The council wants to make sure app-based workers dont get paid negative money.
The council wants to make sure app-based workers don't get paid negative money. HK

After months of conversations, Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Andrew Lewis finally unveiled the first bill in their PayUp Policy package, which covers minimum compensation standards, transparency in employment terms, and flexibility in employment issues for app-based workers at companies such as Instacart and Doordash.

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Herbold has long emphasized that giving gig workers something as basic as a minimum wage is a no-brainer. Nevertheless, during public comment on Tuesday, corporate lobbyists sure didn’t hurt their heads regurgitating old talking points to argue against minimum compensation for gig workers.

Any time the council or any legislative body dares to stand up for workers, corporate lobbyists come out of the woodwork to shut it down. At this point, the talking points sound basically AI-generated. Sage Wilson from Working Washington said that someone could have easily mistaken the Tuesday public comment period with a hearing about the $15 minimum wage in 2015, or the secure scheduling ordinance in 2016.

During the meeting, lobbyists from companies such as Uber Eats and Instacart first raised the concern that the council had created a “one-size-fits-all” policy. Justin Hyer, the Director of Governmental Affairs at Shipt, said applying a singular regulatory framework could take away from the flexible nature of the gig work.

Herbold addressed that misconception in the committee hearing, saying that the legislation does not take a “one-size-fits-all” approach but rather prescribes different standards for workers who facilitate pre-scheduled offers like repairs and those who perform on-demand services.

Regardless, labor standards intend to do just that – set a standard. Wilson said anti-worker lobbyists routinely fall back on this argument because they can apply it to anything, no matter how popular or how much of a “no-brainer” the policy is. But Wilson argued that paid sick time seems to work pretty universally as a set standard. So do weekends, which workers also fought for. If anything is going to be a universal standard, Wilson said it ought to be a minimum wage.

The lobbyists also accused the council of conducting a shallow stakeholdering process. If there is one thing you should never insult, it is the Seattle City Council’s god damn stakeholdering process. Herbold has spent over a year looking at this policy, and, according to the presentation on the PayUp bill, she has hosted no fewer than 12 stakeholder meetings. Furthermore, some of the same voices complaining about the stakeholdering process participated in that very process, Wilson said, so it's not like they were shut out.

Still, critics such as Allison Ford, the Public Policy Manager for Uber in Seattle, did not like that the council drafted the policy without independent research about its possible effects. The lobbyists feared this policy could make services more expensive, which would drive down demand and put workers out of a job. The only thing worse than being exploited by capitalism is not being exploited by capitalism, apparently.

Because the council did not include a time-travel component to the legislation, Wilson said it might be difficult to accurately analyze a policy that is not yet in effect. However, the council passed a small appreciation pay for app delivery drivers during the pandemic, which could serve as a case study. The admittedly precarious business model did not cave in on itself. In fact, at the end of last year, the number of Seattle-area households using delivery apps shot up by about 90%, according to market-research data from Nielsen.

Even if a price hike did drive down demand, it would not need to come at the expense of small businesses or customers.

“Why is it only the underpaid worker who is responsible for the final cost? Not the 20% they take from restaurants, not the substantial fees to customers, not the millions they pay their CEO. No, the only thing that could make their service expensive is paying their workers the bare minimum,” Wilson said.

For the most part, the committee dismissed the arguments from the corporate lobbyists. “There will always be critics,” Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said. But the devil had one advocate in Councilmember Sara Nelson. Nelson, who earlier in the meeting suggested the council should rush into giving cops thousands of dollars in hiring bonuses because the Interim Chief of Police said so, criticized the depth of the stakeholdering process and noted that the advocates for the PayUp policy also ran the stakeholder outreach, which she thought was a conflict of interest.

But it appears Nelson’s stakeholdering process could use some work, too. Wilson said Working Washington will continue to invite Nelson to meet with gig workers, an invitation he said the council member has yet to accept.

The committee still has plenty of time to dig into the policy and make changes. Herbold said the committee will have another briefing before members even propose amendments.