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Uber says that has changed. His former lobbyist has doubts – POLITICO


The former Uber man in Brussels is about to inflict maximum pain on the ride-sharing company.

When Mark MacGann exposed his own hardball lobbying tactics this summer, Uber immediately insisted that was all a thing of the past. Today, the platform is focused on transparency, driver rights and breaking through old rivals such as unions and taxi companies, the company said.

Yet as Uber opposes an EU crackdown on its freelance model – saying its drivers want flexibility in their jobs – MacGann has returned to Brussels with the opposite message: Uber is still selling the same fiction. , using some of his old tactics.

“I realized that for most Uber drivers I spoke to – in Paris, Spain, [Brussels] – that today’s reality is not quite what we announced,” he told POLITICO ahead of his testimony before the European Parliament’s Jobs Committee on Tuesday.

In his first interview since coming forward as the source of the so-called Uber Files leaks, MacGann said the company informed him of its intention to continue with its disclosures. He decided to go public, he said, after becoming embittered over the mission — and after politicians repeatedly ignored his more discreet offers to let them know what was really going on behind the scenes.

“I realized that when I looked at what we called the driver economy, it wasn’t the really great revenue opportunity that we had imagined. We told people that they could, if they worked on the platform, driving full time, they could earn thousands of dollars.

The aura of Uber

With a resume that includes working as a consultant and head of Brussels tech lobby DigitalEurope, MacGann had a reputation as a charismatic and ruthless lobbyist. His frontal assault on his ex-employer — using transparency as a weapon — leaves Uber with limited rebuttal options.

On Tuesday, he had a full hour in the spotlight with MEPs, some of whom gave him a standing ovation, followed by a speech by the Commissioner for Employment, Nicolas Schmit. This left the current Brussels head of Uber, Zuzana Púčiková, to respond during the second half of the hearing. She advocated for Uber 2.0 while sharing time with an academic gig-work expert and anti-Uber activist who largely echoed MacGann’s message.

“Everyone knows that Uber made mistakes in its early days,” said Púčiková, Uber’s EU boss since 2019. “Everyone also knows that Uber has changed,” she said. added, touting work with unions, taxis and NGOs. “The Uber I know has moved from confrontation, which was also one of the old values, to collaboration.”

But few have probably heard his. The audience being late, the interpreters had long since left. For example, after asking Púčiková a few questions, centre-right German MEP Dennis Radtke stood up to chat with MacGann during her response and walked through the door while she was still speaking.

MacGann, who spent three years at Uber, said the company used its cache and capital to undermine taxis and overwhelm politicians with rhetoric about competition and jobs – in an effort to “occupy[ing] space and snap[ming] the door behind us.

“When I was at Uber — and even after I left Uber — there was this aura,” he said. In just a few years, the company has amassed some $12 billion, “and we’ve used that investment to basically buy and bully our way into the cities.”

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s revelations prompted MacGann to consider whistleblowing himself | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Without explicitly commenting on Uber’s current practices, MacGann warned that some of its lobbying tactics — like commissioning research from academics or consultants — are still in vogue today as lawmakers are currently considering new regulations that could reclassify at least some of Uber’s drivers as employees. instead of independent contractors.

“I’ve paid dozens and dozens of academics, between €50,000 and €300,000, some of the same academics behind the research I see today in the platform work directive: Accenture, Copenhagen Economics,” MacGann said – adding though that although they are “noble entities”, there should be more clarity on the source data behind the claims they made.

Haugen’s example

MacGann left Uber in 2016, but it took until the coronavirus pandemic years — ‘2019, 2020, 2021,’ when he had ‘free time’ like everyone else — for his change of heart to take hold . He recalled conversations with drivers, noticing that Uber’s commission was continually increasing. This made him doubt the so-called economy of the driver.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s revelations, which became public in October last year, prompted MacGann to consider whistleblowing himself – first exploring whether he could side with lawmakers who examined the working conditions of the platforms.

On September 14 last year, two days before the European Parliament voted on a report on the work of the platforms and just after the Wall Street Journal began publishing reports based on Haugen’s leaks, MacGann contacted the MEP in charge of a report from the Parliament on the working platform, Sylvie Brunet from Renew, to offer her help.

“I take my share of the responsibility for having contributed to [weakening] the European model of social protection,” he wrote, according to an email sent to Brunet and seen by POLITICO – adding that he was at the disposal of the employment committee “if it seemed useful”. MacGann now claims never to have received a response. contacted for comment.

Feeling ignored by lawmakers, MacGann took to the press – with a global consortium of journalists publishing his findings in July. The so-called Uber Files did not land without consequences, he claimed. On July 21, lawyers for Uber informed MacGann’s lawyers that they would ask a court in the Netherlands – home of the company’s European headquarters – to find him liable for a breach of contract, for €30,000 a day, he said.

Uber has denied those allegations. “The letter we sent to Mark’s lawyers in July says nothing about a lawsuit, nor does it demand any money,” an Uber spokesperson told POLITICO.

Workers’ rights

It remains to be seen what impact Uber Files will have – and more so how influential MacGann’s remarks to MPs at Tuesday’s hearing. Before the hearing, MacGann shared some tips, both on lobbying and workers’ rights.

On the topic that will most interest Jobs Committee lawmakers – workers’ rights – MacGann’s advice is: “If things go wrong, adopt the Commission’s proposal from last December.”

Workers’ rights are, however, a subject he wants to explore further, starting next week at the Web Summit tech fair in Lisbon. “Maybe I’ll be a whistleblower who graduates at some point in [becoming] an activist,” he joked.

This article has been updated with additional details from the parliamentary hearing.

Uber says that has changed. His former lobbyist has doubts – POLITICO

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