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Oct. 24, 2020, 12:14 p.m. EDT

Race has played a large role in Uber and Lyft’s fight to preserve their business models

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By Levi Sumagaysay

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Likewise, Bay Area-based Black Women Organized for Political Action said in a statement that “Our PAC board deliberated on this position and ultimately surveyed our membership and drivers within our circle of family, friends and colleagues who happened to be largely African-American. Most felt strongly that they wanted to remain as independent contractors/freelancers with this freedom to work when they choose to do so.” 

Cassandra Jennings, president of the Greater Sacramento Urban League who said she volunteered to support the campaign after “talking to a couple of people in the industry,” echoed that sentiment.

“The gig economy is for people who don’t want to work 9 to 5 and want to do things differently,” Jennings said. “Drivers tell me they’re happy with what they’re making, that they’re making it work doing it part-time.”

As for the drivers working full-time, “they shouldn’t be exploited,” she said. “The question is: How do you provide an opportunity for both to exist?”

The companies tout schedule flexibility as their main selling point, and warn that hundreds of thousands of people in the state could lose their ability to make money if they must be considered employees instead of independent contractors. Over the summer, Uber and Lyft even threatened to leave California when a judge ordered them to immediately comply with state law and classify their drivers as employees.

See: Uber and Lyft granted emergency stay, shutdown averted in California

“Uber and Lyft leaving California would hurt us more,” Tulloss said.

Labor experts and others say nothing is stopping the gig companies from hiring their drivers and couriers as employees, and giving them the choice to work full- or part-time, in shifts. In fact, such an example exists among the app-based platforms: Instacart has a hybrid workforce, with both workers it considers employees and independent contractors.

“There is no reason why these companies cannot treat their workers as employees,” said William Gould, professor emeritus at Stanford Law School and a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board. “And, if they get away with this, other companies will be induced to expand the ranks of this underclass.”

In an interview with MarketWatch before last week’s protest, Murphy (who paused driving for Lyft in April because of the pandemic) said the companies “paint misclassification and exploitation as if it’s the best thing for Black and brown workers. They’re not going to talk about letting drivers fend for themselves when the pandemic first hit.”

Meanwhile, the drivers who took part in a caravan from Southern California last week before gathering at the protest in San Francisco, as well as their supporters, were clear about where they stand.

Carlos Ramos, a Lyft driver from Bakersfield, slammed the gig companies’ tactics and the money they have spent: “They can’t take our democratic process and pervert it,” he said.

Jennifer Esteen, a registered nurse for the city of San Francisco and vice president of organizing at SEIU Local 1021, compared today’s gig-worker battle to farmworkers standing up to big agriculture in the 1960s.

“Workers move this country,” she said. “Workers make everything possible… If Prop. 22 passes, all [workers] are at risk.”

See also: The pandemic turned Postmates’ IPO plans into a bidding war between Uber and Wall Street

Asked for comment about Thursday’s protest, a spokesman for the proposition’s campaign said, “By passing Prop. 22, California voters can protect the app-based jobs that hundreds of thousands of Californians depend on to earn supplemental income and the services that millions of California families rely on for safe, affordable, and reliable transportation and delivery, now more than ever during the pandemic.”

Prop. 22, which appears to be the most expensive California ballot initiative ever, is backed by more than $190 million from Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates, according to the most recent state records. By contrast, labor unions and other organizations funding the opposition have poured about $16 million into their campaign.

Reporter Elisabeth Buchwald contributed to this article.

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