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Uber and Lyft Flex Their Lobbying Muscle

Technology Policy Brief #66 | By: Mindy Spatt | September 1, 2022

Header photo taken from: Richard Vogel / AP

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A California battle over clean cars is pitting a major tech company against the governor.

Photo taken from: Daniel Kim / The Sacramento Bee 

Policy Summary

Who’s Afraid of a President, or a Presidential Front Runner?  Uber and Lyft are lobbying to kill legislation supported by President Biden, and Lyft is pushing a California ballot initiative that likely presidential candidate Governor Gavin Newsom is staunchly opposed to.

Uber and Lyft proved their political muscle in California with their deceptive campaign for Proposition 22 in 2020, enlisting respected nonprofits, spending record millions and tricking voters into overriding legislatively approved worker protections.  They took that playbook all across the country, forming and funding PACs to fight for “Independent Work” in states including Washington, New York and Illinois, and Colorado, and now have a national arm as well.

As the national campaign heats up, Lyft is taking on popular Governor Gavin Newsom with another self-serving ballot initiative. Some environmental organizations have already signed on to Proposition 30, Lyft’s plan to tax the wealthy to fund electric vehicles, although the initiative is not a grassroots effort.  It comes straight out of Lyft’s corporate offices. Governor Newsom is pinning his opposition on just that problem. 

Lyft also is putting significant support into the passage of California Proposition 30. Prop 30 places a 1.75% tax on the income of wealthy Californians (those earning abofe 2 million), and uses the revenue to help people (including Lyft drivers) purchase electric vehicles.

Policy Analysis

Lyft has spent $15 million on Prop 30 so far. The Prop 22 campaign cost the companies $200 million, presumably a small price to pay to overturn legislation that would have classified some gig workers as employees, granting them access to basic benefits such as health care and sick leave. 

The pricey campaign was widely criticized as deceptive and confusing, and for buying community support.  For example, former NAACP California President Alice Huffman’s public relations firm received $95,000 from the campaign before she published opinion pieces in black community newspapers urging passage of Prop 22.

The ads for Prop 22 often featured earnest people of color who stated mournfully they would not be able to attend college or take care of their children without the “flexibility” gig work offered.  The ads appeared to be coming from workers and implied a trade-off that didn’t exist; providing benefits or a minimum wage would in no way impact driver’s flexibility. 

Similar tactics will likely be employed in Lyft’s campaign for Prop 30. Lyft is already trying to sell Prop 30 as advantageous for low income people and bringing huge environmental benefits to California.  But rideshare companies are basically super-polluters and thus far have been unwilling to put any of their own money into a meaningful EV transition. An article in WIRED a few months ago listed a litany of problems with the companies’ paltry efforts to move toward EVs including a $1. per ride incentive for EV drivers and a plan for drivers to rent ultra-expensive Teslas.

 


Some voters say they regret casting their ballots for Prop 22 back in 2020. Will history repeat in 2022 with Prop 30 pulling at the heartstrings of potential voters?

Photo taken from: Getty Images

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In the nation’s capital, Uber and Lyft have joined with Doordash, Instacart and others to ramp up their lobbying efforts with a recently formed organization, Flex.  

The goal of Flex is to make sure the PRO Act, which would classify some gig workers as employees and allow them to form unions, never becomes law. 

The Act has already passed the House of Representatives, and President Biden has indicated he would sign it, but it was stopped by Republicans in the Senate.  Flex is worried enough to have come out of the gate with a $1 million ad buy. Another coalition, the “App-Based Work Alliance,” has already spent millions on the same goal.

So far Uber and Lyft have been able to crush their political opposition, but both Biden and Newsom have crushed plenty of opposition themselves. And maybe California will be a bit more skeptical this time around.  The normally tech friendly San Jose Mercury News blasted Lyft’s initiative in an editorial, saying “Prop. 30 is yet another measure that would disproportionately benefit a special interest. In this case, that’s Lyft.”

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

Union of Concerned Scientists: Steering a Growing Industry Toward a Clean Transportation Future, by Don Anair, Jeremy Martin, Maria Cecilia Pinto de Moura, Joshua Goldman, Feb 25, 2020.  https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/ride-hailing-climate-risks

The Gig Workers Rising campaign launched in 2018 to support app-based workers who are organizing for better wages, working conditions and respect on the job.  https://gigworkersrising.org.

Uber and Lyft Donated to Community Groups Who Then Pushed the Companies’ Agenda, by Dara Kerr and Maddy Varner, June 17, 2021.  https://themarkup.org/news/2021/06/17/uber-and-lyft-donated-to-community-groups-who-then-pushed-the-companies-agenda

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