The Uber/Lyft Sleight of Hand on AB 5 and Dynamex

When corporations violate the law by calling some workers “independent contractors” instead of recognizing them as employees, those workers are denied a host of fundamental protections like a minimum wage, overtime pay, unemployment insurance and workers’ comp. Without these protections, working people are living on the edge. Every single day.

That’s why the California Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in Dynamex last year to create a simple, easy-to-understand test that companies are required to use to determine if someone is actually independent (i.e. acting as their own boss). Because many corporations refuse to comply with the court’s decision, Asm. Lorena Gonzalez introduced AB 5, which codifies and clarifies the ruling to eliminate uncertainty and protect workers who companies intentionally cheat out of pay and basic protections.

The CEOs of Uber and Lyft are so desperate to continue breaking the law that they are making vague promises to improve working conditions for drivers in exchange for getting around the Dynamex decision. Don’t be fooled. These empty promises aren’t what drivers want or deserve. Rideshare drivers and all workers in the gig economy want the same rights of employees: a living wage, protections if laid off or injured, health insurance and retirement. In fact, according to a recent Ispos national poll, 87% of drivers say they want these types of protections.

To make matters worse, Uber and Lyft followed up their hollow op-ed with messages through their app to coerce drivers into lobbying against AB 5 and their own self-interest. Saying drivers would lose “flexibility” if AB passed.

Lyft driver Lauren Swiger published her own op-ed today taking the companies to task for their false assertions and underhanded tactics.

They’re hoping scare tactics and vague promises will trick drivers into signing a misleading petition so they don’t have to treat drivers fairly. But drivers know better. They are playing on the fears of drivers, threatening that flexibility will be taken away and they will no longer be able to work on multiple apps. The idea that flexibility must be traded for basic worker rights and protections is a false choice. Drivers deserve and can have both.

Time and again we’ve seen Uber and Lyft put their profits ahead of the interests of drivers. This latest attempt is no different. They’re trying to trick the Legislature into thinking they are willing to change, and they want to manipulate drivers into being their (low-paid) lobbyists.

The truth is, there’s no reason Uber, Lyft and other gig companies can’t extend workers the benefits of employee status they deserve while preserving flexibility. Just yesterday the platform-based company Deliv did just that: reclassifying all their drivers as employees while maintaining full schedule flexibility.

In another SF Chronicle op-ed, former rideshare driver and USC Ph.D candidate Zakhary Mallet points out that we can’t count on these companies to stop exploitation on their own. It’s the job of the state legislature to step in.

Assembly Bill 5 is an important component to correcting these harms. By codifying gig workers as employees, AB5 would close loopholes that have enabled gig companies to classify low-skill workers as independent contractors in order to set and amend earnings rates through imposition rather than bargaining, not reimburse sick or family time off, and not reimburse operating expenses, among other things. This exploitation of labor is wrong, should never have been allowed and should not be allowed going forward.

AB 5 will have its first hearing in the State Senate in a few weeks. In the meantime, big corporations and their army of lobbyists are going to try everything under the sun to get around complying with the law. Legislators must not let them succeed. AB 5, and the Dynamex decision that undergirds it, offer workers the hope of a better life. Lawmakers can’t turn a blind eye to exploitation any longer.

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