California is in the final hours of its most expensive ballot campaign ever, one that will have an impact on the lives of food delivery workers across the state. But despite the $218.2 million spent by its supporters — a consortium that includes DoorDash, Uber, Postmates, and Instacart — readers of Eater LA and Eater SF say that they oppose the measure, which seeks to deny delivery workers the protections guaranteed to California employees.
If you’ve somehow missed out on the debate over Prop 22 thus far, here’s a recap: In January of 2020, a California law called AB5 went into effect. That law requires most workers that do jobs that are part of a company’s normal operations to be classified as employees, thus providing them with benefits like minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and a multitude of other legal protections.
But delivery workers for most food delivery and ride hail apps are independent contractors, a worker/company relationship that’s far less expensive for an employer, as all those employee benefits cost money. That’s why, on October 29, 2019, Davis White of Uber, Brian McGuigan of Lyft, and Keith Yandell of DoorDash filed Prop 22, a measure that seeks to exempt delivery and ride hail companies from AB5.
That group, which grew to include Instacart and Postmates, spent $6,461,617.23 to collect enough signatures to place the measure on the November 3 ballot. (That’s $10.37 per signature, a Ballotpedia spokesperson notes.) Over the course of the campaign, Yes on Prop 22 also spent $2 million on a donation to California’s Republican party, and over $82 million on advertising, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.
According to a recent poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, 42 percent of likely voters oppose Prop 22, 46 percent approve it, and 12 remain undecided, prompting pollster Mark DiCamillo to say that “how these late-deciding voters ultimately come to judgment will likely determine its fate.” That’s because to win, Prop 22 requires a 50-percent-plus-one margin to pass, so this is a case where every single vote counts.
In a far less scientific poll conducted on Eater San Francisco’s website (but also shared with the readers of Eater LA), of the 1990 people polled, 63 percent oppose Prop 22 and say that they will be voting against it. In comparison, only 33 percent say that they’ll vote in support of the measure, and 3 percent (69 people) say that they remain undecided.
In an email to Eater SF, Geoff Vetter, spokesperson for Yes on 22, says that he’d tell those undecided voters that “Prop 22 is vital to protect hundreds of thousands of app-based jobs as well as the food & grocery delivery and rideshare services relied on by millions of Californians,” and says that “without Prop 22, these jobs and services could disappear.”
That possibility that apps like Instacart, Postmates, and Doordash might cease operations in California is something that Maria Crawford, an organizer with Prop 22 opponents the Gig Workers Collective, says could happen. “Uber and Lyft left Austin, Texas, over a law requiring stronger background checks,” she says, “and they only returned then the Governor killed that law. So now they’re back, working, without fingerprint background checks. Do we want to be like Texas?”
When asked what she would say to a vote undecided about Prop 22, Crawford immediately rattled off anecdote after anecdote of gig workers facing eviction over unexpected pay cuts, workers suffering without access to workers compensation benefits, and others. “I’d tell them that other industries are watching what’s going on with Prop 22, and they that could be next,” Crawford said.
Crawford has agreement from an unlikely source regarding that last assertion. Speaking with CBS, Jason Morris, an attorney with employer, business, and real estate firm Newmeyer Dillon, says that if the measure passes, we may “see platform-based companies in other service industries either try to fit themselves into the exception [to AB5], or, if Proposition 22 is successful, try to do the same thing.”
In addition, if Prop 22 succeeds, it could usher in a whole new era of businesses taking their labor disputes to voters, instead of resolving them with local or state agencies. Speaking with CalMatters, Jessica Levinson, a law professor and Director of Loyola Law School’s Public Service Institute, says that “if business wins here, then every other business is going to put on a ballot initiative to try and win a favorable outcome,” during future disputes. Especially, Levinson says, “if they have this much money to spend.”
It’s that expenditure that’s particularly galling to Crawford, she says. “They’re spending all this money so they don’t have to take care of their workers,” she says. “Hundreds of millions of dollars. How can anyone think that [Prop 22’s backers] are spending all that money because they want to take care of their workers?”