by Ian Lee
A spectre is haunting the working class -- the spectre of Proposition 22. All the powers of the center-Left and Left have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: the Service Employees International Union, the Democratic Socialists of America, and even much of the Democratic Party (including Joe Biden), etc.
We have a real shot at defeating Proposition 22. But it is by no means certain. The most recent poll I'm aware of, coming out of UC Berkeley and reported in the LA times, showed that 39% of likely voters will side with the Gig Companies (Yes on 22), 36% will side with the actual drivers (No on 22), and 25% are still undecided -- with a 2% margin of error. So we can win -- and live to fight another day, building a movement of hundreds of thousands of drivers to form the largest, most consequential Labor Union in California history. Or we can lose -- and set workers' rights back by decades. But it will be up to us and the conversations we have with one another. As the poll showed, the drivers are neck and neck with the gig companies, and so indeed, every conversation about Proposition 22 is going to matter to decide the fate of the development of neoliberal capitalism.
That is extreme language, I am aware, but I do not believe it is hyperbole. I have been organizing rideshare and delivery drivers for a year now, and I really do believe this: Proposition 22 represents a fundamental paradigm shift within the development of neoliberal capitalism.
Never in my career have I received so many DMs from people, period. People are confused about Proposition 22, many of them Leftists who are accidentally siding with the Gig CEOs! It's understandable -- Uber, et al., have spent $183 million so far in what is amounting to the most expensive ballot proposition in California history. Every gig driver and gig customer has received push notifications on their phones urging them to Vote Yes on Proposition 22. As Louis Althusser might say, "Dannnngggg, the Ideological State Apparatus is in full swing, bro."
My hope is that I can answer the most common questions I get asked about Prop 22 in this post.
1. OK, so what is Proposition 22? What is its history?
In January 2020, the California State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5). AB 5 codified into State Law a California Supreme Court Case called Dynamex. Basically, it gave a three-prong test to determine if an "independent contractor" can actually be classified as an independent contractor under California Labor Law: (a) that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of such work and in fact; (b) that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity's business; and (c) that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity.
That may seem like a bunch of legal mumbo-jumbo, but to the Gig CEOs, it was really Bad News Bears. Anyone with common sense knows (a) that Uber Drivers are actually controlled by Uber's algorithms, (b) that rideshare driving is CENTRAL to Uber's business model, and (c) that most full-time drivers would not otherwise be independently driving people around if it weren't for the existence of Uber. And so under all three tests, Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Instacart, etc., would have to classify their drivers as employees.
As employees, drivers would be entitled to things like: a basic minimum wage, benefits (after 30 hrs/week), sick leave, unemployment insurance, and most importantly, the Right to Form a Union.
CEOs be CEOs, man. They don't want to give workers that stuff, and so since January the Gig Companies have actively been disobeying the law and illegally classifying gig drivers as independent contractors. This has been the subject of -- I don't even know how many lawsuits at this point, but countless lawsuits from drivers, lawsuits from the State of California, and lawsuits from many city attorneys in California.
CEOs don't give up. Nota Bene: the Gig CEOs created Proposition 22, which would re-classify drivers as independent contractors.
That's what Proposition 22 is really about.
2. But don't Gig CEOs actually care about drivers? I heard that Proposition 22 helps drivers?
The way I like to think about it is this. Uber, etc., are spending $183 million to pass Prop 22. It is the most expensive ballot proposition in California history. If Uber really wanted to improve work conditions, pay, benefits of drivers, as they say is the point of their Prop, then they could do that tomorrow. They're a corporation. They could raise wages tomorrow. No, what Prop 22 is really about is DECREASING wages (compared to employee status), avoiding state/local/worker lawsuits, and NOT PAYING TAXES to the State. And look, I get it, corporations are corporations: they want to maximize profits. But maximizing profits means decreased wages, unfortunately. Bottom line, Uber doesn't actually care about drivers.
Here's a case example: when you factor in gas/mileage, Lyft drivers often do not even make minimum wage. So for these Lyft drivers who are not even making minimum wage, you know what Lyft started to do at the beginning of the pandemic? Charge drivers for PPE! Can you imagine that? Charging drivers for PPE when they don't even make minimum wage.
But that's their business model: Lyft has taken the false position that drivers are independent contractors, and so under this logic, of course they would charge their drivers for PPE.
But we all know, that's sick -- literally. As a campaign, we received calls from drivers scared about their access to food, scared about housing insecurity, scared about their health, and even a few drivers who expressed suicidal ideation.
These were drivers -- many of them -- who sleep in their cars and work 60-80 hrs a week, and still barely make ends meet. And then -- to be CHARGED for PPE? These gig corporations do not care about drivers.
3. If Proposition 22 passes, won't drivers lose their flexibility?
According to the State Attorney General, the City Attorney of San Francisco, the City Attorney of San Diego, and the City Attorney of Los Angeles, as well as the State Labor Commissioner -- they've all said that Uber is lying about schedules/flexibility. There are plenty of employees, even Union Employees (such as day laborers), that work flexible schedules. There is nothing about being an employee that mandates fixed schedules. Uber CAN implement schedules, but that would be their decision. And that's PRECISELY why drivers are organizing a Union -- to have collective power and a seat at the table to say NO to fixed schedules.
4. I'm a True Independent Contractor and so I'm scared of opposing Prop 22...
I understand why it would be confusing! As an independent contractor myself (videography/photography), I understand your confusion and fear. The reality is that the reason Uber wants drivers to be independent contractors is so (a) they can pay the drivers less and (b) independent contractors are not allowed to form legally recognized unions.
AB 5 did have unintended effects on artists and true independent contractors. Through AB 2257, artists and true independent contractors are no longer effected. AB 5 has been fixed. But Prop 22 doesn't have anything to do with true independent contractors. Prop 22 deals with (this is language from the actual Prop), "App-based rideshare and delivery platforms to transport passengers and deliver, food, groceries, and other goods as a means of earning income."
5. What if Uber, et al., leave California?
California is about 15% of their entire revenue. Do you think Uber would leave that much revenue behind? Look, the day they threatened to leave California was the day before a State Appeal's Judge was deciding on an injunction on Uber/Lyft... it was entirely, entirely a political move for the media.
6. You're being intense, Ian. OK, I get it, I get it. No on Prop 22. But why are you subtly quoting Freud, Marx, Althusser, and saying stuff like "Proposition 22 represents a fundamental paradigm shift within the development of neoliberal capitalism"?
Look, I get it. I'm sort of an intense guy.
But Proposition 22 does indeed represent a fundamental paradigm shift within the development of neoliberal capitalism.
First of all, if Prop 22 passes, it will require a 7/8th majority in the State Legislature to overturn. It is truly, truly a poison pill, and so if Prop 22 passes, it will set a precedent for Gig Workers in this country for Decades -- setting a precedent that Gig Workers do not deserve a basic minimum wage, benefits, sick pay, unemployment insurance, and the Right to Form a Union.
Before the pandemic, there was an estimate of 400,000 rideshare and delivery drivers in California. But it won't stop there. More and more, capitalists -- in the pursuit of profit -- want to convert workers to independent contractors. Uber is right now looking to expand independent contracting to even more sectors -- the "Uberfication" of all work. Per Uber's very own website, the Industries that Uber will be expanding to first with an army of independent contractors are: hospitality, real estate, consulting and financial, and government. These armies of independent contractors will be used for: sales and marketing, events, facilities, executive assistants, and procurement.
This goes way deep into even our ability to understand capitalism. As we recover from this pandemic, Gig CEOs will try to use the recovery as an opportunity to fundamentally shift the structural conditions of labor relations in a way that I believe will result in a fundamental epistemological break, in the same way that the creation of Urban Cities centered around Industrial Production in the hyper-speed rise of Capitalism in Marx's time created a fundamental epistemological break with the theory of before.
We are in for a world of hurt if Prop 22 passes. But if we defeat Prop 22 -- and the polling says we can, if we have the conversations we need to have with our friends, families, and neighbors -- we have the opportunity to create a mass movement of Gig Workers and form the most consequential Labor Union of our lifetimes.
Vote No on Prop 22. Way more importantly: Organize.