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Will these bills bring ridesharing giants Uber and Lyft back to Austin?

(AUSTIN BUSINESS NEWS) Two new State Senate bills could pave the way for ridesharing to return to Austin, but more action, as well as public input, is needed to really make it happen.

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Are we getting back together?

Uber and Lyft might return to our city, and our hearts, soon.

Two new State Senate bills could pave the way for Uber and Lyft to return to Austin, but more action, as well as public input, is needed to really make it happen.

When Lyft and Uber broke up with us, it was sudden and upsetting. It was not a gradual we-all-knew-this-was-coming break up, it was the all-your-stuff-is-on-the-porch-and-I’ve-changed-my-phone-number kind of break up.

We’d had fights, sure. There were very public arguments. But Austin just didn’t feel the same without the friendly faces of ride sharing. Now, new policy proposals might suggest a path to reconciliation.

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Where did it all go wrong?

As most Austin residents will recall, in May of this year the City Council passed an ordinance requiring ride share companies, like Uber and Lyft, to obtain fingerprint-based background checks for every potential driver. This was the first line in the sand, and led to activist groups petitioning, successfully, for public vote on an addendum to the Proposition 1.

The addendum stated that, while background checks would need to be implemented, the companies could use their own, already-in-place third-party methods to do it. The companies said these checks were enough to ensure the safety of both drivers and passengers.

But the city voted against the addendum, 56 to 42, and a lot of people have different ideas as to why. Some voters were upset that Uber and Lyft launched expensive ad campaigns asking people to support them in the polls instead of using those budgets to comply with the city. In any case, what happened next left a lot of heads spinning.

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Don’t go breaking my heart

Uber and Lyft tore out of the city overnight, a move they had pulled before. Along with all of our broken hearts, this move left about 10,000 drivers out of work. The DUI rate, which had dropped by 12 percent when the companies moved in, jumped back up 7.5 percent in the first few weeks after the Uberpocalypse.

Other rideshare companies (like non-profit Ride Austin), and loosely organized groups, have tried to fill the void with varying success. Uber indicated they had been doing some thinking and maybe they still wanted to be friends. But not much changed as we all adjusted to life without easy accessible ride sharing at our fingertips

“Hey, can we talk?”

Yesterday, two new State Senate bills were filled that could change everything. Don Huggines (R-Dallas) filed Bill 113 that will “introduce sweeping changes to the municipalities and the entire ride-for-hire industry,” according to a press release.

In a related move, Charles Schwetner (R-Georgetown) proposed Bill 176, which would put ride sharing regulation at the state level instead of leaving it up to individual municipalities. According to the Senator, this would allow Uber and Lyft a more friendly regulatory environment.

The bills allow for national-level background checks and state licenses of operation, but does not require the fingerprinting outlined in Austin’s ordinances.

In other words, the regulations look a lot more like what the proposed Proposition 1 addendum said. But, for better or worse, Austin voted against that addendum. So were do we go from here?

Can’t we all just get along?

Don’t re-download your apps and dust off those pink mustaches just yet. If the state and city level regulations disagree, there might be further conflict in store. “To the extent that this language is contrary to the City’s legislative agenda, the City of Austin must oppose it,” said Marissa Monroy, public information manager for the Austin transportation department.

Online sentiment to the two proposed bills is varied. While many people are vocal about wanting the Austin ride share situation back to the golden days, almost as many urge caution and remind us that the regulations were proposed for a reason, and we should proceed with that in mind.

The best time to voice your opinion is now, while the city and state are making decisions that will effect the entire industry. The best way to voice your opinion is to get in touch with your senator (here’s how to find them) and let them know what you want to see happen.

Don’t be left holding a tub of ice cream wishing you had said what was in your heart. Communication is essential for all relationships.

#AustinRidesharing

Felix is a writer, online-dating consultant, professor, and BBQ enthusiast. She lives in Austin with two warrior-princess-ninja-superheros and some other wild animals. You can read more of her musings, emo poetry, and weird fiction on her website.

Business News

Why email remains the top communication tool for businesses

(BUSINESS NEWS) Communication has changed tremendously over the years, but email appears to remain home base. Here’s why.

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Smartphones are so popular, you might assume that phone calls, text messages, video chat, Slack, Trello, or just social media would have surpassed email as the most popular form of communication. Surprisingly, they have only enabled its growth.

Email is, hands down, the most prominent form of communication and collaboration among businesses, and that’s not expected to change any time soon. “Over the course of the last year, there has been considerable discussion about the role of email in workplaces that depend heavily on social network and other collaboration tools,” says David Roe of CMS Wire.

“In these discussions, there appears to be a general consensus that while social networks are useful to achieve work-related goals, email remains the undisputed communications tool in the enterprise.” The statistics back up these claims.

Worldwide, there are more than 2.5 billion email users, and that number is expected to climb to 2.9 billion by the end of next year. That represents more than a third of the global population operating one or more active email accounts.

Right now, only about 25 percent of current email accounts are business accounts, but we can expect a rapid increase in those as well. The average office worker will send and receive as many as 121 email messages per day.

David Roe also addressed a SendGrind study called The Future of Digital Communication, which evaluated trends in digital communication among the various generations. The findings showed that 74 percent of people chose email as their preferred method of communication and 89 percent email at least once every month for business or personal reasons.

Email is a huge part of our collaborative and communicative society, so understanding its role in business and society can play a huge role in mastering trends to the best advantage in your enterprise.

Roe further explains that, although the status of email has not changed within the walls of business enterprises, it has evolved. “The kinds of people using it are changing so it is only logical that the way it is being used is going to change too,” he says.

A younger generation that’s more in tune with digital trends and technology will soon be dominating the workforce, and email is adapting. SendGrind CMO Scott Heimes said in The Future of Digital Communication report that new technology will render email a new, more useful entity.

“With chatbots making their way into email and messaging apps in 2017, 2018 will be the year in which chatbots effectively provide personalized experiences to customers, if done correctly,” Heimes said. “Marketers will leverage data from email marketing, display retargeting, social media ads and chatbots to create a cohesive and unified experience for customers.”

This is just a glimpse of what’s to come for email users, and businesses may capitalize on its new roles for more effective collaboration.

Given the steadily evolving landscape that is email, here are the chief reasons we can expect it to stick around as a viable business tool:

Convenience: Can you imagine being on the phone or texting/social messaging for the equivalent of 121 email messages per day? You can often accomplish more in a 10-minute phone call than you can in 10 emails, but sending and receiving messages when it’s the most convenient option can be a huge draw for busy employees.

Security: Phone calls can be overheard, texts intercepted, and social media messaging accounts hacked. Email can also be hacked, but thanks to encryption services that plug right into Microsoft, Gmail, or other enterprise email services, that data can be protected.

Work-From-Home Collaboration: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 percent of employees performed all or some of their work from home in 2016, and that number’s expected to grow substantially over the coming decade. Although collaboration programs are popular, working from home simply wouldn’t be possible for this many people without email.

Ease of Talking to People: Some people freeze up when they speak on the phone. Others just don’t like it. Millennials and Gen Z employees are entering the workforce in full swing now, and their use of digital technology makes email a go-to solution. Workers who hate phone conversations can communicate easily with their devices and avoid too much interpersonal interaction.

Information Transfer: There’s rarely a better method of transferring information than via email. Not only can you transfer files and documents to the recipient(s), but you can also store the information for future reference.

Instant Notifications: Email speeds are faster than ever. Posts arrive in your inbox nearly instantaneously. Real-time communication is practicable in a convenient, simple method.

Ease of Access: Thanks to smartphones, you can get access to your email pretty much anywhere. There’s also no need for a WiFi connection since data plans are robust and cell phone coverage broader than ever.

Email is not a perfect system. Like every other form of communication it has its downsides, but it’s proven to be the most useful form of communication to date. Although new forms of collaboration surface regularly, email probably isn’t going anywhere.

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Business News

So the Labor Department is cool with unpaid internships again

(BUSINESS NEWS) Regulations on unpaid internships continue to wax and wane, and businesses that opt to use unpaid labor should be aware of new regulations.

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Unpaid internships are a deacreasingly common institution in the United States, with help from former regulatory attempts to make them more difficult to create.

That regulatory oversight might become more relaxed after the Department of Labor (DOL) issued new rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that governs the role of unpaid internships in the modern American workforce.

Last week, the United States’ labor governing body decided to revise its guidelines on unpaid internships using the concept of a “primary beneficiary test.”

The core principle behind the seven statements that comprise the primary beneficiary test revolves around the idea that the reason you are hiring unpaid interns is for work that provides the intern with the primary benefit (educational opportunities, hands on learning, and networking), not because the company isn’t paying someone else to perform the same activities.

So with these guidelines, there’d be no more call for jokes about interns fetching coffee or making copies. Sounds like a win for the intern, right?

Not exactly.

The guidelines stress, however, that there is no magic quota of yes or no answers that yields the unpaid intern in question has job duties that would require payment. That even includes answering “no” to the statement that reads: “the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation.”

Of course, if a company were in violation of these guidelines, especially the one regarding compensation, it would be easier for adjudication to be brought against the company into a court of law. These rules start as the groundwork for any legal action interns can bring against an organization.

The first set of six guidelines were developed in 2010. By 2011, a lawsuit brought by unpaid interns against Fox Searchlight while working Darren Aronofsky feature, Black Swan, claiming the interns were performing job duties in need of compensation (read: they weren’t already paying employees to do the same roles, rather using interns as free labor).

The ruling in 2013 was in favor of the interns, but a different federal court reversed that decision in 2015. It is interesting to note that the revised guidelines published by the DOL only a week ago were derived from the Court’s 2015 decision on this case.

The larger trend of lawsuits brought by unpaid interns may cause a company pause if they reverse decisions about payment of employees.

Despite the judicial onslaught, some organizations may still choose to pursue unpaid internships in light of the relaxation of the guidelines by the DOL.

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Business News

Starbucks’ Teavana chain finally settles lawsuit with Simon Property Group

(BUSINESS NEWS) A bitter battle over store closures concludes with private settlement – and Teavana stores are still closing.

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A months-long legal fight between Starbucks’ Teavana and Simon Property Group, the number one mall operator in the U.S., has come to an end with a private settlement that reportedly allows the tea chain to move forward with some of its store closures.

In July 2017, Starbucks unveiled plans to close all 379 retail locations of its floundering Teavana stores.

Shortly thereafter, Simon Property Group got a local judge to bar Starbucks from closing the 77 Teavana locations in its malls, a peculiar legal move for this situation. Starbucks would be breaking its lease agreement with Simon, and Simon wasn’t going to stand for it.

Simon Property Group cited the ongoing financial plights traditional malls have experienced for years as more and more retailers shut their doors as its primary reason for blocking Starbuck’s actions. The difference with Teavana is that Starbucks isn’t under great financial stress and can actually afford to keep the stores open, per court documents.

Starbucks disagreed, but in November, a judge sided with Simon and ordered Starbucks to keep its Teavana stores open and not break dozens of leases nationally. Starbucks fought back with a December appeal, but the case moved up to Indiana’s highest court, bypassing the intermediate Court of Appeals.

And now, before Starbucks’ appeal could be heard, the dueling companies have apparently reached an undisclosed settlement, according to New York Post reports. Exact settlement details have not been revealed, but the Post has found at least two Teavana locations that are closing in just a few days, indicating that settlement may play out in Starbucks’ favor.

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