To the dismay of contract drivers throughout California, a ballot measure was passed that exempts ride-sharing companies, like Uber and Lyft, from treating their drivers as actual employees. For tech companies, this vote is a major win in terms of protecting their business models, but for gig-workers, it means being paid the bare minimum without any of the benefits.
The ballot measure was referred to as Prop 22 and was authored by Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and Instacart. The measure claimed that the companies would be exempt from AB5, a landmark California labor law that appeared years of constant complaints from driver-organizations who wanted to be treated as actual employees.
Under Prop 22, the drivers for these companies will continue to be classified as contractors, or gig-workers, which removes them from having access to rights like minimum wage, unemployment benefits, health insurance, collective bargaining, union work, etc. Essentially, it means that the gig companies have full control over its employees earnings and rights.
The fact that America is in the middle of one of the worst economic crisis’ in history as a result of one of the most deadliest pandemics the world has ever seen, has a ton of workers throughout the nation fighting for their right to live, and not work in the middle of a global health crisis. Especially considering how much money companies like Uber earn in a given year, billions, gig workers are fighting for a chance to be given even the most basic of worker rights.
The companies made their argument by claiming that enforcing AB5 would cause “irreparable harm to their business model.” The “harm” that the companies are referring to would be actually paying their employees a regular salary and providing riders with more low-cost rides, which would thus increase business as well.
The corporations involved in Prop 22 spent over $800 million on the campaign, leading to a slew of online commentary regarding the irony of multi-billion dollar companies not wanting to pay their employees minimum wage so badly that they spend hundreds of millions on a campaign against it. This spending, however, is what led to their win, according to Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation.
“Despite all our efforts, at the end of the day our messaging was drowned out by the campaign’s massive spending. They have extraordinary resources that they’ve indicated that they’re willing to utilize in other states outside of California, which is a huge concern.”
Labor advocates throughout the nation are worried that California is setting a dangerous precedent for gig workers across the nation. Especially considering we’re in the middle of a pandemic where many individuals are picking up gig work to help their households financially, the fact that these corporations are trying to drain even more money from their lower class employees is dumbfounding.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently spoke on this issue, stating that he wanted to introduce legislation that would make sure all workers in the state have necessary protections and benefits. “Many of the gig economy workers are excluded from the progress New York has enacted because the law has not caught up with changes in the economy. Corporations avoid fair pay and benefits, increasing their profits at the expense of the employee and the taxpayer.”
Beyond that, current president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris both publicly opposed Prop 22 during their campaigning, and promised to create a federal version of California’s AB5 law that would aim to protect gig workers everywhere so they’re given the same opportunities and benefits as any other employee in America.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.