(TNS) — Latino and Black advocacy groups are front-and-center in an expensive campaign challenging a new California labor law that demands employers provide benefits for more workers.
In one corner are the diverse unions that advocated for the labor law, known as Assembly Bill 5, when lawmakers debated it and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it last year. They say the new law providers all workers a better opportunity to earn a living wage and get ahead.
On the other side, a collection of Black and Latino advocacy groups have joined with Silicon Valley giants to campaign for an initiative that would exempt app-based drivers for companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash from the law.
The groups aligned with the tech companies for Proposition 22 include the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which normally sides with employers, and the National Action Network, the civil rights group founded by Rev. Al Sharpton. They argue the initiative would allow drivers the freedom and flexibility to set their own schedules and earn a living as independent contractors.
“One of the things we find is that this creates opportunities for our communities to work when they want to work and work at the level and the intensity that they want to work,” said Julian Canete, president of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.
His group is among the Latino, Black and Asian American organizations appearing in ads and sending letters to elected officials asking for exemptions to the labor law. The same groups also have been promoted by Uber and Lyft this year, which have been touting charitable contributions to ethnic communities hurting in the coronavirus outbreak and aligned themselves social justice movements.
Veena Dubal, a UC Hastings law professor and critic of Proposition 22, said the prominence of the civil rights organizations in the campaign is a familiar theme in the tech companies’ efforts to fight regulations across the country. They were part of a 2018 campaign against a New York City ordinance, for example.
“It is a political tactic that these companies make to make allies with more mainstream organizations,” Dubal said.
The dispute over the initiative, at least in terms of political spending, is one-sided. Supporters of Proposition 22 have amassed over $110 million in contributions from the tech companies, according to campaign finance records. Opponents of Proposition 22 have raised about $2 million, mostly from unions and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
So far, the companies are not paying drivers wages and benefits as advocates intended when they pushed for the new labor law and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is suing them to force them to comply with AB 5. Democratic lawmakers also remain committed to the new law.
Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, said the passing of Proposition 22 would allow the mistreatment of low-wage workers.
“It has to be corrected. There are those who don’t understand the history of misclassification, don’t understand the depth of abuse of classifying people as independent contractors,” she said. “They made it appear to be ... an opportunity to make a lot of money.”
What Do The Ads Say?
Black and Latino civil rights groups are featured prominently in ads running on Facebook and in minority-owned newspapers.
“AB5 … would limit the availability of these services resulting in lost work opportunities and reduced access to rideshare and delivery services that many minority communities have grown to rely on,” reads one ad quoting the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
Another ad from the same campaign highlights an opinion piece by Tecoy Porter, chair of the California State National Action Network, published in the Sacramento Observer on July 27, an African American-owned weekly newspaper.
“Prop 22 protects the choice of more than one million Californians to work as independent contractors with app-based rideshare and delivery platforms — saving these jobs that are critical for so many in our community,” Porter wrote.
Last month, a number of organizations advocating for ethnic communities such as the California State NAACP and Si Se Puede Foundation sent a letter to California elected officials in support of Proposition 22. They promoted the gig companies as a “low barrier-to-entry way to earn income for those who often find traditional employment challenging.”
“These are easy jobs. You don’t need degrees. You don’t need a whole bunch of training,” Porter said. “You start making money real quickly.”
What About Workers?
A 2019 Lyft analysis found 31 percent of Lyft’s 300,000 drivers in California identify as Latino. African Americans represent 10 percent. In Los Angeles, Latinos make up 40 percent of Lyft drivers. Both Uber and Lyft say the majority of their drivers want to maintain independent status.
Labor advocates made a case for AB 5 with the help of gig drivers who wanted better wages, benefits and union representation. Their allies maintain that workers are better off with the new law.
Mike Roth, spokesman for the No on Prop 22 campaign, called the initiative a “cynical” attempt by Uber, Lyft and Doordash to buy a law.
“What we know about these workers is that they are largely people of color and immigrants,” said Roth, a political consultant whose clients include SEIU and the unions that backed AB 5. “It is cynical to ask voters to create a separate unequal class of workers that would be denied basic workplace protections that all other workers enjoy.”
Nourbese Flint, executive director of the South Los Angeles-based Black Women for Wellness Action Project, argued against Proposition 22 saying the companies did not give a full picture of how it would affect drivers.
“It’s not good for folks of color,” Flint said.
A UC Berkeley Labor Center study estimates that drivers will earn $5.64 an hour if Proposition 22 is passed. If drivers switch from independent contractors to employee status they will make at least minimum wage, which is $13 an hour.
On its website, the Yes on Prop 22 campaign estimates drivers will receive at least 120 percent of minimum wage, which is $15.6 an hour. plus a compensation of 30 cents per mile.
©2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.