By Susan Vaughan and Evelyn Engel
Through Proposition 22, a few vast multi-national corporations are attempting an audacious move: the rollback of every worker protection law on the books.
What are these companies? Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Instacart, Postmates (now owned by Uber), and a student transport service, Hopskipdrive.
Uber and Lyft are publicly traded so we can see their profit models. Their scheme is to replace public transportation systems and locally regulated taxis with vast fleets of independent contractor drivers transporting paying passengers in their own cars — and to skim off a percentage of the revenue. All theprofits are largely ill gotten, as drivers routinely violate road rules, and corporate masters have price gouged, deceived authorities, spied on passengers and drivers alike, and conspired with state agencies to cover up accident data. All profits are also based on increasing vehicle miles traveled and exacerbating the climate crisis, the planet be damned.
But Uber and Lyft are money losing operations. They undersell their product to lure customers away from public transit and taxis. Uber is additionally propped up by Softbank, the Japan-based venture capital slush fund, and by the Public Investment Fund of Saudia Arabia, which has also invested in SoftBank.
The next scheme of these scofflaw desperados is to undo decades worth of hard fought worker protection laws. If Proposition 22 passes, its drivers, now legally classified as employees, would be denied:
- Minimum wage(A University of California Berkeley Labor Center study calculates hourly driver wage under Prop. 22 at $5.64 after expenses)
- Sick leave
- Overtime pay
- The right to form unions
- Mandatory payroll contributions to Social Security, Medicare, workers compensation, and unemployment insurance.
Proposition 22 would reclassify drivers as independent contractors — but without the right to set their own rates or develop their own client base.
If Proposition 22 passes, industries nationwide will see this as a precedent — something they too can do to people now classified as employees. Think store clerks, nurses, hotel staff, janitors, UPS and FedEx drivers and others. They may be employees now, but they would just be a ballot measure away from becoming “independent contractors.”
Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution it has been a corporate goal to squeeze workers as much as possible. Starting in the late 1800s, corporate lawyers successfully reinterpreted the 14th Amendment, which had been passed expressly to protect newly freed slaves, into an amendment to protect corporate earnings. In 1905, in Lochner v. New York, the Supreme Court applied this reinterpretation to a state law mandating maximum hours of bakery work, finding that the law denied bakery workers and employers “liberty of contract” — that is, the liberty to work 14-hour days! That ruling was overturned during the New Deal, but forces of greed have never stopped attempting to restore “liberty of contract.” In Wisconsin in 2011, in fact, then Governor Scott Walker pushed Act 10 through the state legislature, repealing the right of many unions to (including teacher unions) to bargain collectively on membership’s behalf over anything but wages.
Justice John Marshall Harlan dissented in the Lochner case, writing: “A decision that the New York statute is void under the Fourteenth Amendment will, in my opinion, involve consequences of a far-reaching and mischievous character; for such a decision would seriously cripple the inherent power of the States to care for the lives, health and well-being of their citizens.”
That too will be the case if Proposition 22 passes in California. Vote no on 22.
Susan Vaughan and Evelyn Engel both earned their masters in American history from San Francisco State University.