Democrats accuse tech companies of deceitful tactics in campaign against Calif. ballot measure

Getty Images

Democrats are accusing app-based gig companies including Uber and Lyft of playing dirty in their multimillion-dollar ad campaign supporting a California ballot measure that would allow their drivers to continue to be treated as independent contractors rather than employees. 

California state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D) said Monday that the campaign backing Proposition 22 includes tactics that are “dirtier than I’ve ever seen before,” such as buying up “fake groups” that have no actual members and misleading names meant to tie them to progressives such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). 

“This is historic spending by any side on an initiative, and not historic by California standards; it’s historic nationally,” Gonzalez said during a press conference. “When you think about how much these companies put into the initiative process to simply write their own rules, this is a new path that has been chosen by these Silicon Valley billionaire corporations, and it should alarm all of us.”

Sanders on Monday tweeted his personal opposition to Proposition 22, denouncing as dishonest a mailer that backed it under the title “Feel the Bern, Progressive Voter Guide.”

The mailers, which also back the Democratic presidential ticket, have been showing up in Southern California mailboxes. But the groups named in them, such as “Our Voice, Latino Voter Guide” and the “Council of Concerned Women Voters Guide,” do not exist, SFGate reported.

Yes on 22, a PAC supported by Uber and Lyft as well as delivery-based apps DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on mailers in expenditures on Aug. 28, according to the California secretary of state’s Cal-Access database. The expenditures included $20,000 for a “progressive slate,” $60,000 for a “California voter guide” and $48,750 for a “California Latino voter guide.” 

In reference to Sanders’s tweet, Geoff Vetter, a spokesperson for the Yes on 22 campaign, told The Hill that “all expenses related to the mailers are reported in our campaign spending reports.”

“The Prop 22 campaign is working hard to reach voters across the state and the political spectrum to ensure they know that drivers overwhelmingly support Prop 22,” Vetter added in a statement. 

Spokespeople for Uber and Lyft were not immediately available for comment when asked about the mailers or to respond to Sanders’s call to “denounce the deception.” 

In total, more than $186 million has been contributed to the campaign in support of Proposition 22, according to California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, reportedly making it the costliest ballot measure campaign in the nation’s history and far outstripping the opposition’s spending. 

Uber, Postmates and Lyft have given about $3.5 million, $1.4 million and $1 million in nonmonetary contributions, respectively, the Los Angeles Times reported

“I truly believe that the Prop 22 campaign will go down in history, not just for the audacious amount of money these companies are spending in their attempt to buy their own law — that’s $185 million and counting — but also because these app companies have now joined the ranks of Big Tobacco and Big Polluters, who present one image, and that’s writing their checks — these feel-good checks — and placing ads featuring people of color, even as their actions show another,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said during a press conference. “They’re pursuing policies that do their worst damage in our communities, communities of color, that are struggling the most.”

Lee, Gonzalez and Stockton, Calif., Mayor Michael Tubbs (D) said the app companies are exploiting their majority-nonwhite workforce by pushing the ballot measure.

“Prop 22 embodies the opposite of racial equity as it would leave Black and brown drivers with NO sick pay, NO workers’ compensation and NO unemployment insurance because the app companies wrote the initiative to take these benefits away,” Tubbs said in a statement. 

In August, both Uber and Lyft threatened to shut down services in California after a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled the apps must classify drivers as employees rather than independent contractors.

Uber has been issuing pop-ups on its apps warning users in California that if voters did not pass Prop 22, wait times and prices would likely increase and drivers would lose their incomes, according to screenshots shared on Twitter

—Updated at 5:44 p.m.

Tags Barbara Lee Bernie Sanders California California Proposition 22 DoorDash gig economy gig workers Instacart Lorena Gonzalez LOS ANGELES TIMES Lyft Postmates ridesharing Twitter Uber
See all Hill.TV See all Video