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Update on Rideshares in California, August 20, 2020

by Christina Daniels

Many of us have realized the benefits of ridesharing and food/grocery delivery services in California.  For blind people, these services offer unprecedented access and convenience where transportation might have otherwise been a barrier.  Ridesharing, with the exception of drivers that continue to discriminate, allows blind people to enjoy convenience comparable to those with drivers licenses or personal vehicles.  Many are confused about whether or not Uber and Lyft are cancelling operations in California today.  You may have seen articles and statements from uber and Lyft explaining that they were going to stop service in California by midnight tonight.  That is now not happening.  Here is the digest version of what you should know.

Last year, California enacted A.B. 5, which makes it highly probable that sharing economy companies such as Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash, etc., are now illegally misclassifying drivers /shoppers as independent contractors instead of as employees.  On one hand, employees enjoy certain protections and rights that independent contractors do not.  On the other, independent contractors enjoy some freedoms and flexibility that employees do not. 

In response to A.B. 5, these companies organized to collect enough voter signatures to add a special initiative on the ballot for the election this November.  Proposition 22, if it passes, will modify the law in A.B. 5 to ensure that the drivers/shoppers retain their status as independent contractors.  Drivers would also receive some, but not all, protections and earnings guarantees traditionally associated with employment. 

Earlier this year, several city attorneys and the California Attorney General engaged their power under A.B. 5 to immediately enforce the law notwithstanding the issue for the ballot this November.  They sought a court order forcing Uber/Lyft to reclassify their drivers as employees and begin paying all necessary costs associated with employment.  Other city attorneys are exploring similar actions for food delivery companies.  A California state judge recently granted the request of the Attorney General and city attorneys and gave Uber/Lyft 10 days to appeal the order before it became effective.  Uber/Lyft appealed and threatened that they would terminate service to California if the appeals court did not hear their case and put a hold on the trial judge’s order pending the outcome of the appeal. 

The appeal was granted today (August 20, 2020) shortly after noon and Uber/Lyft will not need to comply with the trial judge’s order until after their appeal is heard in full later this October.  Meanwhile, Uber/Lyft have no reason to be shutting down for now, though many folks received emails and alerts today suggesting otherwise. 

This all means that the voters will likely be able to decide the issue this November by voting on Proposition 22.  The question of whether the drivers and shoppers that we all now depend on should be fully protected as employees against their preference or given flexibility and basic minimum protections as contractors is a highly political debate involving workers’ rights, freedom to contract and social policy.  Many people believe that forcing these drivers/shoppers and others to become employees will greatly increase the price, availability and growth of these sharing economy services.  Others note that we should pay those we depend on a basic living wage and that these companies with multi-billion-dollar valuations should absorb the cost for their workers. 

I encourage you to vote your preference.  Prices for ridesharing and grocery/delivery is very likely to increase if these individuals become employees.  We may also see longer wait times and reduced coverage in smaller communities.  That said, we should all ask ourselves whether the compensation being paid to the workers that we now depend on is fair.

Further, are the minimum protections and earnings offered by Proposition 22 an appropriate compromise to this highly political debate?  Vote! Vote!

Vote! Ensure your voice is heard on this important issue. 

The National Federation of the Blind of California will be featuring some debate and information about this topic at our state convention, October 22-25.  Come learn more and educate yourself and others for the election.

Also, if you are passionate about this topic and want to speak in favor or against Proposition 22 in various advocacy forums, our organization has been asked to identify spokespersons for further advocacy.  While the affiliate will remain neutral on this highly political issue, I welcome debate and further discussion.  Affordable ride and delivery services are an unquestionable benefit for blind people.  But we also have a responsibility as citizens to help our fellow man if we want to be treated likewise.  Is Proposition 22 a fair compromise?  Contribute your voice to the debate. 

Tim Elder

President, NFB of California

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