After belatedly registering as an Uber lobbyist, President Barack Obama’s former campaign manager addressed aldermen in groups of ten about a fingerprinting requirement he claimed, would have prompted the ride-hailing giant to abandon the lucrative Chicago market.
David Plouffe’s behind-the-scenes lobbying is about to pay political dividends for the $68 billion company whose investors include Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s brother.
A commission charged with conducting an “independent study” of the value and fairness of fingerprinting is poised to recommend that the city not adopt the requirement for Uber and Lyft drivers — and drop it for other categories of city employees.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, disclosed the impending findings after participating in “dozens” of meetings over the last nine months on the issues of hiring, background checks and fingerprinting.
“The recommendation is not favorable as far as what I’m looking for. … They’re gonna relax or try to relax the fingerprinting” requirement, Beale told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I believe in fingerprinting. I believe everybody should be fingerprinted from top to bottom. I don’t think there should be any disparity. I’m gonna impress upon them that we need to continue to do fingerprinting. And we need to include Uber and Lyft. All of the ride-sharing companies should do fingerprinting to ensure safety and well- being of the people. [If not], we’ll be putting people at risk.”
Beale said he won’t know how far-reaching the change will be until the commission holds its final meeting.
But, he called the proposal to give Uber and Lyft drivers a permanent pass a mistake that runs contrary to recommendations made by the Chicago Police Department.
“The Police Department believes we need to do fingerprinting. If the Police Department feels we need to do fingerprinting, I believe that should weigh heavy on what we need to do moving forward,” he said.
“If the Police Department is saying that fingerprinting is the one way to make sure that a person is who they are, then we need to make sure that we do that.”
Mayoral spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier issued an emailed statement essentially accusing Beale of jumping the gun.
“We are committed to the Task Force process and to working with our partners on regulatory reform, including fingerprinting. That said, we’re not going to comment on speculation about recommendations that haven’t been made or even finalized,” she wrote.
Uber spokeswoman Molly Spaeth said: “We appreciate the task force’s thorough review of fingerprinting and other potential licensing barriers that may make it harder for Chicagoans across all neighborhoods to find and secure good work, and we look forward to their recommendations.”
Uber and Lyft have long maintained that a background check based on FBI fingerprinting would discriminate against minorities who are “far more likely to have an interaction with the criminal justice system,” often for minor, nonviolent offenses where the charges are dropped but the record has not yet been expunged.
Nine months ago, a divided City Council agreed to license, but not fingerprint ride-hailing drivers amid threats from Uber and Lyft to abandon the l Chicago market.
Beale had pushed his more rigid licensing ordinance through the Transportation Committee he chairs days before the full Council vote.
Under pressure from Emanuel, Beale subsequently agreed to a compromise that would license all Uber and Lyft drivers after a daylong course that could be completed online and background checks performed by the companies with information shared with the city.
That compromise also stipulated there would be no fingerprinting for at least six months.
The hiatus would be used to appoint a commission charged with conducting an “independent study” of the value and fairness of fingerprinting. If the recommendation was to proceed with fingerprinting, Beale said it would be done. If not, fingerprinting would be eliminated as a requirement for all city employees, the chairman said then.
Last month, the Chicago Board of Ethics slapped Plouffe with a $90,000 fine —the highest in board history — for contacting Emanuel through the mayor’s private email accounts without registering as a lobbyist.
The fine represented $1,000 for every one of the 90 days that Plouffe failed to registered as a lobbyist after a November 2015 email to Emanuel on the mayor’s personal account.
Spaeth stressed that the private meetings with aldermen covered a range of topics impacting the ride-hailing industry and took place after Plouffe had belatedly registered as a city lobbyist.
The contact with aldermen described as “arguing for legislative action against an amendment to Chapter 9-115 of the Chicago code” was reported to the Board of Ethics, as required by law. Plouffe was paid $769 for those meetings. He no longer works for Uber, but remains a board member.
The meetings were arranged by two mayoral allies: License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts (37th) and Housing Committee Chairman Joe Moore (49th). The mayor’s office was also involved.
Although Lyft also participated, some aldermen were taken aback by Plouffe’s behind-the-scenes lobbying. Beale was not surprised.
“There’s high stakes involved. When there are high stakes, you try to bring in the heavy-hitters,” he said.