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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Akilah ‘Brass Balls’ Bacy is a Texas badass

Flipping a state blue significantly improves peoples’ lives. Turning Texas blue has long been a brass ring for progressives, and as we get closer, Republicans are starting to fight back. Such was the case in the special election in HD-28, where Democrats had a great candidate and lots of energy but were overwhelmed by the Republican’s money (newly elected Rep. Gary Gates self-funded over $1 million) and every statewide elected official’s help.

We can’t be discouraged. There’s too much at stake — and some important math. There are 15 seats that were decided by closer margins than HD-28 in 2018, and Democrats only need to take 9 of them. Plus, they have an awesome candidate in HD-138, a suburban Houston district that was decided by just 47 votes in 2018.

Normally, a candidate who loses by just 47 votes decides to run again, especially after the incumbent announces they’re retiring. But in this case, 2018’s Democrat decided to step aside and back Akilah Bacy, a tireless legal warrior for the community and one of the most compelling candidates I’ve interviewed here at Progressives Everywhere.

When I called Akilah last Sunday, it was 7pm and very dark outside, but she was just wrapping up a weekend of door-to-door canvassing in her western Houston community. I was drained from a weekend of hanging with friends; she was bubbling with energy after two days spent walking and talking with voters.

“While I’m a new candidate, I’m not new to the community,” Bacy told me. “I grew up around the area and I’ve always been involved, working in the legal field first as a prosecutor and then doing defense work and then employment discrimination work. I always believe that you grow where you’re planted.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Akilah Bacy’s campaign via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

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The progressive group making a huge impact in red states

By mid-November, it was clear that the midterm elections went really well for Democrats — and even better for progressives.

Grassroots activists were able to enact a slew of progressive priorities via ballot initiatives, even in states where Democrats rarely win elections. In Idaho, Utah, and Nebraska, voters overwhelmingly chose to expand Medicaid. In Michigan, they supported nonpartisan redistricting reform, expanding voting rights, and legalizing marijuana. In Missouri and Arkansas, voters voted to raise the minimum wage. Floridians, meanwhile, gave the vote back to over a million rehabilitated ex-felons.

The list of victories goes on and on, marking triumphs for a number of grassroots groups and the ascendance of one national organization: The Fairness Project, a DC-based 501(c)(4) that works to support local activists at every step of the ballot initiative process. The organization was involved in each minimum wage and Medicaid expansion victory, a win for regulating payday loans in Colorado, and a number of other ballot wins last month.

“By actually putting progressive wins on the board there,” Jonathan Schleifer, the Executive Director of The Fairness Project, tells Progressives Everywhere, “we demonstrated that Americans are much less interested in the divisiveness of the current administration and much more interested — when given the opportunity — to look out for each other and actually make progressive policy.”

After a week filled with lame-duck Republican legislators making a mockery of democracy and thumbing their nose at voters, it’s clear that direct ballot initiatives are going to be even more essential tools in our activism. With that in mind, here is Progressives Everywhere’s conversation with Schleifer about how The Fairness Project goes about supporting grassroots groups and what’s coming next.

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The wreckage from a week of Republican power-grabs

The Republican Party has now fully entered the next phase of its all-out war on American democracy — not only are they cheating in an effort to win elections, they’ll now disregard the will of voters when they lose. After giving it a test run in 2016, when the GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature tried to strip Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper of many of his powers, Republicans are going all-in on the strategy in key states across the country.

The scheme played out this past week in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and once again in North Carolina, where Republicans have become the nation’s leaders in abject and blatant cheating. It’s hard to keep up with all the corruption, as so many of the most insidious clauses and maneuvers are nestled into giant bills that were kept secret from the public up until now. To help catch you up, here’s a running list of state GOP’s anti-democratic lame-duck treachery.

Wisconsin:

In a marathon Tuesday night session that stretched into the next morning’s rush hour commute, the GOP-held legislature passed a number of bills that will hamstring Democratic Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul. The state is already gerrymandered beyond belief, which allowed Republicans to keep their legislative majority despite Democrats earning a majority of statewide votes this November. You’d think that would send a message to GOP legislators, but that assumes that modern Republicans have consciences or even self-awareness.

Awaiting outgoing GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s signature are a number of bills that will significantly weaken the executive branch and hurt voters and working people. They will:

  • Curtail early voting, reducing it from six to two weeks before the election;
  • Double down on new Medicaid work requirements
  • Stripping the Attorney General of the ability to remove the state from lawsuits, including the suit against the Affordable Care Act
  • Takes away Evers power to control or disband a key economic development council
  • Require legislative approval for some decisions made by the Governor

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Where the minimum wage is rising and where the fight continues

The national minimum wage still sits at a disgraceful and unlivable $7.25 an hour, and because Trump is still stinking up the White House and business-shill Republicans have a Senate majority, that figure is unlikely to change in the next few years. But thanks to the hard work of activists and working people, the minimum wage continues to creep up in a variety of states across the country.

Since the Fight for $15 kicked off in 2012, more than 20 states and 40 cities have raised their minimum wages. In 2019, due to previously passed legislation and successful ballot initiatives in Missouri and Arkansas, the minimum wage will rise in 20 different states. Here’s a chart with an overview of the minimum wage in each state:

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