California politics is a strange thing to the 30 million who live in the Golden State (like me!) which must make it especially bizarre to the 300 million kicking it in the other 49 states. Joe Biden will easily take the 55 electoral college votes we have to offer on November 3 (the state has not gone Republican in a presidential election since 1988 and was reliably red before Bill Clinton won the state in 1992).
As such, the numerous propositions on the ballot dominate media buys in the state in the months leading up to the election. But we’ve never seen anything quite like Prop. 22. The record $180 million spent on the proposition, which seeks to reclassify app-based drivers as contractors — not employees, as they must currently be listed — is backed by the companies that would benefit most by such a change: Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and Instacart.
It may go without saying that this would be a horrific reversal for app-based workers in California, but given the number of undecided voters, perhaps not. You may not be a California voter (there’s still time to register!) but the politics at play here are national. Uber and Lyft threatened to shut down operations in California after the state required the corporations to pay their drivers a living wage. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi received more than $40 million in compensation last year while at the helm of a company that has never made a profit.
That is a familiar theme for all app-based companies. They will make a profit someday, leveraging their future profitability to drive up share prices all while using their lack of profitability to claim they couldn’t possibly pay their drivers a cent more. This all comes while rideshare drivers are underpaid by any reasonable metric and, as a result, are seeking to unionize — a four-letter word for any tech company.
Except we aren’t in this together. Billionaires are getting richer during COVID-19 while people of color are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic that has killed nearly a quarter-million Americans. All this while the President of the United States gets sick at a super-spreader event and plans others in states ravaged by a disease he has no control over.
Prop. 22 is a stark reminder that all businesses, especially the one you work at, will exploit your labor until you are no longer of value to them. If that business feels the rules are no longer in their favor, it will seek to change them. The best way to fight back: Organize. Voting is the first step, but this is a problem that will last long after Prop. 22 is dead and buried.