Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Doordash and Postmates have poured $181 million — so far — into bankrolling Proposition 22, which they created.
They’re not doing it to help you. They’re not doing it to help their workers.
They’re doing it to preserve a status quo that’s exceedingly lucrative for company higher-ups and shareholders — at the expense of you and those workers.
The gaudy valuations and healthy stock prices for these companies are derived from business models that, intentionally, break the law — and the companies’ longstanding and explicit decision to misclassify employees as “independent contractors,” denying them benefits such as healthcare and a guaranteed hourly wage.
When rogue companies decide the law doesn’t apply to them — and are coddled by an indulgent government — then the burden falls on every company, small and large, that follows the rules, pays its workers a living wage, pays employment taxes, abides by employer mandates, and offers its workers healthcare.
In San Francisco, of all places, this should be self-evident. Put-upon restaurants feel compelled to contract with delivery services that scoop up 30 percent commissions while stiffing their actual workers; Airbnb and its ilk skirted paying hotel taxes for years while cannibalizing affordable housing; and Uber and Lyft made a mockery of this city’s environmentally motivated transit plans — and eviscerated public transit — by flooding the streets with scores of thousands of cars.
They moved fast, they broke things. They asked forgiveness instead of permission. And they kept their money: If Uber and Lyft alone had categorized their workers as employees — which, legally, they should do and should always have been doing — they would have contributed an estimated $413 million to California’s Unemployment Insurance Fund between 2014 and 2019.
Enter Proposition 22, which they designed to allow them to keep their money in perpetuity.
And we do mean in perpetuity: If voters pass Prop. 22 in November, it will require a seven-eighths majority of both the State Senate and Assembly to amend it — or, in fact, pass any law pertaining to “app-based drivers.”
So that’s in perpetuity. You couldn’t get seven-eighths of our legislators to agree that seven-eighths of eight is seven (even before lobbying from Uber, Lyft et al.).
If you bother to read the text of Prop. 22, you’ll find plenty of disturbing things within. But, even if you don’t, the notion of massive companies writing their own regulations and using their vast wealth to sell them to voters is objectionable on its face.
It may come as a shock that, this week, the Chronicle endorsed Prop. 22.
But it’s not a surprise.
At this point, it’s incumbent to stress that the Chronicle reporters and editors and photographers covering fires, plagues, homelessness, and other issues, good and bad, embroiling our city and state have nothing to do with the stances and endorsements adopted by their newspaper’s editorial board.
There’s a lot of invective directed their way by media illiterates who don’t understand this. So, it’s important to point that out. It’d be great if it didn’t have to be pointed out so often.
The Chronicle, for whatever reason, seems to direct its editorial writers to channel the voice of Mr. Hand, the crusty teacher in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. This can grow tedious. And it would be tedious to unpack, point by point, the paper’s arguments in favor of allowing Uber, Lyft, et al. to exempt themselves from state law and write their own regulations — an argument the paper begins with the ludicrous statement that Prop. 22 “makes an attempt at striking [a] balance.”
So we will hasten.
The editorial mentions that Prop. 22 “does guarantee some benefits” for drivers, such as “120% of minimum wage and health-care subsidies.” It does not mention that workers are only paid for “engaged time,” that is, time spent driving passengers — not idling or sanitizing a car between rides. When you factor that in, Prop. 22 only guarantees drivers an estimated $5.64 an hour.
There are many goodies like this scattered throughout Prop. 22. The 25 hours drivers need to work in order to qualify for a healthcare subsidy equivalent to 100 percent of premium expenses? You guessed it: 25 engaged hours. And the “100 percent” reimbursement is, deeper in the text, redefined to mean 82 percent of an average Covered California premium.
Well, that’s a neat trick. And this stands to be enshrined into law and protected by a nigh-invulnerable seven-eighths threshold.
But, apparently, Prop. 22’s creators had no other choice. The Chronicle describes these app-based tech giants as “outcasts in Sacramento” that “never quite had a fair chance in the Legislature.”
That’s spectacular. Never mind the vast — and highly conventional — lobbying apparatus deployed by these companies. Never mind the incredible leeway granted to them despite years of overt rule-breaking. Never mind that these “outcasts” have, for the better part of a decade, essentially crafted their own regulation and enforcement mechanisms. Never mind that if Gov. Gavin Newsom — something of a Sacramento insider — carried any more water for them he’d begin to resemble a highly photogenic aqueduct.
These are bad arguments deriving from bad facts. So what’s going on here?
It seems like ages ago, but only last year vape giant Juul attempted to circumvent this city’s ban on its product by pouring tens of millions of dollars into writing its own regulations.
And the Chronicle called them out on it. It decried the efforts of a “dominant brand” to “dictate the terms of how it should be regulated.”
“That alone should be a nonstarter for voters,” the editorial states. Hmm.
But wait! There’s more!
The Chronicle also chided Juul for crafting a ballot measure that, even with a future supermajority in tow, would be impossible “to amend … in ways that could advance its stated intent.” And here’s the money paragraph:
A vote for Prop. C requires not only trust in Juul’s motivation and ethics but also faith in its ability to anticipate future attempts to circumvent the law by competitors or customers.
You could sub in the terms “Prop. 22” and “Uber” and essentially say the same thing. What changed?
Well, the Chronicle does not deploy a vast fleet of vape pens. But it does employ many a delivery driver. And perhaps it’s as simple as that.
Once again, the endorsements and stances adopted by the Chronicle’s editorial board do not necessarily trickle downstream into the paper’s coverage of City Hall or the school district or the Giants. That’s simplistic (though, yes, management’s decision to allow Willie Brown to have a column is indefensible and always has been).
But if you think the official voice of the Chronicle, a large and well-established city business, is at times indistinguishable from the Chamber of Commerce — an agglomeration of large and well-established city businesses — you’d be right.
Going back to 2018, the Chronicle and the Chamber have agreed on 77 percent of state and local ballot measures. The paper’s endorsements regularly align with the pro-development, low-tax, limited-regulation principles that define San Francisco’s Democratic establishment (or would, in a place where Republicans existed in numbers, define what used to be known as a moderate Republican).
And that’s okay. But, as noted above, the argumentation has been disingenuous. And the same goes with candidate endorsements.
It’s harder to align the Chron and the Chamber on those — the Chamber does not overtly endorse candidates but does put money their way via a virtual matryoshka of independent committees. But it’s hard to imagine a serious divergence.
Since 2015, in contested races, the Chron has endorsed Scott Wiener for state senate; London Breed for mayor; Suzy Loftus for DA; and for supervisor: Julie Christensen, Marjan Philhour, Joel Engardio, Josh Arce, Ahsha Safai, Rafael Mandelman, Nick Josefowitz, Jessica Ho, Christine Johnson, Shamann Walton, and Vallie Brown.
- On Sept. 22, 2018 the paper tapped Ho for District 4 supe. It touted her “City Hall experience” despite the fact she’d only worked there since April and only registered to vote in San Francisco in March.
- Well, that was odd. It was also odd because, only one week earlier, the paper endorsed Josefowitz over District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, a veteran government hand, stating that what “City Hall really needs is a constructive disrupter.”
Well, what’ll it be? In this case, none of the above: The voters did not grant the Chronicle its wishes with either of those endorsements. In contested contests since 2015 it’s only batting .357 — Ted Williams-like on the ballfield, but not as great in newsprint.
The purpose of making endorsements isn’t to win — or the Chron would surely endorse differently. The newspaper is entitled to espouse the worldview of its choosing, and those who don’t agree are equally entitled to listen, not listen, or start up their own damn paper.
But the arguments the Chronicle makes to buttress its worldview are, indeed, highly questionable.
As is that worldview, come to think of it.
It’s a shame when a newspaper chooses to obscure the fine work of its staff and squander the fading sway it holds over a profoundly corrupt city.
It’s even more of a shame when, considering the editorial stands that paper takes, we’re left to wonder if that diminished influence is entirely a bad thing.
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