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Biden Reluctantly Supports Uber Drivers Protesting Outside Billionaires’ Homes

Motherboard asked the 2020 democratic frontrunners if they support next week’s Uber protests. Joe Biden, in true centrist fashion, said something ambiguous.

by Lauren Kaori Gurley
Oct 29 2019, 7:11pm

Logan Cyrus/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On November 6, Uber drivers will protest outside the homes of the company’s billionaire investors, including venture capitalist Bill Gurley’s mansion in Atherton, California and Uber cofounder Garrett Camp’s $71 million Beverly Hills home.

After Bernie Sanders tweeted out his support for the Uber driver demonstrations last week, Motherboard asked the other leading Democratic primary candidates if they support Uber drivers protesting outside the homes of billionaire investors.

Today, Joe Biden, a longtime ally of Wall Street elites and billionaires who has been more cautious to defend gig workers’ rights than the other frontrunners—came forward with a statement, albeit, an ambiguous one. (Biden also released a 11-page labor plan on October 25, which discusses gig workers rights.) Asked if Biden supports the upcoming Uber protests, his national press secretary Jamal Brown told Motherboard that Biden “firmly stands with Uber drivers as they organize to receive the pay, legal benefits and workplace protections they deserve.”

Pressed further about the protests at billionaires’ homes, Biden’s press secretary would not give a straight “yes” or “no” answer on whether he will support the Uber drivers. (In June, Biden told a crowd of wealthy potential donors at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City that he would not “demonize the wealthy,” and that “no one’s standard of living will change,” if he wins the presidency.)

Uber activist drivers selected November 6 to protest because it marks the first time early Uber investors, including billionaires Bill Gurley and Garrett Camp, will be able to cash out since the company went public in May. At the time of its initial public offering, Camp’s Uber investment had been valued at $3.2 billion, while Gurley’s stock was worth an estimated $600 million.

“Companies should not be able to misclassify workers as independent contractors in order to skirt labor laws,” Biden's press secretary added. He said that as president, Biden would work to enact federal legislation similar to AB5, a new California law that will reclassify gig workers as employees, to “ensure workers in the gig economy and beyond can share in the prosperity their work has created.”

The statement marks the furthest that Biden has come out in support of the law, which will go into effect on January 1. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and even Kamala Harris, whose brother-in-law Tony West serves as Uber’s chief legal counsel, announced support for the law months ago. In other words, Biden’s campaign is caving under pressure to support gig workers rights, as labor issues increasingly become a litmus test for 2020 candidates. His statement arrives on the same day as Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash announce a 2020 California ballot measure to challenge AB5, pledging $100 million to turn back a law that would provide gig workers with basic labor protections, including the right to unionize, overtime pay, and worker’s compensation.

This election cycle, candidates are actually competing to win the vote of labor activists and unions. Sanders and Warren have led the pack in supporting unions and showing up on picket lines, pushing other candidates further to the left on labor issues.

Since Motherboard reached out late last week, Elizabeth Warren tweeted out her support for the Uber demonstrations, and Andrew Yang’s campaign said that he “supports the protesters.”

Like Biden, Buttigieg’s press secretary Nina Smith remained ambiguous as to whether the South Bend mayor supports the protest. “Pete knows something is wrong with the economy when the stock market is going up but you need two or three or even more jobs just to make ends meets. One job should be enough,” she said. In late August, Buttigieg, to the surprise of many, joined the chorus of protestors at Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco, calling for their recognition as employees.

Kamala Harris and Cory Booker’s campaigns did not respond to Motherboard’s requests for comment.

On November 6, Uber drivers will show up in their cars at Gurley and Camp’s homes, as well as Google’s free event space in San Francisco, where they will protest Google Ventures, the venture capital branch of Google’s parent company, which had estimated $5.2 billion in Uber shares as of May. They hope to highlight the differences between Uber’s stakeholders, who have reaped billions in profits, and the company’s labor force, which isn’t guaranteed a minimum wage.

Gig Workers Rising, the Bay Area gig workers organization leading the protest, says it received a call from an officer at the police department in Atherton, the affluent San Francisco peninsula town where Bill Gurley resides after it announced the upcoming protest. The officer expressed concerns about demonstrations in such a “high wealth area,” the group said. (Last year, Atherton boasted the most expensive zip code in the United States.)

Atherton’s police commander, Joe Wade, told Motherboard that he was not aware of any of his officers making such a call, but that he was personally concerned about an Uber protest occurring down the street from Sacred Heart, a private Catholic school.

Organizers at Gig Workers Rising say that a fourth action could be staged in New York City.

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