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California Bill Would Let Rideshare Drivers, Others Organize

An Uber driver returns to his car at the San Diego International Airport after helping a departing traveller unload his luggage in this undated photo.
Katie Schoolov
An Uber driver returns to his car at the San Diego International Airport after helping a departing traveller unload his luggage in this undated photo.
California Bill Would Let Rideshare Drivers, Others Organize
California Bill Would Let Rideshare Drivers, Others Organize GUEST:Megan Burks, City Heights reporter, KPBS

Our first story today the so-called the economy where workers are independent contractors instead of employees. A fast-growing is this model. Critics say it has its drawbacks. Workers are not required to be paid minimum wage to get paid sick leave. Legislation introduced in California that might change that. KPBS Megan Burns spoke with Lorena Gonzales about her bill to allow independent contractors to unionize. Megan welcome to the show. Thank you What exactly would this do was make It will let 10 or more independent contractors in California negotiate with their hosting platform. Hosting platforms aimed squarely at these Internet-based apps like over, lift, -- back sort of thing. I spoke with a silly woman from the list -- hosting platform could potentially mean any kind of middleman. Like Wilbur, or an app connecting drivers and passengers. Also a taxi dispatch service. And their lease drivers or it could mean a janitorial service that is sitting independent contractor cleaning crews out to office buildings. Why does assemblywoman González say this is needed? She says this class of workers is growing. We don't really have any solid estimates on that. All of us can see, a lot more people are getting into Uber. Is a class of workers that is growing and has fewer protections than workers have traditionally had. It is not addressed in current labor law. I spoke to her last week and she said she does not want to over regulate. She does want to give workers a chance to negotiate benefits. Smack that is what we're trying to do. Free market approach is letting these workers get together and have a conversation and negotiation with the business so that they can leverage the power within the workers. They are not treated in the bid -- individually. Critics would say this kind of regulation or allowing workers to unionize with spiteful startup businesses. Over would not comment on this bill in particular. They consistently said their workers like flexibility. Their worker status allows -- they are able to work for multiple apps for companies and make their own schedules. The Internet Association which is a lobbying group for Uber as well as Amazon -- Internet based organizations -- are told that the Los Angeles times that this bill in particular would hurt the industry. Is there a growing concern about workers rights with this new business model -- this new trend to hire independent contractors was my Academics, labor law -- experts, labor advocates are starting to see the business-class growing. There are not many estimates. Is estimated that by 20 2040% of the workforce could be independent contractors or freelancers. So a lot of people looking at this are saying we need to sit down and figure out how we're going to make sure people are protected in the 21st century economy. I spoke with Thomas Jefferson school of Law professor Susan -- I don't think it is a silly woman on zealous grandstanding. Work is changing pretty rapidly and the 21st century. The law has not caught up. I guess I should add that she works with a lot of people internationally were looking at the gate economy of the United Nations international labor organization did a first of its kind study last year. It is beginning to see how many people are in the economy and check the pulse of the economy. She says a lot of people surveyed were pretty dissatisfied with the security they felt they had in the industry. Or the lack of security. What kind of hurdles that is based in the assembly? For this industry has a lot of lobbying, power. Lawmakers have been hesitant to clamp down on it. They don't want to be seen as stifling innovation. They don't want to alienate young voters. There is an interesting hurdle that has a local Thai. The Los Angeles Times reported Senator. Ben -- whose family owns USA In San Diego -- he chairs the energy utilities and communications community and the Senate. He has been able to block at least two transportation related Uber related bills from that post. -Speaking with my converts -- you very much Thank you -Speaking with Megan Burke -- thank you very much. Thank you

California Bill Would Let Rideshare Drivers, Others Organize
San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez introduced the bill and said it goes beyond the "gig economy." San Diego's taxi industry and others could also be affected.
Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

Assembly Bill 1727
A draft of Assembly Bill 1727, as amended on March 9, 2016.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has introduced a bill that would open the door to collective bargaining for independent contractors. The bill seems to aim squarely at mobile app companies like Uber, but more industries could be affected.

The bill would allow 10 or more workers to negotiate as a group with their hosting platform. Here, hosting platform essentially means "middleman."

Gonzalez said it could be a mobile app company connecting drivers and passengers, a traditional taxi service dispatching cabs, or even a janitorial company deploying cleaning crews.

The San Diego Democrat said the bill, co-authored with state Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, would not mean new regulations for burgeoning tech companies, but it would give a growing class of workers more protection.

"That's what we're trying to do here — a free market approach of letting these workers get together and have a conversation and a negotiation with the business so that they can leverage power and not each treated individually and basically told, 'This is the way it is or take a walk,'" said Gonzalez, who headed the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council before being elected to the Legislature.

Susan Bisom-Rapp is a labor law professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego and studies the so-called "gig economy."

"I don't think it's just Assemblywoman Gonzalez grandstanding for collective bargaining rights at all," Bisom-Rapp said. "Work is changing pretty radically in the 21st century and the law hasn't caught up."

She said there is no official count of independent contractors in the gig economy, but employers are increasingly turning to contract employees.

"I can tell you that has significant ramifications," Bisom-Rapp said. "If you hire your workforce as contractors, you're essentially deregulating your workforce."

She said independent contractors are not subject to the federal or state minimum wage, overtime regulations, the Occupational Safety and Health Law and employment discrimination laws. They also can't collect unemployment benefits.

"Certainly there is a younger generation of people who are interested in gig economy jobs, but that doesn't mean that the lack of security — financial and otherwise — is something that they're happy to cope with. In fact, a survey found quite a bit of dissatisfaction with working conditions," Bisom-Rapp said.

She's referring to a first-of-its-kind survey by the United Nations' International Labour Organization last year that sought to shed light on new employment relationships.

Uber did not respond to a request for comment on Gonzalez's bill. Company officials previously have said its workers prefer the flexibility their employment status affords.

A spokesman for the Internet Association, a lobbying group for Uber and other internet-based companies, told the Los Angeles Times the bill would hurt their industry and, in turn, its workers.

The federal labor board does not allow independent contractors to join unions. If the bill passes, it would create a new kind of bargaining unit recognized only in California. The setup would further differ by not requiring employees to secure a majority before negotiating.

The bill will be heard in the Assembly's labor committee in the coming weeks. Gonzalez said she anticipates and welcomes amendments to the bill. She said she doesn't want to encumber start-ups nor pass legislation that's overly broad.

California lawmakers have been hesitant to clamp down on mobile app companies, most notably resisting calls to regulate rideshare services as taxi companies.

And Gonzalez's bill could face another hurdle. The Los Angeles Times reported state Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, whose family owns USA Cab in San Diego, has blocked at least two bills related to transportation companies from his post as chairman of the Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee.

Still, Bisom-Rapp said Gonzalez's bill is a good — and necessary — start.

"I think she's contributing to a conversation, even if it takes years to get this legislation passed," she said. "Ultimately, to accomplish everything we need to accomplish for the 21st century economy, we're going to have to have a certain amount of coordination. Otherwise, you're going to have a disjointed, incremental approach that is sort of like a fabric that has holes in it. When there are holes in it, those who are most vulnerable slip through."

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.