Ahead of Prop 22 going into effect in California this week, driver advocacy group Gig Workers Rising announced it will launch Workers First, an app to help workers understand the ballot measure and document whether benefits they're receiving from app-based gig companies are adequate.
"It has always been unnecessarily difficult for gig workers to access information about their rights on the job," the group's site reads. "Gig corporations like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart hide behind their algorithms and keep workers from accessing important information—like how much you actually earn and what benefits you are eligible to receive."
Information asymmetry, or denying external parties access to the same data and insights enjoyed internally, sits at the core of how Uber and the rest of the gig economy operates. For Uber, this has been key in manipulating drivers and riders, as well as in selectively sharing data that paints companies in a more positive light. Take, for example, the ability of gig companies to shape academic research that informs public opinion and regulatory scrutiny by selectively offering academics some data while barring their research from peer review.
Gig companies, particularly Uber and Lyft, have also fought in court for the right to withhold data from state governments. Hoping to undermine the legal argument for reclassifying drivers from independent contractors to employees, the companies simply chose to not report drivers' income or pay unemployment taxes not only in states where drivers are employees for the purposes of unemployment claims (New York, New Jersey, etc.), but across the rest of the country, from California to Georgia. Such moves might delay rulings against the companies but also have come at a steep cost to drivers in the middle of a pandemic who, especially at its peak, were effectively forced to risk infection or starve.
Questions remain about what the post-Prop 22 environment will look like, however. Just this week, Uber announced that after months of warning a defeat of Prop 22 would force them to hike prices, it would be hiking prices anyways to subsidize the new benefits offered by the law it co-wrote. Those benefits, of course, are subject to numerous caveats.
Uber's benefits guarantee a minimum wage 20 percent higher than the state’s, but only for time spent with a passenger in the car (about two-thirds of all time a driver spends working). Prop 22’s benefits also offer an unspecified healthcare stipend, but drivers can only claim half of it once they drive with a passenger for 15 hours a week and all of it once they hit 25 hours a week.
"The app will hold the answers to dozens of common questions and can connect you directly with organizers for specific questions and ways to push gig corporations to treat workers with the basic respect everyone deserves," Gig Workers Rising's site reads. "We’re arming you with the knowledge you need to access your rights and benefits at work. And together, we’ll keep fighting to get gig workers their fair share."
Drivers can sign up here to download for Android and iOS on January 11, 2021.