“I have a plan for that!” has become Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) new trademark catchphrase to stand out in a crowded field of presidential hopefuls. To her credit, she has fired off numerous plans to cement her status as the field’s resident policy wonk. Whether those plans are prudent is a different story.
Among her many plans, which primarily focus on workers, one calls for reclassifying independent contractors—which includes Uber drivers, DoorDash delivery drivers, and other (app-based) gig workers—as employees.
But her plan is not completely her own idea. Like many federal proposals, her plan was inspired by state legislation. In this case, California Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), which was signed into law last month, is its predecessor. The bill was introduced by one of Warren’s endorsees, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, and Warren even endorsed her bill in a Sacramento Bee guest column.
AB 5, however, would virtually decimate the gig economy, making it harder for employers to hire workers and for Californians to find (extra) work.
Of course, it wouldn’t be California if the state’s most politically connected industries, such as the insurance and real estate industries, didn’t carve themselves exceptions in the bill. Even direct-selling companies—part of an industry that has a history of trapping its workers into elaborate pyramid schemes—like Mary Kay are exempt from the bill.
Given these exceptions, one must ask if this is really about workers.
This, however, is not the first time Gonzalez has hurt workers. Last year, she voted to kill a legislative package—containing bills AB 3092, AB 3093, and AB 3094—that would have protected the independent rights of farm workers.
These bills, which were introduced by Assemblyman Jim Patterson, would have decertified unions that ghost their members for over three years and would have required judicial reviews to occur before farmworker union elections were arbitrarily thrown out. It would also have given workers the opportunity to ratify union “contracts” that are actually government-written dictates that result from a unique California state government process that gives the government powers that no other agency in the country has over private businesses and workers. These three key provisions may have been the reason why Gonzalez opposed the bills.
In 2018, Gonzalez sided with the United Farm Workers (UFW) union after it re-emerged at Gerawan Farms for the first time in 22 years to shake down its farm workers for money. After those farm workers voted to leave the union, the UFW attempted to prevent it, and it wasn’t until those workers sued that they were able to finally leave the union.
Patterson’s legislation would have prevented this horrible incident from happening again by extending common sense workplace protections to farm workers. His bills would have taken power away from the UFW—which, of course, Gonzalez Fletcher could not support because union bosses (not farm workers) are her core constituency.
It is clear that union politics played a role in her decision to kill Patterson’s legislation when you find out that she is a vocal supporter of banning mandatory arbitration agreements in employee contracts. In fact, she has twice introduced legislation that would have banned settlement agreements for employment and labor claims and arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. So why not extend the same rights that others in the state have to these farm workers?
Now farm workers are fighting for those rights. Pick Justice Action, a group representing farm workers, launched its campaign regarding Gonzalez’s record of abandoning farm workers. It plans on covering her district and the state with ads that highlight how she abandoned farm workers.
This should serve as a warning to Warren before adopting more of Gonzalez’s unpopular policies.
Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators.