By Levi Sumagaysay
As Election Day nears, California voters are being bombarded with ads featuring smiling Black and brown faces championing Proposition 22, the initiative by Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc. and other gig companies that seeks to exempt them from a state law requiring them to treat drivers and delivery workers as employees.
Outside Uber’s /zigman2/quotes/211348248/composite UBER -2.11% headquarters in San Francisco on Thursday, however, hundreds of Black and brown workers from throughout the state converged for a No on 22 protest, with drivers being joined by other union members, such as janitors, nurses and teachers, as well as elected officials. They want gig companies to stop exploiting workers, and from using the initiative to lock in “a caste system that will have recourse for generations to come,” said Cherri Murphy, a Lyft driver and Gig Workers Rising organizer, as she addressed other protesters.
A majority of gig workers in California are minorities and immigrants, studies and the gig companies themselves say, and the companies have spent a record amount — more than $190 million — supporting the proposition and publicizing the support of different groups in the Golden State, including civil-rights organizations. Many of the people featured in the mailers and TV ads have been paid anywhere from $500 to a couple of thousand dollars by the “yes” side, which has also paid modeling and casting agencies, according to state records.
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The Yes on 22 website includes a list of 34 “community advocate” groups that support the measure, but it is unclear exactly how gig companies garnered that support, and the extent of it. The most prominent example is the NAACP, with the statewide group and several local chapters named in the list.
The head of the state NAACP, Alice Huffman, was featured in an Uber email campaign to its users titled “Why communities of color support Prop. 22.” But CalMatters reported that Huffman owns a consulting business that was paid more than $1 million by different campaigns, including Prop. 22, this year. The state NAACP has not returned a request for comment.
In the Yes on 22 campaign’s expenditures reported to the California Secretary of State, payments to Huffman’s consulting firm, AC Public Affairs, were identified as payments to “campaign consultants.” The campaign has disclosed $3.97 million in payments to more than two dozen campaign consultants, roughly a fourth of what their opponents have spent in total but less than 3% of the money that the Yes on 22 campaign has collected.
George Holland, president of the Oakland, Calif., branch of the NAACP, told MarketWatch the measure has raised a dilemma for his local chapter, which has chosen to stay neutral on the proposition.
“Some people just want to have temporary employment, but some are working full time,” he said. “It’s very difficult to take a side. We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t.”
Opponents not only decry the initiative — any amendments to which would require a seven-eighths majority in both houses of the state Legislature — they also call out the gig companies’ campaign tactics, which have included antiracism Uber billboards and paying for the proposition to appear in “progressive” mailers — saying the minorities and immigrants who comprise the bulk of the gig companies’ workforces are being denied minimum wage, health benefits and other protections to which employees are entitled.
The gig companies’ campaign is “a wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing,” said Shamann Walton, a member of San Francisco’s board of supervisors, during a virtual press conference organized by the No on 22 campaign last week. “It is infuriating hypocrisy. They claim to be an equity campaign. We know what it will do is undermine [the racial equity] we’ve been fighting for.”
The Yes on 22 campaign lists a few dozen supporters it calls “community advocates,” and uses the names of those groups prominently in its many mailers to California residents. But one of those groups, Black Lives Matter Sacramento, was taken off the list after MarketWatch brought to the campaign’s attention that its leader, Tanya Faison, said she was an individual supporter of the initiative but that the rest of the group was not. A spokesman for the campaign said the inclusion of the group was due to a miscommunication with Faison. When reached by MarketWatch, Faison said she had no comment about her support for the initiative.
Nearly a couple of dozen community advocacy groups on the list have not returned requests for comment. And at least a handful of other organizations have been impossible to contact: one appears to be defunct; one does not have any online presence or listing; another seemed to exist only as a Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -1.25% group. The Yes on 22 campaign has provided contact information for a couple of these groups, but they have not responded to requests for comment.
Some advocacy-group leaders say they support the initiative because their communities need the gig economy for extra income — or any income — especially during the coronavirus crisis, or to serve neighborhoods that have traditionally been underserved.
“I live in a neighborhood where taxi cabs don’t come but Uber and Lyft /zigman2/quotes/208999293/composite LYFT -1.97% show up,” said the Rev. K.W. Tulloss, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California, who said he couldn’t recall exactly how he was asked to support the measure. He added that he has also driven for Uber in the past few years to help supplement his income, so “I stand with the drivers who desire to have autonomy and be independent contractors.”