Jim Pyatt and Carlos Ramos both live in the Central Valley and drive for gig companies in the Bay Area. But their thoughts on Prop. 22, which would keep gig workers such as Uber and Lyft as independent contractors, are worlds apart.

Pyatt, a 63-year-old living in Modesto, usually drives full-time for Uber on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as a couple hours on some weekdays.

For him, Uber gives him something to do after retirement from his career in the newspaper industry, including at The Modesto Bee. Uber also Pyatt money to help with medical bills for his granddaughter who has a rare birth defect. He cherishes the flexibility Uber gives him and thinks Prop. 22 will protect it, along with benefits such as mileage reimbursement.

“What driver wouldn’t want this?” Pyatt said of Prop. 22.

Ramos, 39, of Bakersfield had driven full-time for Lyft for more than three years, giving 10,000 rides before he stopped working to protect himself from the coronavirus. After constant pay cuts and changes from Lyft, Ramos said he realized the system is broken. He is now a leader organizer at Gig Workers Rising, which has been advocating against Prop. 22.

“These companies have never made a change to benefit me,” Ramos said. “I stopped trusting them a long time ago, and I don’t trust them today.”

At the heart of debate over Prop. 22 is whether drivers support the initiative. The Yes on 22 campaign says they do, saying drivers prefer to be independent contractors by a 4-to-1 margin.

The campaign cites a survey from a blog The Rideshare Guy, as well as a couple of driver polls commissioned by Uber. Those surveys do show that 70 to 80% of the drivers want to be independent contractors, and that a majority of the drivers support Prop. 22.

Still, The Rideshare Guy poll is not scientific — the survey was done on those who signed up for the site’s e-mail newsletter, not a random sample of drivers as a scientific poll does. The driver polls commissioned by Uber, critics say, ask flawed or slanted questions to drivers that push the result toward Prop. 22.

“They have highly biased and problematic surveys from which they are getting this data from,” said Veena Dubal, a UC Hastings law professor and a strong critic of Prop. 22.

Claim: Gig drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft want to be independent contractors by a 4-to-1 margin, Yes on Prop. 22 campaign has repeatedly said in its ads.

Rating: True, but critics say polls referenced have flaws, some significant.

WHAT POLLS SHOW

The Rideshare Guy sent its survey last month to more than 60,000 people who have subscribed to the blog’s newsletter. The survey got response from about 450 who said they are drivers in California, and 60% said they are in favor of Prop. 22. About 70% of the California respondents said they want to remain as independent contractors.

The site’s managing editor, Melissa Berry, said in an e-mail that many drivers cited flexibility as a reason they favor Prop. 22.

“Among poll respondents, one California driver who is for Prop. 22 said this: “I enjoy having many ‘gigs’, Uber is just one. I want flexibility,” Berry said.

Uber also commissioned two surveys earlier this year. A survey from Benenson Strategy Group and GS Strategy Group of 1,002 U.S. Uber drivers found that 82% of the respondents support Uber’s “third way,” which would keep workers as independent contractors but provide some of the benefits employees have, similar to Prop. 22. A survey from Edelman Intelligence of 718 California app-based drivers found that 72% of the respondents support Prop. 22.

“A recent survey commissioned by Uber and other companies found that two out of three app drivers would stop driving if their flexibility was compromised,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a Aug. 10 New York Times op-ed.

POLLS’ FLAWS

But the critics of Prop. 22 say those polls have significant flaws.

The Edelman Intelligence poll reads drivers a snippet from a TechCrunch article before asking them about their thoughts on Prop. 22.

The snippet says Prop. 22 “aims to ensure drivers and couriers can continue to be independent contractors with flexible work hours,” and mentions several benefits drivers will receive under the initiative, such as a healthcare stipend and occupational accident insurance for on-the-job injuries.

But the snippet doesn’t mention what drivers could miss out on under Prop. 22, such as unemployment insurance and minimum wage for all hours worked, not just hours spent picking up and driving passengers.

Natalen Bandler, research director for Edelman Intelligence, said it was hard to include what drivers may lose under Prop. 22. The proposition articulates what drivers will get, but doesn’t explicitly say what drivers will or can lose, she said.

Still, UC Berkeley economics professor Michael Reich said the polls commissioned by Uber falsely portray a world in which drivers will have little or no flexibility without Prop. 22.

“The company-paid surveys give the drivers a false choice: Either you are going to have zero flexibility or 100% flexibility, which do you want?” Reich said. “In fact, the companies will still need to offer drivers considerable scheduling flexibility. But the question is not phrased that way, so it’s pushing the drivers to identify a choice they will not need to make.”

Yes on 22 spokesman Geoff Vetter said without Prop. 22, Uber drivers will need to sign up for shifts and accept every single rides. Starbucks employees, for instance, can’t leave in the middle of their shift, he said.

Reich disagrees, saying companies will still provide flexibility without Prop. 22.

New York City, for instance, in 2018 became the first in the nation to require Uber and Lyft to pay their drivers more than minimum wage. Drivers in the city can still log on whenever they want. But in response to the city’s requirement, Uber somewhat restricts the number of drivers on the app at a given time — so it can better match driver supply with passenger demand. This benefits the drivers by giving them more rides per hour, and the polls that Uber and Lyft commissioned exclude that possibility, he said.

Furthermore, Ramos said lumping all drivers’ opinion may be inappropriate. Full-time drivers may have different views on Prop. 22, since those drivers rely on Uber and Lyft for their livelihood, he said. Those drivers may be more in need of benefits such as unemployment insurance that Prop. 22 won’t provide.

“I think they’re trying to paint a picture where full-time drivers don’t exist,” Ramos said.

And Reich said The Rideshare Guy survey is not scientific, since the respondents self-select themselves in a nonrepresentative way. The survey cannot even confirm whether the respondents are or were drivers, he said.

Still, Harry Campbell, the founder and CEO of The Rideshare Guy blog, said he believes the site’s survey reflects what he has been hearing from drivers.

“It’s pretty clear from our survey and my conversations with thousands of drivers that despite all of Uber’s faults, they are in favor of Prop. 22 and remaining independent contractors,” he said.

But reflecting the complicated nature of the proposition, Campbell said he remains on the fence. If he has to vote today, he would vote no.

“So if the companies flood the app with drivers and you don’t get any rides, the minimum wage is useless,” he said on his website. “And there’s no bargaining or structural aspect that prevents them from giving drivers benefits and then just lowering rates in the future.”

*By Jeong Park via The Sacramento Bee*