“No company should be able to buy its way out of treating workers fairly,” said one progressive think tank about the state’s ballot initiative that will have national implications.
Friday, October 23
What happens with Proposition 22 in California on November 3 will have repercussions far beyond the Golden State.
A California appeals court on Thursday ruled that Uber and Lyft violated a labor law passed last year by the state legislature by misclassifying drivers as independent drivers rather than employees—”a huge victory for workers” according to labor advocates—but with Election Day nearing, organizers are continuing to sound the alarm about the dangers posed by Prop 22, a corporate-funded and heavily propagandized ballot measure that seeks to exclude gig economy workers from basic employment protections including minimum wage, health insurance, and other benefits.
“Gig companies’ business models rely on hiring large numbers of workers cheaply as independent contractors to provide rides, deliver meals and groceries, and perform other services,” the Los Angeles Times explained earlier this week. “Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), a state law passed in 2019, aimed to expand protections to these workers, requiring gig companies to reclassify them as employees.”
While Thursday’s ruling enforces AB5 and therefore partially reins in gig companies’ hyper-exploitative business model that allows executives to rake in massive profits at the expense of vulnerable workers, the court’s decision comes just 11 days before an election that “could completely shift how AB5 is applied,” The Guardian explained.
The Times described Prop 22, the common name for the misleadingly labeled Protect App-Based Drivers and Services Act, as “the companies’ efforts to battle AB5 and the obligations that come with it.”
According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the passage of Prop 22 would “give digital platform companies a free pass to misclassify their workers” as independent contractors rather than employees, enabling them to deny workers a whole slew of benefits:
The National Employment Law Project wrote earlier this month that Prop 22 will harm workers of color “first and worst.”
In addition, EPI noted Thursday that “state and federal governments also lose when workers are misclassified” because “companies that misclassify workers avoid paying their fair share of Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance taxes and avoid providing state workers’ compensation insurance.”
As labor economist Robert Reich explained recently, “Uber and Lyft have saved a combined $413 million since 2014… by not paying into unemployment insurance.”
That helps explain why “massive corporations like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates, and Instacart are pouring nearly $200 million into a giant PR campaign designed to get [Californians] to vote for [Prop 22],” he added.
“I’m urging you to vote NO on this corporate power grab,” Reich stated.
He was not alone. Gig Workers Rising recently spoke with 100 drivers about Prop 22, and according to the group, 99% of them are voting No on Prop 22.
One driver talked about how he and his co-workers have been trying to undue the damage caused by corporations’ well-funded barrage of misinformation by explaining to passengers: “We want everybody to vote no.”
Regarding gig companies’ statements about leaving California in the wake of Thursday’s court ruling in favor of AB5 and threats to do so if Prop 22 is defeated at the polls, the driver called it a bluff. “California,” he said, “is Uber’s moneymaker.”
Even drivers aren't falling for Uber & Lyft's threats of leaving CA if Prop 22 is defeated.
"CA is Uber's moneymaker. They aren't going to leave CA. They aren't going to leave at all."
— Gig Workers Are Voting No On Prop 22 (@GigWorkersRise) October 23, 2020
This week, organized gig workers and labor advocates filed multiple lawsuits against proponents of Prop 22.
On Thursday, as the Washington Post reported, Uber drivers sued the company for up to $260 million for forcing them to promote Prop 22 on the job.
— Claire Lau (@ClaireLau) October 22, 2020
DoorDash has sent several million pro-prop 22 food delivery bags to restaurants. DoorDash gig workers then have to deliver food to customers in bags with prop-22 ads on the side. pic.twitter.com/zKXFjAvasN
— Sam Harnett (@SamWHarnett) October 20, 2020
In addition, labor advocates filed a complaint Wednesday accusing an industry-backed group called the Yes on 22 campaign of underpaying the USPS by $1.5 million by using discounted postage to mail fliers, even though the subsidized rates are meant for nonprofit entities, not corporate-funded initiatives.
We believe they owe USPS over $1.5m.
The $189m corporate campaign is taking a public subsidy.
— Gig Workers Are Voting No On Prop 22 (@GigWorkersRise) October 21, 2020
On social media, Adam Conover described how “experts fear that Uber, Lyft, and Doordash’s ‘unprecedented’ app-based propaganda campaign in Prop 22 will be used as a playbook by future corporations who wish to buy their way out of laws they don’t like.”
Even more “chillingly anti-democratic,” he pointed out, is the requirement of a seven-eighths majority in the legislature to amend Prop 22, if the ballot measure is approved by voters in less than two weeks. According to Conover, such a requirement is “designed to make it impossible for our elected officials to ever pass legislation to protect workers again.”
“Californians must require that companies follow the law and properly classify their workers,” EPI said. “No company should be able to buy its way out of treating workers fairly.”
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