Weekend News & Commentary —July 21, 2019
Last week, Postmates CEO Bastian Lehmann authored an op-ed for CNN arguing for a hybrid-method to “empower gig workers” without undermining the purported “flexibility” that many gig companies tout as justification for gig workers’ exemption from traditional labor protections. The op-ed comes in the middle of an ongoing debate in the California legislature over AB5, a bill that would clarify California’s employment classification test and likely reclassify worers like delivery couriers and ride-sharing drivers as employees. Lehmann’s op-ed describes a way forward where gig companies would work with unions and labor representatives instead of treating them like “sparring partners,” and guaranteeing minimum wages, new benefits, regulatory clarity, and a voice in the process. However, Lehmann did not say he believes the workers should be treated like employees, which has been the goal of numerous organizing campaigns and lawsuits in the last 5 years.
Lehmann’s proposal, while vague, incorporates a number of favorable policies, like clarity for workers trying to determine their pay level that is often hidden behind an algorithm, or assistance with benefit enrollment. But writing for Eater, Jenny Zhang was skeptical. She called the op-ed “artfully ambiguous” on the AB5 question, and found similarities in tone and reasoning with a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed written by Uber and Lyft’s CEOs that blatantly opposed AB5’s potential reclassification. The companies have been seeking a “compromise” that incorporates some of Lehmann’s proposals while not disrupting the workers’ independent contractor classification. The companies have also urged their own workers to oppose the measure, promising payments if they protest the bill and providing information some later called “misleading.” The Los Angeles Times reports that throughout this process, the California Labor Federation has remained committed to the full employment statues that AB5’s current form would provide.
AB5 in its current form would near certainly reclassify Postmates, Uber, and Lyft workers as employees, granting them robust protections and costing the companies more money. Accusing Lehmann of “weaponizing progressive-sounding rhetoric” while ostensibly working with company allies to oppose the key legislation, Zhang notes that the company has a lot to lose if workers win in California.
BuzzFeed News voluntarily recognized a union this week after months of negotiation and organizing by workers. The BuzzFeed News Union was established in February with the NewsGuild of NY and has been pressuring the company for recognition for months after a wave of layoffs earlier this year. In June, workers walked out to oppose the company’s refusal to recognize the unit amidst disagreements as to which workers would be included. Next week, there will be a card-check and the union will be certified.