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Lorena Gonzalez On The Controversy Over Gig Work, Vaccine Bills

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San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez joins Midday Edition on Tuesday to discuss the contention around two of the bills she authored this legislative session.

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales is wrapping up another busy legislative session. No fewer than 14 of the bills she's authored are currently waiting for the governor's signature. Her wide focus in Sacramento ranges from making diapers sales tax free to extending the statute of limitations on child sex abuse charges, but the highest profile bills she's been involved with this year. Ab five which would transform the GIG economy. And SB two 76 which tightens vaccine exemptions have gotten a lot of pushback. Joining me as assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales of San Diego's 80th district and welcome to the program. Thank you. Thank you for having me. Can you give us a quick rundown of how ab five changes the employment rules for Gig Workers? So it's interesting because ab five is really caudifying a supreme court decision that was made about a year and a half ago, eight last April. And in that decision, the supreme court basically said it was called the dynamex decision.

Speaker 1: 00:58 They said we've had enough of these lawsuits. It's clear that the test that was being used under a standard called Barrello was tough. It was tougher employers to understand. It was tough for workers to understand. It was like an 11 part test where people had to weigh the different factors to determine if they were an independent contractor or employee. And what they said is enough with that, we're going to make it very clear, we have a simple three-part tests that basically says, if you're under the control of of an accompany, you're doing the work of that company, then you're, you're an employee. And so we took that ruling and realized it wasn't great for people to have to litigate their way into the rights. And so we codified it into law and uh, with a number of exceptions using the factors that the court itself used in dynamex.

Speaker 1: 01:47 And we ended up with a bill and hopefully a build, it'll get signed quickly that basically says, if you're doing the work of the company, then you're an employee and need to classify it as such. Now as you mentioned, there were a lot of carve-outs for different professions in this bill. What are some of them? I wouldn't call them carve-outs. They're m clarification's if you will. So we found a lot of things in the current wage, in order codes that were already exempted and it really does, uh, apply to a broad range of things. But there are some similarities. There are professions that there's a high barrier to entry, uh, professions where individuals set their own rates and because of that high barrier to entry because of education and licenses, uh, they have individual bargaining power. They make over twice the minimum wage. So it seems like doctors and lawyers, architects, accountants, uh, real estate agents, things that uh, traditionally these individuals have operated at times as small businesses and they can continue to do so under this bill.

Speaker 1: 02:43 Now, some of the biggest gig economy companies, Uber and Lyft say ab five doesn't apply to them because drivers are not their core business. Okay. They say they are really technology platforms for several different types of digital marketplaces. What do you say to, well this is their latest argument. First they said they were going to do an initiative. They put $90 million into a bank account threatening initiative and then they came back and said, this just doesn't apply to us. I think that's silly. I think anyone who's ever used Uber and Lyft knows that they're in the business of connecting passengers with drivers to be driven somewhere. So just because it is performed over technology doesn't mean that they're somehow exempt from the law. And it, I think it's illegal strategy for them, which is fine, but that's one of the reasons we ensured that there's not only the right for an individual to protect their rights under the Labor Commissioner under, uh, the ability to go to court. But also we put in there the right of city attorneys to file for injunctive relief. If these companies continue to misclassify workers

Speaker 2: 03:48 and there is still a move to get enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, isn't there?

Speaker 1: 03:53 I don't think they've actually filed an initiative yet. They definitely, I know Uber and Lyft and door dash each put $30 million into a bank account, threatening one. And we haven't seen that effort start yet. Of course it could any day. And it's interesting because these are billion dollar companies where their CEOs and CFOs are making, you know, 45 million, $47 million a year, plus all the stock options when they went public. Uh, at least Uber and Lyft, a ton of the top management became billionaires and yet they can put away $90 million and yet they cannot pay their workers minimum wage. There's something wrong here and I think we're going to call them on that.

Speaker 2: 04:34 But there are a number, a significant number of drivers of Uber and Lyft and members of the Gig economy who aren't happy about the lack of freedom that they see this bill putting on them.

Speaker 1: 04:45 Well, I think a lot of that was a misinformation by the companies, uh, who put it out to their drivers that they wouldn't have flexibility anymore. And what's important to note is that in California labor law, there's nothing that prevents a company from allowing for the same kind of flexibility that they enjoy now. And so that would be up to the company. Nothing about Ab five requires shift work full time work. Um, you can be a part time worker and work one hour for the year. So I think the company has tried to scare a drivers into thinking that it will substantially change. And yet when you talk to drivers, I, and I have yet to speak to any driver who's who, um, this isn't true for they know they're being underpaid, they know there's problems and that it's inconsistent that uh, their rights under the app are, are very, um, non-existent and they're frustrated by that. So I think Uber and Lyft did a good job of scaring their workers into this flexibility argument, but it's just not something that's based in law.

Speaker 2: 05:40 Okay. So a B five, the bill that you've authored is waiting for the governor's signature. Another bill you coauthored SB two 76 has already been signed and them exit harder for students to get medical exemptions for vaccinations. That's provoked the strongest protests has

Speaker 1: 05:58 seen for a long time. Why do you think SB two 76 was needed? Well, we saw it throughout the state that there were a handful of doctors who were providing hundreds upon hundreds of medical exemptions. So it's not so much, uh, if, if any individual pediatrician actually sees a child is their pediatrician knows there's a medical reason to not have, um, a vaccination, which is really rare. It's a rare occurrence. And they ride medical exemption. That's, that's allowed. What we're trying to get at is these doctors that were basically selling medical exemptions when we turned up the law a few years ago. So for example, in, in San Diego there was one doctor voice of San Diego covered this really well. There was one doctor in south park who wrote over a third of all the medical exemptions, hundreds of them that San Diego unified received. No. Last week a protester, one of the anti-vaccine build protesters threw a cup of what's believed to be blood at state senators on the Senate floor.

Speaker 1: 06:55 Did you expect the intensity of these protests against this vaccine bill? Well, you know, it's been growing, unfortunately. You know, anytime you talk about people's children, of course, I mean, I'm a mom. I know how serious that gets, but it's been fueled on by, um, really violent means and violent rhetoric on the Internet. And I just wasn't even unfortunately surprised by what happened because the level of discourse had, had really gone down to that. You know, there's a small vocal group of individuals in California who do not believe scientists. They don't believe doctors that vaccines are good. And it, it's a level of distrust of government, of basic science, and it's scary. But as a result, they've really devolved into some lines of protest that I think, uh, even those of us who I, I believe strongly in, in civil disobedience and in protest that come from the labor movement, I participate in a lot of those things myself. But when you start getting violent, when you shove senators, when you issue, uh, you know, the dozens of death threats that I received that my daughter received, that, uh, that other members of the Assembly and Senate received. And then it just gets to a point where somebody feels the need to throw blood on senators. It's, it's disappointing. Uh, but I think we could have probably foreseen it coming. I've been speaking with state assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, thank you so much for your time. Thanks for having me.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.