New York's Schneiderman Warns Tech Leaders He'll Protect Workers

  • Schneiderman warns firms about consequences of innovation
  • Columbia's Tim Wu introduced as special adviser on enforcement

Eric Schneiderman, attorney general of New York, speaks at New York Law School in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, March 18, 2014.

Photographer: Louis Lanzano/Bloomberg

New York State’s top lawyer told technology-firm executives he will “bring the full force” of his office against companies that mistreat their workers or cheat consumers.

Speaking to entrepreneurs and executives gathering in Manhattan, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said on Tuesday that innovation can have “unintended side effects” harmful to workers or customers. He urged tech firms to act responsibly “as new business models evolve.”

His remarks came as so-called sharing-economy businesses including Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc. and Airbnb Inc. face lawsuits or state probes over worker rights or compliance with local laws.

The speech also served as an introduction for tech leaders to Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor who joined Schneiderman this week as a special adviser on enforcement actions. Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality,” has advocated for an open and fair Internet.

In remarks to about 100 attendees, Schneiderman said he doesn’t seek to “stifle new ideas” but wants tech firms to be “responsible” for their actions.

‘Bad Actors’

If companies fail to act responsibly, Schneiderman said he won’t hesitate to pursue legal actions against “bad actors.”

Schneiderman said he hopes to work collaboratively with tech leaders on developing new laws and regulations that serve needs of the tech industry and the public. 

He didn’t single out any one company for blame. In June, ride-hailing service Lyft agreed to pay $300,000 and ensure its drivers meet certain insurance requirements under an agreement with the attorney general.

Last year, the state reached a settlement with Uber, the dominant ride-hailing company, over alleged price-gouging and forced home-sharing firm Airbnb to hand over data on its New York City users.

“We have to consider how workers are affected as old industries give way to new kinds of labor,” Schneiderman said. “Whether you are working in a factory or a Brooklyn loft, every worker deserves an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.”

In California, a federal judge this month allowed up to 160,000 Uber drivers in that state to band together in a group lawsuit challenging their status as contractors. They’re seeking additional pay and benefits.

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