Prop 22, Attacks on the New Deal, and What Biden Can Do About It All

It’s been a tough few weeks for gig economy workers, who were already at the bottom of the economic totem pole:

Unlike many overt abuses of corporate power, these are not fait accompli. In fact, President Joe Biden can actually do something about them. He just has to empower his National Labor Relations Board to take action on Prop 22, one of the biggest under-the-radar threats to working people and democracy today.

What Is Prop 22?

Two events fundamentally rewired the American economy last year. The first, obviously, was COVID-19, which continues to rage and roil what was an already grossly unequal system. The second, the passage of Proposition 22 in California, went a bit under the radar but seriously compounded the shifts instigated by the pandemic.

When the pandemic blossomed in March 2020, businesses shut down and employers began massive waves of furloughs that became layoffs. Desperate for any sort of income, hundreds of thousands of people joined an already overcrowded, underpaying gig economy; within the first few months of the outbreak, grocery delivery apps like Instacart and Amazon Flex added over 550,000 workers, who were forced to put themselves at the mercy of algorithms and assume all risk and expenses in exchange for low wages and no security. In 2019, one study showed that drivers were making an average of $9/hour after all the expenses that they had to cover. Even more competition made it even worse.

A few years ago, lawmakers in California decided to do something about the garbage compensation that Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash, and other gig companies offered their workers. In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law known as AB 5, which created a standardized “ABC” test to determine whether someone is a full-time worker and therefore owed certain benefits and pay from their employer. But “laws are only as good as their enforcement,” says Veena Dubal, a law professor at the University of California, and the gig economy companies decided that they didn’t feel like obeying AB 5.

“Mom and pop companies know that they cannot weather a lawsuit, so they are going to be in compliance,” Dubal tells Progressives Everywhere. “But companies like Uber and Lyft, they don’t have a viable business model and they’re hemorrhaging millions a year, but because of all of their venture capital funding, they can afford to say ‘go ahead and sue us.’”

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Canceling Student Debt Should Be a No-Brainer for Democrats

Imagine you’re watching a basketball game. A player grabs a rebound and starts on a fastbreak, driving down the court with a clear lane to the basket. But instead of taking it all the way and throwing down a vicious dunk, the player pulls back and kicks it out across the court, beginning a long and muddled series of passes between dysfunctional teammates that end with a turnover.

Or if you’re not a sports fan, picture this: A friend of yours meets the person of their dreams. The two of them immediately click, and soon enough, it looks like they’re headed for marriage. But this friend of yours hesitates, worried about what might happen if they can’t invite everyone they’ve ever known, including people that hate them, to the wedding.

OK, one more: A Democratic president has an opportunity to issue a proclamation that would provide an instant boost to the economy and win the adulation of generations of voters. But instead of embracing the idea, he vacillates and suggests doing far less ambitious and effective, potentially squandering all the potential goodwill.

(That last one wasn’t really a metaphor.)

Even if Democrats pull off an unlikely double victory in the Georgia special elections, it’s unlikely that Joe Biden will have much of a chance at passing any big, transformative legislation in at least his first few years in office. His best bet will be to instead rely on executive orders, and there are few more consequential orders he could issue than one that cancels the unconscionable amount of student debt crushing the dreams of tens of millions of Americans.

Forgiving student debt isn’t some far-left socialist plan, either. It was proposed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer (!) this fall, and once Biden won the election, Schumer renewed the call for the president-elect to issue student loan forgiveness to the 42 million Americans drowning in school debt.

Let me emphasize again that it doesn’t get more centrist than Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

On Monday, Biden reaffirmed his campaign trail commitment to forgiving up to $10,000 in student debt to people who are “economically distressed.” That would have a minor impact at best, as just 7% of school loans are privately issued: limiting any relief to those parameters and calling it canceling student debt would be like tossing a half-eaten ice cream sandwich at a homeless encampment and saying you solved world hunger.

Warren and Schumer (along with a coalition of over 230 groups) are urging Biden to go much further. They want him to wipe out up to $50,000 of federal school debt per person; with the average debt-holder carrying a $32,000 balance, one stroke of the pen would free tens of millions of people from the shackles of substantial financial burdens.

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