On Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that targets Amazon's surveillance of warehouse employees. Earlier this month, another bill appeared on his desk, this one allowing restaurants to provide customers an itemized breakdown of the fees charged by delivery apps.
Both bills aim to take on Big Tech. And both were authored by Lorena Gonzalez.
The Democrat and assemblywoman from San Diego has emerged as one of the California legislature's fiercest critics of Silicon Valley's giants.
In 2019 she drafted Assembly Bill 5, which codified a state Supreme Court ruling reclassifying gig workers as employees. It also raised her profile. While Prop 22 overturned Assembly Bill 5, labor chalked up a victory last month after a California Superior Court judge ruled the ballot initiative unconstitutional.
All three bills threaten not only to change how these tech giants do business, but cut into their bottom line.
Gonzalez knows that tech companies feel victimized by her office. AB 286, her bill providing the itemized fee breakdown, is her latest salvo against them. The legislation would ensure delivery services pay the entire gratuity to their drivers, following a lawsuit alleging that DoorDash had stolen drivers' tips.
"We've been asked a lot, 'Why are you picking on us?'" she said. "But I just want people to remember that transparency in transactions is always good. We don't allow people to sell you something and not point out the taxes on it. We don't allow you to buy a car without knowing the add-in. So it's normal for us to look at transactions that have been kept secret, that keep the consumer from making educated decisions, we tackled that and that's what we're trying to do here."
Although a permanent cap on delivery fees failed to make it into the final version of AB 286, the bill still provides enforcement mechanisms to ensure workers receive their tips. It also allows the attorney general, city attorneys or district attorneys to pursue a civil court case, while another complementary bill says an employer can go to jail for stealing tips, Gonzalez told dot.LA.
"It's putting it in the penal code but it's also ensuring that adding into the discussion of what is a wage, it includes tips for independent contractors," she said. "So I think those bills together will make people think twice."
The bill Newsom just signed would require Amazon and other companies to reveal details of the quota systems they use to ramp up productivity in their warehouses.
At Amazon warehouses, workers have blamed the pressure to meet demands on unsafe working conditions and high injury rates. And a 2019 investigation by The Verge showed that Amazon had fired hundreds of workers at a single fulfillment center in one year for failing to meet productivity quotas.
For Gonzalez, a former labor leader who has turned her enemies' anti-union smears into badges of honor, her battle for gig workers' benefits follows over two decades of organizing. She unionized workers at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, where her mother once worked long hours, and was banned from all Wal-Mart stores following a demonstration demanding higher pay.
Her latest fight temporarily sidelined her from the Capitol: she was diagnosed with breast cancer in early August and underwent a bilateral mastectomy weeks later, announcing on September 13 that she was cancer-free.
Her work as an assemblywoman has earned her both a national reputation as a progressive darling—and detractors within her state's business community, including Rachel Michelin, head of the California Retailers Association.
"She's been very vocal about who she's targeting, similar to what she did with AB 5," Michelin said. "She goes after a few companies but sets out this large net and it has unintended consequences."
Michelin who called the bill "overly broad": also took umbrage at Gonzalez's political style, noting that the assemblywoman prefers to take to social media—where she once tweeted "F*ck Elon Musk"—rather than come to the table with the state's business interests groups.
"She responded to some of our comments online through our digital campaign, but not directly to me or any of our coalition partners," Michelin said.
California Assemblyman Alex Lee, who represents the Silicon Valley area, co-authored the bill aimed at delivery fees with Gonzalez. The young politician has known her since his time as a legislative staffer in Sacramento and decided to team up with Gonzalez after he heard similar complaints from his restaurateur constituents about delivery apps.
A self-described "Gen Z-er," Lee not only takes little offense when Gonzalez pops off on Twitter, he applauds it.
"She's an absolute fierce champion for the working class," he said. "There are other politicians who see themselves as great dealmakers, Lorena's more like, 'How do I get the most for working people?'"
As a former gig worker himself, Lee said he knows how AB 5 revolutionized the tech industry for those who labor in what he describes as "new serfdom."
At the same time, he points to the impact the legislation made on his peers from college, many of whom worked in contracted positions at Google, Facebook and Apple. While their white-collar jobs offered a lucrative salary, the companies didn't offer full-time benefits.
"For our generation, organized labor is like a foreign concept now. Just getting money in the bank is so important that you'll forgo dental and health insurance," Lee said.
"That's why big things like AB 5 and what Lorena does are so important. We are in this race to the bottom and it's not just the stereotypical person who works in the factory, it's people who have white collar jobs in offices, they're all in the same boat and that's why her work is so profound."
The tech elite is split over who should lead California, as leaders like Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison duke it out with their checkbooks ahead of the heated recall election. But it's a different story altogether for many of the industry's foot soldiers.
Campaign finance data indicates that workers at big tech companies have overwhelmingly backed Gov. Gavin Newsom over his opponents. That's in line with the broader fundraising trend, as the incumbent governor outraises the competition by a wide margin.
Money may not decide the fate of the election, thanks in part to California's asymmetrical recall system. But as a proxy for support, the hundreds of monetary contributions made by workers at big tech firms highlight the ideological gulf between the industry at large and its leaders, such as former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, who contributed $100,000 to the effort to "Rescue California" from Gov. Newsom.
By the Numbers
According to public campaign contributions data made available by the secretary of state and nonprofit research group MapLight, Gov. Newsom's Stop the Republican Recall committee has received 448 individual monetary contributions this year from workers at Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook and Tesla, totaling $49,491.
In contrast, committees supporting leading Republican candidate Larry Elder have received about a tenth as many individual contributions (49) from workers at those firms, totaling $8,393. The figures get smaller from there.
YouTuber Kevin Paffrath, who was dubbed a "landlord influencer" by Curbed, has notched 21 contributions from big tech workers to a total of $2,717, while the data shows just one contribution for perennial candidate John Cox from an out-of-state Microsoft employee, totaling $100.
Contributions from big tech workers to the leading candidates and other recall committees came from all over the state, often from cities synonymous with the tech industry, like Palo Alto and Mountain View.
In Los Angeles and its surrounding areas, Newsom's Stop the Republican Recall committee raised funds from a handful of workers out of Apple and Amazon Studios' Culver City offices. Elder, who calls himself the Sage from South Central, secured funds from Amazon and Tesla engineers out of Orange County, among others. An Amazon driver out of nearby Covina contributed to the committee supporting Paffrath.
"I am anti-recall... much more than I am pro-Newsom," said one Los Angeles-based tech worker who contributed to the Stop the Republican Recall committee. "Larry Elder should run for city council or dog catcher. Governor, no. I don't have a problem with his conservative position but his views on women in particular are deeply concerning." They added, "he is not qualified to be governor of this state or any state."
As for contributions from big tech workers based outside of California, efforts to unseat Gov. Newsom take the lead. Altogether, committees opposing Gov. Newsom in the recall vote secured $3,936 from big tech workers who reside elsewhere, compared to $1,200 for Newsom.
About the Data, and the Latest Polling
The public campaign contributions data used in this story was taken from California's Secretary of State online database on September 1, 2021, querying contributions made this year from employees of the six largest tech firms by market cap: Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Facebook and Tesla.
A poll released on August 31 from SurveyUSA and the San Diego Union-Tribune found that 51% of respondents sided with Newsom in opposing the recall, while 43% supported it and 6% said they were undecided. The same poll showed that 27% of voters "who plan to vote on question two" support Elder, with Paffrath, Cox and other candidates trailing far behind, according to SFGATE.
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The Coachella of capitalism is back.
After repeatedly postponing its flagship event last year, the Milken Institute announced Thursday its Milken Institute Global Conference will return this fall to a fully in-person event from October 17-20 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
The conference normally takes place in May but as a crucial source of revenue to the non-profit organization – with ticket packages in the thousands of dollars and lucrative sponsorships – organizers did not want to wait another year to convene.
"We also look forward to the spring of 2022, when we will convene for the 25th annual Global Conference and expand on the issues discussed in October," Michael Klowden, CEO of the Milken Institute said in a statement. "The past year drove us to reflect on how we live, what we believe, and what matters most."
The gathering normally attracts 4,000 attendees from more than 70 countries to the Beverly Hilton to hear from luminaries from the worlds of finance, politics and medicine. Milken has a full-time staff of about 25 working on the conference year round and another 100 who pitch in once the date gets closer.
Even with vaccinations now open to anyone 16 years or older in California, many have expressed skepticism about returning to conferences after a year of social distancing and Zoom meetings. Almost half of respondents in the dot.LA VC Sentiment Survey said they do not think they want to go to a conference until the first half of next year.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has said California will fully reopen June 15, as long as vaccines are available to anyone.Vox Media's Code Conference also announced it will return in-person this Fall in Beverly Hills and that event will be held even earlier than Milken's, in September.
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