In an act that highlights how prominent the labor struggles of gig workers have become, the California Senate passed a bill late Tuesday that is expected to transform how the on-demand gig economy works.
The bill (AB5) will force app-based companies like Uber, Lyft, and Postmates to reclassify thousands of workers as employees, rather than independent contractors. It still has to be approved by the State Assembly, which approved an earlier version, and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who publicly expressed his support for the bill on Labor Day.
Companies like Uber and Lyft have built their business model on classifying their workers as independent contractors, which exempts them from labor protections and benefits afforded to employees. These companies have said that AB5 will raise their costs and prevent them from employing as many workers. Uber, Lyft, and Doordash are gearing up for a November 2020 ballot initiative that will ask California voters to decide their workers’ legal status.
As gig workers have started organizing and calling attention to what they describe as the inequities of the job, politicians have paid attention. Here in Philadelphia, the 2018 death of Caviar courier Pablo Avendano brought the realities of gig work into focus. Last May, Uber and Lyft drivers — many who say they are making less money on the platforms than a few years ago due to constant rate changes — rallied outside Uber headquarters in Southwest Philadelphia as part of a nationwide day of action.
The city’s chief labor official, Rich Lazer, has said he plans to work with labor advocates to develop gig worker protections that are within Philadelphia’s purview. Philadelphia is barred by state law from passing certain types of wage laws. His office already is working with the Pennsylvania Domestic Workers Alliance to pass a slate of protections for domestic workers, another kind of gig worker.
Lazer said in an interview Wednesday that it’s still very early in the process of developing gig worker legislation in Philadelphia but that he thought AB5 could set the stage for similar bills to be passed around the country. He pointed to Fair Workweek scheduling legislation, which was first passed in San Francisco and subsequently adopted, and expanded, by cities around the country. Philadelphia’s version of Fair Workweek legislation for service workers, which goes into effect in January 2020, is the only city version of the law to cover the hotel industry.
Angela Vogel of the Philadelphia Drivers Union, which organized the Uber and Lyft drivers rally with the Philadelphia Limousine Association, said her organization was laying the groundwork to fight for similar legislation on the city and state level. In the meantime, she said she hoped AB5 would help pave the way for more investment in enforcement and education of the Philly labor protections currently on the books.
The Inquirer is one of 21 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.