2020 began with such promise on both the work and political fronts. The economy was strong and labor was united in its political goals. However, after nine months of pandemic lockdowns, the economy has been booming for some and devastating for others.
Politically, while we’ll be able to count on a new Presidential administration—one that is much friendlier to workers and unions, at this writing, which party holds the Senate majority is in the hands of Georgians. Locally, due to being outspent by a margin of 20 to 1, we lost the very important Proposition 22 vote, which will impact gig drivers immediately and everyone else down the line.
“The Teamsters want to congratulate President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris for their hard-fought victory, said a national press release. “The Biden-Harris campaign put forward a bold pro-worker agenda that will enhance the ability of hardworking Americans to join together and collectively bargain for better pay and working conditions. They also will prioritize pension reform to boost workers and retirees and will do more to protect the more than one million essential Teamsters on the job during this coronavirus pandemic.”
Donald Trump was, by far, the president who did the most to hurt the interests of unions and workers. His National Labor Relations Board overturned laws and precedents that helped workers to organize into unions and to get overtime pay, just to name a few of the previous gains that the administration withdrew. His Occupational Safety and Health Administration did almost nothing to support worker safety during the pandemic. His labor department was absent as unions called for help to shore up their pension plans.
While we’re used to not getting everything we want or need from Democratic presidents, having Joe Biden at the helm of the nation with our old friend Kamala Harris at his side can only show a marked improvement over the past four years. “I expect the new administration will do all it can to get legislation that will help all workers protect themselves by making it easier to join a union,” said Joint Council 7 President Rome Aloise.
As this paper goes to press, we don’t know how the all-important run-off elections in Georgia will turn out. If both Democrats are elected, the Biden team will have a chance to pass a pro-worker agenda. If not, we can expect at least two more years of stagnation with another do-nothing Senate.
Locally, Joint Council 7 put together the largest election program that we’ve ever attempted, including site visits, phone calls, texting, and mass distribution of masks. This effort bore fruit in the local races that we got involved with, including wins by several Teamsters who ran for offices like city council, school boards, and a transit district.
Unfortunately, our biggest issue, Proposition 22, was ultimately bought and paid for by its sponsors—Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and Postmates. Not only did these companies have unlimited funds, spending nearly a quarter-billion dollars on passing the one law, but they also had access to lobby their drivers and customers on their apps.
The Joint Council held numerous organizing meetings and rallies over Zoom and had great turnouts. But our strength, and the time-tested way we’ve succeeded in beating the most well-heeled foes, is by going door-to-door and meeting our members face-to-face, and that effort was necessarily limited due to COVID.
Immediately, Prop 22 is about exempting App-based drivers and delivery workers from coverage by AB5, the law that Teamsters worked hard to get passed that would ensure that all workers be treated as employees, with benefits and access to unemployment insurance and workers’ comp. As employees, they would also have been eligible to join unions if they so chose. However, the proponents’ deluge of false advertising made it appear that a Yes vote for Prop 22 was good for workers. To add insult to injury, any attempt to overturn this deceptive law would take an unheard-of 7/8 majority.
That doesn’t mean that we won’t do all that we can to create a fair employment situation for app drivers, and fight the fights that we know will be coming to expand this law to impact more workers across the state. We may have lost this battle but will continue to fight for workers into the future.