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Coronavirus exposes U.S. Uber, Lyft drivers’ lack of safety net- Technology News, Firstpost

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 Coronavirus exposes U.S. Uber, Lyft drivers lack of safety net

By Tina Bellon and Nivedita Balu

(Reuters) – As independent contractors, U.S. ride-hail drivers for Uber and Lyft benefited from soaring trip demand and flexible work hours.

But as the coronavirus brings large parts of the country to a halt, drivers and companies are facing the downside of an ambiguous contractor model. Many Uber and Lyft drivers depend on the companies, but under U.S. labor law they do not have the protections granted to regular employees.

Under pressure to ease the plight of its roughly 1.3 million U.S. drivers and food delivery workers, Uber has seized on the crisis to advance its campaign for a larger overhaul of U.S. employment law to permit it to offer more benefits while maintaining workers’ contractor status, changes it has requested from state and federal lawmakers for several years.

Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi on Monday urged U.S. legislators to use the current crisis as an opportunity to implement changes to existing employment law by creating what the company calls a “third way” in between employment and contractor status.

A spokesman for U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer on Wednesday said a massive federal coronavirus aid bill will include reforms to make unemployment insurance available to self-employed and gig workers, adding that more details would be presented throughout the day.

Uber’s proposal drew sharp criticism from labor unions.

“A ‘third way’ is just a euphemism for creating a new underclass of workers with fewer rights and protections,” said Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation.

In a statement, Uber said economic forecasts meant more people will need flexible, independent work in the future, which was why it wanted to raise the standard for that work.

Uber’s original benefits plan did not include unemployment insurance, the protection drivers seek most under current circumstances. A driver advocacy group in New York on Tuesday called on Uber and Lyft to contribute to emergency unemployment pay.

Uber did not comment on the lack of unemployment insurance, saying only that its proposed model included “extended benefits for independent contractors.”

Lyft in a statement said the vast majority of its workers drive fewer than 10 hours per week and 80% have full or part-time jobs offering some level of benefits. Lyft said it was fighting for drivers to receive aid in the federal stimulus package, but did not comment on Uber’s push for legal changes.

VULNERABLE GIG WORKERS

Demand for ride-hailing trips in recent weeks has declined by as much as 70% in some U.S. cities and many drivers told Reuters they stopped driving over fears of getting exposed to the virus or infecting others.

Makela Edwards, an Uber driver from Oakland, California, enjoyed the steady pay and flexible hours driving afforded after leaving her job as a public school teacher at the end of 2018. Now, demand for Uber rides has all but dried up.

“This coronavirus has really lifted the lid about how vulnerable I am and how we as gig workers are being left out of the discussion,” Edwards said.

Some drivers said they planned to apply for unemployment benefits regardless of their contractor status, hoping for more flexibility under the current circumstances.

Others said they have switched to food delivery as a more reliable source of income with roughly a third of the U.S. population ordered to stay home. Uber on Wednesday said the number of people signing up to deliver food in the United States and Canada doubled last week from the week prior but did not provide additional details.

Uber and rival Lyft have established funds to compensate drivers and delivery people diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in quarantine by health officials for up to 14 days.

Uber said payments have started to go out, but declined to share additional details. Lyft did not provide any details on the payment of those funds.

The companies have also said they would distribute hand sanitizers. But both have closed their local hubs, places where drivers can go to receive in-person help or use the bathroom, and drivers do not know where to receive disinfectants.

Uber in a statement said suppliers had prioritized orders for healthcare workers, with its orders being moved down the queue several times. The company said it would communicate a distribution plan in light of the hub closures, but did not provide additional details. Lyft did not comment on disinfectants.

Most workers’ benefits, including health insurance and workers’ compensation, are attached to an employment relationship, said Pauline Kim, an employment law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Providing contractors with added benefits such as unemployment insurance requires a change or the passage of a new law, Kim said, adding that the current crisis highlighted the gap in protection between gig workers and regular employees.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; additional reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bangalore; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Marguerita Choy)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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Help solve COVID-19 with your home computer

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Lack of information kills.

As in straight up will put you in the ground, kills.

Example: Did you know they sell apricot kernels by the bag as a superfood? Did you know that their seeds, as well as those of most stone fruits like nectarines, plums, and peaches contain a chemical called amygdalin? Did you know that amygdalin converts to cyanide in the human body, and will take your Whole Foods shopping behind out like a bag full of used N95 masks on trash day?

If you didn’t know, you know now, and if you knew before, either you’re a botanist, scientist, or some other positive -ist, OR you found out like I did. On the internet.

Y’all, my height, weight, and the calendar say the same thing: it’s not 1995 anymore.

There’s no ‘pounding the pavement’ to get a job, it’s on the internet. There’s no ‘Just call and find out’, you get put on hold and a robo voice tells you to get on the internet. PS, that last weird thing you saw your doctor about? They went to school, and they can authorize the tests, but they Googled that mess too, I guarantee you.

The web is an everyday utility in every country with steady lights and running water for more than 5% of the populace. So why are my folks in the wide open spaces being left out on this? Simply put, it’s a matter of companies not bothering to put the broadband infrastructure in place coupled with increasing charges in paying for the services in the first place. A new bill is looking to change that, and I am THUH-RILLED.

RJ Karney Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau spearheaded putting Bill S.1822, AKA Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, AKA the DATA Act (nice one), in front of President Trump, and the payoff will payoff thusly if signed into law:

Rural communities will have better access to remote healthcare–physical AND mental, highly important to anyone for whom a doctor’s visit is a literal day trip.

Broadband usage will be tracked more accurately, allowing companies to get a glimpse into where reinforcements are needed most.

Those trackings will be used to decide where government funds will be allocated in order to facilitate internet implementation (say that 10 times fast).

20 Million Americans with no access to broadband, and the standard of life that comes with it will be granted the access they need.

Lovely, right?

And for everyone who likes the taste of leather out there, this isn’t a matter of the free market deciding not to provide a service because it isn’t profitable. No, dear reader, these companies have actively TURNED DOWN government funding to roll out faster internet in less populated areas, citing ‘We don’t wanna’ (my paraphrase) and ‘We know better than they do, and they don’t NEED this’ (also my paraphrase).

Even a city gal like me knows manure when she sees it.

I had a similar situation going on here in Austin. Once I moved out of the crappy apartments that just HAPPENED to be on the tail edge of a rich zip code, and into the crappy apartments by the GOOD taco places, my internet didn’t work right. Because the area had too many “poors” for -company name redacted, although it rhymes with Air BnB- to have put up the structures for working internet there. Despite the fact that my bill was not any lower.

It’s not okay.

Look obviously country folk aren’t stupid. I defy you to be as sharp as someone who has to get up at 5AM and drain a horse’s abscess without getting a hoof-shaped dent between the eyebrows. But especially now in our Covid-19 inundated world, we need info that you cannot just ‘know’. This is unprecedented stuff! For all I know, the virus feeds on the compounds in garlic, and I’m seconds away from a sweet n’ savory death due to all my ‘fight it off’ infused honey!

The issue is that no amount of good ol’ fashioned common sense is going to keep you from knowing not to feed your baby with contaminated Gerber’s that just got recalled because some sick douche-iot purposefully sneezed in the mashed peas. When I say ‘We need the information’, that WE means ALL of us.

Let’s hope for the best for this bill, and get everyone wired, hired, and fired up.

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COVID-19 dedicated scanner reading protocol made available – Med-Tech Innovation

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Medical imaging software solutions provider Intrasense has released, and made immediately available, a specific scanner reading protocol dedicated to COVID-19.

Following the recommendations issued by the major international professional medical societies, such as the American College of Radiology or the Société Française de Radiologie, chest scanner is indicated as a reference exam for the follow-up of patients with a suspected or confirmed diagnosis and / or initial or secondary signs of clinical aggravation (dyspnea, desaturation, etc.).

According to these guidelines, the company has developed a specific reading protocol based on the pulmonary application XP-Lung of Intrasense’s Myrian platform. This protocol incudes many clinical key points, particularly about screening, analysis of the pathological stages as well as clinical evolutions. The solution developed by Intrasense teams provides an objective measurement of the impairment and of the available pulmonary reserve of patients, allowing rapid identification of healthy and pathological areas (ground glass opacities, condensations, crazy paving, emphysematous areas). These elements provide the pulmonary reserve as well as a density histogram over a complete pulmonary volume. 

This specific COVID-19 protocol, based on the pulmonary application Myrian XP-Lung, is offered free of charge to all healthcare professionals fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Access request to the solutions can be made by filling in the form available on the company’s website.



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Lapsing of H-1B visas makes techies jittery, Technology News, ETtech

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Lapsing of H-1B visas makes techies jittery
Indians currently in the United States on H1-B visas could face some testing times in the next few weeks.

For several, the H1-B visas have lapsed or are likely to do so soon.

They are in a peculiar situation, as the current ban on all incoming flights to India for two more weeks means they cannot return, in the process becoming illegal immigrants in the United States once their visas expire.

Several immigration lawyers are working with people whose visa status have changed in the last few weeks.

“It is a very unfortunate situation for them. Their visas are over or denied and they cannot leave the US. They cannot work and they are accruing unlawful time… Their whole life is on hold,” said Nandini Nair, an immigration attorney at law firm Greenspoon Marder.

The bigger challenge, however, is if H-1B visa holders are fired.

Normally, they have a 60-day grace period in which to find another job. But, practically no one is hiring in the current environment.

Certain IT groups are lobbying to extend this to 180 days, but it is anybody’s guess whether that will be approved.

“Most H-1B workers are from India and cannot travel home with children who are US citizens as many nations announced an entry ban, including India. H-1B workers cater to the economy at large, mainly supporting the IT Industry with high tax contributions,” according to a petition by recruitment firm Hire IT People, to the White House.

Indian nationals account for nearly two-thirds of H-1B visa holders in the US.

Since Donald Trump took over as US President, American technology firms have been favoured for the coveted work permits over Indian IT services firms.

“We have come across a few cases where people have lost their visa status and are advising them to apply for a B-1/B2 tourist visa which gets them six more months in the country legally,” said Matthew Maiona, immigration attorney at Maiona Ward.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is currently being flexible on several visa and immigration requirements, but has not specifically addressed the issue of what happens when a worker on an H-1B is laid off.

Given the unprecedented situation, Maiona said the agency was likely to issue a tourist visa to tide over the next few months.

A senior official of the Department of Homeland Security said recently that the agency was aware of the unusual situation.

“And so, USCIS … is accounting for the challenges that travel restrictions all over the world, not just in the United States, are placing on individuals’ abilities to sincerely abide by the terms of their visas,” the official said. “So, we do understand that, and I think you’ll find USCIS to be very accommodating.”



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