On November 3's US Elections ballot, Californians had additional 25 propositions to vote on. Among them, Proposition 22 was particularly sinister in nature. It asked Californians whether they wanted to exempt app-based transportation and delivery companies from providing employee benefits to drivers. With 58.6 percent voting in favor of exemption, it became one of the most successful and beneficial campaigns for corporations.

However, two months later, Californians are facing the brunt. Proposition 22 helped grocery chain Albertsons and its two subsidiaries Vons and Pavilions cut hundreds of delivery driver jobs in favor of third-party delivery companies like DoorDash. In March 2020, when California went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the drivers, who were laid off, became the bridge between the public and stores. They were designated as essential workers or "extended first responders" who risked their lives to deliver groceries during the trying times.

Albertsons
Grocery chain Albertsons will lay off hundreds of its drivers in favor of DoorDash Wikimedia Commons

But now, many of them will be jobless come February, thanks to Prop 22. "I was disturbed and disappointed that Vons would eliminate these jobs. I felt like they were the only remaining company that treated delivery drivers ethically but no longer," one of the drivers of Vons told Kock-LA.

What Is Prop 22?

Prop 22 was a ballot initiative that was drafted against California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5). It allowed California's companies to designate drivers as "independent contractors" instead of "employees", helping them deny employee benefits to the drivers. The companies in favor of the legislation cited an "independent study", saying that it would allow drivers choice and independence while saving "hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state". Apart from that, it was supposed to guarantee their earnings and new benefits.

Albertsons CEO Vivek Sankaran and UFCW international president Marc Perrone in an advertisement for the initiative said that it would "protect the associates who work at our supermarkets because their service to our communities is absolutely essential during this time".

Delivery driver
Proposition 22 allows third-party apps to consider delivery drivers as independent contractors, allowing them to deny employee benefits such as sick leaves, minimum wage and health insurance (representational image) Pixabay

But it turned out that the study they cited was nothing but a part of their elaborate scheme. The companies including DoorDash, Uber, Lyft, Instacart and Postmates paid a total of $411,599 to the researchers to carry out the study. Overall, the companies ran a $200-million campaign to garner support for the initiative.

Some, however, saw this coming, arguing that Prop 22 would allow the companies to profit from it by exempting from California workers' law. It would deny the drivers any employment benefits such as minimum wage, sick leave and healthcare. Even California senator Kamala Harris, who will be the first woman vice-president in the US, opposed Prop 22, urging people to vote against it.

Twitter post
Twitter/ Kamala Harris

Fears Come True

With Prop 22 passed, it didn't take long for the same companies that supported drivers' rights to change their stance. Albertsons gave notice to the "extended first responders" saying that their employment would end in January 2021. The company will switch to DoorDash for delivery in February, saving a lot of cost in the process.

As for app-based delivery and transportation apps, it was the opportunity they were looking for. Over the last few years, they have earned a bad reputation for denying employee benefits to the gig laborers as they consider them as independent contractors and not employees.

"App-based companies have used their financial power and leverage to influence and shape regulations without regard for their responsibility to respect human rights," Lena Simet, a senior poverty and inequality researcher at Human Rights Watch, said.

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Kamala Harris' Role

While VP-elect Harris did oppose the initiative, her brother-in-law Tony West was one of the lawyers who drafted Prop 22. West was then the chief legal officer and senior vice president for Uber. Apart from West, President-elect Joe Biden's future national security adviser Jake Sullivan also worked as a consultant for Uber as a member of Macro Advisory Partners, a consultancy firm. Sullivan worked closely with Uber to draft an alternative to AB5 that made independent contractors, employees of the app-based platforms.

With two members of the Biden Presidency helping the companies fight against Prop 22, it didn't make the netizens happy. Many on Twitter pointed out their involvement that led to the job cuts. "It's time to ask @KamalaHarris's brother in law about Prop 22 and why Maya tried to get him to be AG. Anti-union folks clearly have a seat at the @JoeBiden table!" one tweeted.