Mixtape Podcast: Proposition 22 and the labor divide

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Image Credits: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

California’s Proposition 22 is the most funded and perhaps one of the most contentious ballot measures in the state’s history.

To date, the Yes on 22 side has put north of $185 million into the initiative. The proposition, funded by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates, would ensure workers remain independent contractors. A Prop 22 defeat would reconfigure fully how gig-working companies classify their workers.

On the first episode of Season 3 of Mixtape, we talked to two gig workers, one on each side of the proposition.

Vanessa Bain is an Instacart shopper who is opposed to Proposition 22. Earlier this year, she co-founded Gig Workers Collective, a nonprofit to fight for fair pay and better treatment for gig workers.

She says the future of labor is at stake.

Activist gig workers seek to form nonprofit to support fellow workers

“I would argue the future of our democracy as well. The reality is that it establishes a dangerous precedent to allow companies to write their own labor laws,” Bain continues. “There’s an obvious conflict of interest there … This policy was created to unilaterally benefit companies at the detriment of workers.”

Surprising exactly no one, Doug Mead, an Uber Eats and Postmates driver who lives in Palm Springs and sits squarely in the Yes on 22 camp, feels differently.

“It’s really the government — their intent to remove a person’s control over how they want to be compensated. And that to me just makes no sense whatsoever,” Mead told us. “I should be in control of how I want to be compensated and by who.”

Uber, which was one of the three original companies (along with Lyft and DoorDash) to fund the proposition with $30 million, would see its business model change drastically if the proposition is defeated.

Earlier this month, Megan spoke with Shin-pei Tsay, Uber’s director of policy, cities and transportation, about a number of topics, including Proposition 22. She says she understands the dilemma that drivers grapple with on both sides but ultimately believes that the flexibility drivers currently have is worth protecting.

“But it isn’t perfect,” Tsay says. “We should be supporting workers more than the existing system enables currently, and so this is sort of a middle way of, you know, protecting that flexibility but also offering some benefits.”

The benefits Tsay is referring to is the 120% of minimum wage, 30 cents per engaged mile and healthcare subsidies dependent upon the number of hours worked if Prop 22 passes.

And if it doesn’t pass? Or if the company is forced to devise some magical hybrid classification that benefits all drivers, whether they want to be full employees or independent contractors?

“I think it’d be really challenging in our analysis. Essentially, we would have to start to ensure that there’s coverage, to ensure that there’s the necessary number of drivers to meet demand. There would be this forecasting that needs to happen — we would only be able to offer a certain number of jobs to meet that demand, because people will be working in set amounts of time.”

Tsay says that the matter at hand is to make the situation better rather than trying to “tinker around with two kinds of imperfect definitions.”

“This is something that a lot of companies have to look at. And what we’re trying, what we’re going up against is [that the] current system in place is very binary. And so I think it has to be, again, in partnership with cities, with states, with the federal government — we have to solve this together. This is not something that we just can come up with. And I don’t think the private sector should just come up with it on its own.”

Both Bain and Mead are also thinking about the potential impact the proposition will have on the future of labor outside of your Ubers and Lyfts. They both invoked Starbucks of all places and for very different reasons.

Human Capital: Prop 22 puts the ‘future of labor’ at stake

“I understand the other side’s point of view in terms of, there are apparently some drivers out there who don’t feel like they’re making enough money,” Mead told us. “But they’re asking for things, to me, that are just ridiculous. They want to get paid for waiting for a ride? Really? Who gets paid to wait on a job?

“If I’m a barista at Starbucks, there are going to be times when there are no customers in the store. However, I’m also taking that time to present the product that’s being sold to the customers, to set up the displays in the stores, to help clean the store. So I’m still working, even if there’s no customers. Now all of that work has already been done, and there are still no customers. Guess what? The manager is going to send me home. They’re not going to allow me to stay there while there’s nothing to do. So I’m not going to get paid to wait. Why should I get paid to wait now as an independent contractor? That makes zero sense to me.”

Bain uses the same example but in a drastically different way. And one that takes the labor movement head on.

I’m a software engineer at Uber and I’m voting against Prop 22

“I have no doubt that … if Prop 22 were to succeed, we would see similar types of maneuvers from companies like Starbucks or Walmart, where we’re gonna end up with piece rate work in all of the service industry. Where we’re going to be paid per transaction that we bring up if we’re a cashier. Or we’re going to be paid per latte that we craft, if we’re a barista.

“If all it takes is putting the hiring process and the bossing into an app on your phone to rewrite labor laws, every company on the planet is going to be doing that. There’s so much more, unfortunately, at stake here than just Uber and Lyft and ride share and grocery delivery and how you’re going to get your DoorDash orders. Literally the future of labor is at stake.”

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