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Are gig workers full-time employees? Several 2020 Democrats running for president think so

Democratic presidential candidates are lining up to support a California bill that would give gig workers more employment benefits and force companies like Uber and Lyft to treat their independent contractors as full-time workers.

Six of the 10 highest-polling candidates running to unseat President Donald Trump have backed the proposal, insisting that gig workers deserve better treatment as they court labor backing.

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, met with Lyft and Uber protesters in the Bay Area on Tuesday. He endorsed the bill and told the crowd, “If you’re working a gig, that makes you a worker, and you ought to be protected as a worker. That means you deserve a minimum wage, that means you deserve protections from workplace and sexual harassment, that means you deserve overtime protections — and yes, that means you deserve a union.”

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was the first candidate to support California’s plan, though Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders authored the Workplace Democracy Plan last year to prevent companies from falsely labeling workers as “independent contractors.” Warren was a co-sponsor on Sanders’ bill, as were California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

Ian Sams, a spokesman for Harris’s campaign, said in a statement that the senator “supports AB 5 and what the California Supreme Court held in Dynamex, and she believes we need to go even further to bolster worker protections and benefits and elevate the voice of workers.” Harris also wants gig workers to be able to join a union.

Booker and Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke also support California’s bill.

The California Supreme Court ruled in its 2018 Dynamex decision that companies cannot misclassify workers as independent contractors or deny them employment benefits.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign declined to comment on California’s bill. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar did not respond to a request for comment.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, authored the proposal and said she’s excited her bill “has become a national conversation.”

“This fight is about more than AB 5,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “It’s a defining moment for Democrats to show voters that our party stands with working people over Wall Street billionaires.”

Despite the backing, the proposal has not received strong support from Senate leader Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, nor has it cleared the Senate. Gonzalez must get it to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk by Sept. 13 if she wants it signed into law this year.

A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that AB 5 had not passed a house of the Legislature. It passed the Assembly on May 29, 2019. This story was updated at 10 a.m. on Aug. 28, 2019 to reflect the change.

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.
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