What Prop. 22’s defeat would mean for Uber and Lyft — and drivers

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

One way or another, the business of summoning a ride from your phone is likely to look different in California after Nov. 3.

The future of gig work could hinge on the success or failure of Proposition 22, called the App-Based Drivers as Contractors and Labor Policies Initiative. Uber, Lyft and other companies bankrolling the initiative say it would improve workers’ quality of life, providing new benefits while preserving their autonomy. If passed, the measure would cement gig workers’ status as independent contractors, dealing a huge blow to a labor movement striving to bolster protections for workers at the margins.

Abstract illustration of an app-based driver in a car

Gig companies’ business models rely on hiring large numbers of workers cheaply as independent contractors to provide rides, deliver meals and groceries and perform other services. Assembly Bill 5, a state law passed in 2019, aimed to expand protections to these workers, requiring gig companies to reclassify them as employees.

Proposition 22 represents the companies’ efforts to battle that law and the obligations that come with it.

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates (which was recently acquired by Uber) have jointly poured close to $200 million into the “yes” campaign, flooding the airwaves and their own apps with ads and making the measure the costliest in U.S. history.

At the heart of it all is a vicious fight to shape the prospects of hundreds of thousands of drivers and delivery workers across the state.

Here’s what you need to know.

What would happen if Proposition 22 passes?

For the companies sponsoring it, the short answer is: business as usual. For workers, it would bring some clarity, at a price.

The text of Proposition 22 assures drivers they would maintain flexibility as independent contractors. The measure offers some benefits similar to those conferred under AB 5, but significantly weaker.

Gig companies thus far have resisted compliance with AB 5, which went into effect Jan. 1. In early August, a judge ordered Uber and Lyft to convert their drivers to employees. At the 11th hour, the companies won a temporary stay of the order from a state appeals court, effectively pushing off the deadline until after voters have their say.https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/Krp2r/6/

Uber and Lyft presented oral arguments before California’s 1st District Court of Appeal on Tuesday. The court has 90 days to decide whether it will uphold the lower-court ruling. But Proposition 22, if passed, would override protections granted by AB 5.

The measure instead would grant 120% of the minimum wage (state or local, depending on where the driver is). However, this minimum narrowly applies to “engaged time,” meaning the time a driver is on a trip with a passenger or en route to pick up a passenger. One study found drivers spend one-third of their time waiting between passengers or returning from trips, time that would not count toward the minimum wage.

Read the complete article here.

Will rideshare drivers get paid less than minimum wage under Proposition 22

From today’s Sacramento Bee:

Proposition 22 proposes that gig drivers for companies such as Uber, Lyft and Doordash will get paid 120% of the area’s minimum wage for the time they spend picking up and driving goods or passengers, plus 30 cents a mile.

Proponents of the proposition argue under its calculation, the drivers will get paid closer to $25 an hour after expenses, much more than the state’s minimum wage. But the initiative’s opponents cite a much-published study from the UC Berkeley Labor Center, whose researchers said Proposition 22 will guarantee only $5.64 an hour.

Amid an onslaught of advertisements, Proposition 22 still has a fundamental question to answer: How much will the gig drivers get under the initiative. A Sacramento Bee review found that the answer depends on how expenses and time at work are defined. But it is possible that workers would earn less than minimum wage under the measure.

In 2019, Ken Jacobs and Michael Reich at the UC Berkeley Labor Center published a report saying the gig drivers using Uber or Lyft will only be guaranteed a pay of $5.64 an hour under Proposition 22. They still stand by the number.

Under Proposition 22, drivers could get a pay cut from what they are paid now, Jacobs said. “The guarantee they claim to have,” he said of the gig companies. “is a false guarantee.”

Under Proposition 22, drivers will not be paid for the time they are waiting to give a ride, nor the time they spend preparing and cleaning their cars. That time accounts for some 33% of the drivers’ working time, Jacobs said, citing a 2019 study that looked at Lyft and Uber rides in six metropolitan areas across the country, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. “It’s impossible to do the work without having the time waiting for work,” Jacobs said.

Another report, “Rigging the Gig,” by the National Employment Law Project and the Partnership for Working Families found that drivers working 50 hours a week will be paid $175 to $210 less a week under Proposition 22 compared to the current minimum wage.

Read the complete article here.

Instacart shoppers face unforgiving metrics: ‘It’s a very easy job to lose’

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Five days a week, Ryan Hartson scours the picked-over aisles of Mariano’s Fresh Market in Chicago to fill grocery delivery orders for Instacart. He clocks in for his shift exactly on the hour — if he’s even five minutes late, he’ll receive a “reliability incident.” Within four minutes he must accept any incoming orders. Any longer and he’ll be kicked off the shift and risk getting an incident. Three incidents in a week and he’s at risk of termination.

“It’s a very easy job to lose,” Hartson said.

To avoid missing orders, Hartson schedules his bathroom visits — after four hours of work, the app notifies him that he has earned a 10-minute paid break. Meanwhile, Instacart managers use the app to see if he’s running behind on his orders. The app also tracks Hartson’s customer communications, automatically searching for specific terms to ensure he’s using Instacart’s preferred script. If he doesn’t, his metrics will take another hit.

Metrics define the experience of Instacart’s part-time workforce. Measured weekly for employees such as Harston is the number of reliability incidents; the number of seconds it takes to pick each item; and the percentage of customers with whom they correspond. Some former and current employees say 5% to 20% of shoppers in a store can be fired weekly.

Even in the data-driven tech world, Instacart stands out for its metrics-oriented culture, interviews with more than 30 current and former employees as well as documents and recordings reviewed by The Times reveal. This drive toward productivity helps Instacart’s profit margins, a vital step for a start-up that recorded its first-ever monthly profit in April, as the coronavirus pandemic heightened demand for grocery delivery.

Instacart says it has eased enforcement of certain metrics during the pandemic, but shoppers say company policies often ignore the realities of the job, leaving them in constant fear of termination over things out of their control.

Instacart says it evaluates shoppers on more than just speed and efficiency. Natalia Montalvo, the company‘s director of shopper engagement and communications, said the in-store shopper role was built on the premise of “flexibility, efficiency, innovation and customer service.”

“Efficiency and fulfillment of customer orders in a timely manner is important,” Montalvo said, “but it’s just one of many factors we look at in our overall business health and growth relative to other contributors” such as revenue derived from advertising for and partnering with consumer brands.

Read the complete article here.

Uber likely to shut down in California for over a year if new ruling not overturned

From today’s NBC News Online:

In new court filings Wednesday, a top Uber official said the company would “almost certainly need to shut down” ride services in California for “likely more than a year” if a judge’s groundbreaking ruling issued this week is upheld on appeal.

In a new four-page declaration, Brad Rosenthal, Uber’s director of strategic operational initiatives, said that if the company has to reclassify the bulk of its workforce as employees rather than contractors, it will “force Uber to dramatically restructure its entire business model and its relationships with drivers and riders.”

In a call with investors Wednesday, Lyft CEO John Zimmer said the company would likely also suspend operations in the state for similar reasons.

Earlier Wednesday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the company would halt service in its home state of California for a few months if a judge’s groundbreaking ruling this week is upheld on appeal.

“We will have to shut down until November,” Khosrowshahi told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle in an interview.

On Monday, Judge Ethan Schulman of the San Francisco County Superior Court found that there was an “overwhelming likelihood” that both Uber and Lyft had misclassified drivers as contractors rather than employees. Drivers make up the bulk of those companies’ labor forces.

The ruling was the latest twist in a lawsuit brought against the companies in May by the state’s attorney general. Schulman put a hold on enforcement of his ruling for 10 days pending appeal.

In the new filings, both companies asked the judge to at least extend this hold period beyond 10 days while they begin the appeals process. Schulman is set to hold a hearing on this issue Thursday.

Read the complete article here.

New Privacy Bills Aim to Protect Health Data During the Pandemic

From today’s Consumer Reports Online:

Tech companies are developing new contact-tracing apps, sharing people’s location information with health researchers, and taking other steps to put consumer data to work in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Now, lawmakers are writing laws to ensure the increased surveillance doesn’t also end up hurting consumers.

Over the past two weeks, legislators in the House and Senate proposed competing privacy bills that would establish safeguards.

The bills differ in some big ways, but both include rules mandating transparency and consent, and controlling the use of data for purposes other than public health. The first, the COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act, was introduced by Senate Republicans last week. Democrats introduced a counterproposal today, the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act. 

Tech companies are taking a variety of approaches to collecting and sharing consumer data in the wake of the pandemic.

A Facebook survey conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University is tracking symptoms to look for new hot spots around the country. Ancestry and 23andMe are using their collections of DNA data to search for genetic clues that might predict how severely a patient will react to a coronavirus infection. Apple and Google joined forces to build a contact tracing technology that uses Bluetooth signals from cell phones to identify and notify people who have been exposed to someone infected with the coronavirus. And businesses from location data brokers to smart thermometer companies are repurposing other kinds of data for public health research.

Public health experts have mixed opinions on whether the efforts will provide useful tools for containing the pandemic. But even tools that do help can also introduce serious privacy concerns.

“It’s all very well intentioned, but there is a huge risk here that there could be some really pernicious discrimination, especially when you think about how this virus is disproportionately affecting African Americans, Hispanics, older Americans, and other marginalized communities,” says David Brody, counsel and senior fellow for privacy and technology at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group that endorsed the Democrats’ Public Health Emergency Privacy Act.

Read the compete article here.

California Sues Uber and Lyft, Claiming Workers Are Misclassified

From today’s New York Times:

California’s attorney general and a coalition of city attorneys in the state sued Uber and Lyft on Tuesday, claiming the companies wrongfully classified their drivers as independent contractors in violation of a state law that makes them employees.

The law, known as Assembly Bill 5, requires companies to treat their workers as employees instead of contractors if they control how workers perform tasks or if the work is a routine part of a company’s business.

At least one million gig workers in the state are affected by the law, which is supposed to give them a path to benefits like a minimum wage and unemployment insurance that have been traditionally withheld from independent contractors.

Although A.B. 5 took effect on Jan. 1, Uber, Lyft and other gig economy companies that operate in California have resisted and are not taking steps to reclassify their drivers. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash have poured $90 million into a campaign for a ballot initiative that would exempt them from complying with the law. Uber has also argued that its core business is technology, not rides, and therefore drivers are not a key part of its business.

The lawsuit also claims the ride-hailing companies are engaging in an unfair business practice that harms other California companies that follow the law. By avoiding payroll taxes and not paying minimum wage, Uber and Lyft are able to provide rides at “an artificially low cost,” the suit claims, giving them a competitive advantage over other businesses. The suit seeks civil penalties and back wages for workers that could add up to hundreds of millions of dollars.

“California has ground rules with rights and protections for workers and their employers. We intend to make sure that Uber or Lyft play by the rules,” Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, said in a statement. The city attorneys of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego joined in the lawsuit.

California’s move is a significant threat to the gig companies and could influence other states with similar laws to take action against them, labor experts said.

Read the complete article here.

Op-Ed: Is the Coronavirus Shaping the Future of How We Work?

From today’s New York Times:

Both the irony and the symbolism were evident as members of the California Future of Work Commission gathered in a virtual meeting, hastily rescheduled in the midst of an unfolding crisis.

The pandemic, and the recession all but certain to follow, threaten to pre-empt and overwhelm efforts to shape the future of work, and thus the future of California — how to create good jobs, reduce poverty and redefine relationships and structures to narrow the enormous income inequality that overshadows the state’s wealth and success.

Thus the recent meeting became not only an experiment for doing business in a post-coronavirus world but also a conversation laden with doubts, fears and aspirations about how the future may evolve.

The coronavirus will have a silver lining if it serves as the impetus for constructive upheaval, in the way that the sudden forced reliance on telecommunication is already having an impact.

“We are conducting a natural experiment,” said Peter Schwartz, a futurist and member of the commission. “One we would prefer not to have conducted. But we’re going to learn the hard way, rather quickly and by necessity, everything that can be done remotely. … We’re not going back to zero afterward. What do we learn out of all this in terms of how our society can change?”

World War II, the last international crisis that upended life in California, transformed the state into a military center and ushered in decades of growth that reshaped the Golden State. There is already a sense that in a different way, the coronavirus may create an inflection point of comparable significance. For better or worse, whenever the epidemic subsides, there will be no going back.

Read the complete article here.

The Great Google Revolt

From today’s New York Times:

Laurence Berland had just gotten out of the subway in New York, some 3,000 miles from his desk in San Francisco, when he learned that Google had fired him. It was the Monday before Thanksgiving, and the news came to him, bad-breakup-style, via email. “Following a thorough investigation, the company has found that you committed several acts in violation of Google’s policies,” the note said. It did not elaborate on what he had done to violate these policies.

Berland, an engineer who had spent more than a decade at the company, had reason to expect he might be fired. He had been suspended a few weeks earlier after subscribing to the open calendars of several senior Google employees, whom he suspected of meeting with outside consultants to suppress organizing activity at the company. During a subsequent meeting at which he was questioned by Google investigators, he had the feeling that they were pressuring him to say something that could be grounds for termination. Then, the Friday before he was fired, he had spoken at a well-publicized rally of his co-workers outside Google’s San Francisco offices, accusing the company of silencing dissent.

Even so, the timing and manner of his dismissal surprised him. “I thought they’d do it when all the media attention died down,” he said. “When the suspensions and the rally were no longer on people’s minds.” Instead, at a moment when the spotlight was shining brightly, Google had escalated — as if to make a point.

Berland was one of at least four employees Google fired that day. All four were locked in an ongoing conflict with the company, as they and other activists had stepped forward to denounce both its treatment of workers and its relationship with certain customers, like U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Berland’s terminated colleagues were even more shocked by the turn of events than he was. Rebecca Rivers, a software engineer based in Boulder, Colo., was dismissed over the phone after accessing internal documents. Rivers had only recently come out as transgender and was pursuing a medical transition. “I came out at Google expecting to stay at Google through the entire transition,” she said. “It’s terrifying to think about going to a job interview, because I’m so scared of how other companies treat trans employees.”

Sophie Waldman and Paul Duke, the two other Googlers fired that day, had not received so much as a warning, much less a suspension. Though they had been questioned by corporate security two months earlier about whether they had circulated documents referring to Customs and Border Protection contracts, they had been allowed to continue their work without incident. Waldman, a software developer in Cambridge, Mass., said she was given a 15-minute notice before she was summoned to the meeting where she was fired; Duke, an engineer in New York, said an invitation appeared on his calendar precisely one minute beforehand. Security officials escorted him out of the building without letting him return to his desk. “I had to describe to them what my jacket, scarf and bag looked like,” he said.

Read the complete article here.

Kickstarter Employees Vote to Unionize in a Big Step for Tech Workers

From today’s New York Times:

Employees at the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter voted on Tuesday to unionize, the first well-known technology company to take the step toward being represented by organized labor.

The decision, which was formalized by a vote count at the National Labor Relations Board, came down to a narrow margin, with 46 employees voting in favor of the move and 37 opposing it. The debate over a union — and whether such representation was appropriate for highly paid tech workers — had been a source of tension at the company for many months.

“I’m overjoyed by this result,” said Dannel Jurado, a Kickstarter senior software engineer who voted for a union. “There’s a long road ahead of us, but it’s a first step to the sustainable future in tech that I and so many others want to see.”

The pro-union vote is significant for the technology industry, where workers have become increasingly activist in recent years over issues as varied as sexual harassment and climate change. Behemoth companies such as Google and Amazon have struggled to get a handle on their employees, who have staged walkouts and demanded that their companies not work with government entities and others.

But large-scale unionization efforts have faltered. Only a group of contractors at a Google office in Pittsburgh unionized last year, and a small group of Instacart workers managed to do so this month. In the past, most unionization drives have been associated with blue-collar workers and lower-paid white-collar workers rather than white-collar tech workers, who are often paid upward of $150,000 a year.

Veena Dubal, an associate professor of employment law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law, called the Kickstarter vote “a hugely important step” that “signals to workers across the tech industry that it is both desirable and possible to build collective structures to influence wages, working conditions and even business decisions.”

Read the complete article here.

DoorDash’s anti-worker tactics just backfired spectacularly in court

From today’s Vox News Online:

The food delivery company DoorDash made its delivery workers sign away their right to sue if a legal dispute arises between a worker and the company. Instead, disputes would be resolved by a privatized arbitration system that tends to favor corporate parties.

It’s a common tactic, often used by companies seeking to discourage workers from asserting their legal rights at all. And, if a decision handed down Monday by a federal district judge stands, the tactic backfired spectacularly for DoorDash.

Under Judge William Alsup’s order in Abernathy v. DoorDash, DoorDash must arbitrate over 5,000 individual disputes with various workers who claim that they were misclassified as independent contractors, when they should be treated as employees. It also must pay a $1,900 fee for each of these individual arbitration proceedings.

Though DoorDash might settle the various claims before it is hit with these fees, Alsup’s order means that if it doesn’t, the delivery company will face a bill of nearly $10 million before any of the individual proceedings are even resolved. Add in the cost of paying for lawyers to represent them in each proceeding, plus the amount the company will have to pay to the workers in each proceeding that it loses, and DoorDash is likely to wind up paying far more money than it would have if it hadn’t tried to strip away many of its workers’ rights.

Ordinarily, when thousands of workers at the same company all raise very similar legal claims against that same employer, those workers will join together in a class action lawsuit — a process that allows all of the disputes to be resolved in a single suit rather than in thousands of separate proceedings. But DoorDash required these delivery workers to sign away their right to bring a class action as well.

That decision also appears to have backfired.

Read the complete article here.