Microsoft is planning a new, $570 million Canadian headquarters in Toronto, GeekWire reported last week, becoming the latest in a series of major US tech companies to announce large-scale investments in Canada:
The Redmond, Wash., software giant announced plans to build a massive new Canadian headquarters in Toronto, promising to invest $570 million in the facility. Microsoft expects to move into the new facility, located at 81 Bay Street, in Sept. 2020. The company will relocate its current Canadian headquarters and several other offices, dispersed through the country, to the new headquarters.
Toronto is having a bit of a moment on the global tech stage. Google sister company Sidewalk Labs is developing a plan to create an innovation district on the Toronto waterfront as a proof-of-concept for technologists who believe they can improve urban planning. Google plans to relocate its Canadian headquarters to Toronto as part of that initiative.
The very next day, Uber also revealed plans for a new Toronto office, announcing that it would spend around $154 million to build a new engineering hub there, doubling its Toronto-based tech workforce to around 500 employees. The ride-sharing startup will also be expanding its self-driving car operations there. These latest moves will further boost Toronto’s profile as one of Canada’s leading tech hubs, particularly for emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. Major tech companies have been investing in Canada at a steady clip over the past year, also including Salesforce, Alphabet’s DeepMind unit, and Facebook. Toronto is also the only non-US finalist for Amazon’s second North American headquarters.
The New York City Council passed legislation on Wednesday to put a one-year cap on for-hire vehicle licenses and to empower the city government to set a minimum wage for ridesharing drivers, in a crackdown on the largely unregulated growth of platforms like Uber and Lyft, the New York Times reported:
The proposal to cap ride-hail companies led to a clash among interest groups with taxi industry officials saying the companies were dooming their business and Uber mounting a major advertising campaign to make the case that yellow cabs have a history of discriminating against people of color.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, said the bills will curtail the worsening traffic on the streets and improve low driver wages. … But Uber has warned its riders that the cap could produce higher prices and longer wait times for passengers if the company cannot keep up with the growing demand.
New York is the largest market for Uber in the US, but already regulated ridesharing more stringently than many other American cities. To address concerns about unfair competition from the local taxi industry, New York requires drivers to obtain special licenses from the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, along with commercial liability insurance and special plates for their vehicles, which must meet certain eligibility criteria.
The new will not affect Uber and Lyft drivers who are already licensed to operate in the city, but will pause the issuing of new licenses immediately while the city studies the effects of the rise of ridesharing on traffic, driver wages, and the local economy.
A recent article at the Economist described Uber’s user rating system for drivers as a strategy for supplanting traditional performance management, arguing that these ratings “increasingly function to make management cheaper by shifting the burden of monitoring workers to users.” Uber has an interest in ensuring that customers have a consistently good experience and thus is harmed when drivers perform poorly, but instead of devoting resources to monitoring and managing drivers’ performance, it counts on customers to assess it instead. Meanwhile, the platform gives drivers a strong incentive to earn high marks, “aligning the firm’s interests with those of workers,” with the risk of being deactivated if their average rating falls too low.
This type of outsourced performance rating has expanded outside of the gig economy, the author adds, pointing to the ratings and feedback companies increasingly solicit from customers online after they interact with employees, such as in a customer service call.
As the Economist points out, user ratings systems are an attractive method for crowdsourcing the monitoring of employee performance without having to spend the time, money, and effort of having managers do it themselves. And it’s no surprise that organizations are looking for an easy way out. Our own data at CEB, now Gartner, shows that 55 percent of managers believe performance management is too time consuming, and only 4 percent of HR leaders believe their current process accurately assesses performance. With all the effort that has ostensibly been wasted trying to fix performance management, leaving it up to the wisdom of the crowd sure is tempting.
This makes a lot of sense for Uber, which treats its drivers as contractors and will never need them to perform a task other than driving. Customer ratings may be all the performance information Uber needs to decide whether or not to allow a driver to continue working on its platform. With more conventional models of employment, this usually isn’t an option, so most organizations that choose to integrate user ratings into their performance management process must do so more carefully.
Uber is rolling out new benefits for drivers working through its platform in Europe, including sick pay, paid parental and bereavement leave, and compensation for work-related injuries, the BBC reported this week:
The insurance and compensation package will be available to all Uber drivers and Uber Eats delivery couriers across Europe. However, unions have questioned whether the package is new. In April 2017, Uber announced illness and injury insurance cover for its drivers. Uber drivers who wanted to join the scheme were required to pay £2 a week. …
Uber will provide drivers with a range of insurance coverage and compensation resulting from accidents or injuries that occur while they are working, as well as protection for “major life events” that happen whether the driver is on a shift or not. … Drivers are not going to get the kind of benefits they would enjoy as employees but there will be a little something to help them deal with life’s ups and downs.
The announcement comes just a month before an appeals hearing in a London court regarding Transport for London’s decision last September to revoke Uber’s license to operate as a private car hire operator in the city, on the basis that its “approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility.” Uber has been allowed to continue operating in London while it appeals the decision, as it is scheduled to do at Westminster Magistrates Court on June 25, the BBC notes.
The battle with Transport for London is just one of several Uber is fighting in the UK and continental Europe. Last November, the company lost an appeal against a ruling by a British employment tribunal that its drivers were misclassified as independent contractors and are in fact entitled to certain rights as employees, including paid leave, overtime, and a minimum wage. Uber contends that classifying its drivers as employees would fatally disturb its business model and prevent it from offering the flexibility in terms of work hours and location that most of its drivers consider a benefit. Critics contend that this is a false choice and that Uber could maintain that flexibility while offering drivers a fuller range of rights and protections. Uber is pursuing further appeals in that case.
Uber announced on Tuesday that it would no longer require employees, drivers, or customers who experience sexual harassment on the job or while using the ride-sharing service to adjudicate their claims in arbitration proceedings. Coming in response to pressure from former employees and customers, the change will allow alleged victims of sexual harassment in the US to pursue claims against the company in court. Uber will also no longer bind accusers to confidentiality requirements as a condition of receiving a settlement on the company, though it will continue to keep financial details of such settlements confidential.
In a blog post, Uber’s Chief Legal Officer Tony West said the company would also publish a public safety transparency report including data on sexual assaults and other incidents that take place on its platform.
Hours after Uber’s announcement, Lyft also announced that it was waiving its standard arbitration agreement for sexual assault claims and would no longer impose confidentiality requirements on alleged victims of sex crimes, Recode’s Johana Bhuiyan reported later on Tuesday. Lyft also intends to release a safety report on sexual assault complaints it receives on its platform; Lyft COO Jon McNeil wrote on Twitter later Tuesday afternoon that his company would be happy to work together with Uber on this reporting project.
West said Uber had made its decision in the interest of transparency, but also acknowledged the risk the company was taking in being more open about these allegations (albeit a risk mitigated to some extent by the participation of its chief competitor):
As part of Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s efforts to turn around his embattled company’s public image and organizational culture after a series of scandals last year, Bo Young Lee will join the ride-sharing startup as its first chief diversity and inclusion officer in March, Johana Bhuiyan reports at Recode:
Lee’s hire — the third executive appointment under newly minted CEO Dara Khosrowshahi following chief legal officer Tony West and chief operating officer Barney Harford — is an important one for the company as it attempts to refurbish its image and address the many issues first brought to light by Susan Fowler’s essay in February 2017. … Lee, who was the global diversity and inclusion officer at financial services firm Marsh, will not be reporting directly to Khosrowshahi and Harford; she will report to Uber’s chief human resources officer, Liane Hornsey, for the time being.
An independent investigation conducted last year by former US Attorney General Eric Holder had recommended that Uber promote its current global head of diversity, Bernard Coleman, to the role of chief diversity officer, reporting directly to the CEO and COO. The company may change up Lee’s place in the chain of command later, Bhuiyan adds:
The European Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday that Uber should be regulated as a transportation company, not a technology company, potentially exposing the ridesharing platform to new licensing and tax requirements within the European Union and hinting at how the court will likely rule on other regulatory issues involving gig economy companies.
The court’s finding that Uber “must be classified not as ‘an information society service’ but as ‘a service in the field of transport’” means that under European law, it may be regulated differently in each member state, Sky News’s Bethany Minelle explains—in contrast to digital platforms, which are held to a single set of rules throughout the EU. This opens the way for EU countries and cities to hold Uber to the same standards as other transportation services in their jurisdictions:
While the long-running case, which originated in Spain, is not legally binding it is likely to foreshadow the decision in the majority of EU cases. The Barcelona-based legal firm representing the cabbies who filed the lawsuit said that the ruling was “a social victory” with “great judicial significance”. …