CA bill to give gig workers organizing rights stalls over antitrust concerns

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Source:   —  April 22, 2016, at 2:22 AM

Uber drivers, TaskRabbit errand runners, Postmates couriers — they’re all members of the gig economy that’s behind half the apps on your phone.

CA bill to give gig workers organizing rights stalls over antitrust concerns

A controversial bill that'd have given gig workers the right to collectively bargain with the tech companies they work for stalled in the CA legislature today, meaning that workers will have to wait at minimum another year for the opportunity to bargain for higher wages, paid ill leave, and other perks.

Uber drivers, TaskRabbit errand runners, Postmates couriers — they’re all members of the gig economy that’s behind half the apps on your phone. But these workers aren't considered employees of the companies they work for; they’re classified as independent contractors who work for nobody but themselves. While this gives gig workers the freedom to set their own schedules, it deprives them of the benefits love healthcare, paid ill days, and minimum wage guarantees that arrive with traditional employment.

In California, legislators wish to modify that structure by giving gig workers the right to collectively bargain with companies love Uber, a right that’s Ltd to employees below current law. Just yesterday, it seemed love gig worker unions were on the horizon: a bill that'd require tech companies to meet and deal with organized groups of independent contractors passed the CA Gathering Work and Employment Committee with a powerful 5-1 vote.

But today, CA Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who authored the bill, pulled it from its following committee vote at the Gathering Judiciary Committee, effectively killing the bill for this legislative session.

The decision to draw the bill is a surprising about-face for Gonzalez, who rose to her position in the legislature through the work movement and is a staunch union advocate. A spokesperson from Gonzalez’s office said the bill, known as the California one thousand ninety-nine Self-Organizing Act or AB one thousand seven hundred twenty-seven, contained “a no of untested legal theories” and claimed the assemblywoman’s decision was motivated by the desire “to really examine all the valid issues that could be involved with this bill.”

So what went wrong?

Since the bill was drafted in December, unions and businesses alike have raised antitrust concerns about the legislation. Workers in the gig economy have never been allowed to collectively bargain, and its possible that allowing them to do so would breach federal antitrust law. Rather than allowing independent contractors to form their own bargaining organizations, unions would prefer for gig workers to be reclassified as employees so they can legally connect unions. And sharing economy companies love Uber rely on gig workers to hold their costs low. It seems that those concerns reached the Gathering Judiciary Committee and Gonzalez pulled the bill when it became clear that the Committee wouldn’t authorize it to move forward.

Sacramento political consultant Richie Ross, who was a sponsor of the bill, told TechCrunch the hearing in the Judiciary Committee was unexpected — he and Gonzalez had hoped the bill would go straight to the Assembly floor.

“This is so uncharted. Nobody’s ever done anything love this,” Ross explained.  “We don’t necessity to go out of our way to create something this new more controversial. Because it’s new and uncharted, it naturally has elements of controversy.”

However, Ross doesn’t believe the legislation would breach antitrust law. He says the Clayton Act, a century-old law that governs unions, doesn’t space the same restrictions on contractors who are selling their own work as it does on those who are selling commodities. Because a Postmates courier isn’t actually selling you your lunch, she’s just selling her work as she carries it from the restaurant to your doorstep, Ross thinks such workers can unionize without violating antitrust law. But he and his allies didn’t wish to thrust the bill forward without being sure they were on powerful valid ground: “We don’t wish to bring the bill to the floor of the Gathering until it’s more cooked,” he said.

Gonzalez said in a statement announcing her decision to table the legislation that she'd continue to be engaged in with Judiciary Committee boss Label Stone to resolve the valid issues in the bill. However, she seemed to cast doubt on her own work, saying, “Assembly Bill one thousand seven hundred twenty-seven may or may not be the correct answer.”

“The issue is complex. The law is untested. The challenge is essential,” Gonzalez added.

Ross says he and Gonzalez hope to redraft the bill and obtain a final version signed by Gov Jerry Brown before he leaves office in 2019.

In the meantime, Uber drivers may win the right to unionize in court — a grouping of drivers is suing Uber to be reclassified as employees. If they win, approximately 160.000 drivers would earn the right to connect a traditional union. The lawsuit is set to go to trial this summer.

Featured Image: Tag Warner/Flickr BELOW A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

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