Postmates CEO’s Labor Values Aren’t as Progressive as They Seem

On Thursday, Postmates co-founder and CEO Bastian Lehmann published an op-ed on CNN titled “Gig workers deserve a better deal than we have given them” calling for a “new deal” that brings together workers and companies across the gig economy “for the future of work.”

In the op-ed, Lehmann writes that on-demand delivery and transportation companies — Postmates (which is headed toward an IPO), Uber, Lyft, etc. — should start treating organized labor as “working partners” rather than “sparring partners.” Companies, he continues, must also work with policymakers for pro-worker and pro-innovation solutions. Lehmann then outlines four principles to chart a new way forward

… On the surface, this call for “a new deal that offers certainty and dignity for gig workers across America” sounds impressively progressive, with Lehmann coming across as enlightened compared to, say, Instacart’s CEO, who a few months ago was forced to apologize for tip theft. But a closer read makes it apparent that Lehmann’s piece hits all the same beats as an op-ed authored by the heads of Lyft and Uber — which asked California to compromise on the state’s AB5 bill that would make it harder for companies like theirs to classify workers as independent contractors, and thus cost companies a lot more money — just in slightly more sympathetic packaging.

… AB5, which was passed by the State Assembly in May and is now up for debate in the Senate, codifies the California Supreme Court’s May 2018 Dynamex ruling that used a three-pronged “ABC” test to determine whether a worker qualified as an employee or an independent contractor. Under the ABC test, a worker is considered an employee unless the employer proves otherwise by a contractor meeting all of these requirements: a) the worker is free from the control of the company, b) the worker does work that isn’t central to the company’s business, and c) the worker has an independent business in the same industry.

… The passing of AB5 would fundamentally disrupt the business models of gig companies like Postmates, Uber, Lyft, and Doordash, which are predicated on the low costs of independent labor. Such companies have justified the low wages and lack of benefits given to their gig workers by touting the jobs’ flexibility (despite the fact that labor laws don’t prevent companies from offering employees flexibility), as Postmates does in the above statement, or by maintaining that such jobs were never meant to be full-time. (On a similar note of justification, in Lehmann’s op-ed, he defends a much-criticized recent decision to tweak Postmates’ payment rates and remove a $4 minimum per-job guarantee by claiming that “more frequent deliveries can ultimately mean more cumulative earnings over time.”)

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