OPNION – Although millions of Californians are suffering, people of color and disadvantaged communities have been disproportionately ravaged by the double blow of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic meltdown.
Crushing job losses among African Americans have only exacerbated the inequity of our economic system where Black Americans are unemployed at significantly higher rates, have difficulty finding gainful employment, and struggle to get by even when they are employed.
That’s why it’s maddening for many of us — who have spent our careers fighting for racial and economic justice — that the California legislature recently passed a law, Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), that threatens to take away hundreds of thousands of jobs that people of color depend on to provide the supplemental or primary income they need to survive.
AB 5 threatens to make it illegal for app-based drivers to work as independent contractors and instead attempts to force them to work as employees with set shifts and rigid schedules if they want to continue driving.
This destructive legislation ignores the reality that app-based rideshare and delivery drivers are choosing this work exactly because they need flexibility to work around other jobs that aren’t paying the bills, around family obligations, or because they cannot find traditional employment.
More than 1 million Californians choose to work as independent contractors with these platforms. More than 80 percent of drivers are part time drivers. – Most work between 10-20 hours a week so they can supplement traditional jobs.
And these drivers are disproportionately people of color. A 2019 survey of app-based drivers reported that more than half of app-based drivers identify as minority – 31 percent Latino, 14 percent Asian Pacific Islander and 10 percent African American.
Fueling this bad bill, AB 5, are certain groups, namely our partners in the labor community, who believe that an employment model is the only model that works. While we normally proudly stand side-by-side with our brothers and sisters in the labor community, on this issue we stand far apart.
AB 5 perpetuates the current inequitable employment-based system that pushes out communities of color, the disabled and the disadvantaged.
Rather than lead to stronger employment-like benefits, AB 5 will eliminate earning opportunities for hundreds of thousands of Californians – most of whom are minority – right in the middle of the recession, when traditional “employment” doesn’t exist.
There is a better way.
The National Action Network has joined with a broad coalition of social justice advocates including the NAACP California, Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA), National Diversity Council, tens of thousands of app-based drivers, and many others in strongly supporting Proposition 22 — the Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Act.
Prop 22 protects the choice of more than one million Californians to work as independent contractors with app-based rideshare and delivery platforms – saving these jobs that are critical for so many in our community.
And Prop 22 improves the nature of this work by providing strong new benefits and protections for drivers, including:
• A guarantee that drivers always earn 120 percent of minimum wage as a floor, with the opportunity to earn more.
• A new health care benefit provided for those who drive just 15 hours a week, including a contribution to cover a full Obamacare health insurance plan in California after only 25 hours a week.
• New workers’ comp type benefits to protect drivers who are injured while on the job.
• Strong new protections against discrimination and harassment.
This measure would also preserve the rideshare and food and grocery delivery services that are proving essential for those in our communities without a vehicle, who have been traditionally redlined by a lack of available transportation and healthy food and grocery options.
Economic justice and racial justice are closely intertwined. We must look beyond the traditional models and systems that have left our people behind. Protecting and improving the app-based jobs that hundreds of thousands in our community are relying on is essential. Prop 22 is policy worth supporting.
By DR. TECOY PORTER SR. | Special To THE OBSERVER
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Tecoy Porter Sr. is president of the California State National Action Network.