Uber, but for being able to pay the rent

Here in New York, Mayor de Blasio signed major legislation that reigns in the unchecked growth of ride-hailing apps, which have latched on to American infrastructure and workers like a greedy, slickly designed succubus. The law freezes the number of new Uber and Lyft drivers for a year while the city studies the effects of the massive increase in drivers on the road — there are nearly 40,000 more “cab” drivers since 2015, and at any given time, 40% of those on the road do not have any passengers.

The flood of drivers with nothing to do has cut deeply into the earnings of traditional cab drivers, and Uber and Lyft drivers have fared no better, earning about $11 an hour thanks to the flood of drivers. Because they’re still considered independent contractors, they get no benefits from Uber or Lyft, either. So the new law also establishes a minimum wage for the drivers in the city, which will hopefully help the cycle of false hope, poverty, and all too often, suicide, which has become an epidemic here.

I’m not a cab driver, but the Uber problem is not limited to the livery industry. The “Uber for” construct of startup pitches became so ubiquitous a few years ago that it became a punchline, but the impact has been real. As a writer, even with a good full-time job, I am always looking for ways to supplement my income, largely to pay off medical bills. (I’ve had four heart surgeries and even with insurance, medicine costs hundreds a month and a quick annual checkup runs $500. Donate to my Patreon here?) I often look to pick up freelance work, whether it’s journalism unrelated to my day job or copywriting.

The latter is kind of a murky industry, but it has moved more and more towards platforms like Upwork, which function as a mass job posting board. Which would be fine, but the mechanics of the thing and the desperation of writers has led to an incredible plunge in payment rates — we are talking a dollar for a thousand words. It’s brutal. It feels more and more like this is the future — I’ve seen a lot of friends laid off from journalism jobs over the last few years. The uptick in digital media unionization at least gives me some hope. Right now editorial employees from Thrillist, the network of travel and culture sites, are striking after a year of management refusal to recognize and negotiate with their union.

The hard part is that you can’t blame the Upwork writers, just as you can’t blame the drivers. People don’t work for those rates for fun. And you can’t even blame many of the very small businesses and individuals that hire writers on the cheap — times are tight; wages after inflation are down. In the same way, you can’t blame people who take Uber and Lyft — I’d be a real hypocrite if I did that, since I’ve used both myself, especially when the subways were down. Regulating, not eliminating, the platforms is key, so that convenience doesn’t destroy sustenance.

The real solution to the Uber problem would be a more reliable mass transit system, but as New Yorkers and anyone who follows us on Twitter know, that does not appear imminent. It’s one of the big issues animating state elections this fall, which we’ve covered heavily here.

But those frustrating infrastructure battles aside, this really is a momentous occasion. Silicon Valley employs fleets of lobbyists and Uber has especially leaned into trying to shape public policy and opinion. Their ads plaster the subways and they bombard the media with AstroTurf campaigns. It has largely avoided regulation — and been able to get the few laws that have passed repealed — but their money and aggression did not work in New York.

Instead, defiant unions and progressive activists won the day. It’s a landmark event, and already lawmakers elsewhere are taking notice, with aldermen in Chicago also now suggesting a minimum wage for drivers.

Regulating the gig and sharing economy is a national priority for progressives, even if they aren’t linked on it the way Medicare for All has become a unified cause. And without that urgency, it’s an uphill climb. The GOP hates regulation already and states are largely controlled by Republicans. Should the midterm elections go our way, we could see a lot more of these kinds of laws, though even a lot of Democrats are sympathetic to tech interests, even as scrappy startups become international behemoths without much interest in the public good.

This New York Times piece is a great look at the fight Facebook and other internet monopolies put up against even a modest set of regulations. Airbnb is also an aggressive lobbying force, waging rhetorical and financial war against any legislator that dares suggest perhaps it’s not a great idea to have every home available for rent. Neighborhoods are being transformed and housing is at a premium thanks to gentrification, and landlords are frequently kicking people out of their homes in order to turn them into pseudo-hotel rooms. Rents go up with every Airbnb unit; one study found that “New York City renters had to pay an additional $616 million in 2016 due to price pressures created by Airbnb.”

Again, it’s complicated, because Airbnb does make things easier for travelers, and it’s nice side income for some people. But it’s the exploitation that makes it troublesome. Every good idea comes with bad actors who try to take advantage of the system.

Progressive news and notes, 8/5

Good news! Michigan is one step closer to becoming a democracy again, as a people-powered anti-gerrymandering ballot initiative survived a spurious challenge by corporate lobbyists and the GOP attorney general. The 4-3 decision so pissed off the GOP that it’s now threatening to no longer support the Republican judge who did the right thing. Classy.

I interviewed George Takei: You can listen to it here — we mostly spoke about social media, trolls, and politics. He’s got a good voice.

The left is the center: America prefers progressive policy. Like, real progressive policy, on issues like drug prices, federal job guarantee, public internet, taxing the rich, and more. Don’t let any mewling centrist tell you the Democratic Party is going too far to the left — they just don’t want to risk losing their corporate patrons.

Mainstreaming: On the positive, Medicare for All is increasingly becoming the default healthcare position for new Democratic candidates. From what I’ve seen on so many candidate sites, even the more centrist candidates allude to the idea, and almost apologize for not being fully there.

Not all Democrats are created equal: On the other hand, there are still corrupt Democrats like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who are stopping major progressive policies from becoming reality. More on that next week!

Change in Ferguson: I’ve been doing some writing for the Working Families Party and my latest piece is a call-to-action in support of Wesley Bell, the progressive candidate for prosecuting attorney in St. Louis County. The long-time incumbent, entrenched in office for nearly 30 years, was the official who declined to prosecute the police that murdered Michael Brown in Ferguson back in 2014. This is a chance to unseat him with a city lawmaker devoted to criminal justice reform and helping people, not violent police officers.

Kobach the con-artist: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, now a GOP candidate for governor, went around ripping off and ultimately bankrupting cities across the Midwest with his voter ID scams. The GOP is more of a grift than anything else.

Class warfare: You don’t need experts to tell you this, but wages for working people are not rising, even as corporations get record tax breaks.

EXCLUSIVE: Iowa Judge Strikes Down Voter ID Law; Dem Nominee Reacts

We’ve seen the GOP work assiduously to dismantle the American voting system, through purges and strict ID laws that disproportionately target minorities and Democratic-leaning voters. Today in Iowa, a judge struck down the state’s pernicious and racist Voter ID law.

From the Cedar Rapids Gazette:

An Iowa judge Wednesday issued a temporary injunction barring the state from implementing some provisions of Iowa’s new voter ID law.

The ruling, for now, restores the absentee early voting period from 29 days to 40 days and blocks certain ID requirements of the law, passed by the GOP-led Legislature and signed into law by former Gov. Terry Branstad in May 2017.

Polk County District Judge Karen Romano ruled that elements of the state’s new system requiring state-issued voter identification numbers on absentee ballots could harm the rights of voters to participate in elections, “in contravention” of Iowa’s Constitution.

The law was initiated by Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, who worked to get the legislature to adopt and pass it. The ruling is a direct rebuke and could hurt the GOP’s chances in November. Pate himself is up for re-election, and is being challenged by former Obama campaign coordinator and small business owner Deidre DeJear.

I was actually just on the phone with DeJear as part of an already scheduled interview for Progressives Everywhere, and she was ecstatic about the ruling.

CLICK HERE to donate to Deidre DeJear via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue Page.

“The judge ruled that they could not prove the law was necessary. So 40 days of early voting is back, the ID requirement is no longer there, and there were some strange requirements for the absentee ballot system that have been annihilated,” she explained. “Paul Pate commissioned this bill. This is his baby, this is what he’s been working on for a while in our state. He hasn’t been promoting voting. We have about 2.3 million voters who are eligible to vote in our state but only 1.9 million are active. He’s not doing anything to engage them and there’s a lot of work that can be done in that office to increase our voter turnout.”

In her role for the Obama re-election campaign, she helped activate the youth and African-American vote. In 2012, minorities accounted for 7% of the vote in Iowa, up from 3% in 2008.

She’s in favor of automatic voter registration and actively promoting voting, instead of discouraging it like Pate has done. And with Iowa as a crucial swing state, having as many active voters as possible is a good thing for Democrats — and most of all, for democracy.

CLICK HERE to donate to Deidre DeJear via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue Page.

A note about our crowdfunding campaign: Progressives Everywhere will always be a free newsletter. But as the midterm elections draw near, we want to up our game, and that costs money. We want to do more candidate interviews, develop a new website, and even launch a podcast. So we’re asking for donations via Patreon, as little as $2 a month. There are perks, too. Thank you for reading, and now back to the activism!

This week on GOTMFV: Helping Pennsylvania break the GOP’s supermajority

This year I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Chris Savage and Jason Sattler, who are better known on the internet as the guys behind Eclectablog and LOLGOP. They have a great podcast about progressive politics and candidates, and they’ve invited Progressives Everywhere to do a weekly segment about local candidates for people to support.

This week’s choice is Tina Davis, a PA legislator who is running for the State Senate. She’s running in a very swingy district — Hillary Clinton won it in 2016, but so did Republican Senator Pat Toomey — and she’s taking on an entrenched incumbent. But she’s made a name for herself in the legislature and is a very grassroots-focused candidate, with a great pro-worker platform.

Pennsylvania is deadlocked with a Democratic governor and Republican supermajority in the State Senate, but the GOP’s grasp on the chamber is down to just one seat, making Davis’s candidacy that much important.  I’ll work to interview her soon, but we’re already raising money for her campaign.

Electoral news roundup: The future is female in Texas

Trump and Putin’s press conference yesterday was nothing short of pathetic. It deserves all the outrage we can throw at it — but it’s also not the only pressing news story happening right now. Here’s a look at some of the most important electoral stories happening right now:

  • In Texas, women are running for office in unprecedented numbers. Right now, there are only 29 women in the 150-seat State Legislature and eight women out of 31 state senators. But women make up nearly half of the Democratic Party’s nominees this year — including its nominee for governor.
  • Defying conventional wisdom, bold progressivism — and democratic socialism — is on the rise in western Pennsylvania and the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Lt. Governor candidate John Fetterman, the ultra-popular mayor of Braddock, is helping the surge. Bernie Sanders recently visited Pittsburgh to rally with Fetterman.
  • Maine voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to expand Medicaid last fall, but the state’s insane GOP governor, Paul LePage, refuses to carry out the will of the people. He’s now defying a court order to implement the Medicaid expansion, and just last week said he’d sooner go to jail than help working people go to the doctor. We’d like to see both happen.
  • Activists in Michigan delivered over 400,000 signatures to get a voter rights initiative on the ballot this fall. But a group of corporations is now suing to have the initiative removed from the ballot, a scary prospect given the fact that the State Supreme Court is made up entirely of Republicans. Citizens are fighting back, though, holding protests in Detroit to demand that the Chamber of Commerce, one of the lawsuits’ financiers, pulls out of the effort to thwart democracy.
  • The Koch Brothers are behind some incredibly misleading mailers to voters in Missouri, where Right to Work is on the ballot. Of course, they’re yet another attack on unions and workers.
  • New Hampshire is making it harder for people to vote, especially college students.