by JR Valrey, Black New World Media
2020 is an election year, so corporate double-talk is dominating the mainstream media, and it becomes hard to decipher what a proposed law really means to do. But we can usually tell if it is in the interest of blue collar Black people by who is backing it.
The Bay Area has been in the grips of a housing crisis for the last 20 years, with the steady encroachment of Silicon Valley, from the suburbs of San Jose all the way up to San Francisco and Oakland. Now if you add COVID and the sudden closing of “non-essential” businesses during shelter in place, you have created a gig worker-dependent economy.
People are unemployed and being evicted in mass, and Black people are at the top of that heap, like always. In the Bay Area, the slogan “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is crystallized in the downtown areas, where you see new high rises being built, while homeless people live in shanty towns by the hundreds, blocks away.
“A gig worker is someone who picks up small jobs to make ends meet. It used to be a small group of people who did those kinds of jobs, like handy man, dog walkers etc. With the rise of smart-phones and apps, the gig economy has taken off,” says Adrienne Williams, an organizer with Bay Area Amazonians.
On Aug. 19, Uber threatened to shut down operations as soon as on Aug. 20, 2020.
“So now you have a whole new frontier of workers and the same old type of CEO who wants to figure out a way around taking care of them properly. These new companies include but are not limited to Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, GrubHub, PostMates, InstaCart, Amazon Flex, Amazon Prime Shopper, Task Rabbit, Thumb Tack etc.,” she adds.
On Aug. 12, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said on MSNBC that Uber will likely shut down in California for several months if the courts do not overturn a ruling requiring the company to classify its drivers as full-time employees. On Aug. 19, Uber threatened to shut down operations as soon as on Aug. 20, 2020. Time will tell.
“On Jan. 1, 2020, AB5 took effect, after having been voted in by the people of California to stop the misclassification of gig workers by large corporations to cut corners and work within loopholes to maximize profits on the backs of the poor. Gig companies have spent over a decade evading the law by illegally misclassifying their workforce as independent contractors, denying them the rights and protections properly classified employees are entitled to,” according to Adrienne Williams.
“COVID-19 has only made these protections, like sick leave and unemployment insurance all that much more necessary. AB5 is by no means perfect, and work still needs to be done to ensure it’s equally enforced, but moving backwards is not an option.
“Now, five of the largest companies in the world have crafted and funded Prop 22 in an attempt to carve themselves out of AB5. Their attempts to misinform the powers that be are dangerous and if successful would unleash a wave of poverty, yet to be seen in American history.
“Their need to alter existing labor laws sets a dangerous precedent and if successful will fundamentally change the way we view labor in our country for generations to come. Being a gig worker under Prop 22 would mean no workers’ compensation for those injured on the job and no sick leave. It will mean there will be no paid family leave or paid time off or unemployment insurance. Companies who do pay UI insurance will probably see their premiums go up, since the amount being paid in by companies will be so much less if Prop 22 passes,” says Williams.
“The opposition will say, ‘Prop 22 pays local minimum wage, multiplied by 120 percent.’ That is still a poverty wage. Let’s use Oakland as an example. The minimum wage in Oakland is currently $14.14. Multiply that by 120 percent. You get $16.97. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland is about $2,500 a month. This means a Bay Area gig worker needs to be able to pull in at least $30k yearly just to make rent, never mind food and everything else it takes to survive.
“If that gig worker works 40 hours a week every week for the entire year, before taxes, they will only make $35,298. But you have to know that workers are not compensated for their ‘wait time,’ time spent waiting for the next job or waiting for clients to get in cars or to retrieve food or grocery orders. Wait times make up about one third of a gig worker’s total time worked.
“So to get to the 40 hours worked, one has to work more like 53.3 hours a week to make that $35,298 in a year. After taxes this number can be closer to $20,000 a year, so, in order to stay out of abject poverty, one needs to work more like 100 hours a week.
“The other point that goes undiscussed, especially by the CEOs, is the overhead costs for being an independent contractor gig worker. There is the cost of your actual time; that should have some value attached. Then there is your vehicle that you have to provide yourself, your personal phone and data plan, gas, which in the Bay Area is $3-$4 a gallon, routine vehicle maintenance, emergency vehicle repairs, commercial car insurance, which is $600-$700 month, personal liability insurance, and private workers compensation insurance. These expenses can run thousands of dollars a month,” explains Adrienne Williams.
“Prop 22 states that they make subsidies available for the Affordable Care Act, yet they do not offer up a cash amount. As it is now, gig workers would barely make a squeak in the ACA exchanges, based on the $33K annual income qualification requirements. What is more likely to happen is that they would bounce back and forth between eligible and ineligible, leaving them in a type of health care purgatory like so many other Americans, who essentially just use emergency rooms and urgent care facilities as their general care physicians, because they cannot make a stable living.
“This puts our entire community at risk. Corporate over-reach in Richmond, California, has led to the closure of all public hospitals. Now, even though Richmond sits in the shadow of a massive Chevron refinery, residents have to go three cities away to get to the closest city hospital.
“We are all connected and have a greater civic duty to uplift and protect each other, because any injury to one is an injury to all. As our schools, hospitals and other public entities have been underfunded for years, companies like Uber and Lyft have not been paying taxes. As single mothers, immigrants and college students utilize social services like food stamps, child care services and Section 8, it is “We the People” who pay in, and Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash who opt out,” says Williams, an organizer with Bay Area Amazonians.
“No on Prop 22! Uber and Lyft have spent $110 million to push Yes on Prop 22. During this time of COVID-19, that money could have funded 500,000 days of sick leave for employees.”
SF Bay View Oakland Bureau Chief JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of the Black New World Journalists Society, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook. Visit www.youtube.com/blockreporttv. All stories related to COVID-19 were partially made possible by the Akonadi Fund #SoLoveCanWin.