I subscribe to the SF Chronicle.
When it comes, first I read the comics and “Dear Abby.” Then I turn to the news. Sometimes I learn something new. Sometimes I relearn something old. The Chronicle’s coverage of Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) is an example of the latter.
AB 5 is a bill that would make gig workers, AKA contract workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers employees. As contractors, they aren’t covered by minimum wage laws, unemployment insurance or workers compensation. Nor do they receive payment into social security. In other words, while all workers get screwed, gig workers like Uber and Lyft drivers are really screwed.
Now the push is on to kill or water down the bill. The role of the typically corporate-controlled media is fundamental to this, and the SF Chronicle is a perfect example.
They fired their first shot in the form of a free, quarter page advertisement for Uber and Lyft. This free ad paraded under the guise of an op-ed by none other than former liberal US Senator Barbara Boxer. She gives the company line that many Uber and Lyft drivers like the flexibility that working as contractors provides. They can drive when they like. Nowhere is it mentioned that as employees they could also set their own hours! The kicker comes at the bottom of this “op ed”/free ad, where it says “Barbara Boxer retired from the United States Senate in 2017. Among other projects, she has been hired by Lyft to advise them on meeting the challenges of the gig economy.” “Among other projects!” Yes, indeed, a very nice “project”. Why doesn’t the Chronicle just tell it like it is: she is a paid lobbyist for Lyft, among other money-making schemes that such a typical retired corporate politician engages in! This is how the corporate media muddies the water.
Today’s SF Chronicle takes the next step. Their banner headline reads “Many industries fear cost of gig-worker bill.” The article quotes Gail Blanchard-Saiger, VP of labor and employment at the California Hospital Association, which represents over 400 hospitals. They write: “Although hospitals employ 97% of their workforce, they rely on independent contractors to fill gaps when employees are on leave, she said. Moreover, many small and rural hospitals don’t have enough volume to hire a speech therapist, for instance, so they rely on contractors, she said.” This makes no sense whatsoever, since the hospital could still hire temp workers. And if 97% of their workforce are employees, it would hardly affect them at all anyway!
Then the Chronicle writes about owner-operator truck drivers. This has been a huge issue at the Port of Oakland, where drivers’ attempts to unionize has been stymied by the fact that they’re owner-operators, not employees. But the Chronicle fails to mention this little detail. Instead, they quote Chris Shimoda of the California Trucking Association: Many truckers, he said, “paid from $120,000 to $200,000 to buy their own big rigs because they wanted to work independently. If they were reclassified as employees, they’d either have to sell their trucks or find a company that will subsidize the cost of driving their own trucks.” Yes, that’s exactly the plan – to make the companies pay for it, not these gig workers. Let it come out of their bottom line, rather than the living standards of the truckers.
And that is exactly the point: Why didn’t the Chronicle write an article “Thousands of Lyft and Uber drivers and many others to see benefits from AB 5”? Why didn’t it interview these workers and ask them how it would affect them if they were covered as workers, not phony “self employed” contractors? Why didn’t they publish a front page article with a banner headline when hundreds of these drivers started a caravan to Sacramento in support of AB 5 or when they demonstrated right in the Chronicle’s hometown of San Francisco on August 16? Why didn’t the Chronicle conduct a study of how much these workers are losing out in the long run, or give an example (there must be some) of an Uber of Lyft driver who was hurt while driving on the job and how much she or he lost out because they weren’t covered by workers comp?
This is how the corporate media operates. Except in rare cases, they don’t outright lie. On issues like this they just cover what they deem fit.