Photo: AP

A California bill that would classify gig economy workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, as employees is currently winding its way through the legislature. AB5, as the bill is known, passed the House in May and is currently being debated in the Senate.

Uber and Lyft have a a lot of reasons to fight AB5 from becoming law as its written, since it would mean they could no longer classify drivers as independent contractors. It potentially opens the door for drivers to collectively bargain while giving them access to other “benefits” employees get such as an hourly wage.

So it’s hardly shocking both companies have launched a multi-pronged effort to water down AB5, including by urging drivers through in-app notifications to protest the bill, either by signing petitions (which some drivers say they did accidentally) or through attending protests.

As it turns out, the I’m Independent Coalition, which according to its website is a California Chamber of Commerce project, has been compensating drivers for their time and expenses incurred to attend said protests, particularly the ones on the State Capitol steps in Sacramento, according to an LA Times report:

Drivers who attended the rally were offered and are expected to receive $25 to $100 within five days of gathering in Sacramento to cover “travel, parking, and time,” according to an email The Times obtained. The email was sent to drivers from the I’m Independent Coalition, a group funded by the California Chamber of Commerce, along with a long list of professional associations, trade groups and on-demand companies. The coalition has been working closely alongside Uber and Lyft to call for changes to AB 5 and helped organize the Tuesday rally.

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The coalition confirmed it paid gig workers — including Uber and Lyft drivers — to cover the costs of travel and expenses for the day and said the amount paid varied but did not exceed $100.

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On top of whatever they got from the California Chamber of Commerce, Lyft and Uber—which are supporters of the I’m Independent Coalition—have also been compensating drivers who attended the protest. Again from the LA Times:

In addition to what the coalition offered drivers, Uber sent drivers an in-app notification offering them a $15 lunch voucher and inviting them, their family “and anyone you know who also has a stake in maintaining driver flexibility” to the rally to talk “about the issues.” Separately, a Lyft spokesperson said the company offered $25 to drivers to cover parking, if needed.

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A spokesperson for the I’m Independent Coalition told Jalopnik that the credit was merely meant to cover costs drivers would incur by attending during a work day. The Coalition also pointed to the following paragraph from the LA Times story to make the point that both sides provided some form of benefits to drivers who went to Sacramento:

Unions and union-affiliated driver groups like Gig Workers Rising provided free transportation from San Francisco and Los Angeles, though at least one independent driver group, Los Angeles-based Rideshare Drivers United, self-funded a van rental. The California Labor Federation, which represents 1,200 unions across the state, served breakfast and lunch.

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The Coalition spokesman also cited a poll conducted by EMC Research which, according to the Coalition, found only seven percent of respondents would prefer to be employees instead of independent contractors. According to the Atlantic, the Coalition funded that poll, and EMC Research advertises its political research arm with the blurb “Great campaigns don’t just happen. That’s why we offer a full suite of political research and predictive analytics to help your candidates, organizations, and ballot measures succeed.”

It’s certainly true some drivers, especially part-time ones, don’t support AB5. If you only drive to make a couple extra bucks on the side or meet new people, then AB5 will almost certainly make that harder or perhaps impossible, depending on how the ridehail companies react.

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Still, there’s a fundamental irony to the I’m Independent Coalition, Uber, and Lyft compensating drivers to protest AB5 in ways they don’t when they drive for the ridehail companies. For example, driver regularly sit idly during the work day waiting for their next fare, time for which they are not paid, yet the I’m Independent Coalition recognizes drivers need to be paid for their time. In any event, AB5 seeks to change that.