She’s Uber’s biggest nightmare. AB 5's godmother has more in store.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has a number of bills this year geared toward protecting warehouse and gig-economy workers.

She’s Uber’s biggest nightmare. AB 5's godmother has more in store.

California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has a handful of bills this year focused on supporting workers and advancing labor rights.

Photo: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images

Amazon warehouse workers face unsafe work conditions, DoorDash workers have to fight to get their rightfully earned wages and tips, and other gig workers say companies are not living up to the promises of employee-like benefits that they outlined in Proposition 22.

Labor law needs an overhaul, according to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who told Protocol she is not giving up on her fight against gig-economy companies. She also refuses to sit by idly while Amazon warehouse workers reportedly get injured more often and more severely than workers in non-Amazon warehouses, she said.

Gonzalez is not new to the fight against tech companies. The passage of Prop 22, which had $224 million in funding from gig-economy companies, effectively undid AB 5, a California law that limits when companies can hire workers as contractors. Gonzalez, who authored AB 5, is focused this year on a handful of labor laws that pertain to both gig workers and warehouse workers.

"I want people to understand that it's targeted at warehouses, but why it's larger than that," she said. "It's management by AI. It's the algorithms, and how the algorithm doesn't take into account human factors."

Gonzalez's warehouse worker protections bill, AB 701, recently passed in the assembly with a 52-19 vote. Another of her bills, AB 1003, seeks to make wage theft a felony and, for the purposes of wage payment, would consider independent contractors as employees. A third bill, AB 286, would prohibit food delivery platforms from charging customers prices higher than the price set by the restaurant or grocery store, as well as make it illegal for companies to retain any money previously designated as a tip or gratuity. All three of those bills are now in the senate.

Protocol briefly caught up with Gonzalez to learn more about what drives her to develop policies in favor of workers, the importance of AB 701 and what's next on the docket as it relates to gig workers.

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.

Why are workers' rights such a big focus for you and your legislation?

I came out of organized labor and I represent a working-class community — people who work really hard for a living. And a lot of service-sector workers. My experience in the field that I served in before being in the legislature opened my eyes, obviously, to worker violations in nearly every field.

I've seen so many organizing drives and contract fights. We've seen so many problems, and that's usually with workers who are empowered to try to make a difference in the workplace. It gets even worse for those who are not. But on a more emotional level, if you will, I was raised by a single mom who had to work 60 to 80 hours a week. She was a nurse. It was at a non-union facility until much later. And just watching the toll that really hard work puts on an individual and seeing how sometimes just some of the most basic labor protections can change people's lives.

The warehouse workers bill recently passed in the assembly. What prompted the creation of that bill?

I have been talking to warehouse workers for quite some time now. Logistics warehouses are big in my district because it's right across the border. Amazon is building I think its largest North America facility right in my district. So, I've been aware of the issue.

We started this bill last year before the pandemic, with the health and safety aspects of warehouse work and hearing from workers about the work pace, and that being basically unregulated. That really got to me. The workers who had to sue in order to use the restroom because the facility in Riverside took seven minutes to walk to. If you have 15 minutes, that doesn't allow for adequate use of the restroom.

As Amazon has more market share, of course, it puts pressure on everybody else to be operating at the same speed and it's the same type of conditions. If you look at the report that came out about injuries at Amazon, they're two times more likely to have injuries than other warehouses and three times more than average workers. So obviously there's a problem there. It's one I think we need to address because I don't see on-demand and next-day shipping going away. And so: How do we empower workers and do it in a way that they can be protected from unnecessary injuries?

How do you respond to those who say AB 701 might actually lead to Amazon and other employers removing jobs from California?

I think one of the important factors is: You have to look at service work in general as work that can't necessarily leave the state. Yes, you can move headquarters somewhere else, you can make something somewhere else, but when you're talking about logistics and moving packages, you're going to have to operate in California. In fact, they're building more [distribution centers] in California because we as a consumer class are disproportionate in the state to other states. So they can't operate without warehouses here.

It's really important when we talk about service work, which is often the lowest-paid and the most dangerous, that we don't fall into just talking points of, "They'll move it somewhere else," because these are jobs that can't be moved somewhere else. We either hear it's going to Texas or it's going to be automated. And, as I often say, the threat of the robot — I've heard that actually coming out of organized labor for like the last 20 years. Things will be automated, but in the meantime, that doesn't mean you throw away workers.

How optimistic are you that the warehouse bill will become law?

I'm hopeful we can get it through the Senate. It's timely. We just saw, on May 3, Amazon was fined pennies to them — $45,000 — for safety violations. We just saw a lawsuit filed about unpaid work for having to take COVID tests. That fits perfectly with this. Health and safety guidelines have to be adhered to and work has to provide for that. You can't have individuals provide for that on their own time. There's a reckoning. Jeff Bezos became more rich during the pandemic while some workers were dying. Hopefully that won't be lost on people when we talk about protecting workers.

Are there any misconceptions about the bill you'd like to address or set the record straight on?

I want people to understand that it's targeted at warehouses, but why it's larger than that. Because what it is, is it's management by AI. It's the algorithms, and how the algorithm doesn't take into account human factors. Like the things we don't like to talk about. The fact that women and men of certain ages might have to use the restroom more, and women who are menstruating may have to use the restroom more or for a longer period of time. Anyone who gets sick to their stomach. You know, there's so many factors involved — human factors that can't be taken into account by the algorithm, and so much of our work now is being driven by that. It's important that we start looking at these issues and this may be the first of them, in that sense, but it's one that I think really does dovetail with future work.

You were successful with getting AB 5 signed into law, and then, of course, Prop 22 happened. Do you have plans to continue advocating for gig workers rights through policy and legislation? If so, what will be your approach?

Well, absolutely. There are a couple of things. Obviously, we have a lot of hope in the federal government, now that Washington is a little bit more rational when it comes to gig work than we've seen even with state regulators. So that's nice. It was good to see the New York bill failed, which would have been devastating if that passed. A lot of the arguments used during Prop 22 were to cut a deal because the Trump administration said that these people aren't employees. We have a different situation now.

So some of it is monitoring what's happening, seeing if we can push harder on federal regulations. I think we're going to continue to look at ways that we can try to help gig workers, even under Prop 22. We have a bill this year that would make it a felony to engage in intentional wage theft. This is important because in California, we've elected more activist DAs who are willing to prosecute wage theft. And we wrote into the bill that [theft] includes the taking of tips from independent contractors. In November, DoorDash got caught stealing tips, which they paid back.

We're trying to strengthen ways in which workers can empower themselves despite Prop 22. We have a whole list of things we've been looking at. But there's no way around [Prop 22]. It's almost impossible, unless the Supreme Court, when they finally hear the case — because they wouldn't hear it quickly in California — unless they invalidate it, which is unusual. But [Prop 22 is] dangerous because it does have that seven-eighths requirement to legislate what's wrong with it. So we're going to keep working and hoping for a federal preemption.

The labor market is actually on our side as well, in the fact that they don't have enough drivers. Of course, it won't stay that way forever. And they're still engaging in predatory behavior, but there are a couple of things that will come out over the next year.

These companies, for whatever reason, can't seem to be satisfied, even with the rules that they wrote. It seems to me that the terms and conditions of what they promised in Prop 22 seems to be turning and whether they adhere to them, I think will be an issue of litigation as well. I can't say we're going to automatically be successful, but we have to continue to fight. It's too important and [we need] to stop the bleeding.

I think California is seeing right away what this actually did. You know you can spend $220 million and convince voters you're protecting workers. But I think there's a lot of Democratic voter hangover on what actually happened. So we're going to continue fighting and continue exposing these companies for the greedy bastards they are. That's the unfortunate truth, and I hope that some changes at the federal level will help with that.

So, I imagine you're pro-PRO Act?

Oh yes. I was pro-PRO Act before the PRO Act even existed! [Laughs] I fought for the Employee Free Choice Act years ago and was devastated by that. Our labor laws are so broken, and we do need changes at the federal level and obviously we're getting a lot through the Department of Labor and the NLRB. We will get a lot with some changes, but we need some substantive changes of the federal law.

If you search "Wordle" on the App Store right now, you'll find nearly a dozen copycat versions of the game.
Screenshot: Nick Statt/Protocol

On this episode of the Source Code podcast: Nick Statt joins the show to discuss the rise of Wordle, the subsequent rise of the Wordle clones, and why it’s so easy to copy a game. Then Ben Pimentel chats about the fight over Web3, why Jack Dorsey and Marc Andreessen are at odds, and the killer app for the future of the web. Finally, Allison Levitsky explains some of the big new future-of-work trends, including the four-day workweek and dog-walker perks.

For more on the topics in this episode:

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Greg Petraetis, SVP and Managing Director, Midmarket and Partner Ecosystem, North America at SAP

As businesses grow during the pandemic, they also encounter pressing challenges to maintain that success. Among them is the pressure to strengthen their digital backbone, which leads to the question: How can companies find the ideal technology provider suited to their evolving needs?

In the midmarket space, small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often need support to buoy them through any choppy waters ahead. As a SaaS solutions provider, SAP has extensive expertise developing strategies to connect innovative companies with their customers.

“We’ve seen how so many SMBs want to become the next billion-dollar companies as they move from being innovators and disruptors to global leaders,” says Greg Petraetis, senior vice president and managing director, Midmarket and Partner Ecosystem, North America at SAP, in an interview with Protocol. “And we’re there to catch them along that trajectory and help them achieve that profitable growth.”

Keep Reading Show less
David Silverberg
David Silverberg is a Toronto-based freelance journalist, editor and writing coach. He writes for The Washington Post, BBC News, Business Insider, The Toronto Star, New Scientist, Fodor's, and several alumni magazines. He also writes for brands such as 23andme, Shopify and Bold Commerce. He has served as editor of B2B News Network, Canada's only B2B news magazine, and Digital Journal, a leading pioneer in citizen journalism. Find more about him at www.davidsilverberg.ca

Will there be China tech IPOs to watch in 2022?

After the DiDi chaos, Chinese companies are cautiously looking to return to the capital market.

If TikTok parent company ByteDance went public this year, it would undoubtedly become the biggest IPO of any Chinese company in 2022.

Photo Illustration: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

As 2022 begins, the biggest question for China IPO watchers is: Will there still be any significant IPOs this year worth anticipating?

For them, 2021 was divided into two halves: The first six months were filled with ambitious Chinese companies listing overseas, culminating in ride-hailing giant DiDi’s IPO on June 30, but it was all downhill from there. In the wake of DiDi’s rushed IPO, Chinese regulators imposed harsh cybersecurity reviews on several companies that were about to go public. Others put their IPO plans on hold. Stock markets reacted accordingly: Alibaba, Pinduoduo and others saw their share prices slashed in half.

Keep Reading Show less
Zeyi Yang

Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.


Will NFT backlash stop the blockchain gaming boom?

Few players seem to want NFTs. But that might not be enough to stop blockchain gaming from going mainstream.

NFTs in particular, and the broader blockchain gaming movement of which they are a part, have elicited a rare level of polarization among players, developers and large game-makers.
Illustration: fairywong/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images; Protocol

The non-fungible token debate has moved from the art world to the gaming industry, and it’s morphed into an all-consuming fight about the future of entertainment and what role, if any, the crypto movement should play in the way video games make money.

From microtransactions to crunch culture, the video game industry is full of unsavory business practices that persist in spite of widespread backlash among the general gaming audience and near-constant denunciation from outspoken industry leaders and critics. That’s in part because such practices are often lucrative or steeped in industry norms that are difficult or costly to change.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Tech workers want three-day weekends. It won’t be possible everywhere, but more companies are starting to consider it.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Welcome back to Ask a Tech Worker. For this recurring feature, I’ve been hitting the streets of San Francisco’s Financial District at lunchtime to chat with tech employees about how the workplace is changing. This time I asked about the four-day work week, that elusive schedule that companies like Bolt, Signifyd, Panasonic, Eidos-Montréal and Wildbit have adopted and a number of others have tested or considered. Got a suggestion for a future topic? Email me.

The four-day work week may be the next frontier for tech companies using work-life balance to compete for talent. Since the New Year, Bolt, commerce protection platform Signifyd and Panasonic have all announced that they’re offering four-day weeks to employees.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Latest Stories