Bill to increase pay transparency for Uber, Lyft drivers is teetering

When Colorado lawmakers in January unveiled a bill designed to increase transparency for ride-hail and delivery drivers, the tech companies sounded a cooperative tone.

“We’ve long supported many of these ideas,” an Uber spokesman said.

“Fair deactivations and pay transparency are important issues,” a Lyft representative said.

But three months later, those companies and other business groups are lobbying heavily against the legislation, warning consumers about “unprecedented fees” and safety concerns that, they argue, would allow dangerous drivers to stay behind the wheel.

Now, with just a week left in the legislative session, the future of the bill is murky. The Senate Finance Committee has bumped votes on SB23-098 multiple times, with key lawmakers voicing concern about portions of the proposal, including a state-run review board to oversee driver activations.

“It doesn’t have the votes and I’m not the swing vote,” Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Democrat and committee member, told The Denver Post this week.

Other stakeholders, including the NAACP and a sexual abuse advocacy group, have come out against the bill, arguing it would chill assault reporting from riders.

Advocates and bill sponsors are scrambling to try and save slivers of the legislation as they express frustration that a Democratic supermajority in the House wouldn’t be enough to keep it from the chopping block.

“These companies clearly got to people” on the committee, said Rep. Stephanie Vigil, D-Colorado Springs, a bill sponsor and the first gig-app driver elected to the Colorado legislature. “It’s unfortunate.”

Responding to the Drivers’ Rights Movement

The proposed legislation, dubbed the “Gig Work Transparency” bill, would mandate companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash show the math on how much of a fare or delivery fee is going to drivers versus the tech giants. The legislation would also require gig companies to give drivers more information related to wages, time worked and expenses.

And the bill would create a review mechanism through the state that would allow drivers to challenge deactivations and terminations.

The legislation comes in response to a growing Drivers’ Rights Movement around the country seeking to give gig workers more say over their data, time and work.

Drivers told The Post earlier this year that the app companies have eaten into their take-home pay to the point that many have had to drive more hours or take other jobs to make ends meet. Many of these workers are immigrants who also send money back to their families in other countries.

A host of these drivers went on a short strike outside Denver International Airport in November, pleading with lawmakers to take up their cause.

“We are working like slaves,” Hamouda Ahmed, a driver, said during a January news conference announcing the bill’s introduction.

Opposition mounts from all angles

Opposition, though, has been mounting in recent months.

The tech giants — including Uber, Lyft and DoorDash — have lobbied against the bill. So have fast-food behemoth McDonald’s and statewide business organizations such as the Colorado Chamber of Commerce and Colorado Retail Council.

In a letter last month to Senate Appropriations Committee members, a selection of business groups said the bill adds “unprecedented levels of regulation” that would harm restaurants and local small businesses.

“We’re concerned about proprietary information being required to be disclosed,” Christopher Howes, president of the Colorado Retail Council, told The Post. “This is an industry, much like the rest of the grocery industry, where competition is vicious. Any small edge that a company can get is really important.”

Other groups said they were concerned about not being able to offer incentives to top drivers. Labor organizations have said these incentive structures are often opaque — leading to surprise tips that Vigil likened to playing a slot machine.

“It’s undue interference in a model that works very well right now,” said John Jaramillo, co-founder of the Hispanic Restaurant Association, which opposes the bill.

The app companies have focused on two aspects of the legislation: safety and higher fees.

Drivers who are deactivated or suspended from these platforms currently have no recourse in Colorado to appeal or plead their cases. Several told The Post this year that they had no idea why they were removed from one of the apps. A recent report from the organizations Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Asian Law Caucus and Rideshare Drivers United found drivers of color and immigrants who speak little or no English were far more likely to have their accounts deactivated.

The bill, as it stands now, would create a state-run review board under the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Within 10 days of terminating a driver, the ride-hail or delivery company would have to disclose to the driver in writing the basis for removal and information regarding the individual’s right to challenge the decision through a hearing.

Crucially, the companies would have “the burden to prove at the hearing that the termination was warranted,” according to the bill’s language.

Uber has taken aim at this process in its advertising, saying it would allow riders who perpetrate serious crimes, including physical and sexual assault, to be reinstated against the company’s will. The company asked customers to contact their lawmakers to vote against the bill.

The bill sponsors, in a series of amendments this spring, sought to assuage these concerns, clarifying that drivers wouldn’t be eligible for rehire if they’re under investigation by law enforcement. Other added language stated that the review board would preserve the privacy of victims while not subjecting them to additional trauma.

“The concern is it could create a chilling effect,” said Tracey Vitchers, executive director of It’s On Us, a national nonprofit that raises awareness and advocates for sexual assault victims. The vast majority of survivors, she noted, never go to law enforcement. “Riders may not come forward.”

Vigil said stakeholders consulted with victims’ rights groups during the process, making sure that their voices were heard.

The lawmaker found it puzzling that the head of the NAACP’s Rocky Mountain region, Portia Prescott, also spoke out against the bill during testimony this week. She argued Black and brown communities often rely on food delivery since they disproportionately live in food deserts.

Groups such as It’s On Us have a history of working with Uber and Lyft.

“These are clever cards to play,” Vigil said.

This bill, the freshman legislator noted, “was written by poor people, by Black people.” One of the bill sponsors, Rep. Jennifer Bacon, is also chair of the Colorado Black Caucus. Sen. Robert Rodriguez, another sponsor, is a member of the Colorado Democratic Latino Caucus.

“Somehow we’re being painted as against those people,” Vigil said.

“Something has to be done”

As the legislative session hurtles towards its conclusion next week, Democrats — who hold a supermajority in the House, a majority in the Senate and the governorship — are rushing to complete numerous priorities on housing, gun control and the environment.

Will gig work transparency make it to the finish line?

“It’s super late in the session,” Sen. Kyle Mullica, a Thornton Democrat and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told The Post on Thursday afternoon. “Sometimes when you’re rushed, you don’t get it right.”

He and other committee members expressed concern about a state-run board to hear deactivations — a model that hasn’t been tried elsewhere.

“I think it needs to be a third-party (review board),” said Priola, the Henderson Democrat.

The committee, for the second time this week, delayed a vote, this time pushing it to Tuesday and giving the bill sponsors a few more days to work things out. But there appear to be significant hurdles.

The Department of Revenue came out against the bill’s funding mechanism on Tuesday. The Department of Labor and Employment, which would run these driver deactivation hearings, said it was neutral, but expressed concerns about “unintended consequences for the gig economy.”

Priola said he was generally supportive of some of the transparency measures in the bill, but was still leaning toward a no vote.

The developments on Thursday left a group of drivers visibly disappointed. They came to the state Capitol to speak to committee members about why they were nearing a breaking point.

“This is a matter of life,” said Michael Machar, a Sudanese immigrant who has been driving for nearly six years. His 2-year-old daughter, Sandra, quietly watched YouTube videos on his phone as the father of three talked about taking to the streets if the bill doesn’t pass.

“Something has to be done,” he said.

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