“Bait and Switch”: Firings Make Some Drivers Regret Yes Vote on Prop 22

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Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media

Less than a month after Prop 22 became law in California, some app-based drivers are regretting their yes vote last November that helped approve the ballot initiative.

The proposition passed with 59 % of the vote. It exempted Uber and Lyft drivers — as well as others who work for other delivery and ride-hail companies – from the state’s controversial employee classification law AB 5. Under that law, which took effect in January 2020, most companies in the state had to switch contractors working for them from freelancers to full-time W-2 employees.

But now that ride-hail and other app-based companies can keep contracting with drivers, one corporation, Albertsons Companies, whose subsidiaries include Vons, Safeway, and Pavilions, among others, has recently decided to fire some of its full-time drivers in California. The company now plans to operate the bulk of its delivery driving program in the state through third-party driver services.

Some of the affected drivers have taken to the internet to share their stories.

“I voted for the ballot measure because I thought it’d help drivers like me. Now I’m out of a job,” said one driver, who chose to remain anonymous, to Mai Tran, a New-York based writer for the online publication Gen by Medium. He added that Vons delivery drivers were told that they were getting laid off on Dec. 8 last year and that he voted yes on Prop 22 because he was influenced by positive TV ads. He didn’t realize, he continued, that voting yes would hurt him and his fellow drivers. He described the proposition as “a bit of a bait and switch.”

According to Albertsons, the full-time delivery drivers in California will continue to work until the end of February. After that, the stores’ deliveries nationwide will be fulfilled by DoorDash. Drivers at Bay Area stores, who are unionized, will not be affected by the layoffs.

Albertson’s decision to lay the drivers off puts Vons and Pavilions – both chains founded in Southern California – in line with a national trend of grocery stores using independent drivers from third-party services to make deliveries, instead of employing full-time drivers. Ralphs, another well-known Southern California supermarket chain, currently operates its delivery service through Instacart. Target uses Shipt and Walmart uses Doordash. DoorDash and Instacart contributed $52 million and $32 million, respectively to the Yes on 22 campaign.

An Albertson’s representative said in a statement, “Albertson’s Companies made the strategic decision to discontinue using our own home delivery fleet of trucks in select locations, including Southern California, beginning February 27, 2021. We will transition that portion of our eCommerce operations to third-party logistics providers who specialize in that service. Our HR teams are working to place impacted associates in stores, plants, and distribution centers.”

Opponents of Prop 22 have long predicted that the proposition’s passing would lead to a rise in gig-work over full-time employment. Though Prop 22 includes language requiring gig companies to implement a wage floor and access to health insurance for their drivers, the law exempts these companies from offering significant workplace benefits, including unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. Prop 22 also makes it harder for app-based drivers to unionize. Albertsons employees who are members of a union will not be affected by the layoffs.

Unions and drivers have begun a legal fight against the law. On Jan. 12, a plaintiff group consisting of the Service Employees International Union, SEIU California State Council, three ride-share drivers, and one passenger filed a lawsuit with the California Supreme Court against Prop 22. The lawsuit argues that the law is unconstitutional because it takes away workers’ rights and limits the state legislature’s ability to govern since they face a large barrier to amending the law. Prop 22 requires a seven-eighths majority vote in the state legislature for any modification of it.

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), author of AB-5, said, “Prop. 22 not only created a permanent underclass of workers in California. It stripped the Legislature of its power to step in and improve working conditions for hundreds of thousands of app-based workers. The State Supreme Court should have an opportunity to weigh in on whether corporations can use the initiative process to write their own laws with artificial barriers designed to block elected representatives from doing their job.”

A statement from the Yes of 22 campaign, credited to Uber driver Jim Pyatt, defended the law.

“Nearly 10 million California voters — including the vast majority of app-based drivers — passed Prop. 22 to protect driver independence, while providing historic new protections. Voters across the political spectrum spoke loud and clear, passing Prop. 22 in a landslide,” he said.

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