By Palm Springs Desert Sun Editorial Board
Though we’re not fans of industry regulation by ballot box, California voters this November have the chance to push back against the mess of a law that was AB 5 and how it has wreaked havoc on industries across California. How? They can vote yes on Proposition 22.
The initiative is backed by a $180 million-plus campaign funded by the so-called gig economy giants of the app-based driving and delivery world, such as Uber, Lyft, Postmates and DoorDash. If approved by voters, the measure would only affect the independent contractors employed by these app-based driving firms, and have no effect on others who make money as independent contractors in the Golden State.
Normally, we’d be strongly opposed to handing California voters such direct responsibility over what the duty of elected and appointed representatives should be. One especially odious aspect of Proposition 22 is the language that makes it virtually impossible for lawmakers to make changes down the road. The measure provides that 87.5% of both the state Senate and Assembly must agree to proposed changes, and they can only be approved if they are consistent with Proposition 22 and its purpose. If that is not the case, changes could only be made via another vote of the people.
Despite this repugnant clause, California’s lawmakers brought this on themselves with their creation of the spectacular mess that is AB 5 — the codifying of a state Supreme Court ruling (“Dynamex”) against a firm whose drivers successfully sued, claiming incorrect classification as independent contractors cost them protections and benefits under state wage and labor codes.
AB 5 — approved by the Legislature and signed into law in September 2019 — adopted the state Supreme Court’s language for testing to determine whether what have been contract workers can remain as such or must be reclassified as employees.
Proposition 22 is the app-based driver firms’ answer to get out from under the bull’s eye placed on them and their drivers by lawmakers and the powerful labor unions that back them. The idea that AB 5 was meant to take direct aim at those tech-based, new economy firms is further evidenced by the fact that the bill’s sponsors wrote in (and later added to) a slate of exempted occupations — from real estate agents to musicians to hairstylists to fine artists to others — yet refused to negotiate with the likes of Uber and Lyft for their drivers.
Even local journalism operations are threatened by the non-exemption of newspaper delivery drivers, who traditionally have been independent contractors (a temporary exemption for newspapers will expire Jan. 1, 2022, unless AB 5 is repealed or a permanent exemption is granted).
The way the confusing, seemingly arbitrary exemptions to AB 5 were handed out to some but refused for others shows how patently unfair it is for all. Proposition 22’s passage would serve as a loud rebuke to the Legislature and, we hope, put pressure behind a more equitable fix to the current AB 5 for all workers and industries.
As for Proposition 22’s specifics, drivers for the likes of Uber, Lift and Postmates would be defined as independent contractors, but also given a package of benefits, such as guaranteed pay of at least 120% of the minimum wage, health care subsidies and accident insurance. While it’s true they’d forgo broader benefits under labor and wage law — such as overtime pay, health care, paid sick leave, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation coverage — they’d also get to keep the freedom to themselves schedule their “gig” job hours to accommodate the important aspects of the rest of their lives. This flexibility is something legions of these drivers see as the best, most valuable part of such work.
Voters should not be forced to play regulator in what really is a high-stakes tilt between tech firms and labor interests. We believe approval of Proposition 22 will send the strong signal that lawmakers erroneously and harmfully overreached with AB 5, hopefully sending them back to the drawing board. Vote yes on Proposition 22.