The scariest thing about Prop 22---worse even than the abuses it would inflict on Uber and Lyft drivers---is the dirty politics being used to promote it. If Prop 22 were to actually pass, the result could be a frightening new normal for California politics.
Uber and Lyft may be taking their tactics "straight out of the Trump playbook," but be assured that, if they are successful, other deep-pocketed corporate interests will take note, and use these same techniques to undermine and "game" the democratic process in future elections.
Shall we start with the "Lollipop Guild?" This is the code-name of an online group of right-wing trolls who target and harass activists, academics, regular drivers, and anyone who criticizes Prop 22. Slurs, personal attacks, and doxing campaigns are just everyday tactics for this QAnon-esque "cultivated troll army." CNET journalist Dara Kerr has documented the links between these online trolls and the conservative PR firms that promote them and feed them information. Specifically, Kerr accuses MB Public Affairs, a PR firm hired by the Prop 22 campaign, of submitting public records requests on 130 "labor activists, academics and union leaders" who oppose Prop 22; this information was then used by online trolls in attempts to silence and intimidate Uber and Lyft's opponents.
Such tactics are shocking and frightening enough, even in 2020: but if Prop 22 passes, this kind of online "harassment as a service" could become a standard part of any electoral campaign.
But that's not all--how would you like your boss telling you how to vote? Or even forcing you to publicly support their politics in order to keep your job? This is exactly the kind of pressure Uber and the other Prop 22 backers are using on their drivers.
- Uber drivers had to click a button in their app that said, "Yes On Prop 22," just to go to work!
- Doordash and Instacart couriers were made to deliver food in bags with "Yes On Prop 22" advertisements on them, giving the false impression to customers that the drivers themselves (and the restaurants the food came from) also supported Prop 22.
- According to a lawsuit filed by Uber drivers, Uber has been pressuring drivers to support Prop 22, and to complete "Yes On Prop 22" surveys which could be used to punish or fire non-supporters.
More and more workplaces are becoming dependent on technology such as app platforms and similar media to connect workers, and if the example set by Prop 22 succeeds, this micro-level manipulation could become "the new normal" for corporate-funded political campaigns.
Money has long distorted electoral politics---but Prop 22 is turning out to be "the most expensive ballot race in California history." At this time, Prop 22's corporate sponsors have spent more than $200 million dollars on the campaign---more than ten times the amount raised by the labor and environmental groups opposing it.
Much of this money has been used to spread misinformation and misrepresentations about the consequences of Prop 22. One of the biggest has been a collection of lies about what would happen if Prop 22 were to fail. Lyft told drivers that without Prop 22 they would be lose their flexibility and be forced to take "specific shifts, stick to specific areas, and drive for only a single platform" --- but there is nothing in existing law requiring this. Uber and Lyft have made a big stink about having to shut down in California if Prop 22 does not pass; but while this would certainly cost them a good deal of money, it would by no means force them out of business. In fact, given the fact that both of these venture-capital-fueled companies have always lost money every year of their operation, having to comply with state law could in fact force them to adopt an actually sustainable business model---not to mention, one that would be a fair deal for their workers. What a change that would be!
Unfortunately, Uber and Lyft's lies are having an impact. According to one survey, 40% of those who had voted Yes on Prop 22 said they did so to ensure a living wage for workers---when the sad truth is that Prop 22 will undermine their chance for a living wage! If Prop 22 passes, that 40% of "yes" voters might be pretty angry at how they've been misled---which is probably why the bill includes a provision that will make it almost impossible to ever alter, change, or over-rule. Caveat emptor!
Like Trump, Prop 22 constitutes an assault on democracy and on the standards of decency and truth that every stable society relies on. The fear-mongering, disinformation, and online attacks engaged in by the Prop 22 campaign simply reflect the underlying contempt for law, and for the public, held by the corporations that are funding it. And it is because of this vitriolic, selfish, law-disregarding, toxic behavior that a vote for Prop 22 is essentially a vote for Trump.
But wait, there's one more thing that Uber and Lyft and the rest really don't want you to recognize: This whole "gig economy" scheme isn't new anymore--in fact, it's out of date.
Next time: Uber is OLD.