David Pisarra

Last year California passed a law that reclassifies many people as employees, who were previously considered to be independent contractors.

This has the intended effect of making employers contribute for taxes, health and worker’s compensation insurance. While the motivations behind the law were to improve working conditions for lower wage employees and to take some of the burden of the public programs that many independent contractors are reliant upon, the actual impact is to remove opportunities, increase costs on employers and drive the beneficiaries into more public need.

Not all independent contractors were impacted by this new law, as the higher income categories were able to pay for high priced lobbyists to make sure they were exempted out of the onerous requirements: Real estate agents, doctors, accountants, architects, travel agents, graphic designers and investment advisors are free from the burdens. Some cosmetologists and barbers are free if they meet certain requirements for independence. The primary people impacted by this are the Uber and Lyft drivers and others who are taking full advantage of the gig economy to survive.

This law is being hotly contested and there is a well funded campaign to overturn the law in the form of Proposition 22 on this year’s ballot. Uber and Lyft have spent millions, to fight the implementation of this in the courts and to back the Proposition with tv ads. There have been reports that these companies will shut down operations in California if the law is not overturned or modified in such way they their basic business model can continue to survive.

What bothers me about this is that it seems like no one in Sacramento bothered to ask the people who are directly impacted by this, what they want. This was another great example of government coming up with what they think is a great idea, before they find out whether or not there is a problem.

Over the course the past four years I’ve used both Uber and Lyft on a semi-regular basis. I’ve had Ubers in four different countries and half a dozen states. I generally ask the drivers questions like, “How long you been doing this?” and get replies in the years, not days category. I’d say most of the drivers I’ve had use their driving as a way to supplement their income, although I’ve had a number who were fulltime drivers and this was their primary source of income. In general, the drivers I’ve had have touted the flexibility to make their own hours as a primary benefit.

One father loved the fact that when he gave up his job as an engineer for a construction company to become a driver he had the time and freedom now to raise his kids and be a better parent. My friend Ron loves to drive Uber as it gets him out of the house and away from his husband for a few hours a day. He loves the social interactions, and being an unofficial tour guide to his city for tourists.

More than a few of the Sunday night pickups I’ve had from LAX were students who were working their way through school and needed the flexible schedule and didn’t mind working late at night, because they had classes during the day. I think the government did a giant overreach when they fundamentally rewrote the definition of an independent contractor.

One of the benefits of being an American is our freedom to pursue happiness and careers of our own choosing. Many an immigrant comes to America and learns English by being a driver. Having the security of Google Maps to guide them to the right destination, allows the driver to engage the passenger in basic conversation.

Once we start demanding that everyone be an employee, with set hours and responsibilities, we start to infantilize everyone, and that is a bad thing. What makes our country great, is the opportunity to chart your own path. Yes that means you’ll make mistakes, but that’s how most of us learn, and how breakthroughs in science and business happen.

As a society we need people to be able to work more than one job, or to work in weird hourly shifts, or to have a schedule that fits their long term goals. Once we make it so that an employer must start dictating to everyone, we will lose good people, and more importantly, we will lose companies that employ thousands of people and contribute to our state bottom line. I think we should overturn this solution in search of a problem and I urge you to vote Yes on Proposition 22.

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or 310/664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra