The Berkeley Forum hosted a virtual panel Monday featuring labor rights organizers and economists to discuss the future of the gig economy.
The panelists debated the ramifications of California Proposition 22, which passed during the general election. The proposition classified gig workers, including ride-share and food delivery drivers, as independent contractors.
Edan Alva, an active organizer for Gig Workers Rising and longtime Lyft driver, said the proposition passed largely because rideshare companies invested approximately $200 million to secure its approval. He added that its passing can also be attributed to the proposition being written in a “deceptive” manner.
“Prop 22 takes away their rights to fight and organize for better working conditions and protection from discrimination. It takes away the basic protections of unemployment, disability insurance and health care,” Alva said during the event. “All of that together it puts an enormous amount of power in the company and takes away an enormous amount of power from the driver.”
Ligia Guallpa, co-executive director of Workers Justice Project, said the proposition puts workers at a higher risk for COVID-19, while denying health insurance or paid sick leave. She argued that gig companies are “rewriting rules” that are designed to protect workers.
While the proposition only affects the status of gig workers in California, Guallpa said it sets a precedent across the country for what workers “can and can’t do” and how difficult it could be to oppose gig companies.
The panelists also discussed the sustainability of the gig economy and its current and potential impacts on the environment.
Co-founder of business support company Dumpling, Nate D’Anna, said the current state of ride-sharing means that roads are packed with drivers searching for customers, a model that is not environmentally sustainable.
He added, however, that there is an opportunity for the gig economy to become environmentally sustainable if companies added more regulations, specifically the requirement that all contractors drive electric vehicles.
Alva cited research that recent increases in Bay Area congestion and traffic are leading to more accidents and hazards with no accountability for ride-share companies.
“Gig companies are enjoying the large distribution of drivers and are not paying a cent for all the environmental damages that it is costing or the risk they put their drivers in,” Alva said during the event. “Allowing industries to operate while the taxpayers are paying for the damage they cause is not sustainable.”
According to Guallpa, the gig model is already expanding to other industries.
Alva added that although this could mean a lower cost of service, it would also lead to lower standards for gig work and more people competing for less pay.
“Gig companies are moving towards a new model that the American workforce is not ready for,” Guallpa said. “Infrastructure has not been set up for Americans to have the ability to survive and thrive in this economy.”