Uber, Lyft have a California playbook to fight proposed U.S. rules on contract workers

By Tina Bellon | Reuters

Uber, Lyft and other gig-economy companies face a new challenge from the Biden administration to their use of contract workers, but as they gear up for a fight in Washington they could turn to a lobbying playbook that helped them score a decisive win against California regulators last year.

U.S. President Joe Biden campaigned on the promise of providing legal protections and benefits to gig workers, who as independent contractors generally have no access to unemployment insurance, sick pay and health insurance. U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said last week: “A lot of gig workers should be classified as employees.”

In Congress, Democratic lawmakers are pushing a union-supported labor bill, the PRO Act, that in part is modeled after a California law called AB5 that reclassified most gig workers as employees.

AB5, however, is no longer the law in California for ride-hail and food delivery workers, while it remains in effect for other freelancers. Uber Technologies Inc (UBER.N), Lyft Inc (LYFT.O), DoorDash Inc (DASH.N) and Instacart, whose business model relies on low-cost flexible labor, mounted a $205 million campaign that overturned the law for the industry last November.

Among the tactics honed in the California fight, the gig-work companies used their apps to reach out to voters and drivers through messages, emails, mailed leaflets, billboards, radio and online ads. They also urged workers on their platforms to speak out against AB5.

The companies threatened an end to ubiquitous food-delivery and ride-hail services many consumers have gotten used to during the pandemic if drivers were classified employees.

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The looming fight over the status of gig-economy workers comes amid a wider debate over business regulation. The federal government exercised a light hand in regulating Uber, DoorDash and other digital-economy companies as they redefined traditional definitions of work, communications or retailing. Now, Democrats and Republicans in Washington, for different reasons, are calling for the government to exercise more control over one-time startups that dominate significant sectors of the economy.

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart so far this year have spent a combined $1.3 million to lobby the Biden administration and members of the U.S. House and Senate, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2020 they spent some $5.7 million, more than half of which came from Uber.

LOBBYING PUSH

Less than two weeks after Biden won the White House in November, companies banded together to form the App-Based Work Alliance, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Source:: East Bay – Entertainment

      

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