Monday, November 30, 2020

Food Delivery Workers Forced to Promote Ballot Measure That Decides Their Fate

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San Francisco-based food delivery company DoorDash is escalating its promotion of a controversial ballot proposition, sending bags emblazoned with “Yes on 22” to restaurants, which will then hand those same bags off to the app-based delivery drivers whose futures will be determined by that very prop.

As of publication time, companies like Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Instacart, and DoorDash have spent a combined $185 million to support Prop 22, a ballot measure that seeks to ensure that California’s ride-hail and delivery drivers are classified as independent contractors, despite a 2020 law that says that they must be classified as employees, and receive the wages, benefits, and other guarantees that full employment entails.

As the election has neared, the tech companies’ promotion of Prop 22 has “gotten more desperate,” says Maria Crawford, an organizer with the Gig Workers Collective. One example of this is Instacart’s prompt to shoppers to “retrieve one Prop 22 sticker and insert and place it in your customer’s order,” an initiative reported on by CNN this week.

Another is an email sent to restaurants that contract with DoorDash this week. In the email, restaurants are encouraged to request free bags for takeout, all of which will be emblazoned with “Yes on 22.” “Don’t worry about shipping or production costs — the bags are on us!” the company writes. All restaurants are asked to do is to “use the bags as you would any other takeaway bag now through Election Day.”

Of course, part of using those bags as they would any other would involve handing those bags to a gig worker to deliver, essentially forcing the delivery driver to promote a proposition that many say will deny them their rights.

“Oh my god,” said Crawford, when told about the email by Eater SF. “These companies are so used to exploiting workers, they’re going to push it further and further.”

The measure is supported primarily by “Uber Technologies; Lyft; DoorDash; Instacart; Postmates,” the San Francisco Business Times reports. It’s opposed by most labor unions, and delivery workers groups like the Gig Workers Collective.

It’s a conflict that prompted San Francisco’s District Attorney to sue the company this June, alleging unfair labor practices, and saying that DoorDash is “cheating their employees and cheating the state,” and that its business practices put “law-abiding companies in the position of competing against employers who gain unfair savings by illegally classifying their workers.”

DoorDash has pressed on, raising an additional $400 million in financing, a round that raised its valuation to $16 billion this June. Meanwhile, Instacart announced last week that it had raised an additional $200 million, increasing its valuation to $17.7 billion.

These valuations, says Uber engineer and Prop 22 opponent Kurt Nelson, are one of the reasons the fight to keep its workforce at the contractor level is getting so hot. In an op-ed published on TechCrunch, Nelson says that companies like his want to continue to misclassify workers because they “are subsidizing the product with their free labor,” which makes the possibility that workers might have to be hired potentially devastating to the app-based companies.

According to California employment attorney Beth Ross, moves like DoorDash’s and Instacart’s “raises some red flags,” CNN reports. State labor codes “prohibit CA employers from controlling their employees’ political activities and requiring employees to adhere to the employer’s political views,” Ross says, but requiring delivery workers to ferry these political bags might be doing just that.

When contacted by Eater SF for comment, DoorDash directed us to yes on 22 spokesperson Geoff Vetter. “Each company is communicating with their customers in various ways because of the high stakes in this election,” Vetter says in defense of the bag initiative. “Hundreds of thousands of jobs are on the line, along with the app-based services millions of Californians rely on,” he said via email.

It’s an argument that perplexes Crawford, to say the least. “It would make no sense to me to carry a ‘Yes on 22,’ bag,” Crawford. “I’d basically be handing a customer a bag saying ‘yes on exploiting me.’”

A San Francisco restaurant owner, who declined to be named as they have a contract with DoorDash, tells Eater SF that the bag email has them thinking twice about continuing a relationship with the company.

“Giving drivers propaganda to deliver really crosses an ethical line,” the restaurateur says. But it doesn’t appear that every restaurant owner feels that way: when Eater SF clicked on the link the email provided to request bags on Friday morning, we received a message that “due to high demand for Yes on Prop 22 branded to-go bags, we are no longing [sic] accepting requests.”

This email was sent to DoorDash restaurants on Thursday, October 15.

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