By Sheri Williams
Labor leaders across California are continuing their fight to protect so-called “gig workers” from exploitation as companies including Lyft and Uber continue their battle to deny them fair wages and working conditions.
Recently, those companies and others succeeded in putting a measure on the November ballot that would exempt them from a new state law, Assembly Bill 5, that is meant to force such companies to stop misclassifying their employees as independent contractors.
Legislators and courts have been clear that the new law should be put into effect, but Uber, Lyft and others have spent tens of millions of dollars attempting to skirt or repeal it.
“This attempt by Uber and Lyft to buy their way out of providing basic protections to their own workers and shift the burden to taxpayers isn’t going to fly,” said California Labor Federation leader Art Pulaski.
In June, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the attorney generals of three cities sued Uber and Lyft for continuing to refuse to properly classify about a half-million workers as employees, thereby giving them the wages and job protections they deserve, according to union officials. Properly classifying workers under the new law would also require the companies to pay into the state’s unemployment fund, which one study estimated would have added $143 million to its bottom line over the past five years – money desperately needed as claims rise with the economic devastation of coronavirus.
The state lawsuit seeks to force companies to act quickly to reclassify workers, even before the case reaches a judge, through an injunction that would compel the companies to adhere to the law while the court hears the case.
“Misclassifying your workers as ‘consultants’ or ‘independent contractors’ simply means you want your workers or taxpayers to foot the bill for obligations you have as an employer,” said Becerra. “Whether it’s paying a legal wage or overtime, providing sick leave, or providing unemployment insurance.”
Becerra said a quick injunction would force “Uber and Lyft to play by the rules.”
Along with standing up for AB 5 in courts, Governor Gavin Newsom in his most recent budget included millions of dollars to help state agencies enforce the law.
Labor leaders said they would fight to defeat the November ballot measure to reverse the law, starting by educating the public about it.
“The companies backing this measure have deep pockets, but we have the knowledge and power of our union sisters and brothers,” said Fabrizio Sasso, head of the Sacramento Central Labor Council. “We will knock on doors, talk to our friends and families and leave no stone unturned to make sure voters understand that this ballot measure is just an excuse for greedy corporations to exploit their workers.”