal that prevented them from naming the institution involved. Election security officials just learning of the blockchain voting project were worried it might erode trust in the democratic system already hurt by unsupported claims of significant fraud during the 2020 vote.

The Postal Service has considered electronic voting before, but centered its attention on those who can't easily vote, such as soldiers and people with disabilities. This was a practical exercise that could have applied to a large swath of voters, not just a small group that can't realistically use mail or in-person balloting.

The end result was the same with or without the test: the 2020 election continued to rely on paper ballots, and federal agencies focused more on establishing a paper trail to reduce the chances of Russia and other actors from tampering with the vote. The revelation shows there wasn't a completely united front, though, and suggests vote-by-smartphone efforts aren't about to take off any time soon.

Amazon ordered to rerun contentious Alabama union election

Amazon will have to redo the union election held at its Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center back in April. According to Politico, Lisa Henderson, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 10 Director, has ordered the e-commerce giant to hold another vote mostly due to the fact that Amazon installed a US Postal Service mailbox in front of the warehouse to collect ballots. 

The election results were 1,798 to 738, with workers voting against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). After those results came out, the RWDSU filed 23 objections, accusing the company of interfering with the elections. One of those complaints pointed out that Amazon installed the ballot box without approval from the NLRB and in view of security cameras that made workers feel they were under surveillance. The labor relations board sided with the union and found that Amazon interfered with the election by installing the mailbox and offering employees anti-union badges and signs. 

Henderson wrote in the documents ordering a new election:

"By causing the Postal Service to install a cluster mailbox unit, communicating and encouraging employees to cast their ballots using the mailbox, wrapping the mailbox with its slogan, and placing the mailbox at a location where employees could reasonably believe they were being surveilled, the Employer engaged in objectionable conduct that warrants setting aside the election.

The Employer’s flagrant disregard for the Board’s typical mail-ballot procedure compromised the authority of the Board and made a free and fair election impossible."

Amazon, of course, criticized the NLRB's decision. In a statement sent to The Washington Post, spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement:

"Our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the RWDSU earlier this year. It's disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count."

EU seeks to block political ads that target people's ethnicity or religion

The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, has proposed a ban on some types of targeted political ads that employ sensitive personal data, including ethnic origin, religion, health status or sexual orientation, unless users give explicit consent. If the rules come into force, advertisers would have to provide clear details on the criteria they use for targeting, as well as the "amplification tools or methods" they harness.

Every ad would also have to be more transparent in terms of displaying the name of the person or organization that paid for it, as well as disclosing how much was spent, where the money came from and the ad's connection to an election or referendum.

The EC is hoping these measures will help protect election integrity, largely by making it more difficult for campaigns to target and mislead marginalized groups. It said people should be able to easily tell when they see a paid political ad, whether online or offline, and take part in political discussions without being impacted by interference, manipulation or misinformation.

“Elections must not be a competition of opaque and non-transparent methods. People must know why they are seeing an ad, who paid for it, how much, what micro-targeting criteria were used," the EC's vice-president for values and transparency Vera Jourová said in a statement.

If the bill becomes law, EU member states will need to determine fines for breaching the rules. National data protection authorities will be tasked with monitoring how personal data is used in ad targeting and imposing fines when appropriate. The EC is hoping to enact the rules, which build on the General Data Protection Regulation and planned Digital Services Act, by spring 2023, ahead of European Parliament elections the following year.

Political ads have been a hot button issue for online platforms for several years. Facebook and Google both temporarily banned them after polls closed in the 2020 US presidential election to stem the flow of misinformation. Earlier this month, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, removed thousands of ad targeting options, including those related to ethnicity, health, religion, sexual orientation and political beliefs. Twitter banned all political ads in 2019.

The EC's proposed rules could also prevent some types of surreptitious data collection. Back in 2019, PR farms connected to the Republican party used Google's ad network to vacuum up email addresses of potential voters.

DOJ charges two Iranian hackers for threatening US voters during 2020 election

The US Department of Justice has charged two Iranian hackers for their involvement in a disinformation campaign that targeted American voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election. In October of last year, Seyyed Kazemi and Sajjad Kashian allegedly sent threatening emails to Democratic voters in Florida in which they threatened to physically hurt them if they did not vote for former President Donald Trump. When the incident first happened, the US Director of National Intelligence held a press conference to warn voters of the emails.

Additionally, Kazemi and Kashian allegedly attempted to break into 11 state voter registration and information websites. In one instance, the DOJ alleges they successfully downloaded the information of more than 100,000 state voters. They may have also carried out a disinformation campaign on Facebook that saw them contact, among other individuals, Republican senators and members of Congress. They claimed they were volunteers with Proud Boys and said they had evidence the Democratic Party planned to exploit security vulnerabilities in election systems to edit mail-in ballots.

Kazemi and Kashian’s efforts to sway the election culminated on November 4th when they allegedly attempted to hack the network of a US media company. They were unsuccessful because the FBI had warned the firm in time.

“This indictment details how two Iran-based actors waged a targeted, coordinated campaign to erode confidence in the integrity of the U.S. electoral system and to sow discord among Americans,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the DOJ’s National Security Division in a statement. “The allegations illustrate how foreign disinformation campaigns operate and seek to influence the American public.”

US officials told The Washington Post they believe the two hackers are currently in Iran, suggesting they may not face authorities anytime soon. The DOJ also didn’t directly link their actions to the Iranian government.

Judge bars county clerk after voting machine passwords leaked to QAnon

In August, QAnon conspiracy theorist Ron Watkins shared a video he claimed showed ballot machines from Dominion Voting Systems could be remotely accessed to tamper with the results of a vote. At the time, he said the information came to him from a “whistleblower.”

This week, a Colorado judge barred Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters from overseeing the county’s upcoming November election in relation to a leak of voting machine BIOS passwords. Peters, who tweeted in support of former President Donald Trump’s election conspiracy theories, invited a man named Gerald Wood to a meeting involving a “trusted build” software update that was meant to ensure the security of the county’s voting machines. Peters claimed Wood was an “administrative assistant” transitioning to her office, but then later described him as a “consultant” she hired to copy information from the computers.

Ahead of the meeting, Belinda Knisley, Peters’ deputy, sent an email to staff asking that they turn off the security cameras in the Election Department and not turn them back on until after August 1st. Knisley didn’t explain the reason for her request, but it was carried out either way. On the day of the meeting, Wood photographed a spreadsheet that contained the passwords to the machines and copied over their hard drives. Following the meeting, the passwords were publicly posted to an “online social media site.”

“Peters directed the creation of the images of the hard drive, which was not authorized by law and which directly led to the decommissioning of Mesa County’s voting systems, facilitating the leak of sensitive data and exposed the county’s voting system to compromise,” Judge Valerie Robinson wrote in a decision spotted by Ars Technica.

In a statement, Peters said she plans to appeal the “decision to remove a duly elected clerk and recorded from her election duties.” She went on to described herself as a whistleblower and called the case against her a “power grab” by Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold.

“Clerk Peters seriously compromised the security of Mesa County’s voting system,” Griswold said in a statement. “The Court’s decision today bars Peters from further threatening the integrity of Mesa’s elections and ensures Mesa County residents have the secure and accessible election they deserve.” The FBI and Mesa County district attorney are investigating Peters, but no criminal charges have been filed yet.

Telegram blocks Russian opposition leader's chat bots during vote

The Russian government still has a strong influence on Telegram despite lifting a ban last year. RadioFreeEuropereports Telegram has temporarily blocked all of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's Telegram chat bots during voting in the country's parliamentary election this weekend. Company founder Pavel Durov said Telegram would obey an election law barring campaigning during elections, calling the law "legitimate."

The move comes despite the nature of the bots and Durov's past statements. One of the bots, Smart Voting, was only meant to identify candidates that could unseat the dominant United Russia party, not just Navalny's Russia of the Future party. Durov also decried Apple and Google removing the Smart Voting mobile app from their respective app stores, calling it a "dangerous precedent" that tolerated censorship.

Russia under Vladimir Putin has routinely cracked down on any political dissent, including actions against Navalny himself (such as an attempted assassination linked to Russian agents) and a long-running effort to quash the broader Smart Voting effort. Officials both threatened Apple and Google with fines and have gone so far as to try and throttle internet infrastructure providing access to Smart Voting.

Whatever the motivations, the decision underscores the fine line tech firms tend to walk in Russia. While they might object to the Putin regime's tight grips on politics and speech, they also can't afford to antagonize the government if they want to have any kind of presence in the country. Telegram may object to Russia's policies, but it risks depriving residents of a relatively safe avenue for free expression if it defies Russian laws.

Facebook is reportedly mulling a commission to advise on elections

Facebook is considering forming a commission to advise on thorny issues related to global elections, according to a report Wednesday from The New York Times. The company has begun to approach academics and policy experts, who The Times says could potentially weigh in on issues ranging from political ads to election misinformation. What's more, it is not just US elections where a commission could find itself weighing complicated election issues; the commission would also likely have a mandate to weigh in on closely watched elections in Hungary, Germany, Brazil and the Philippines.

Engadget has asked Facebook for comment.

On its face, the commission sounds a lot like Facebook's Oversight Board, an independent panel of journalists, academics and activists often described as a "Supreme Court" that's tasked with reviewing Facebook's policies. The Oversight Board is perhaps best known for upholding Facebook's decision to ban Donald Trump, though since its formation last year it has also agreed to weigh in on doxing; hate speech; how politicians at large should be treated; content moderation in coup-torn Myanmar; moderation by algorithms; and the appropriate treatment of satire content.

But though the makeup of the election commission sounds like the Oversight Board — and could similarly let Facebook side-step ownership of controversial decisions — there could be an important difference, according to The Times. Whereas the Oversight Board weighs in on decisions that Facebook has already made (much like the Supreme Court considers contested court rulings), the election commission would have the latitude to proactively offer advice, even on matters where Facebook had not yet taken a public stance.

If Facebook goes ahead with outsourcing election-related decisions to an advisory committee, it would be a departure from its previous attempts to counter election misinformation, which have been largely reactive, and almost always imperfect. Even after a temporary ban on political ads ahead of the 2020 US election, some ads were still showing as active in Facebook's ad library. Facebook last year also endeavored to label ads from politically connected publications, and earlier this year moved to show users less political content altogether.

Though Facebook reportedly hopes to launch the commission ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, The Times also describes the outreach as preliminary, with no guarantee that Facebook will move forward on this.

California judge finds Prop 22 gig worker measure unconstitutional

A California judge has ruled that Proposition 22, the measure that allows companies like Uber and Lyft to keep classifying app-based drivers in the state as independent contractors, is unenforceable and unconstitutional. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Alameda County Superior Court judge Frank Roesch found that Prop 22 illegally "limits the power of a future legislature to define app-based drivers as workers subject to workers' compensation law."

Proposition 22 passed by a wide margin in the state when most people voted in favor of it in last year's November elections. Companies were legally obligated to classify gig workers as full-time employees under Assembly Bill 5 A (AB5), which was passed in 2019, but some (like the aforementioned ride-sharing firms) continued to treat them as contractors. Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash poured over $220 million into campaigning for Prop 22 in order to overturn AB5, and the move clearly worked. 

The measure requires gig companies to provide their contractors with healthcare subsidies and a wage floor, but it also exempts them from having to classify their workers as employees with appropriate benefits and protections. While those in favor of the proposition argue that it would allow workers to keep their independence while enjoying benefits they didn't have before, not everyone's happy with the development. A group that includes the Service Employees International Union and the SEIU California State Council sued California earlier this year to overturn the proposition. 

In his ruling, Roesch specifically singled out Section 7451 of the measure, which states that any future law related to collective bargaining for app drivers must comply with the rest of the proposition. "It appears only to protect the economic interest of the network companies in having a divided, ununionized workforce, which is not a stated goal of the legislation," he wrote in his decision. He also found it unconstitutional that any amendment to the measure requires a seven-eighths vote of approval to pass in the state Legislature.

If the ruling stands, gig companies like Uber and Lyft may have to spend hundreds of millions paying for healthcare and other additional benefits for their drivers. At the moment, though, Prop 22 is still in effect, and gig companies are already planning to appeal. An Uber spokesperson told The Chronicle:

"This ruling ignores the will of the overwhelming majority of California voters and defies both logic and the law. We will appeal and we expect to win. Meanwhile, Prop. 22 remains in effect, including all of the protections and benefits it provides independent workers across the state."