Lyft and Uber drivers rally in California for AB 5, the gig economy bill
Hundreds of Lyft and Uber drivers from across California rallied in Sacramento on Wednesday in support of AB 5, a controversial bill that would require rideshare companies and other gig-based businesses to hire their independent contractors as employees.
The Sacramento stop was the culmination of a three-day caravan across the state with stops in Delano, Fresno and in San Francisco, where the protesting drivers shut down Market Street at the center of the city’s tech hub, just outside Uber’s headquarters.
“We work long hours and we do our job in the best way possible, but [these companies] keep lowering our rates,” said Linda Valdivia, a Los Angeles resident and Uber driver who made the nearly 400-mile drive north this week. “Uber and Lyft get the majority of our earnings and we get a lower portion. That is the reason we are in this big fight — to change things.”
The pro-AB 5 demonstrations were organized by the Mobile Workers Alliance and Gig Workers Rising, two campaigns taking steps to unionize app-based laborers.
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If enacted, proponents say the legislation could upend the “gig-economy” many tech companies thrive on, and expand workers’ rights, ensuring they are provided minimum wage and are given paid-time-off, as well as other labor protections typically provided by employers in the state.
While the rideshare companies maintain that worker earnings are up, drivers have noticed in recent years that rate hikes riders experience during surge pricing aren’t passed on to them.
Gig economy advocates have said they are confident that if enacted, other states would quickly follow suit with similar legislation in a ripple effect across the nation.
Speaking over horns and revving engines as the drivers circled the capitol building, Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a Democrat from San Jose who chairs the committee on labor and employment, said its up to California to lead the nation on the issue.
“We need to set the stage as to what the future of work is going to look like,” he said. “As we take advantage of these new technologies — which can be fantastic for our daily lives — we have to ensure that the workers that allow these technologies to improve our lives also have the chance to take care of their families.”
For Annette Riverio, a driver from San Jose, this movement is also about calling on the companies to offer more support for their workers.
“There are people I know who had people throw up in their car and Uber and Lyft don’t want to pay,” she said. “They make it difficult to get reimbursed.There have been people who have been deactivated for no reason. I have had riders complain about things that weren’t even true. But what’s the point in even calling Uber — they aren’t going to do anything,” she added. “They don’t have my back. They aren’t going to listen to my story.”
Determining who is an independent contractor
The bill, which passed the California Assembly and is being considering in the Senate, codifies a landmark state Supreme Court decision that established firmer rules for how companies can classify contractors.
The ruling outlined a three-part “ABC” test: They must work completely independently, perform work not typical to the company’s operations, and must be “customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature” as the work they are performing.
The rule would have sweeping implications, affecting a wide range of contractors, including freelance journalists, truck drivers, or maintenance workers.
It also could completely change the business model of app-based companies like Lyft and Uber.
Ride share companies have lobbied against the bill, arguing that the majority of their drivers enjoy and rely on the flexibility of the gig-market.
“What we repeatedly hear from drivers is what they value most about Uber is the flexibility to work whenever, wherever, and for whom they choose,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “We believe that independent, on-demand workers should not have to sacrifice security to enjoy that flexibility.”
While some drivers have written letters and made calls saying as much, others said they were misled into doing this by emails and in-app messages from Uber asking them to participate in the action, telling Vox that they did not realize that they were advocating against legislation that could offer them opportunities.
Lyft floats a compromise deal
Lyft, which launched a campaign that sent emails to 2.5 million California riders and drivers this week asking them to voice their opposition to the bill, highlighted an alternative plan the companies are hoping could be a compromise.
The company has been working on a deal with lawmakers that would enable the company to continue to rely on an independent contractor workforce, but with some added benefits for drivers.
The new package would include minimum-earnings guarantees, portable benefits that would give them health care not tied to their employer, and better representation at the companies so they can voice their concerns directly.
“Lyft is advocating for an approach in line with the interests of our drivers, by modernizing century-old labor laws that make it difficult to provide both flexibility and benefits,” the company said in a statement. “We’ve been working on a different solution, so drivers can continue to control where, when, and how long they drive, while also having some basic protections.”
Valdivia, the driver from Los Angeles, isn’t interested in what they are offering.
“It is a big big lie,” she said. “They do not care about us as drivers or they would have done this way before today. Who is going to believe them that they are going to do it now?”
Instead, she is putting her hope in the organizing efforts and wants to be part of a driver’s union.
“We are very optimistic and determined to keep going,” she said. “No matter what it takes.”