A passenger gets into an Uber rideshare along Mission Street on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Uber, Lyft and DoorDash initiative seeking labor law exemption heads to California voters

An expensive ballot measure championed by Uber, Lyft and DoorDash to exempt their drivers from a new California law that requires companies to give benefits to more workers qualified Friday for the November election.

The initiative promises to raise compensation for ride-hailing and delivery drivers by requiring companies to pay them above minimum wage, plus 30 cents per mile, according to the coalition. It would also mandate health care coverage for drivers who work at least 15 hours per week, and provide insurance for on-the-job injuries.

The coalition was required to collect 623,212 signatures, or 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2018 election, which it had accomplished by February.

The campaign was born in response to a landmark law called Assembly Bill 5 signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September that limits in most cases an employers’ ability to use independent contractors. Instead, the law requires these workers be treated as employees with benefits.

Advocates for the law took aim at gig companies in the ride-sharing and meal-delivery sector. AB 5’s supporters credit the law to providing overdue relief for low-wage workers, but the restrictions have prompted lawsuits by truckers and freelancers who say its impaired their livelihoods.

A coalition behind the initiative called Protect App-Based Drivers & Services trumpeted the ballot qualification in a press release late Friday, including statements from drivers who said they worried about losing income and other advocates who said gig work will be important in the state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus outbreak.

“App-based driving is under threat. That’s why we need this ballot measure to pass, to end the uncertainty and make sure people maintain the ability to earn money on their terms, when their schedules allow, even after this pandemic has passed,” said Tecoy Porter, president of Sacramento’s chapter of civil rights group National Action Network.

Uber, Lyft and DoorDash pledged in October when they unveiled their ballot campaign to fight the law, and have raised more than $100 million on the effort.

Both Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra have also promised to uphold the law. Newsom’s budget proposal includes more than $20 million to enforce AB 5 and Becerra has launched a lawsuit against Uber and Lyft.

The law’s author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, is working this year to refine it through a new bill that would allow for certain exemptions for, among others, journalists and musicians.

She’s doubled down, however, on tech companies, which she says refuse to organize their business models at the cost of providing workers a livable wage.

Ride-hailing alliances in support of the law have also initiated their own campaign against the ballot initiative, hailing it as way for the companies to continue “violating the law” and “refusing to protect drivers.”

“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 Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer for the California Labor Federation. “We’re confident voters will reject this cynical measure to ensure these multi-billion dollar companies play by the same rules as all other law-abiding businesses.”

By Hannah Wiley, The Sacramento Bee

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