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CA Labor Champion Reintroduces Bill That Would Allow On-Demand Workers to Organize

Assemblywoman Gonzalez has fought for underpaid cheerleaders and the prevailing wage

Assemblywoman Gonzalez has fought for underpaid cheerleaders and the prevailing wage

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In California, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez will reintroduce AB 1727, known as the “1099 Self-Organizing Act,” to create a hybrid workforce in the “on-demand” or “gig” economy. It would grant new rights to workers classified as independent contractors and toe the line of employment created by companies like Uber and Lyft. 

The bill, which likely faces a multi-year legal battle, would amend state labor law for companies that use online systems or mobile apps and have more than 10 users. Under the bill, independent contractors could join union-like groups in order to negotiate work conditions.  Boycotts and other labor actions would be protected, as would the public reporting of violations of local, state, or federal labor law.  

Gonzalez estimates that roughly 10 percent of the state’s workforce is part of the on-demand economy, meaning there are between 1 and 2 million gig workers in California.  She spoke with the Los Angeles Times:

Obviously our economy is changing.  We think it’s time that our labor laws catch up with that reality.  It’s really a free-market approach to an innovative economy.  We can start to regulate this activity…. But as a former regulator, I just think it’s better to allow the workers and the employers to get together and negotiate something that works for both of them.”

The on-demand economy is a divisive issue as some view the companies driving it as pioneers while others see it as exploitative. Politically, support for the bill may be hard to garner because California Democrats will be wary of coming across as anti-innovation.  Gonzalez addressed this in the Sacramento Business Journal:

“Any time you go into uncharted territory, people freak out.  I’m pro-innovation as well. It’s great we have these companies as an economic driver. But I don’t know a single Democrat who isn’t for the right of workers to collective bargain. You can be for both.”

Still, the bill is a compromise. Workers’ rights advocates would prefer to see on-demand workers classified as traditional employees subject to traditional labor law, something a pending class action lawsuit against Uber may make possible later this year. In the narrower case of AB 1727, changes to the everyday lives of independent contractors would nonetheless have a tremendous impact:

Currently, U.S. federal labor law only grants the collective bargaining privilege to workers who are classified as employees. And it only compels employers to bargain with an employee group if a majority of the workers in a workplace want to be represented by that union.

“It is a dramatic departure from traditional labor law,” said Seth Harris, a distinguished scholar at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and the former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor.

“(The 1099 Self-Organizing Act) would create what some people call a ‘members-only’ or ‘minority’ union bargaining relationship wherein the workers don’t have to get a majority of all of the workers in the workplace to agree to join the union. Instead you just need to get 10 or more people working for the online gig economy company to say they want to bargain together with the employer. And that’s enough. That does not exist in U.S. federal, private sector labor law.”

Assemblywoman Gonzalez spoke in-depth about the bill in an audio interview with KQED.


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