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California’s Prop. 22 could affect the gig economy nationwide

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California’s Proposition 22 is an initiative sponsored by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig work platforms. It would exempt app-based ride-hailing companies and food delivery companies from a new state law that requires them to classify drivers as employees instead of independent contractors.

Gig companies have poured nearly $200 million into the Yes on Proposition 22 campaign, making it the most expensive ballot initiative in state history. They’ve threatened to leave California or dramatically raise prices if it doesn’t pass, and a loss could embolden other states to insist that app companies hire their drivers.

I spoke with Sam Harnett, a reporter for KQED in San Francisco. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

A headshot of Sam Harnett, a reporter for KQED in San Francisco.
Sam Harnett (Photo courtesy of Gundi Vigfusson)

Sam Harnett: Gig companies are saying, “If this doesn’t pass, we’re going to have to potentially suspend service in California.” And if it passes, Uber, Lyft and the rest of the gig companies will be able to continue operating the way that they were operating before. Their workers would be contractors, [which] means they wouldn’t have basic employee protections like unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation. And the way this proposition is written, that will be pretty much locked in. There’s this seven-eighths provision, which means it would take seven-eighths of the Senate and Assembly in California to make any changes to this proposition. And local jurisdictions, cities and counties couldn’t make any changes to give gig workers more benefits.

Molly Wood: Do these same restrictions, this un-overturnability, does that apply even if the companies are forced to classify their workers as employees?

Harnett: Well, if Proposition 22 doesn’t pass, workers will become employees, but these gig companies still have billions of dollars, and they’re going to keep fighting this tooth and claw. I mean, they see this as an existential threat to their business model. So on the one side, if Prop 22 passes, the gig model looks pretty solid. I mean, maybe something federally could lead to a change. Maybe there could be a lawsuit over something procedurally in the proposition, like maybe that seven-eighths provision I mentioned. But it’s going to be there. On the flip side, if Proposition 22 doesn’t pass, you can expect another salvo from the gig companies pretty quickly.

Wood: This is a California ballot proposition, but I wonder what implications could it have if it doesn’t pass for the gig economy nationally?

Harnett: Oh, huge. I think everybody, nationally and internationally, is looking at this case. Over the last couple years, you’ve seen the California Supreme Court, the California legislature and now the attorney general go after these companies and tell them, “Your workers are actually employees, and they need basic protections.” And if the gig companies are successful in using the ballot box to defy the three branches of government and maintain their business model, I think a lot of other states, and a lot of other countries, are going to see that as, “Well, the gig companies, they won.”

Wood: And if they don’t win, would that embolden maybe states and localities who have wanted to do something about this model to pass their own laws?

Harnett: Absolutely. In Massachusetts, they’re moving, pushing back on gig companies in a similar way. And in other states, they’re now trying to follow California’s path. And I think a victory for labor if Prop. 22 doesn’t pass, I think will ripple. And again, the companies would have to then classify workers as employees, and the rubber is going to hit the road, and we’re going to see how that all plays out.

Wood: These companies, of course, have poured a ton of money into this campaign, and they’re using their platform for that campaigning. Can you talk about some of the tactics that they’re using when you’re actually using apps like Postmates and Uber and Lyft these days?

Harnett: They got $185 million behind this, but they also have apps in hundreds of thousands or millions of voters’ pockets. So if you’ve taken Uber or Lyft, you’ve probably gotten a pop-up that has had messaging about Proposition 22. And if you work for these apps, you’re also getting pop-ups and material inside the apps urging you to vote yes on Prop 22. DoorDash has sent several million pro-Prop. 22 delivery bags for restaurants, which then the DoorDash workers have to carry the food to customers in those bags. And then Uber has a pop-up for riders that tells riders that their drivers support Prop. 22 and to talk to drivers about it. So these companies are leveraging their apps and they’re leveraging their workers in a way that has never been seen before in an election fight.

Wood: In your reporting, what are you hearing from drivers? Do you have a sense of how they’re feeling about all this?

Harnett: I’ve been covering this for five or six years, and drivers actually have always told me pretty much the same thing, which is they want to be their own boss, they want to be independent, they want to be flexible, but they also want basic protections, or at least enough money to get those basic protections. So a lot of drivers, they get these surveys that ask them if they want to be contractors, and it’s kind of confusing, because they do want to be contractors, but it’s kind of an aspirational desire to be contractors. They want to be contractors who actually make enough money to pay for health insurance, who actually make enough money to work when they want to work. And right now, what drivers are saying is that the rates haven’t been good in years, but they’ve been declining since the beginning. They’re frustrated. So I’d say workers want autonomy, independence and flexibility, but they want some basic protections.

Rideshare drivers demonstrate against rideshare companies Uber and Lyft during a car caravan protest on August 6, 2020 in Los Angeles.
Rideshare drivers demonstrate against rideshare companies Uber and Lyft during a car caravan protest on Aug. 6 in Los Angeles. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Related links: More insight from Molly Wood

The Guardian calls Proposition 22 an initiative with “the fate of an industry” riding on it. Even more than that, it’s an attempt to figure out a new framework for labor and hiring in an economy where apps like this do employ so many workers. And in some ways, like Sam Harnett said, a lot of drivers, analysts and labor experts think there should be a third way, something in between very regimented 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. employment that at least comes with benefits, and total freedom and flexibility — to die with no health insurance or miss rent if you get sick.

The delivery and ride-hail companies are positioning Proposition 22 as sort of a third way since the drivers would stay independent contractors but get some small benefits, like accident insurance and stipends to use for health insurance that go up the more hours someone drives. And, of course, it’s hard to forget that this proposition is a total end-run around a state law that the companies in question just decided to ignore. Nevertheless, opinions on Proposition 22 are fairly evenly split, even though many Californians are already voting.

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Future of Work | The Gig Economy

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Future of Work


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Today more than 55 million Americans work in the gig economy, which operates through digital platforms like Uber, Lyft and Task Rabbit. Fueled by technological advancements, the gig economy allows workers like Chloe Grishaw to set her own schedule, and know what she’s agreeing to, without any long-term obligations. The freedom and flexibility, however, comes with financial insecurity.

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09/01/21

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Gig Economy—How Deep Is The Discontent? – BloombergQuint

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Good news and bad news about the ‘gig’ and app-based economy, according to JPM

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A recent JPMorgan Chase report found that workers earning money through the online platform economy are particularly vulnerable to economic shocks.

The online platform economy, which includes ride-sharing services like Uber (UBER) and Lyft (LYFT), online marketplaces like eBay (EBAY) and StockX, telemedicine companies like Teladoc, and other online services, supports almost 8% of families in the United States, according to the report.

This sector also experienced a higher rate of unemployment than the general economy, the report found. “Overall, we see significantly higher UI rates among platform participants relative to the non-platform group,” authors Fiona Greig and Daniel M. Sullivan, wrote in the report. 

“At its peak, the UI receipt rate of drivers was just under 19 percent, over twice the rate of the non-platform group. UI receipt rate among platform participants in other sectors are also elevated, peaking between 13 and 15 percent.”

Rideshare Uber and Lyft drivers rally in support of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Rideshare Uber and Lyft drivers rally in support of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Workers in such industries may be particularly vulnerable to economic volatility like the one induced by the coronavirus pandemic, the report found. “Almost one in five drivers in 2019 was receiving unemployment insurance at the beginning of the pandemic,” the authors wrote. “Of all platform workers, drivers appear to be the group of biggest concern for policymakers from a welfare perspective. They are the most numerous group, have the lowest family incomes, were the most likely to have received unemployment insurance during 2020.”

Drivers were the group which, in the aggregate, were most reliant on the gig economy for income, with leasing platforms accounting for 15% and 20% of the median family’s total income. However, this share of income has decreased since the onset of the pandemic, in part due to reduced demand for riding services as well as an influx of support from government transfer payments.

“The continued rise of the Online Platform Economy raises the importance of strengthening the social safety net for contingent workers and reducing the administrative burdens associated with platform income,” Greig and Sullivan wrote. “Reducing administrative hassles associated with verifying platform income for the purposes of filing taxes, qualifying for social safety net programs, or gaining access to credit, could materially improve and simplify the financial lives of platform workers.”

Online platform economy ‘on the rise’

Despite the new and continuing risks associated with it, the gig and app-based economy has provided a significant role in generating income for people, especially during the pandemic.

“The Online Platform Economy is a crucial source of income for many families even after the shock of the pandemic,” the report noted. “At its peak, almost 8 percent of families earned platform income in any 12 month window.”

Drivers in the ride-sharing economy make up a large portion of the growing gig economy. The online platform economy is especially important for these drivers, who “represent the lion’s share of supply-side platform participants and have the smallest total family incomes,” the authors wrote. “Additionally, lessors derive the highest revenues and the largest share of their total family income from platforms.”

Though concerns regarding the treatment of drivers in the ride-sharing companies have abounded recently, the online platform economy continues to grow and already represents an important part of the total economy, the authors found.

Ihsaan Fanusie is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @IFanusie.

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