A Victory for California Gig Workers

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I’m a gig worker. Freelance-writer division. The Epoch Times and other publications pay me for each piece I write. Especially at age 67, I like it a lot. I work from home with crucial help from my little Pomeranian, Ollie. He makes sure I get up and walk instead of staring at a screen all day.

So I’m definitely cheering the recent victory of Proposition 22 in the courts. It was upheld by the state’s First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco, overturning a lower court ruling that had thrown out the ballot initiative. The decision is certain to be appealed by the labor unions attacking Prop. 22.

The 2020 initiative allowed Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other “gig” drivers to remain as independent contractors, instead of being considered full-time employees. The measure was sponsored by Uber and Lyft to modify Assembly Bill 5 from 2019, by then-Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego).

AB 5 was so onerous it was modified in 2020 by AB 2257, also by Gonzalez, which exempted many freelancers, including writers like yours truly. But that could always be changed in the future to force writers and others to toe the union line.

I also sometimes take Uber or Lyft, and definitely support freedom for workers instead of AB 5’s socialist classification. And why does government get to classify us, instead of letting us classify ourselves as free Americans?

As The Epoch Times reported, SEIU Labor boss David Huerta insisted, “Corporations prioritizing their bottom lines over our democracy should not dictate the laws in our state. SEIU will continue to stand alongside drivers in the fight to prevent democracy from being sold to the highest spender.” Our democracy? What about the unions, the real power in this state, buying politicians like Gonzalez, who is now the head of the California Labor Federation? And since when does “democracy” take away my crucial freedom to make labor contracts with whatever employer that will hire me?

If you know anything about socialist countries, they strictly classify people into specific categories, allowing changes only with the permission of the bureaucratic authorities. It’s part of the “planning” supposedly made efficient by “scientific socialism.”

Check for example the 2019 book, “A Social History of Maoist China Conflict and Change, 1949–1976,” by Felix Wemheuer, and published by Cambridge University Press. Chapter 1 is online. The four most important classifications were: class status, urban/rural registration, gender, and ethnicity:

“By the early 1960s, almost every Chinese citizen was classified by the state according to the four major categories. The official distribution system for food and goods, along with access to information, higher education, employment, party membership and military service were all based on this complex system of classifications.”

By contrast, free America is based on each worker owning his own labor, freely traded to someone else. Those who want the extra benefits of full-time employment can choose that type of contract.

‘Sovereignty of the People’

I like to talk to the Uber or Lyft drivers when I hitch a ride. They always tell me they like the flexibility of the job. Several said they were moonlighting, and enjoyed health-care and other benefits from their day jobs. One told me he was covered under his wife’s health plan. Why should these gig workers be dictated to by Huerta and his union?

The only problem with Prop. 22 is it didn’t entirely repeal AB 5. Uber and Lyft were selfish not extending their electoral beneficence to the state’s other “gig” workers.

However, the appeals court definitely was correct upholding Prop. 22. State courts long have favored upholding the rights of voters using the initiative process to set the course of the state. It’s all part of Gov. Hiram Johnson’s 1911 progressive reforms, which included recalling errant officials. After winning that battle, and re-election in 1914, he said in his 1915 Second Inaugural Address, using the long, flowing sentences of that date—which give us a feel for how people thought back then:

“Successful and permanent government must rest primarily on recognition of the rights of men and the absolute sovereignty of the people. Upon these principles is based the superstructure of our republic. Their maintenance and perpetuation measure the life of the republic ….

“If we can give to the people the means by which they may accomplish such other reforms as they desire, the means as well by which they may prevent the misuse of the power temporarily centralized in the Legislature, and an admonitory and precautionary measure which will ever be present before weak officials, and the existence of which will prevent the necessity for its use, then all that lies in our power will have been done in the direction of safeguarding the future and for the perpetuation of the theory upon which we ourselves shall conduct this government. This means for accomplishing other reforms has been designated the ‘Initiative and the referendum,’ and the precautionary measure by which a recalcitrant official can be removed is designated the ‘Recall.’ And while I do not by any means believe the initiative, the referendum, and the recall are the panacea for all our political ills, yet they do give to the electorate the power of action when desired, and they do place in the hands of the people the means by which they may protect themselves.”

Indeed, as I’ve been saying for years, we need even more initiatives. In particular, every ballot ought to include a tax cut, such as reducing the state sales tax by half a cent—especially useful in these inflationary times. Also, Proposition 14 from 2010, the anti-democratic Top Two election system that destroyed third parties, ought to be repealed.

Finally, upholding Prop. 22 is another blow against the powerful unions that have a lock-grip on state policy. But it’s still a long drive—perhaps in a gig car—before the state frees itself from the unions and restores Johnson’s “the rights of men and the absolute sovereignty of the people.”

UPDATE: In my March 14 column, I wrote, “SVB Crash Will Slam California State and Local Budgets.” That was because investments in new high-tech startups in the state will shrink, leading to fewer taxes paid to the state. The March 15 Financial Times reported: “Technology start-ups are scrambling to deal with tighter regulation and the influence of larger banks that are set to replace the informal financial relationships and close personal connections that have characterized Silicon Valley Bank’s dealings with the sector.” As I wrote, that means lower risk-taking, therefore lower profits, and lower taxes on the profits.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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