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Citations Needed

Sep 15, 2021

In June 2020, founders of the ride-request app Lyft announced that they had launched “allyship dialogues“ and were committed to fighting “systemic racism” which they said is “deeply rooted in our society.” The same month, an Uber marketing campaign proudly recommended to “racists” that they should “delete Uber,” as they were unwelcome customers. At the same time, the food delivery service app DoorDash announced a series of initiatives to “support Black-owned restaurants.”

Everywhere we turned, as popular uprisings against police violence and white supremacy filled the streets, Silicon Valley gig app companies that rely on and profit from the labor of predominantly Black and brown workers, insisted they too were committed to fighting racial injustice.

But something curious was unfolding at the same time these multi-billion dollar companies paid lip service and made token donations to bail funds and civil rights groups: they were simultaneously pumping tens of millions more on pushing support for Proposition 22 –– a ballot initiative in California — that would exempt app-based transportation and delivery companies from a state law that required them to classify drivers as employees, permitting those companies to not provide essential benefits like healthcare, paid time off, and unemployment insurance.

With 78% of ride-hail app drivers in San Francisco being people of color and 55% of Uber drivers in California identifying as such, the law would overwhelmingly impact nonwhite, disproportionately immigrant communities.

Knowing this, and compelled by the broader corporate efforts to exploit the George Floyd uprisings as a branding opportunity, companies like DoorDash, Uber, Lyft and other app-based employers rushed to present the diminishment of worker protections not as manifestly anti-Black and anti-brown anti-labor laws, but actually empowering to drivers of colors.

Spending millions on advertising, a patchwork of large donations to community groups planting op-eds in Black and Hispanic press, and focus-grouped language about employee “freedom,” “independence,” “being your own boss,” “flexibility” and general rise-and-grind framing, Super PACs alongside Bay Area and LA-based marketing firms aggressively targeted minority communities to back Prop 22, despite all independent analysis and labor organizations insisting it would be bad for workers of color.

On this Season 5 Premiere of Citations Needed, we detail how this plan played out –– and ultimately won, how corporations buy off organizations and adapt nonprofit speak to harm communities of color, and how the idea of “third worker categories” –– like the ones pushed by Uber and Lyft are suspiciously similar to Jim Crow-era efforts to strip black and immigrant workers of the rights white workers were winning under the then-New Deal.

Our guest is Veena Dubal, Professor of Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.