SF leaders pledge to explore ‘every single legal remedy’ to protect gig workers as employees

Local hearing called as state weighs changes to legal protections for contractors

San Francisco officials are about to look in every nook and cranny of local law for ways to enforce worker protections for thousands of “gig workers,” following a state Supreme Court ruling known commonly as the “Dynamex” decision.

That legal analysis is taking place even as the state legislature considers Assembly Bill 5, authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), which would cement the Dynamex decision in California law.

Dynamex is already rippling throughout California, as many workers formerly seen as independent contractors have now been classified as employees — even dancers in local strip clubs, as The Examiner has previously reported.

But AB 5 could strengthen that reclassification, advocates hope, cementing worker protections across the state. It is still winding its way through the state senate.

Uber and Lyft are heatedly fighting AB 5, fearing it would reclassify their drivers as employees, instead of independent contractors.

With the stroke of a pen, the companies could be required to spend millions providing worker protections like sick leave and healthcare. They have argued publicly that AB 5 threatens the flexibility of the gig economy, that most of their drivers enjoy being able to begin or end work at their leisure, especially in light of how many drive as a second or third job.

Many drivers disagree, however, and recent protests have seen dozens of gig workers calling out Uber in front of their offices.

In the meantime, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is working with the City Attorney’s Office and the Office of Labor and Standards Enforcement to explore ways Dynamex could protect gig workers.

“Are we enforcing every single legal remedy we have right now?” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, in a City Hall hearing Friday afternoon. “We should be using every tool in the toolbox,” he added, and “there’s tremendous political will on this board to make this happen.”

Mandelman and Supervisor Gordon Mar called for a hearing into the gig economy, which drew dozens of workers, from Uber and Lyft drivers to domestic workers, as well as allies from the labor community, calling for greater protections. Those ride-hail drivers were organized by Gig Workers Rising, a movement of independent contractors that have begun to rally and organize in the same vein as unions.

“One time it happened I had to stop working for one month for health reasons,” said Rasheed Alsanea, a 12-year San Francisco resident who said he’s driven for Uber and Lyft for six years.

Without employee protections, his month off work was financially devastating, he said.

“In that month I had to pay my insurance, the car finance,” he said. “No one was paying me for this month.”

Friday’s hearing was also a major show of solidarity for the local labor movement, in what some said was a maturation of Gig Workers Rising’s organizing.

The Progressive Workers Alliance, Jobs with Justice SF, the San Francisco Labor Council, SEIU 1021, SEIU United Service Workers West, Teamsters Joint Council 7 and United Food Workers and Commercial union all came out in solidarity with the gig workers, asking the Board of Supervisors to add pressure to state politicians who will decide the fate of gig workers’ classifications.

“We have laws on the books, we need to make sure workers are getting their minimum wage,” said Jane Martin, an organizer with SEIU USWW. “We’ve never let an army of corporate lawyers stand in our way in the past.”

joe@sfexaminer.com

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