Uber and Lyft paid drivers to protest the bill that could make them employees

A different protest.
A different protest.
Image: REUTERS/Kate Munsch
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Gig companies are feeling the heat. A bill in California that has already passed the state assembly could make it harder for companies like Uber to classify their workers as independent contractors. That change could destroy the business models of these companies, which rely on contractors to supply on-demand labor for their services.

Uber and Lyft have already encouraged drivers to contact their legislators to oppose the bill, via in-app messages and even a petition. In a sign that the issue is escalating, the ride-hail companies also paid drivers last week to protest the bill, known as AB5, in Sacramento.

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that drivers who attended the July 9 rally in Sacramento were promised $25 to $100 to cover their “travel, parking, and time,” to be paid within five days of the event. The money came from the I’m Independent Coalition—a group funded by the California Chamber of Commerce, several other professional and trade groups, as well as companies—which also helped organize the rally, according to the paper.

The coalition confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that it paid gig workers including Uber and Lyft drivers up to $100 toward travel and expenses to appear at the rally. Separate from the coalition’s payments, Uber offered drivers a $15 lunch voucher via an in-app notification. Lyft offered to chip in $25 toward parking costs if needed, a company spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times.

Gig companies have warned workers they would lose the flexibility they are used to if AB5 is signed into law, and likely render many of them employees. In June, the top executives of Uber and Lyft published an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle noting that drivers say they choose Uber and Lyft for the flexibility. The op-ed contrasted the “freedom and flexibility” of gig work (in this case, ride-hailing) to the “forced schedules and rigid hourly shifts of traditional employment.”

On the other hand, were gig workers found to be employees, they would be eligible for job protections reserved for traditional employees, like a minimum wage and unemployment insurance. They would also be able to form a union, a right not granted to contractors, though companies seem to have no trouble organizing collective action by gig workers on their behalf.