Labor Groups Plot Next Move as Gig Worker Bill Passes

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
Tens of thousands of workers in California could be affected by AB 5, including app-based service drivers, nail salon workers, couriers, construction workers and janitors. Photo Credit: Unsplash

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Uber and Lyft drivers and their allies in the labor movement are urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign a bill – AB 5 – passed Wednesday September 11, that reclassifies tens of thousands of contract workers as employees.

The measure could give the employees access to minimum wage guarantees, unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation.

Edan Alva, a Lyft driver and activist with the group Gig Workers Rising, says right now the multi-billion dollar companies’ business model depends on the constant availability of drivers, but workers make nothing while they’re waiting for a gig.

“That is just Lyft and Uber directly benefiting from non-paid labor of drivers,” he stresses. “In order to resolve it, they need to pay for the time when people are waiting for the rides.”

The law sets up a test whereby companies will have to prove that contract workers are not doing work central to the business.

Uber’s CEO said Wednesday he will press that claim and refuses to reclassify contract workers as employees.

Companies also are planning a ballot measure next year that would gut AB 5.

Alva says the next step would be to form a driver’s union to argue for things such as better coverage in case of a traffic accident on the job.

“I suspect that Lyft and Uber will do everything they can to prevent fair conditions from drivers still,” he states. “And therefore, we are adamant in our pursuit of the ability to organize to negotiate with Lyft and Uber and prevent them continuing to step all over us.”

Right now gig workers are still considered contractors under federal employment rules. So in order to have the right to form a union, the California State Legislature would need to pass a bill next year giving the workers explicit permission to do so.