Deadline nears for governor’s Uber and Lyft task force

And, nurses’ union says ‘I told you so’

By: - September 29, 2023 9:40 am

Uber and Lyft drivers march through the Minnesota Capitol in support of legislation raising wages and increasing protections against wrongful termination on May 17, 2023. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

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Uber and Lyft task force meeting take up deactivations

The Governor’s Committee on the Compensation, Wellbeing, and Fair Treatment of Transportation Network Company Drivers — also known as the Uber/Lyft task force — met for the fourth time on Tuesday to discuss unfair terminations, or “deactivations.”

The committee — made up of drivers, company representatives and other stakeholders — is tasked with making recommendations to the Legislature by Jan. 1 on regulations governing wages and working conditions.

Deactivations have been a key sticking point in negotiations between workers and the companies. The companies say they don’t want to deactivate drivers because recruiting and retaining workers is one of their biggest expenses.

“Deactivating drivers unnecessarily doesn’t work for this business model,” Lyft representative Brent Kent told the committee.

The two companies say the primary reason drivers are kicked off the platform is for safety concerns, followed by compliance issues (e.g. having expired registration) and fraud (e.g. driving on someone else’s account).

Many drivers complain they have been kicked off the platform because of spurious allegations by malicious customers, often leaving them saddled with debt for vehicles they can no longer use to earn a living.

Dawit Kassa, a driver representative on the task force, said he was deactivated by Uber after a customer complained that he was intoxicated. Dawitt, who is Muslim, said he’s never drank alcohol in his life.

But Uber representative Freddi Goldstein said she looked into his story and found that wasn’t why he was deactivated, although there was a customer complaint for intoxication. Asked after the meeting what he was deactivated for, Kassa said he doesn’t know and Goldstein said she couldn’t provide more information without Kassa’s permission.

The committee will take up insurance at its next meeting on Oct. 17. The group has yet to discuss specific policy recommendations, and just four more meetings are planned before the end of the year.

After vetoing a bill regulating Uber and Lyft this year, Gov. Tim Walz also directed the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry to obtain and analyze data from the companies related to working conditions, and how changes could impact access and cost. DLI Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach said on Tuesday they had reached an agreement on the data the companies will provide and expects to present an analysis to the committee in December.

UAW strike reaches one week in Minnesota

Around 130 workers in the Twin Cities metro area continue to walk picket lines at two parts distribution centers as part of the United Auto Workers strike against the Big Three automakers pulling more than 25,000 workers off the job nationwide.

Workers at the Stellantis facility in Plymouth and General Motors facility in Hudson, Wisc., walked off the job a week ago, after UAW President Shawn Fain called a strike at all 38 parts distribution centers for the two companies. Ford’s facilities were spared because the union said the two sides made progress in negotiations.

On Friday, Fain announced another expansion of the strike to include Ford’s Chicago assembly plant and GM’s Lansing Delta Township plant in Michigan.

President Joe Biden gave a historic boost to the union when he visited striking workers on Tuesday at a General Motors facility in Michigan, becoming the first sitting U.S. president in modern history to join a picket line. Biden visited the picket line at the invitation of Fain, who wields significant influence in key battleground states for the 2024 election.

Former President Donald Trump also traveled to Michigan on Wednesday to talk to auto workers — at a nonunion facility — and asked for Fain’s endorsement. Fain said he has no plans to meet with Trump and called his trip to a nonunion auto parts factory a “pathetic irony.”

Auto workers are asking for significant pay increases — initially 40% over four years to match the approximately 40% increase in CEO pay at Ford, GM and Stellantis over the past four years. They also want to end a tiered pay system, in which new employees are paid significantly less.

Stellantis worker Alex Tivis (left) speaks at a rally of United Auto Workers members next to his dad, fellow Stellantis employee David Kirby, outside a parts distribution center in Plymouth on Sept. 26, 2023. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Alex Tivis, who’s worked at the Stellantis facility in Plymouth since 2014, said $15.78 an hour is not enough to attract new workers.

“If you are willing to work a third shift at someplace like McDonald’s, you can make $20 an hour.  The company has just failed to be competitive over the last eight years,” Tivis said after a rally at the Plymouth facility on Tuesday.

Tivis is a second-generation Stellantis employee — his father, David Kirby, has worked at the Plymouth facility for 25 years. He says attracting a new generation of workers is critical to keeping the company and the union viable.

The work stoppage at parts distribution centers is likely to have a broader impact on consumers than the strikes at three assembly plants because they supply parts to dealerships to do repairs. Running out of parts would hurt a key revenue source for dealerships and could leave consumers stranded.

Building trades push St. Paul to get back to basics

Building trades unions have formed a political coalition with St. Paul businesses under the banner “Service St. Paul” to support council candidates who are focused on “core city services:” infrastructure, public safety and affordable housing.

The coalition expects to raise more than $300,000 ahead of the Nov. 7 City Council races and includes the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, the Operating Engineers Local 49 and the Teamsters Joint Council 32, as well as occasional adversaries in business and real estate.

The group voiced its frustration with the city’s stringent rent control policy, which caps annual rent increases at 3%, and concerns over council members’ lack of support for city police, Fredrick Melo reported in the Pioneer Press.

“We’ve seen an over 50% decline in the construction of new units. While many candidates claim to support union workers, the consequences of these policies have done the opposite – leaving many of our members with less available work than before,” said Kim Nelson, assistant political director of the carpenters’ union, in a statement.

The carpenters’ and operating engineers’ unions both fought against the citizen-led rent control referendum in 2019, warning it would cost jobs. The effort had the support of another powerful union, the Service Employees International Union, whose members generally earn lower wages and hoped rent control would rein in rising housing costs.

At a news conference on Monday at the carpenters’ union hall, the coalition announced its first endorsement: Isaac Russell in the Ward 3 city council race.

Nurses’ union decries rise in patient injuries

The Minnesota Nurses Association said lawmakers are continuing to put patients at risk by failing to address “the crisis of retention and care” in hospitals. The union released the statement after the Minnesota Department of Health published its annual report on adverse patient events on Wednesday, showing an increase in medical mistakes and patient injuries in 2022.

The union says there are more than 130,000 registered nurses in Minnesota, but thousands leave the bedside because of unsafe working conditions.

“As long as the corporatization of health care is allowed to run rampant in Minnesota, we will continue to see an increase in adverse events for Minnesota patients and nurses leaving the bedside in droves,” said Mary C. Turner, the nurses’ union president, in a statement.

The nurses’ union pushed for the Legislature to give nurses more power over staffing levels in hospitals, but the effort was defeated in the final days of the legislative session after the Mayo Clinic threatened to move billions in future investments out of state.

Seward Co-op reaches tentative deal with union

Seward Community Co-op reached a tentative agreement on Wednesday with the union representing roughly 190 workers a day after workers voted to authorize a strike. Workers will receive at least a $5 an hour raise over three years.

The agreement between the grocery co-op and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 663 came after weeks of bargaining and worker demonstrations, including a walk-out. Workers also displayed their wages on their name tags and face masks, Em Cassel reported in Racket.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.