This week, gig economy delivery company Postmates ran a full-page ad in the LA Times—signed by more than 1,600 of its own workers—asking the governor of California not to reclassify its workers as actual employees. Postmates workers tell us they weren’t told that a couple of clicks in an app would cause their names to appear in a national newspaper, vouching for a controversial labor bill.
The California legislature is currently considering a bill that would make it much more difficult for “gig economy” companies like Uber, Lyft, or Postmates to classify its workers as “independent contractors,” rather than as employees. The move would have serious implications all around. A shift towards classifying thousands and thousands of gig workers as employees would obligate companies to pay them benefits, allow them to unionize, and generally afford them a better lifestyle and more power. It would also cost these tech companies—whose business models are all predicated to some degree on using this sleight of hand to minimize labor costs—a lot of money. The companies are therefore engaged in a serious PR and lobbying campaign to float an alternative package of less strenuous worker protections that would improve workers’ lives a bit but would not result in the loss of the company’s all-important ability to keep sequestering them in “independent contractor” status.
The Postmates full-page LA Times ad showed more than 1,600 workers’ names surrounding the text, “Governor Newsom, we are the nation’s gig workers. We want to work flexibly, without shifts and the limits of traditional jobs. But we also want to unlock a guaranteed minimum wage; worker’s compensation & other portable benefits; civil rights protections; and a seat at the table. There’s a deal that’s been offered to do just that. But conversations have stalled. Will you help?” The clear message of the ad is that the legislative option preferred by Postmates’ CEO, which would not change the employment classification, is preferred by Postmates workers as well.
But is that true? Where, exactly, did Postmates find these many hundreds of average gig workers willing to lend their names to this public statement? The company told us only that “It was a petition workers signed on their own in English, Arabic, Spanish and Mandarin.” So we asked the workers to tell us more.
Multiple workers emailed us, and they told us two relevant things:
1) That Postmates secured the names for this petition via a pop-up in the Postmates app itself within the past month. That pop-up request for signatures used language similar or identical to the language in the ad. Here is a partial screenshot of it as it appeared in the app:
“Honestly i avoided signing that petition for a while cause truth be told when it comes to POSTMATES paying the drivers or gig workers more money postmates has always ‘talked the talk’ but has never walked the walk,” one driver wrote to us. “I figured if i signed the petition the annoying message would disappear from the postmates fleet app.”
2) The workers said that they were never told their names would appear in an ad as a result of signing this pop-up that appeared in their app. “We did not know it would be an advert,” one worker told us. “As far as I know, it never said that it would be used in an ad,” one worker said.
Needless to say, Postmates’ solicitation of signatures did not include context explaining that the minimum wage and other benefits the workers would be requesting were in lieu of a change in employment classification—a change that could bring even greater material benefits. (Several Postmates workers also complained to us that their pay has “declined drastically” over the past year. Though of course that is neither here nor there!)
Postmates has not responded to a request for further comment.
Update: A Postmates spokesperson sent us the following statement in response to this story:
“Each person, in providing their information, explicitly granted Postmates the right to use their name in connection with the opinions outlined in the advertisement by reviewing the exact language which appeared in print and expressly authorizing the following waiver (pasted below). Nothing is more important to Postmates that the trust, safety and privacy of individual information, and we will always use plain language to transparently describe how information may be used.
By signing, I hereby grant Postmates any and all rights to use my name and likeness in connection with opinions provided to Postmates regarding flexible work for gig economy workers and consent to the use thereof.”