The battle over AB5 in California, which could turn drivers from independent contractors to employees, is heating up. RSG contributor Sergio Avedian visited the competing protests (for and against AB5), spoke to drivers, and shares his impressions below.
We’ve been covering the AB5 debate closely over the past few months, and this week we saw some big news out of Sacramento. There were two rallies, one against AB5 put on by Uber on Tuesday and one for AB5 put on by driver advocates on Wednesday.
The bill itself, which would codify a widely used workplace standard known as the “ABC” test to determine workers’ employment status into California Law was voted out of the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee on Wednesday afternoon. It will be moved to the Appropriations Committee in early August, after which it will be up for debate in the CA Senate and up for a final vote towards the end of the month.
This bill would only affect California drivers to start, but it could set a precedent for other states around the country.
Anti AB5 Supporters Rally in Sacramento on Tuesday
On Tuesday July 9, there was an anti AB5 rally held by a coalition called “I’m Independent”, a project of the California Chamber of Commerce. Uber sent out in app notifications and e-mails to drivers in the Bay Area encouraging them to show up and get ‘free lunch’.
The crowd consisted of two hundred or so supporters gathered in front of the State Capitol wearing white t-shirts given to them by the organizers. There were also half a dozen food trucks serving free food and some in the crowd who were interviewed by Ezra Dubroff of RSG (watch the video of his coverage below) told him that they were offered $100 gift cards to show up. But there was some confusion around this and it seems like there may have just been a raffle for the gift cards. Uber did not pay drivers $100 to show up, but they did give them a free lunch and t-shirt 🙂
The coalition had a booth set up for drivers/supporters to sign a petition against AB5, but there were also a number of counter-protesters there in support of AB5. We also spotted a few Uber YouTubers live streaming the event such as Dave the Uber Slave and Kevin the Apptrepreneur. Seems like all of them are in support of AB5.
We’ve discussed at length on previous RSG articles how Uber and Lyft are fighting this bill tooth and nail. According to their S-1, their future depends on it. Well, as far as I am concerned, they brought us here. If the rate cuts had stopped a couple of years ago, there would be no uproar amongst the driver community and the politicians may not have gotten involved.
Here Are the Talking Points of the I’m Independent Coalition
- The top reasons that motivate individuals to pursue independent work include: 1) to be their own boss, 2) to choose when they work, 3) to choose their own projects, 4) to choose where they work and 5) to earn extra money.
- Nearly half of all millennials (47 percent) across the U.S. freelance, which is a nine percent increase since 2014.
- The Court decision moves the state backward and does not accurately reflect today’s realities. It would eliminate the choice that more and more Californians are making for their work and quality of life. In fact, 79 percent of independent contractors prefer it over traditional employment according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Economic Release (June 7, 2018).
- Economic stability is being redefined as 63 percent of freelancers increasingly think that a diversified portfolio of companies to contract with is more secure than working for one employer.
- A majority of freelancers who left full-time traditional employment made more money within a year.
- Full-time independent contractors are able to work less than 40 hours per week (on average 36 hours) and the majority believe they have the right amount of work.
- Technology such as online platforms have also benefited brick and mortar businesses with significant increases in sales and expansion of their customer base. This has helped small businesses across the state not only survive but thrive.
- With innovation expanding opportunities, more and more Californians are choosing to work independently full-time or to supplement their income.
Pro AB5 Supporters Rally in Sacramento on Wednesday
On Wednesday, July 10, pro AB5 supporters showed up in front of the California Capitol building. Gig Workers Rising, the activist outfit that had organized the trip, and there were definitely several large unions represented such as SEIU (Service Employees International Union), Teamsters as well as Communication Workers of America, Mobile Workers Alliance as well as our Southland representatives from RDU (Rideshare Drivers United).
AB5 is sponsored by the California Labor Federation, which represents more than 1200 unions in the state. They have refused to make any concessions on employee status and demand that it should pass as is. They have Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez sponsoring the bill, and she is a strong ally of unions and RDU. During the rally many lawmakers came out in support of AB5, such as the State Senator from Los Angeles Maria Elena Durazo.
The pro AB5 supporters appeared to be much larger in size than yesterday’s anti AB5 crowd, clad in colorful t-shirts representing their unions. They were loud and clear: higher wages, better living standards and unity. Although they may have been representing other unions, they stood side by side in support of CA drivers of Uber & Lyft.
The rally is starting pic.twitter.com/j5FYXccRg5
— Johana Bhuiyan (@JMBooyah) July 10, 2019
Quoting Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Democrat from today’s pro AB5 rally:
“They use a lot of really cute words basically to describe the same old (expletive) that they’ve been doing for a really long time. People keep acting like they’ve invented new things – it’s the same old thing. It’s about corporations trying to oppress workers, when you hear about folks talking about the new economy, the gig economy, the innovation economy, it’s (expletive) feudalism, all over again.”
I had the pleasure of meeting many RDU members at the flash protest recently in Downtown Los Angeles. They started small with a couple of hundred members about a year ago but as per Nicole Moore, a spokesperson for RDU, their numbers have grown to 5000 strong.
About 20 (budgetary constraints) of them decided to represent RDU in Sacramento and got on a van around midnight Tuesday in Altadena. All they wanted to do is to join their driver brothers and sisters in Sacramento in support of AB5. They shared with me their stories and the following pictures. GO RDU!
On their way back home to Southern California, I was able to speak to Estherphanie Jeanne St. Juste, one of the first members of RDU (Rideshare Drivers United). She was upbeat about the prospects of AB5 and was in full support of Lorena Gonzalez. She spoke very highly of her and said that she would be the right person not only to move this bill forward, but she would be the champion for all drivers in the state. She stated that the arduous long trip was worth it since the rally was a total success and that next time RDU would be represented in much larger numbers, and I have no reason to doubt her.
I asked her if other members of the group in the van had anything to add to her comments, I received a few texts and I will do injustice if I don’t include their comments and stories:
Grace Mora: “It is great to know that we have such a strong woman, Lorena Gonzalez, fighting to create a new model for the gig economy and others to finally set Uber and Lyft straight. She is a smart and tenacious woman that made me so proud to be a Latina. It was a great experience. We will go to Sacramento again in August. Write to your local and state legislature, assembly member and senator in your district, let them know that you support AB5 and force Uber & Lyft to raise their fares so we all don’t have to be one payment away from being homeless.”
Christopher Moreno: “It was interesting seeing Uber and Lyft lobbyists trying to manipulate the narrative and changing their statements on the fly.”
Benjamin Valdez: “It was truly an enlightening experience. Learning all the political intricacies was fascinating. Spending the entire day speaking with our legislators was a fulfilling as they explained how our state government works. Being part of this potentially historical event was amazing.”
My Take on the Upcoming Battle Over AB5
This is a contentious issue for both sides, so I’m really not sure if there’s going to be a compromise at this point. Labor unions, driver groups and government officials are all strongly supporting AB5. Even though there are definitely mixed feelings on the driver’s side, a lot of what drivers have complained about over the years would be solved by AB5. Will that come at the cost of less flexibility though? Maybe…
I’ll leave you all with The Biblical story of David and Goliath, a well-known parable. His precise throw hit Goliath in the head and knocked him out, allowing David to move in for the kill and win the war. David the Driver has a stone called AB5 in his hand and it’s about to be hurled at Uber and Lyft. We’ll see what happens.
Readers, what do you think about the AB5 legislation in California, and its potential impact on drivers nationwide?
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-Sergio @ RSG
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