The battle between gig workers and their app-based employers continues to intensify on an international scale with workers in other countries winning some encouraging victories in recent weeks, while workers in California gear up to protect newly-won benefits.
On September 27th, riders for app-based food delivery service Foodora won new concessions for employees after leading a five-week strike resulting in the first-ever collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between a global food delivery platform company and a trade union. Under the agreement, full-time workers would be entitled to an annual pay hike as well as allowances and compensation for the use of bikes, clothes, smartphones and other equipment used to do their jobs.
In Japan, 17 drivers organized to form the first union under the Uber Eats platform on October 3rd, pledging to fight for employee benefits for the estimated 15,000 platform workers in the country. The Japanese unit of Uber Eats has said it will work with the drivers to address their needs, and also said it would introduce injury compensation insurance for drivers on October 1st.
Meanwhile, in California, where unionizing for these drivers is prohibited under current law, Uber, Lyft and Doordash have pledged a total of $90 million to place an initiative on the November 2020 ballot to shield themselves from landmark labor legislation - Assembly Bill 5 - signed earlier this year. The legislation would classify gig workers as employees, requiring the companies to provide benefits such as minimum wage, unemployment insurance and workers' compensation.
Under the companies' ballot initiative proposal, drivers would continue to be classified as independent contractors but would be entitled to new benefits, such as an hourly wage equaling 120 percent of the local or state minimum wage and insurance to cover work-related accidents and injuries.
These perks might sound good on paper, but does anyone really believe these companies would spend $30 million apiece to be able to increase the pay and benefits for their drivers? In fact, the 120 percent of minimum wage is only paid when a customer is in the car... nothing is guaranteed for drivers going to get a customer or waiting at the airport or driving after a customer is dropped off. It's like only paying a retail worker when they are waiting on a customer, but not while they are waiting for a customer. An analysis by the UC Berkeley Labor Center points out loopholes the companies could exploit that would result in a much lower wage, showing that it's just a bunch of smoke and mirrors to protect profits and multimillion-dollar executive payouts.
Stephen Cotton, International Transport Forum general secretary said it best when celebrating the win for workers in Norway:
"Companies like Foodora want us to think that they are at the cutting edge of technology and are defining a bright new future of work. But we know that too often their employment practices are a throwback to a past we thought we had changed with strong union action."
Assembly Bill 5 should remain the law of the land, and we'll do what we can to keep it that way.