Manhattan Judge Tosses Uber Lawsuit

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A Manhattan judge has dismissed Uber Technologies Inc’s lawsuit challenging a New York City law limiting the number of licenses for ride-hailing services, the first such cap by a major American city.  New York State Supreme Court Justice Lyle Frank rejected Uber’s argument that the city wrongly gave its Taxi and Limousine Commission power to enforce the cap.

Frank was also unconvinced that the cap, part of Local Law 147, would impede state efforts to reduce traffic congestion through “congestion pricing” on vehicles entering high-traffic areas of Manhattan.  The August 2018 law was meant to give New York City greater oversight of ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft Inc.  It includes a one-year freeze on new licenses to for-hire vehicles, which was later extended through August 2020.

The law, which the City Council passed, required the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to conduct a one-year study on the possibility of regulating the number of for-hire vehicle licenses and to stop issuing new for-hire vehicle licenses for that year. The study, which was released in June, found that reductions on FHV-related traffic could “meaningfully impact overall traffic conditions.” The one-year cap was then extended this past summer.

Uber’s lawsuit argued, among other things, that the city exceeded its authority in enacting the law because the state allows the city to cap taxis but not app-based or other for-hire vehicles. But Judge Lyle E. Frank said in his decision to toss the lawsuit that the City Council acted within its rights when it allowed TLC to adjust the number of for-hire vehicle licenses.

Bill Heinzen, acting TLC commissioner, said in a statement “We are grateful the court has again recognized the TLC’s power to address the problems that companies like Uber have created by flooding the streets of NYC.  Drivers are bringing home an additional $750 a month on average because we fought back against their tactics, and the Mayor and TLC will continue to fight for less congestion and better pay for drivers.”

The legislation also allows New York City to set a minimum wage for drivers with Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services.  The case is separate from Uber’s Sept. 20 challenge to a New York City “cruising cap” rule limiting how much time its drivers could spend without passengers in Manhattan south of 96th Street.

Uber has drawn criticism from many cities that its vehicles increase congestion, and commandeer business from taxis.  The value of medallions, which are permits needed to operate yellow taxis in New York City and are distinct from ride-hailing licenses, has plunged as Uber and Lyft gained popularity.  Taxi workers have long supported measures like the cap on for-hire vehicles to reduce the amount of vehicles driving around the city, as they face crippling amounts of debt due to a dramatic decrease in the value of medallions.

 

GM Strike Ends

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After a 40-day strike, a new four-year deal between the United Auto Workers and General Motors was approved.  The contract was supported by 57% of the labor union. It includes an $11,000 bonus per member, annual raises and more affordable healthcare. General Motors still plans to close three factories in the United States.

The United Auto Workers union emerged with substantial wage increases of 3 percent in the second and fourth years and 4 percent lump sum payments in the first and third years, similar to what the union obtained in 2015.  Even larger gains are in store for those in a category called “in progression,” the lower scale of a two-tier wage system negotiated in 2007 when the Detroit automakers were financially reeling.

Workers hired after that date, about a third of the overall work force, started at about half the pay of veteran employees and had no prospect of reaching the top wage, currently $31 an hour. Over the course of the new contract, the disparity will be phased out, and those with four years’ experience will rise along with more senior workers to the new top level of $32 an hour.  In addition to pay increases, G.M. workers will get bonuses of $11,000 for ratifying the contract. They will continue to pay 3 percent of their cost of health care, well below the percentage that G.M.’s salaried workers contribute.

There were also rewards for temporary workers, about 7 percent of G.M.’s union work force, who will have a path to permanent employment after three years. About 900 of them will become full employees in January, the union said, and 2,000 more by 2021.

It also won commitments to new G.M. investments in United States factories.  As part of the new contract, the company pledged to invest $7.7 billion in its United States plants, and another $1.3 billion in ventures with partners, providing a measure of job security. G.M. will put $3 billion toward overhauling the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, which had been scheduled to close in January. Three-quarters of the 700 workers there voted in favor of the contract.

At the same time, the agreement allows G.M. to close three idled factories permanently, including one in Lordstown, Ohio, eliminating excess manufacturing capacity at a time when auto sales are slowing. It also puts the company in a more stable position if the economy goes into a recession.  The closing of the Lordstown plant was one of the main sticking points for some workers voting against the contract. “We did everything that G.M. ever asked of us at times of concessions,” said Bill Goodchild, a member of Local 1112 in Lordstown. “We feel we deserve a product.”

About 48,000 United Auto workers walked off the job over one month ago, making it the longest national strike at GM by United Auto Workers in nearly 50 years.  The contract finally ends a strike that many estimate has cost GM $1.75 billion in losses.  “We delivered a contract that recognizes our employees for the important contributions they make to the overall success of the company,” G.M.’s chief executive, Mary T. Barra, said in a statement.

 

 

Bodies of 39 People Found in Tractor Trailer in England

 

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Britain police launched one of the largest murder investigations in decades after the bodies of 39 people were discovered in the back of a tractor-trailer at an industrial park east of London.  Emergency services were called to an industrial park in the town of Grays in Essex, 20 miles east of London, at around 1:40 a.m. local time when the vehicle was discovered to have people inside. Thirty-nine people were pronounced dead at the scene.

The victims were found in the refrigerator unit inside the truck.  Police confirmed that there were 8 women and 31 men inside the truck.  The Essex police department said it was not immediately clear if the victims froze to death or suffocated.  A police spokesperson said the truck had a Bulgarian license plate and entered the U.K. in Holyhead, Wales on October 19th.  Holyhead is one of the busiest ferry ports in the area with primary service to Ireland. Authorities called such a route into the U.K. “unusual.”

Investigators believe the refrigerated trailer started its deadly journey in Zeebrugge, Belgium to Purfleet, England, where it arrived early Wednesday. Police believe it the tractor traveled from Northern Ireland to Dublin, where it took a ferry to Holyhead in Wales before picking up the trailer at the dockside in England.  They have also suggested that two different trucks pulled the semitrailer at different times though it is not clear when the 39 people entered the refrigerated trailer.

Soon after, UK police have charged a 25 year old truck driver with 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people in connection with 39 deaths in the back of the truck he was driving in southeastern England.  Police say Maurice Robinson, 25, of Craigavon, Northern Ireland.  He was the first of five people arrested in what is seen as one of the U.K.’s biggest cases of human trafficking.

U.K. police are struggling to identify the victims and said that very few documents were found inside the truck.  Authorities said the task is likely to be difficult since human traffickers normally take the passports of their passengers to obscure their identities, stripping them of their names and giving them new documents when they arrive at their destinations.  The victims are believed to have come from Asia and autopsies are being performed.

U.K. police say they’ve been in contact with Vietnamese authorities, even though they are not yet certain of the identities of those found dead in the refrigerated truck. The Vietnamese Embassy in London has set up a hotline for families to call about missing family members.  The Vietnamese government has also announced its own investigation into the deaths.  “The Embassy has sent a team led by the minister-counsellor in charge of consular affairs to Essex, England. They have met with the local police in an effort to verify the identity of the deceased, whose nationality still cannot be confirmed,” according to a statement from an embassy spokesperson.

Each year thousands of migrants die attempting to cross into Europe. Many sink to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea without a trace. Others die on land and mountain routes. The International Organization for Migration estimates that 4,503 people are known to have died worldwide in 2018, with the highest number perishing in the Mediterranean Sea.

 

 

 

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UAW Striker Killed in Tennessee

 

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As the GM strike continues, picketers received some bad news from Tennessee.  A striking United Auto Worker union member was hit by a car and killed outside the General Motors plant in Spring Hill where workers were maintaining an active picket line. The UAW said in a statement that 55-year-old union member Roy McCombs “tragically lost his life today on a picket line standing up for a better life for himself and his coworkers.”

McCombs was hit on a bridge outside the GM plant as he was crossing the road to get to the picket line around 6 am.  McCombs was transported to a hospital and pronounced dead in the emergency room, said Lt. Jeremy Haywood of the Columbia police department in Columbia, Tennessee.  The driver who hit McCombs was cooperating with investigators.

Local 1853 Chairman Mike Herron said, “Sergeant Orlando Cox from the Columbia Police Dept. will be releasing a statement shortly that will describe this event as an innocent tragic accident. He has asked that everyone refrain from going to the South Gate for safety reasons. He requested that any vigils be held at our union hall and not in the vicinity of this accident — to ensure the safety of the participants.”

Herron said the UAW local sends thoughts and prayers to McCombs’ family as well as the driver, “who was on her way to drop off her kids at the day care center located at the south exit when this tragic accident occurred.”  All strike activity has ended at the South Gate of the plant and no pickets will be set up there in the future, Herron said. Also, the UAW crisis team has been called in and will meet personally with UAW members that were on the South Gate at the time of the accident as well as McCombs’ coworkers on the third shift.

UAW members at Spring Hill have taken part in picketing as part of the union’s nationwide strike against GM since Sept. 16 though it’s been contentious from the start.  Maury County sheriff’s deputies in Tennessee had arrested nine protesters on Sept. 18 when they refused to stop blocking the south entrance to the plant. A 10th arrest came when someone drove recklessly through plant’s entrance, sheriff’s officials said.

A court in Tennessee granted GM’s request to prevent UAW picketers from blocking the entrance to the factory.  The order was in effect until Oct. 8. It followed several arrests at the plant since GM’s 46,000 UAW workers went on strike.  “After dialogue failed to stop the incidents of harassment, violence and vandalism by a few people, we had to take necessary actions to protect everyone involved,” GM said at the time.  The order barred the UAW and its members from blocking entrances, detaining vehicles, creating obstructions on roadways or “assaulting, intimidating, falsely imprisoning, harassing or destroying the property of GM employees” and others at the plant.

 

 

 

Fort Worth Officer Charged With Murder

 

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Fort Worth, Texas Police Officer Aaron Dean, 34, has been arrested and charged with murder after he shot and killed a 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson inside her own home.  Aaron Dean was booked into the Tarrant County Corrections Center and later released on a $200,000 bond, according to jail officials.  The arrest came just hours after Dean’s resignation from the police force. Dean, who joined the department in April 2018, still faces possible civil rights violations, Kraus said.

Interim police Chief Ed Kraus said during a press conference earlier that he intended to end Officer Aaron Dean’s employment, but that Dean tendered his resignation first.  Had the officer not resigned, I would have fired him for violations for several policies, including our use of force policy, our de-escalation policy and unprofessional conduct.  Dean was initially placed on administrative leave after he shot Jefferson to death but he has not been cooperating with investigators in the case, Kraus said.

Officer Dean was responding to a non-emergency call from a neighbor for a wellness check after the neighbor saw Jefferson’s front door was open.  Jefferson was playing video games with her 8 year old nephew early Saturday morning just minutes before she was killed.  Body camera shows that when police arrived, Dean shined a flashlight through Jefferson’s window and yelled, “Put your hands up — show me your hands,” before firing a single shot at Jefferson seconds later.  He never identified himself as a police officer.

Police Chief Kraus said he doesn’t know what, exactly, led Dean to open fire.  “I cannot make sense of why she had to lose her life.” The chief said Dean resigned without talking to internal affairs investigators.  The video included images of a gun inside a bedroom. Kraus said he did not know whether Jefferson was holding the weapon. But he said the mere fact she had a gun shouldn’t be considered unusual in Texas.  “We’re homeowners in Texas,” the police chief said. “Most of us, if we thought we had somebody outside our house that shouldn’t be and we had access to a firearm, we would be acting very similarly to how she was acting.” Kraus said that, in hindsight, releasing the images of the weapon was “a bad thing to do.”

Jefferson was staying at her mother’s house in Fort Worth to help her recover from an injury when the shooting happened at about 2:25 a.m.   A lawyer for Jefferson’s family, Lee Merritt, said her relatives were “relieved” over the arrest.  Merritt said that on the night of the shooting she had been playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew and lost track of time. Earlier that night, he said, the family had opened the front door to allow crisp fall air inside to cool down the house.  “We need to see this through to a vigorous prosecution & appropriate sentencing,” he tweeted. “The City of Fort Worth has much work to do to reform a brutal culture of policing.”

In a separate news conference earlier Monday, Jefferson’s family demanded an outside investigation into her death.  “This man murdered someone,” Darius Carr, Jefferson’s brother, told reporters.  Jefferson was “simply going on along with her life, living a law-abiding citizen’s peaceful life, and she was killed by a reckless act of a Fort Worth police officer,” an older sister, Ashley Carr, said. “There is simply no justification for his actions.”  Police Chief Kraus brought the case to the Texas Rangers, who he said were not inclined to take it up at that point, and to the FBI, which did not immediately say whether it would review it.

 

 

GM and UAW Reach Tentative Deal

 

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As the GM strike entered its fifth week, the United Auto Workers union announced that picketing workers can expect an extra $25 a week from the union’s strike fund.  GM, on the other hand, can expect its dealers to face increased difficulty in sourcing certain replacement parts, while others worry about the prospect of subpar inventory.  The UAW’s bargaining team presented a new comprehensive offer to GM as talks continued.  In addition to the slightly boosted strike pay, the UAW also lifted the cap on cash earned at outside jobs. Starting Sunday, workers moonlighting at other jobs can keep the full strike payment, regardless of what they made in their alternate gig. Strike payments are typically clawed back on a dollar-for-dollar basis after the worker passes the $250 threshold.

In addition to a host of other issues, health care sits near the top of UAW concerns in this latest round of talks. With GM looking to downsize in an era of shrinking auto sales and economic uncertainty, offering generous health benefits represents a major cost to each company.  An agreement was reached between GM and the UAW that keeps the previous health care arrangement intact.  The agreement keeps the arrangement where workers cover just 3 percent of their health care costs — an agreement GM briefly abandoned earlier in the bargaining process.  The automakers would undoubtedly seek concessions in other areas but unions are not prone to accept concessions lightly.

In the tentative deal with General Motors, the union won on many of its goals, including a path to permanent employment for temporary autoworkers, a faster route to top pay for workers hired after 2007 and a flattened pay structure for permanent employees, who would reach $32.32 per hour by the end of the four-year deal.  The biggest obvious loss for the union is the continued closure of the Lordstown Assembly plant in Ohio.

The Lordstown Assembly Plant in Ohio is to remain closed, as will transmission plants in Warren and Baltimore; and a parts distribution center in Fontana, California, will close during the term of the contract.  The union said it negotiated assistance packages for workers at Lordstown, Warren and Baltimore transmission plants, including $75,000 payments for eligible production workers and $85,000 for skilled workers who retire.  There are also buyout options for those not eligible to retire.

Some other features of the deal include UAW-represented GM workers will get a bonus of $11,000 upon ratification of the deal and temporary workers will get $4,500.  GM will invest $7.7 billion in U.S. facilities to create or retain 9,000 jobs.  There will be wage increases of 3% in the second and fourth year of the contract, with 4% lump sum payments in the first and third years.  Temporary workers, who have been paid $15-$19 an hour with inferior benefits to permanent autoworkers, get a path to a permanent role starting next year. Part-time workers get a path to regular status starting in 2021. These workers also get improved paid and unpaid time off.  By September 2023, all permanent manufacturing employees will be at $32.32 per hour.

The tentative deal is far from perfect and the UAW is trying to persuade union workers to accept the deal.  Experts said General Motors has lost more than $1 billion in profits, while line workers have lost nearly $750 million in income. With the state of Michigan are losing tax dollars, there’s a growing sentiment that something has to change soon and many hope this deal will finally end the strike.

Man Charged With Murder of 4 Homeless Men

 

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A suspect has been arrested after four homeless men were killed and one was critically injured when they were attacked in New York City early Saturday morning.  Police said Randy Rodriguez-Santos, 24, who is homeless, wielded a 15-pound metal pipe and apparently attacked the men randomly as they slept on the sidewalks of Lower Manhattan’s Chinatown.  Santos is reportedly also homeless and has struggled with addiction.  He is charged with four counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and unlawful possession of marijuana.

Police responded to reports of an assault in progress at Doyers Street and Bowery around 2:10 a.m. and found two men with head wounds. One victim was pronounced dead at the scene and another was taken to the hospital in critical condition.  Over the next hour, police discovered additional victims in the area, two men were found outside of 2 East Broadway and another was found outside of 17 East Broadway.

Two witnesses told responding officers that the suspect was wearing a black jacket and black pants, which helped police find him quickly just a few streets away.  Rodriguez-Santos was apprehended a few blocks from the scene of the attacks and the weapon was recovered nearby.  The attacks left blood splattered on the doorways and sidewalks where the men had been sleeping.

The victims, whose ages range from 48 to 83, were bludgeoned as they slept on the street.  Three of the four men killed were identified Monday, as lawmakers and mourners gathered at an emotional memorial for the men at Chatham Square.  Several sidewalk tributes of flowers, candles and food were placed for the men who were allegedly killed by another homeless man as they slept.  One of the mourners cried as she recalled the oldest victim, 83-year-old Chuen Kwok, always being grateful for the food she gave him.  New York State assembly woman Yuh-Line Niou choked back tears as she spoke on the mens’ deaths. “If the change isn’t now, after this, I don’t know when it is.”

The medical examiner’s office later confirmed his identity and those of two other victims: 55-year-old Nazario Vazquez Villegas and 49-year-old Anthony Manson.  Santos was arraigned on charges of murder and attempted murder for the bloody rampage. He did not enter a plea and was ordered held without bail.  Police officials said Santos has been arrested 14 times, some of those for assault, including one in May for an alleged assault at a Brooklyn homeless shelter.

The suspect’s mother, Fioraliza Rodriguez, 55, told news outlets she had kicked him out about three years ago. He struggled with drugs, assaulted her and his grandfather, and stole from the family, she said.  “I never thought he would kill someone,” she said. “I was afraid of him, though, because he punched me. That’s when I told him to get out of my house.”