Home / Technology / She was a farm worker. Your grandson is a Lyft driver. A struggle for workers’ rights unites them California

She was a farm worker. Your grandson is a Lyft driver. A struggle for workers’ rights unites them California



M.More than 40 years ago, Maria Cardona put her living on the line to promote change in the hot fields of central California where she picked grapes and other produce for $ 1.75 an hour.

Cardona now 80 Years old, tired of the way farm workers were treated like them ̵

1; the low wages, the groundbreaking work, the days with no access to cold water or bathrooms. Most of all, she got tired of the disrespect of her bosses, who she said regularly yelled at workers in the fields.

“It’s never easy – it’s very difficult when there’s no milk in the house and you have six children to feed,” she said. “But if you don’t fight for your rights, nobody will do it for you.”

In the 1960s, Cardona began organizing with her farm workers, despite threats and intimidation from management. She took part in the Delano Grape Strike, a five-year struggle for better conditions for grape pickers that garnered national attention and resulted in a wage victory that benefited more than 10,000 farm workers.

Maria Cardona, around the time she started organizing with the United Farm Workers.
Maria Cardona, around the time she started organizing with the United Farm Workers. Photo: Courtesy Carlos Ramos

Soon after, company producers funded an electoral measure called Proposition 22 to block similar measures and keep workers away from the organization in the future. The 1972 proposal was well funded by a coalition of farmers and would effectively “destroy” efforts to build a farm workers’ union, said labor activist Cesar Chavez, who mobilized a response.

Proposition 22 finally failed after an intense and public battle. But decades later, in a remarkable twist of fortune, Cardona’s grandson Carlos Ramos is fighting his own struggle against another Proposition 22. That, too, is backed by powerful corporations – including Uber, Lyft, and Instacart – and would restrict workers’ power to unionize. And while Ramos’ job as a Lyft driver seems far from picking grapes, the struggle of today’s gig workers is in many ways reminiscent of that of farm workers in the 1960s and 70s.

In 2019, California gig workers scored a huge victory when they passed AB5. This bill forced companies to classify their workers as employees, which ultimately gave them many benefits that they had previously been denied, including health care and paid time off.

Modern Proposal 22, which will appear on the ballot in November, was penned by tech giants like Uber, Lyft, Instacart and Doordash to evade AB5’s new demands. Ramos, who also organizes the Gig Workers Rising working group, says the move will allow these companies to “keep exploiting us.”

“These companies are trying to work out rules that apply only to themselves so they can avoid paying workers fair wages,” he said. “It’s a classic case of the little guy trying to take over a big business.”

A protest by Uber and Lyft riders against California's Proposition 22.
A protest by Uber and Lyft riders against California’s Proposition 22. Photo: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

“It’s a fight between David and Goliath”

The similarities between the two statements go deeper than the common name, said Miriam Pawel, an independent historian who has studied and written on California farm workers and labor movements for a decade.

“What gig workers are facing today is very reminiscent of the struggles farm workers faced,” said Pawel. “It’s a battle between David and Goliath, with big industry trying to evade initiatives that give workers more protection and allow them to organize.”

Farm workers have historically been exempt from occupational health and safety, beginning with the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1936, a fundamental labor law in the United States that established workers’ fundamental rights to organize to improve working conditions. The expulsion of field workers from the law came according to a paper by Juan F. Perea, a law professor at Loyola University Chicago.

Labor activist Cesar Chavez leads the United Farm Worker on a march in California's Central Valley in 1975.
Cesar Chavez leads the United Farm Workers on a march in California’s Central Valley in 1975. Photo: Cathy Murphy / Getty Images

Similarly, the gig economy operates on the principle that workers are independent contractors and not workers and therefore have no protection under the NLRA. Ramos has made more than 10,000 trips for Lyft without attaining employee status. He resigned in early 2020 because of the pandemic. He said that since he started driving in 2017, he has watched wages, bonuses and other incentives go down.

“I realized it was just a race down,” he said. “There’s no end in sight to how much they’d chip off us or how deep they’d go.”

AB5, which was adopted in 2019 and came into effect on January 1, 2020, would change that and use a three-part standard to determine whether an employee is properly classified as an independent contractor. Uber and Lyft have claimed their drivers don’t meet this standard, but California lawmakers disagree. A San Francisco judge issued an injunction in August forcing companies to comply with the law and reclassify their drivers.

Carlos Ramos fights with gig workers.
Carlos Ramos fights with gig workers. Photo: Sammy Dallal / Courtesy of the Almanac

Proposition 22, which would allow companies to keep contracting gig workers, is heavily funded by Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and Instacart, who together have amassed a $ 180 million war chest. The campaign spent $ 126,000 on advertising on Facebook alone, repeatedly flooding users with Prop 22 promotions. For example, Uber users in California had to “confirm” that they had read a push notification promoting the offer before announcing a ride. Lyft has also sent notifications to drivers.

Ramos said the fight for better wages only intensified with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, underscoring the precariousness of life in the gig economy.

“With so many people out of work, when we get back to some sort of normal, people will be desperate for work,” he said. “During these times, we need to make sure that safeguards are in place so employers don’t take advantage of this.”

“This fight for rights – it never goes away”

Uber and Lyft claim Proposition 22 offers drivers protection and benefits and allows them to stay part-time. Workers like Ramos disagree and compared their lobbying tactics to the farmers of the 1970s. He said the struggle was part of his legacy as a Mexican-American immigrant.

Carlos Ramos with his grandmother Maria Cardona.
Carlos Ramos with his grandmother Maria Cardona. Photo: Courtesy Carlos Ramos

“People ask me, ‘Isn’t it daunting to know that your family has been fighting the same battle for decades?'” Ramos said. “It’s not daunting to me – it’s promising because they won their fight. There have been real changes in the farming community. “

Pawel said another similarity between the two movements is the way they used workers to appeal directly to the public and made the workers central to the movement more visible. This tactic could be particularly effective, Pavel said.

“The way they organized against the first proposal 22 was very timely – the idea of ​​farm workers coming out and saying, ‘I’m a farm laborer, that’s my life,” she said. “It was about them to humanize. “

The response to the corporate push of Modern Proposal 22 was similarly worker-centered. Tens of thousands of workers are mobilizing grassroots efforts against the bill. They stand in front of Uber’s offices demanding rights, they share their stories on social media and they urge customers not to cross the digital picket line during strikes.

“This struggle for workers, this struggle for rights – it never goes away,” said Ramos. “There will always be people who try to exploit other people. There will always be people who are powerful and people who are not. But that should motivate you, because people without resources put blood, sweat and tears into this cause – because we know we can win. “


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