Gig­work mea­sure falls short, poll shows

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - By Carolyn Said

Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers are tepid about Propo­si­tion 22, a statewide poll shows, de­spite a jaw­drop­ping $184.3 mil­lion poured into it by Uber, Lyft and other gig com­pa­nies try­ing to keep their driv­ers and couri­ers as in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors.

Of 5,900 likely vot­ers polled, 39% would vote yes on Prop. 22, while 36% said they would vote no, and 25% re­main un­de­cided, ac­cord­ing to the UC Berke­ley In­sti­tute of Gov­ern­men­tal Stud­ies, which con­ducted the sur­vey Sept. 9­15. The poll’s mar­gin of er­ror is plus or mi­nus two points. Prop. 22 needs just over 50% of votes to pass.

“These num­bers don’t look en­cour­ag­ing for the Yes side,” said Jes­sica Levin­son, an elec­tion law pro­fes­sor at Loy­ola Law School in Los An­ge­les. “Go­ing into Oc­to­ber, you don’t want to be lan­guish­ing in the high 30s or low 40s.”

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, In­stacart and Post­mates have joined forces on Prop. 22 in an ef­fort to duck Cal­i­for­nia’s new gig­work law, AB5, which could com­pel them to re­clas­sify their work­ers as em­ploy­ees. Prop. 22 would

per­ma­nently en­shrine in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tor sta­tus for the com­pa­nies’ gig work­ers, while al­low­ing for some pay guar­an­tees and some ben­e­fits.

Uber and Lyft are also bat­tling AB5 in court, where Cal­i­for­nia and some cities have sued them over driver clas­si­fi­ca­tion. The ride com­pa­nies have threat­ened to leave Cal­i­for­nia or cur­tail ser­vice in the state if they lose the court case and Prop. 22 does not pass. They al­ready did a test run, so to speak, pre­par­ing to sus­pend ser­vice in Au­gust if they had to abide by a tem­po­rary in­junc­tion forc­ing im­me­di­ate driver re­clas­si­fi­ca­tion. That in­junc­tion was stayed pend­ing an ap­peal, so they did not pro­ceed with their con­tin­gency plans.

“With Uber and Lyft say­ing, ‘If this doesn’t pass, we’re out of Cal­i­for­nia,’ it will be in­ter­est­ing to see if peo­ple be­lieve that, es­pe­cially their users,” said Jack Citrin pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at UC Berke­ley.

The gig com­pa­nies say their busi­ness mod­els and their work­ers rely on the flex­i­bil­ity of free­lance work. Switch­ing to em­ploy­ment, with costs such as min­i­mum wage, over­time and ben­e­fits, could add hundreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to their ex­penses.

That’s why they’re will­ing to spend so deeply, Levin­son said.

“They’re go­ing all in on this,” she said. “They know it makes all the sense in the world” to spend mil­lions to reap even more mil­lions.

But Citrin noted that big spend­ing is not a guar­an­tee of suc­cess.

“We know that money does not al­ways win out in these things,” he said.

The No on Prop. 22 campaign, which has raised slightly over $10 mil­lion — about oneeigh­teenth of the Yes side’s mas­sive war chest — was quick to high­light the gig com­pa­nies’ deep pock­ets.

“Af­ter record­shat­ter­ing spend­ing on TV, ra­dio and ev­ery other plat­form imag­in­able since July — I guess more isn’t al­ways better when you’re push­ing a de­cep­tive mea­sure to rip ba­sic ben­e­fits and pro­tec­tions away from your work­ers,” said Gale Kaufman, chief con­sul­tant for No on Prop. 22, which is backed by or­ga­nized la­bor.

The Yes campaign put a pos­i­tive spin on the sur­vey.

“As vot­ers learn more about Prop. 22 and the ben­e­fits pro­vided to both driv­ers and cus­tomers, we are see­ing grow­ing sup­port across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum,” Yes on 22 spokesman Ge­off Vet­ter said in a state­ment. “With six weeks un­til the elec­tion, our campaign is hit­ting its stride with more than 100,000 driv­ers and 100 coali­tion part­ners ac­tively sup­port­ing Prop. 22.”

Levin­son said a lot could change in com­ing weeks, not­ing that many vot­ers haven’t yet paid at­ten­tion to bal­lot ini­tia­tives.

“All the oxy­gen in the room is sucked up by the pres­i­den­tial campaign,” she said.

The bar­rage of TV ads that Yes on 22’s deep pock­ets are fi­nanc­ing could sway the older Cal­i­for­ni­ans who re­li­ably vote in large num­bers, she said.

On the other hand, while No on 22 is be­ing dras­ti­cally out­spent, “it is hard to over­state the im­por­tance of union op­po­si­tion,” she said. “For peo­ple who are union mem­bers or sym­pa­thetic to unions, if they get a call or text, it’s a huge mo­ti­va­tion for them.”

Many union mem­bers, in­clud­ing fur­loughed ho­tel work­ers, are now ac­tively call­ing union house­holds through­out the state to urge them to vote no on Prop. 22.

Yes on 22 last week do­nated $2 mil­lion to the Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can Party, as KPFA Ra­dio re­porter Ariel Boone first re­ported on Twit­ter. It also do­nated $20,000 to the Ven­tura County Repub­li­can Party and $2,593 to the Santa Clara County Repub­li­can Party, Vice re­ported.

Vet­ter said the mea­sure has sup­port from “groups across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum” and that the con­tri­bu­tions are to as­sist the party “in their mem­ber com­mu­ni­ca­tions.”

Repub­li­can sup­port for Prop. 22 was strong, ac­cord­ing to the poll, with 53% sup­port­ing it and 29% op­posed. The poll showed that 42% of Democrats would vote no on 22, while 31% would vote yes and 27% were un­de­cided.

Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle

Some driv­ers for Uber and Lyft op­pose Propo­si­tion 22, which would main­tain their sta­tus as in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors rather than em­ploy­ees and is backed and partly fi­nanced by the ride­hail com­pa­nies.

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