Hardwire Gig Workers' Rights Into Law. It's the Only Way to Save the American Dream | Opinion

One of us has been an Uber driver for three years. The other is the president of a large union that has helped workers traditionally excluded from labor protections and the right to join together turn their jobs into good, family-sustaining ones and win a voice at work.

Driving for Uber, I've seen first hand how app-based services, like Uber and Lyft, have given riders unprecedented convenience and a way to save time, one of our most valued commodities. I often get comments from my riders about how grateful they are for being able to focus on something they would rather focus on, by having someone like me get them quickly and safely to where they need to go. Their comments often turn to questions about me: how I got into driving Uber, why I do it, do I make good money doing it? I like what I do, I enjoy meeting and driving my riders, but the value of my work is not reflected in the way I am treated by Uber.

As these on-demand platforms continue to grow, their CEOs and executives have gotten richer by not having to offer workers like me basic minimum wages, standards, conditions, protections and the right to join together in a worker organization. As a result, drivers sometimes have to sleep in our cars to be positioned at the right place at the right time to catch a ride. We have to work long hours without a break just to make ends meet because platform companies have lowered and adjusted rates, turning flexibility on its head by essentially forcing us to work certain hours to get by.

So we have been organizing, demonstrating and striking to demand that platform companies do better, and this week, we are coming together in Sacramento. We are joining together with other workers from across the state—including fast food, home care, childcare and airport workers in the Fight for $15 and a Union—to fight for and support the California legislature's chance to take a bold step in the right direction.

Through legislation known as Assembly Bill 5 or AB5, which will be heard in the State Senate this week, California would recognize gig workers as employees, a classification already made law by the California Supreme Court's decision in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles. By passing AB5 California's legislature can give us the basic legal protections and guaranteed minimum wages we need to support our families.

While ride share companies say they want to do better than the status quo, they continue to fight against this path for gig workers, claiming AB5 would hurt their profitability and cause us to lose the flexibility we love in our jobs. This is a false premise and a false choice. That's why in addition to supporting AB5, we are demanding the right to a union. By uniting into a powerful worker organization, hundreds of thousands of California's gig workers would have the strength to make improvements in our jobs, including maintaining and improving our flexibility. We would also be able to join together to fight for reductions in the incentives that platform companies currently use to get away with unstable and abusive working standards and conditions.

We're not alone in our fight.

Across California, SEIU has fought with workers fighting against misclassification and exclusion from basic pay and protections for decades including janitors, homecare workers, and childcare providers. This is how 74,000 home care workers got their pay, protections and a union. When they started on their path 20 years ago, they were told it was impossible. They were told there was no way forward because giving them better wages and a union meant that the employers wouldn't be able to run their business according to their preferred business model. However, by bringing everyone to the table, they found a way forward that maintained and improved what consumers needed and wanted and also built a way forward for homecare workers to be able to care for their clients with jobs in which they could also care for their families.

SEIU helped lead the way for contract janitors in Los Angeles, who took to the streets to form their union. When they did so, they fundamentally changed the idea that contract janitors couldn't raise standards across an industry. And this year, over 34,000 Child Care Providers are on the cusp of finally winning the right to form a union and collectively bargain as we watch the positive progress AB378 is making in the California Legislature.

For the past 40 years, corporations and politicians have gutted workers' bargaining power, held down pay and made it harder for people to get ahead. In many ways, platforming is an extension of the outsourcing, subcontracting and shutting down of workers who organize that we've seen throughout the economy the past four decades. It's all the same – corporations are holding pay down and holding workers back. That is why SEIU is standing with ride-share workers like Linda to support them in their fight to turn their jobs into good, family-supporting ones.

Ride-share companies are among the cutting-edge pioneers in innovation who have built our new economy. True innovation is not just about growing technologies and platforms it also requires that the state of California and platform companies innovate in how they can extend a living wage and California's basic standards, conditions, and protections to us. Excuses to continue exploitive conditions of independent contractor status do not get us there.

The system is clearly broken. It is broken for gig workers across the country and in sectors across our economy. But there is a fix and California is poised to lead the way toward it. Now more than ever, we need everyone - the companies we work for, labor unions and elected leaders across our government - to come together and innovate through idea-sharing and conversations about how we can stand with gig workers to chart a path forward. That's good business for all. That is true innovation for all. That is how California can lead the way for our California dream to become a path to the American dream for all.

It can be done. It has been done and now is the time for California to make it happen.

Linda Valdivia is an Uber driver in Los Angeles who has been organizing for better pay, protections, and a union with the Mobile Workers Alliance. David Huerta serves as a leader for SEIU's California State Council and President of SEIU United Service Workers West.

The views expressed in this article are the authors' own.​​​​​