Gleanings: August 26, 2016

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick at 2014 Launch Festival. Photo by JD Lasica, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jdlasica/, under a creative commons license.

This week’s gleanings: Driverless cars threaten Uber drivers. Uber competitor favors human drivers. Children of preschool invest more in their children. DOJ to phase out private prisons. NLRB says graduate assistants at private universities are employees, not just students.

Uber’s goal: Replace one million drivers with self-driving cars ASAP

The ride-hailing service Uber looks to replace its 1 million drivers with self-driving cars as quickly as possible, reports Bloomberg.

Although many companies are developing the technology for self-driving cars, Uber is the first to commercialize it. Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick calls the transition to driverless cars an existential imperative for the company. He has not, however, offered a timeline for the full transition to autonomous vehicles.

As a first step, the company plans to introduce self-driving cars in the downtown Pittsburgh market. Uber’s fleet of autonomous vehicles will include the Ford Focus and Volvo XC90 SUVs.  

Autonomous cars will be assigned randomly to customers, who will have to agree to be participants in the road test before riding, reports the New York Times. The cars will operate with safety drivers, ready to take control in case a car encounters a situation that its onboard computer cannot manage. A co-pilot will ride in the front passenger seat.

Initially, trips will be free. Kalanick expects that, in the long term, fares in driverless car will be cheaper than the per-mile costs of a private car.

Uber also operates an intracity delivery service known as Uber Eats and plans to start a domestic long-haul trucking service in the future.

Juno’s business model: Employ human drivers

Juno, a for-profit ride-hailing startup based in New York City, takes the approach that human labor really matters, reports National Public Radio.

The company, which claims to have 13,000 drivers in NYC, is preparing to offer employment status with benefits, vacation, and paid sick leave to drivers who commit to work exclusively for Juno.

Uber classifies drivers as independent contractors, not entitled to expense reimbursements for the use of their cars or basic workplace protections such as minimum wage, overtime pay, workers’ compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, and social security retirement benefits.

In California, Uber drivers filed a lawsuit claiming they are employees, not independent contractors. Reuters reports that the judge recently rejected Uber’s proposed $100 million settlement, finding it to be unfair.

In Ohio, drivers are not employees except where agreed to by written contract, according to regulations adopted by the state legislature in December 2015.  

Children of Head Start invest more in their children

The preschool experience of Head Start improves adulthood measures of positive parenting practices, according to a study by The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution as reported by the Washington Post.

The study also showed improved educational outcomes as well as adulthood measures of self-control and self-esteem.

The findings, according to the Washington Post, “complicates a large canon of Head Start analyses that have found over the years mixed and even disappointing results. And it reflects a curious possibility: that an intervention that didn’t yield immediate results in school preparedness or test scores might reveal its value years later.”

The researchers developed an index of positive parenting practices “incorporating the frequency of a parent reading aloud to their child; whether the parent reported teaching their child numbers, the alphabet, colors, and shapes at home; whether the parent reported in the past week praising the child, showing physical affection, and spending time with the child doing one of the child’s favorite activities; and whether the parent reported not spanking the child in the past week.”

Unlike DOJ, ICE and many states will not phase out private prisons

The Washington Post recently reported the U.S. Dept. of Justice would end the use of private prisons for federal inmates. The DOJ’s announcement follows a report by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General that found a higher rate of safety and security incidents in privately contracted prison.

The DOJ policy will not affect contracts with private companies running immigration detention centers, short-term facilities for the U.S. Marshall’s service, state prisons, or municipal jails, reports the Huffington Post.

NLRB: Grad assistants at private schools are employees

Graduate assistants at private universities are university employees with the right to form unions and bargain collectively, according to a recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board, reports Vox. The decision reverses a 2004 decision.

The decision doesn’t affect grad students at public universities. Those grad students are public employees of their states and, therefore, governed by state laws about public sector unions.