Last month, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and city attorneys from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, sued Uber and Lyft, claiming the companies wrongfully classified drivers as independent contractors – even as Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), author of Assembly Bill 5, was working on legislative exemptions from the gig law for other groups of independent contractors.
AB 5 has limited Californians’ ability to work as independent contractors and freelancers, impacting more than 1 million drivers, artists, musicians, interpreters, court reporters, and medical workers, to name just a few. AB 5, which went into effect on Jan. 1, forced companies that use independent contractors to convert their workers into employees.
Now the Attorney General and City Attorneys announced their plan to file a motion for preliminary injunction aimed at taking away drivers’ choice to work as independent contractors – jeopardizing 900,000 jobs and essential rideshare and delivery services, right in the middle of a recession, and ongoing COVID-19 fears keeping people at home.
The full force of the state is being deployed to control the independent rideshare business: The California Public Utilities Commission announced earlier in June that all rideshare service drivers in California will now be considered employees under the AB 5 contract worker law.
In May, the California State Senate Labor Committee heard Senate Bill 806 by Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), to repeal and replace AB 5 with a new test which supports much more worker freedoms, and saves business-to-business relationships. Despite her assurances that the bill will cover all workers, unlike those with carve outs, Democrats killed the bill.
“There is no coincidence that this is filed the day before we qualified for the state ballot,” noted Stacey Wells, the campaign spokeswoman. “The timing is circumspect.”
“This is yet another malicious legal action against drivers that underscores exactly why we’re pursuing the ballot measure,” Wells said. “It is baffling that anyone would seek to end this critical work, threatening 900,000 jobs, especially now. Most drivers do so part-time – 80 percent drive fewer than 20 hours a week and most drive less than 10. Drivers by a 4:1 margin want to remain independent. They’re overwhelmingly doing this to supplement income around other jobs and life responsibilities and wouldn’t be able to work as employees. We need to protect the ability of app-based drivers to choose independent work, while also providing new benefits and protections for drivers and consumers. That’s why we’re full steam ahead with our ballot measure and we’re confident voters will support it.”
California Globe spoke with Al Porche III, a driver for Uber, Lyft, Postmates and Doordash, about his experiences with the rideshare business and concerns about AB 5. Porche is an Army veteran currently living in Menifee,, who retired in his 30’s from the Army after Operation Iraqi Freedom. He said he has occasional episodes of PTSD, which being a driver allows him to work around. “I have limits, and working alone allows me to choose when.” Porche said at a W-2 job, “you’re there for eight hours. I get to move around, picking people up, delivering groceries or food.”
“I like this type of work. We all look forward to driving and meeting people. From pickup to destination, that’s when the magic happens,” Porche said. “And if I’m tired of driving people, I can go on the other apps and deliver restaurant food, or groceries.”
“It’s outrageous that politicians are seeking to shut down hundreds of thousands of app-based jobs in the middle of a recession,” Porche added. “Their actions also threaten food and grocery delivery services at a time when millions of seniors, families and others rely on these deliveries to minimize their risk during the pandemic.”
A May survey of 80,000 drivers across the country and on social media asked for responses to determine how Uber and Lyft drivers felt about employee vs independent contractor status in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and have drivers’ attitudes toward becoming employees vs. independent contractors changed?
It turns out that 71% of drivers surveyed still want to be independent contractors. Prior COVID-19, 81% of drivers stated they wanted to remain independent contractors.
The California Protect App-Based Drivers and Services Act ballot initiative, to decide whether app-based drivers are employees or independent contractors, will be on the ballot in November.