Friday, February 23, 2018

SEIU’s David Rolf Joins Andy Stern in Pimping for Uber

Andy Stern and Andy's "Mini-Me" David Rolf

Remember when SEIU President Emeritus Andy Stern began working as a consultant for Airbnb, Handy, and other tech firms to help them try to undermine gig-economy workers’ right to be treated as regular employees?

Well, another SEIU official is now following “Handy” Andy’s lead.

Last month, SEIU Local 775 President David Rolf (a.k.a. Andy Stern’s “Mini-Me”) signed an open letter with Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer. 

The letter calls on “business, labor and government in Washington state to join us” in an effort to push state legislation that reportedly would consign gig workers to a second-class status as independent contractors without the right to overtime pay, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, Social Security, meal and rest breaks, etc.

For years, Uber drivers and other gig-economy workers have been fighting to force tech companies to treat them as regular employees. They’ve filed class-action action lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in back pay. And in Seattle, Uber drivers and Teamsters Local 117 successfully passed a law allowing Uber drivers to unionize.

Uber executives have been aggressively fighting workers’ organizing efforts in the courts as well as by launching an anti-union campaign in Seattle consisting of TV ads, online ads, text and e-mail blasts to drivers, anti-union meetings, and even an anti-union podcast.

And, in case workers are successful, Uber is also trying to do an end-run around workers’ efforts by trying to pass state laws that would permanently legislate gig workers into “independent contractor” status and create a second tier of so-called “portable benefits” for them.

That’s where Stern and Rolf come into the story.

In 2016, the tech companies hired Andy Stern as a lobbyist to help them try to pass such a bill in the New York legislature. Fortunately, that effort stalled due to opposition.

Following their failure in New York, the tech companies are now trying their luck in Washington State… with the help of David Rolf and Andy Stern. According to Uber’s website:
Last year, Uber approached David Rolf with SEIU 775 and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer about working together on the creation of a portable benefits system in Washington state… Following several productive discussions, we developed a joint letter calling on business, labor, and government to work together to address this important problem.

On January 23, 2018, Uber published a letter signed by Uber’s CEO, SEIU’s Rolf, and the venture capitalist. At the top of the letter is Uber’s logo alongside SEIU’s.

So, how are people responding to Rolf’s so-called “innovative” deal with Uber?

Here’s a sample, according to Bloomberg. (Josh Eidelson, “Uber-Union Proposal on Benefits Met With Skepticism From Labor,” Bloomberg, January 25, 2018).

New York Taxi Workers Alliance Director Bhairavi Desai told Bloomberg: “Selling out to the bosses is not innovative—it’s as old as capitalism."

Desai continued: “This type of bogus agreement only gives them [tech companies] cover for exploitation.”

Damn right!

In fact, Rolf has even been criticized by an official inside his own union, according to Bloomberg:
“This is just a facelift by Uber to be able to look like they actually care about the people who they hire for the services they provide,” said Hector Figueroa, who is president of SEIU’s East Coast property services affiliate and serves with Rolf on the international union’s executive board. “I just cannot comprehend how today, as a labor leader, I would be encouraging the spread of ‘independent’ work.”

Interesting, right?

Why is Rolf’s help so important to Uber?

First, Rolf’s union is one of the largest in Washington state and he's developed lots of relationships with politicians. If Uber is successful in passing its legislation in one state, it can then push similar legislation nationally, says Bloomberg’s Eidelson.
Uber hopes working with Rolf and Hanauer to pass legislation in Washington will change the national conversation on these issues, showing how benefits can be decoupled from traditional employee-employer status, and opening a less adversarial phase in the debate over how laws should treat gig-economy workers, a spokesperson said.
The trio, and whichever additional allies they can muster, will try to get a first-of-its-kind system passed into law in Washington state, which is Rolf and Hanauer’s home as well as one of the few places where Democrats have unified control of government and legislation on the issue is already being debated.
While the letter is light on details, the spokesperson said Uber wants to gather additional stakeholders and formulate a proposal that could be introduced in next year’s legislative session. Among the things a bill should do, the spokesperson said, is make clear that workers like Uber drivers are not employees.

Uber drivers protesting low pay
Meanwhile, Stern is working other channels to help Uber and tech companies permanently relegate their workers to independent-contractor status.

In December 2016, Stern co-authored a proposal with Eli Lehrer (President of the right-wing “R Street Institute” in Washington DC) calling on the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress and White House to grant “waivers” to states to allow them to escape the requirements of federal labor laws. The waivers would be a boon to tech companies, which Stern calls “sharing-economy companies” with “innovative business models.”

Stern, a master of deception and disinformation, entitled his proposal: “How to Modernize Labor Law.”

Does SEIU have no shame?