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Uber, Lyft paid nearly $ 100K to the NAACP leader firm that supported their vote

Uber Driver protests

Ride-hail drivers have held numerous protests in front of Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco over the past few years and demanded to be classified as employees.

James Martin / CNET

Editor’s note: Four weeks after this story was made public, Alice Huffman reportedly resigned as president of California’s chapter of the NAACP, with effect from December 1st. The news was reported Friday by the Los Angeles Times, which said Huffman, 84, cited health issues. as the reason for her departure. The newspaper noted that Huffman has held the position since 1999.

Uber and Lyft have improved their $ 200 million effort to win an election campaign designed to keep concertgoers classified as independent contractors in California. They have sent mailers, emails, text messages and press releases and taken ads out. One of the many themes they have touched on is that “color communities support Prop 22.”

Yes on the Proposition 22 campaign even secured an endorsement from Alice Huffman, a notable black leader and president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“CA NAACP president notes that” politicians stubbornly promote disastrous laws and lawsuits that threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs for our people, “reads a Facebook ad from the Yes campaign that began running in September.” Therefore, the organization supports Prop 22 . ”

However, a brief review of campaign funding registers raises questions about the independence of Huffman’s support. In February, the Yes on Proposition 22 campaign began paying $ 10,000 and $ 15,000 to AC Public Affairs, the small Sacramento-based consulting firm that Huffman runs with his sister. As of October 9, the company had raised $ 95,000 from the campaign.

The NAACP’s approval of Bill 22 comes during a particularly busy election year in which racial justice has been a central theme. Businesses and politicians have been quick to condemn racism and inequality. By recruiting Huffman, the Yes on Proposition 22 campaign also uses racial justice as part of its argument to adopt the vote.

Yes on Proposition 22 is sponsored by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates, who have contributed so much cash to the proposal that it has become the most expensive voting campaign in California history. They introduced the initiative last fall after the state passed AB5, a law that will require companies to reclassify drivers as employees. Under Proposition 22, companies would offer workers some benefits, such as reimbursement of expenses and health care, but drivers would remain independent contractors.

The battle between the gig finance companies and California is likely to have national consequences. Other states, such as Washington, Oregon, New York and New Jersey, are considering legislation similar to AB5. Legislators say employee status is about creating more labor protection for gig workers.

According to the Yes campaign, the majority of these gig workers in California are colored. It’s backed by Uber’s own data, which shows that at least 55% of its US drivers are not white. A separate study conducted by the University of California at Santa Cruz showed that 78% of Uber and Lift drivers in San Francisco are colored.

Huffman and AC Public Affairs did not respond to requests for comment. The NAACP’s California and national arms also did not respond to requests for comment. Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Postmates, which Uber acquired in July, did not respond to requests for comment. Instacart referred CNET to the Yes campaign.

“Alice Huffman is working with the Yes on Prop. 22 campaign to support outreach efforts in color communities because of the significant impact that the loss of app-based rideshare and delivery services will have on black and brown Californians,” a spokesman for Yes said. campaign said in an email.

A spokesman for the California Fair Political Practices Commission, who declined to comment on this particular situation, said people and organizations are free to join or oppose any candidate or vote. There is no indication that payments to Huffman are crossing any lines.

Opponents of Bill 22 say the campaign’s use of the NAACP approval without revealing that Huffman’s company received money is unfortunate.

“This is a wolf in sheep’s clothing form,” Shamann Walton, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said during a video press conference last week on voting and racial inequality. “Prop. 22 is anything but an equity initiative.”

National attention

As the concert economy companies have flooded California voters with political news that Proposition 22 is backed by “socially just advocates,” politicians nationwide have also weighed the vote. As the state’s economy is the largest in the United States, its laws often crumble across the country.

Several prominent Democrats, including presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate California Senator Kamala Harris, oppose Proposition No. 22, as do Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and California Rep. Barbara Lee. Racial justice and human rights organizations, including Color of Change, the ACLU, the National Employment Law Project and Human Rights Watch, have also criticized the vote.

“Prop 22 will make racial inequality worse in California and at the worst possible time,” Lee said in a statement last week. “Prop 22 was written to lock drivers … in permanently low-paid jobs and deprive them of sick pay and benefits.”


Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said that reclassifying drivers as employees would mean job cuts.

James Martin / CNET

Human Rights Watch said last week that Bill 22 would “devise minimum wages and other protection of labor rights” for gig workers, adding that “opaque wage algorithms” would leave drivers at the whim of companies. Some cities, such as New York and Seattle, have tried to overcome these issues by passing laws requiring Uber and Lyft to pay drivers the minimum wage.

“Yes, the Prop 22 campaign funded by these big concert companies is threatening to create a class of workers who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Lena Simet, senior researcher in poverty and inequality at Human Rights Watch.

If forced to reclassify drivers as employees, Uber says tens of thousands of jobs will be lost – it claims it will have to limit the number of drivers on its platform to control costs. The NAACP’s Huffman and Yes on Proposition 22 campaign says this job loss will affect color communities.

James Lance Taylor, a professor of political science and African American studies at the University of San Francisco, said he is not surprised that Huffman’s AC Public Affairs is taking campaign payments.

“She has a reputation for being a maverick and being independent,” Taylor said. “And [$95,000] will make you independent. ”

Huffman’s company received $ 1.7 million from all the California election campaigns she approved, according to a lengthy CalMatters report. Her views appear to be at odds with the NAACP’s goal of race equity. For example, she has backed No campaigns for bills 15 and 21, which aim to increase funding for public schools and expand rent control, respectively.

‘Billboard signs and large checks’

As Uber and Lyft poured millions into Proposition 22, the companies also launched advertising campaigns designed to highlight their dedication to racial justice.

Lyft’s ad was for an initiative it launched at the end of August, called LyftUp, which provides free rides in some communities that do not have access to transportation services. The campaign debuted with a video using selected lines from Maya Angelou’s poem On the Pulse of Morning.

“Raise your eyes the day that breaks for you,” the ad begins, quoting Angelou’s poem. It has various families, drivers and riders getting ready for work and shuttles throughout San Francisco and other cities overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and blocks of murals painted after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in May.

Around the same time, Uber launched a billboard campaign across the country with the slogan “If you tolerate racism, delete Uber.”

Both companies’ ads were abused by critics, who said the fact that these marketing campaigns increased at the same time as companies aggressively pushed Proposition 22 was hypocritical. Because companies classify their drivers as independent contractors, these workers do not receive employee benefits such as health insurance, paid sick leave, and overtime. Drivers also have to pay for their own cars, gas, vehicle maintenance, insurance and phone plans. Many workers say this system has led to exploitation.

The companies, however, claim that Bill 22 will help motorists because they get additions, such as a minimum guarantee. Under this warranty, companies say drivers earn about $ 21 an hour, which is the time they spend with a passenger or on their way to pick one up.

Economists at the University of California at Berkeley Labor Center shattered the numbers and included other costs, such as the time drivers have to wait to be matched with a rider. They concluded that the drivers’ actual salary was closer to $ 5.64 per hour. Uber disputes these findings.

Cherri Murphy, an organizer with the law firm Gig Workers Rising, was a full-time Lift driver in Oakland, California, until the new coronavirus pandemic hit. She said she stopped driving in March because she was worried about working without personal protective equipment and sick leave. Murphy said she believes “racial justice is economic justice” and it is therefore difficult for her to trust companies when they say they care about black lives.

“These are completely hollow words that hide behind signs and big checks,” Murphy said. “This fight is not just about killing police and terror, it’s about the systems that exploit black and brown people in this country. And when it comes to exploiting black and brown people, Lyft, Uber and DoorDash are experts.”

Huffman, the NAACP president in California, went on to speak for Proposition 22. In a September paper in the Observer, a black newspaper based in Southern California, she wrote: “We have to take matters into our own hands. to ensure black and Brown families do not suddenly find themselves without a paycheck. ”

Since this op-ed race, Huffman’s company has raised at least $ 20,000 from the Proposition 22 campaign.

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