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Delivery workers

‘Buy, Bully, Bamboozle’: Report Alleges App Companies Threaten Democracy

App delivery companies seek to block worker-led improvements by spending big money on political influence, leveraging their data, and even co-opting progressive language, argues a new report that lands days before a national one-day strike by app-workers. 

App delivery companies seek to block worker-led improvements by spending big money on political influence, leveraging their data, and even co-opting progressive language, argues a new report that lands days before a national one-day strike by app-workers. 

Uber and Lyft, along with delivery app corporations DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates have used the same tactics across different states to protect their interests at the expense of their workers, according to the report, "The Bully's Playbook: How App Corporations Hold Back Worker Organizing and Harm Democracy," issued last week by PowerSwitch Action with the National Employment Law Project.

"These corporations ... exploit workers and customers not only to drive money into the hands of wealthy executives and Wall Street, but also to maintain governing power over a burgeoning industry in the face of worker demands for minimum labor standards and transparency about the terms and conditions of their work," the report states. "This is part of a larger pattern of corporations buying, bullying, and bamboozling their way into controlling workers and their communities across the country to continue to exploit them for profit."

Tactics include:

  • Pouring funds into amassing political and economic power to leverage against communities trying to pass policies that would hold app corporations accountable: The report reminds us that Uber hired former Obama administration staffers David Plouffe and Jim Messina, and Lyft hired Obama's former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to replicate California's notoriously anti-worker Prop 22 across the country.
  • Creating "Astro-turf" groups: In 2016, Uber, for example, founded Drive Forward in Seattle and the Independent Drivers Guild in New York City.
  • Threaten to pull out of a market, raise prices or deteriorate customer service if progressive policies are adopted: When New York City and Seattle enacted such policies for app-based taxi drivers, Uber claimed prices would double. They did not. "In fact, a new analysis of one billion rides found that Uber increased fares at a higher rate in Chicago than it did in New York between 2019 and 2023," the report states.
  • Threaten to take away workers’ flexibility or otherwise worsen job quality: "Using the app to barrage drivers with confusing and misleading messaging, Uber and Lyft claimed [a] California law could take away drivers’ scheduling autonomy and ability to work for more than one platform [but] what was conspicuously absent from this messaging, of course, was any mention of the many rights and protections drivers would be entitled to as employees under this law."
  • Wrongly appropriate the concepts of racial justice: "Uber has appropriated benevolent discourses of racial justice, promising to 'weave equity into the way the world moves,' while pushing for labor and economic policies that have had devastating consequences for communities of color," the report argues.

People in the delivery industry in New York City readily confirm their experiences with some of the "buy, bully and bamboozle" elements of the PowerSwitch Action report. New York's minimum pay standard law for delivery workers was passed in 2023, but advocates are seeing retaliation tactics play out to sow confusion and division among workers. 

For instance, advocates say that the companies deliberately confused the situation during public hearings over the proposed minimum wage, claiming it would result in lower pay for workers. In the end, it did — but because of company tactics: "The companies made sure their threats came through," the report argued.

Workers saw it on the street:

"DoorDash and Uber removed the tipping option from the beginning of the app ordering process after minimum pay was put into effect," said Gabriel Montero of the Worker's Justice Project.

Other workers complained they can't get as much work as they used to get.

“Even though we have a minimum wage, they've started locking us out of the apps,” said Jagat Pun, a delivery worker from Nepal who primarily works for UberEats. “We need lockouts to end so that we can be paid the way we need to."

Pun and others added that the app companies want workers to believe that the new mandated hourly wages, not the app companies' willfully confusing policies, have cut into their paycheck. 

“We’ve watched some of these tactics play out,” said Dan Ocampo, one of the report’s authors, “There was a series of threats and a lot of counter-organizing to convey their pay would take a hit.” 

The app-based delivery companies have consistently denied these allegations, but also the allegedly "extreme" policies that have been created.

“DoorDash is committed to transparency around our response to these extreme policies, and any claims that platform changes may be retaliatory simply ignore the reality of how we have looked for a path forward that best supports everyone in our community,” a spokesperson for the company told Streetsblog.

And during debates over the minimum wage and other measures to control app practices, the companies have argued that their strategy is best because it gives workers so many options to work as much, or as little, as they want — as well as set their own schedules.

But Montero said that's an obfuscation.

“The app delivery companies like to talk about flexibility, but it’s really the precarity of workers that they’re promoting,” he said.

This is not just a New York problem. Ocampo said the apps' "playbook ... is part of a national strategy."

The report comes as Justice for App Workers, a two-year-old national coalition, is organizing a May Day strike to bring awareness to many of the concerns highlighted by the report. The strike will take place in 15 cities and includes taxi drivers who say they face many of the same tactics from corporate giants like Uber and Lyft.

Pun, who is a member of United Delivery Workers Association, plans to strike on May 1 as a show of solidarity with his fellow struggling workers.

“If just one person says something, the apps aren't going to do anything," he said.

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