Ride-hailing firms Uber, Lyft warn they’ll take workplace rules fight to voters

Los Angeles: In the face of a looming deadline, Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc are throwing new weight and tens of millions of dollars behind their fight to keep treating drivers as independent contractors in California.
The ride-hailing companies said Thursday they will commit $60 million to fund a statewide initiative aimed at the 2020 ballot to create an alternate classification for drivers that would include some employee protections and a guaranteed minimum pay. Later, delivery service DoorDash said it would commit an additional $30 million.
The money would be more than enough to qualify an initiative and mount a substantial campaign in fall 2020.
The announcement comes a day after Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer, and Lyft President John Zimmer met with Governor Gavin Newsom and his chief of staff, Ann O’Leary, to discuss Assembly Bill 5. That bill, written by Assembly woman Lorena Gonzalez, San Diego Democrat, would codify a state Supreme Court ruling that makes it harder for companies to classify their workers as independent contractors.
With just over two weeks left in the legislative session, tech companies are trying to cut a deal with labour officials and legislators. West said in an interview that the companies have all but accepted that AB 5 will pass and the governor will sign it. Their focus is now on a second bill that creates an alternative employment category for gig workers.
A ballot measure would be a last resort, West said. He said he left the meeting with Newsom hopeful that a deal could be cobbled together and passed before the legislative session ends on September 13.
“A ballot initiative is not my first choice,” West said. “I don’t think it’s any of our first choice because we actually think we have something much better here. If there’s a ballot initiative, frankly you have a number of other voices who come into the process’’.
But talks with labour groups have stalled in recent months. The Service Employees International Union, the state’s largest labour organisation, supports a separate ride-share driver bill as a way for it to organise drivers, thus sidestepping a Trump administration advisory that deems drivers to be independent contractors. Other groups, such as the Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers,strongly oppose any alternative legislation.
The California Labour Federation, which represents 1,200 unions and 2.1 million workers, came out swinging against the proposed ballot initiative, saying it shows “the real motivation of multi-billion dollar gig companies. They never cared about their drivers or workers. The only thing they care about is their bottom line and making their executives even richer than they already are.’’.
Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski vowed the labour movement would defeat “this cynical measure” and “meet the gigcompanies” absurd political spending with a vigorous worker-led campaign’’.— dpa