The latest way gig companies can use gig workers for political gain

As gig companies continue to campaign against worker reclassification, some are now hiring full-time employees positioned to organize such efforts. This month, food delivery company Postmates listed job postings for “regional organizers” who will “execute grassroot advocacy campaigns” to support the company’s local and national legislative initiatives in markets including California, Washington, the Southwest, New York, and Washington DC.

Two weeks ago, Lyft rolled out a similar position in San Francisco “that will support the ridesharing movement and Lyft’s local legislative initiatives.”

The Postmates listing refers to “policy issues — local and statewide — that impact our Postmates fleet directly,” and says the company wants to “engage our community on these issues and mobilize them to make their voice heard.” Postmates has over 350,000 fleet delivery workers.

While specific policy issues aren’t listed, the biggest legislative initiative in which both Postmates and Lyft are engaged in is the looming reclassification of gig workers as employees. Postmates’ listing describes its employees as “staunch grassroots advocates for the right to earn flexibly.” The new role involves organizing meetings and rallies “for Postmates and supporters of the gig economy” and encouraging “their participation in their community at local and national level” as well as “direct action with policymakers.”

Labor law experts say the roles could be designed to organize gig workers against changing their employment status, as Postmates and other companies have done before. Recently, Uber and Lyft paid drivers in California to show up outside the state capital to protest a bill that would make them employees. “From what I understand, it’s a position created for the companies to fight against drivers’ demands for employee status,” says Brian Chen, a staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project.

Postmates did not respond to requests for comment.

Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash, and Postmates have raised over $110 million to back Proposition 22, a California ballot initiative that would preserve their workers’ independent contractor status while allowing some benefits, such as minimum-wage standards and healthcare subsidies. The proposition carves out an exception to the state’s labor law AB5, which made it harder to classify workers as independent contractors when it went into effect this year.

This tactic is one of the many initiatives from companies looking to launch campaigns similar to Proposition 22, says William Gould, a professor at Stanford Law School.

If the gig companies were to reclassify its workers, it could raise costs by 20% to 30%. AB5 could hit Postmates particularly hard, as 40% of its revenue comes from sales in California, according to research firm Second Measures.

“There’s no question this kind of position would actively organize workers against AB5 and in support of Proposition 22,” says Chen of the Postmates listing.

The other markets mentioned in the Postmates job posting also highlight regulatory battles in places like Seattle, where employment standards like hazard pay, defined as “premium pay” were recently passed.

While it’s common for companies to hire people or lobbying firms to promote a mission, Chen says he cannot “think of a situation where people are directly hired to organize their own workers towards a particular end.” (The employee who will be championing such efforts will be in a role that comes with personal development reimbursements and wellness perks in addition to full benefits.)

Outside of the gig economy, it is not unusual for companies to attempt to influence employees’ political views or to mobilize worker engagement. While doing so is legal, the concern, point out labor experts, is that such efforts can be coercive since workers may fear that they will face negative consequences for not following the company’s direction. And gig workers, whose work is precarious by nature, are some of the most vulnerable to this kind of coercion.

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