Two questions hung over millions of people who worked for Uber, Lyft and other app companies: Should it be legal and was it fair for them to be considered independent contractors rather than employees?
This week, Californians said yes.
Voters in the state overwhelmingly approved a ballot proposal, Proposition 22, that enshrines so-called gig work into law. The measure overrides a 2019 state law and a 2018 State Supreme Court ruling that would have forced the companies to treat workers in California as employees with wage guarantees and other benefits.
My colleague Kate Conger spoke with me about why this California measure is relevant for all Americans’ jobs, and why the app companies are likely to pursue a federal law establishing contract work nationwide.
Shira: Is the vote for Prop. 22 anything other than a huge win for Uber, Lyft and other gig companies?
Kate: It’s a massive win. But under pressure, the companies put in place some wage guarantees and benefits for workers that they never had before. The benefits are nowhere near what workers would have gotten as employees, but labor groups that opposed Prop. 22 can take solace in the fact that gig workers are somewhat better off.
Did the record amount of money that gig companies spent on this ballot measure persuade Californians to vote their way?
The spending clearly helped. Uber, Lyft and others also flooded potential voters with the message that if the companies reclassified their workers as employees rather than independent contractors, workers and customers would both suffer. That twin message clearly resonated.
Are Uber and Lyft correct in saying that if gig workers were employees, they might gain some protections but lose independence and flexibility?
It’s been a tantalizing question for labor advocates: What would the lives of gig workers look like if they were treated as employees instead of independent contractors? We don’t have a clear answer. I wish we had gotten to see what reclassification looked like, so we could have compared the options.
You wrote that Uber and other companies now want to push a federal rule that would enshrine something like Prop. 22 nationwide. Why do they want that?
It’s not without risk, though. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party could try to push through a federal employment rule that would hurt Uber and Lyft. Joe Biden also spoke out against Prop. 22. And there is a sentiment among politicians in both parties that the power of big technology companies needs to be checked.
What questions do you still have about Prop. 22?
The companies said it would have been too onerous to reclassify millions of their workers as employees, but now they have to go through the administrative hassle of providing these workers with wage guarantees and limited benefits. How is that going to work?
Why does this ballot measure matter for Americans who don’t work for or use Uber and Lyft?
This has broad implications for the future of work. Americans are concerned about stagnant wages and how automation might reduce job opportunities. This proposition could pave the way for more changes to the way all Americans work — whether that’s gig work or full- or part-time conventional jobs.
Prop. 22 only applies in California and to contractors for companies like Uber and Lyft, but other companies might salivate at having something like the employment rules of gig work companies.*By via New York Times*