Passage of Prop 22 creates mixed emotions for workers seeking classification remedies
The popularity of app-based delivery services, such as Doordash and Uber Eats, have made gig work an in-demand profession. People continue to rely on gig workers to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions and practice social distancing while obtaining necessities such as groceries and toilet paper. Despite these increased numbers, gig workers have had to endure uncertainties related to income and the heightened risk of exposure to the virus. Now that Prop 22 has passed in California, what does the future of the gig economy look like?
Before the pandemic, gig work was seen as a lucrative side hustle for those that wanted to supplement their income. Rick Blaver, a shopper for the grocery service, Shipt, appreciated the kindness given to him by members.
“Even just a few kind words through a window is enough to keep people smiling,” Blaver said.
The convenience of a flexible schedule is another reason gig workers decide to join services such as Shipt, Grubhub and Lyft. Courtney Anderson, another shopper for Shipt, is able to stay home and take care of her son because of the flexibility. Blaver as well enjoys the opportunity to shop while being able to take care of his child and attend to his schoolwork while working around the schedule of his wife.
Now, gig work has become a main source of income as a last resort, as opposed to a supplemental way to earn money. Despite the increase in demand for gig workers, the industry has not answered the call of those who have complained of lack of benefits, and risk of contracting COVID-19.
Since the pandemic started, app-based drivers are having to take extra precaution to prevent contracting the virus and sanitizing after either every delivery or ride. Blaver explained that he received some personal protective equipment (PPE) from gig companies along with hand sanitizer, but not enough to properly sanitize after each assignment. Companies have also made contactless deliveries an option for their members in order to follow social distancing guidelines. An example of this is a text alert letting you know your food delivery was left on your doorstep.
The increase in registered drivers has made it difficult for people to find work through these apps. Some are forced to work for three apps to make ends meet. Companies have even reduced earnings for their drivers. Anderson noticed her Shipt wages were decreasing more and more as the pandemic unfolded.
“People are still having to quarantine. They’re still relying on workers to bring them their food, groceries and their household supplies. The gig companies are paying less and less, but expect us to do more and more,” Anderson said.
The flexibility for drivers to work whenever they desire was one reason Prop 22 passed, but it also exposed the vulnerabilities gig workers face in the process. Drivers working for apps, such as Uber or Doordash, are not directly employed by these companies. Instead, they are classified as independent contractors.
While being an independent contractor gives drivers the option to work whenever they want, they are subject to a few harsh realities when it comes to the classification status. In comparison to employed workers, independent contractors are responsible for reporting and paying their own taxes. They also do not have access to employee benefits, such as paid time off or health benefits.
“I want protections if I get in an accident while I’m working, and I want to be able to qualify for workman’s comp if I’m injured performing a service for this company,” Anderson said.
Anderson voted against passage of Prop 22.
California attempted to remedy the issue by introducing Assembly Bill 5. The bill, otherwise known as AB5, would have forced companies such as Uber and Doordash to classify their drivers as employees along with providing them with other employee benefits, such as healthcare and paid time off. Companies like Uber and Lyft viewed AB5 as a threat to the gig economy in California, but also to their business models at large. A contentious battle over the classification of these drivers unfolded as companies stressed that the bill would have damaged their business models in other states, and ostensibly around the globe.
Despite lack of the protections that came with contracted employment, some wanted to remain classified as independent contractors. Jimmy Sorano, a driver for Uber, values the flexibility provided by app-based gig work and was strongly in favor of Prop 22.
“I don’t like to be scheduled. I wouldn’t be able to do the job if I were to become an employee, because I wouldn’t be able to work a schedule,” Strano said.
Sorano spends about six hours a day driving for Uber. A job like driving is something he says wouldn’t work out if the classification of drivers were changed to employees.
“You don’t want to be tired when you’re out on the road. If I don’t feel like going out and driving one day, I just don’t drive. If I’m too tired, I’m not going to go out on the road, and I’m not going to risk my life and other people’s lives just because I’m supposed to be working,” Sorono said.
Prop 22 keeps the classification of app-based drivers as independent contractors, while offering some benefits and sick pay similar to workman’s comp, but labeled as occupational accident insurance. Sorano noted that opponents of Prop 22 would not acknowledge the benefits when campaigning against the measure.
Uber claimed during the campaign there would be less drivers available for their riders if Prop 22 was to fail. The proposition became one of the most expensive ballots financed in the history of the state. Uber, Doordash and Lyft spent over $200 million in campaigning for Yes on 22. In comparison, those who opposed it spent $20 million.
On election day, Prop 22 faired well with a yes vote totaling 58.63%, compared to the 41.37% who voted no. The chance of the proposition being amended and changed in the future is also slim, as it would need a ⅞ majority in California’s legislature to undo it.
Uber and Lyft threatened suspending their services in California, but those talks died down as election day neared. Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, rejected the idea that Uber would even be able to keep all their drivers employed if they were classified as employees.
While app-based companies rejoice their victories, drivers who voted against the measure remain displeased. Shipt shoppers such as Anderson and Blaver voted against the measure, fearing it gave these companies too much power over their drivers.
“There is now a complete subclass of workers that is neither employee or independent contractor. [This class] is ripe for exploitation solely within the gig economy,” Blaver said.
The passage of Prop 22 has set a precedent for regulation of the gig economy in the future. Prop 22 might feel like a huge victory to these companies, but some drivers aren’t buying this is a remedy. To them, it feels more like an application of a bandage on a sore issue.
“I’m really nervous about what the future holds for for me as a worker. I’ve noticed that literally the day after Prop 22 passed, our order pay went down. We went from an average of $20 an order down to $15 or $16, Anderson said. “I worry that in January things are going to get worse.”