By Christina Oatfield, Policy Director
We recently learned that AB 626, the currently pending California homemade food bill, has stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, meaning that no more votes will happen this year. The committee will resume consideration of the bill in January.
We have worked for years to create more opportunities for home-based food businesses - and legalize the many longstanding homemade food enterprises, many of which are run by people who have been left behind by our legal and economic systems. We've also been outspoken about our concern that this current bill is sponsored by a tech company and being written to further the Uber-ization of food, especially homemade food. Edible East Bay just published my op-ed about my personal experience with selling homemade food and about how our law center views AB 626.
We have been advocating for the bill to include a community ownership component (modeled off of certified farmers’ markets regulations in California) that would require that third party intermediaries, including web platforms, be owned and managed by cook-owned cooperatives, nonprofits, or local government agencies. You can read an overview of our policy proposal in my op-ed or you can read more details about our proposal here.
Some people have asked us whether Josephine.com's (the sponsor of the bill) decision to give a small portion of its stock to its cooks addresses our concerns about worker empowerment and the risk of consolidation by third party intermediaries, particularly tech platforms. The short answer is no. Giving just a small ownership stake to service providers who use these "gig economy" apps does not solve the underlying problems that have emerged from the legal and financial structures used by most web platform companies.
For example, a ride-hailing app called Juno that marketed itself as being inclusive of drivers by offering them equity, was recently acquired by another larger company. Nithin Coca explains in an article on Shareable.net, "[t]he New York City based ride-hailing app Juno was widely marketed as a different type of platform — one that values its drivers. The company went as far as to say that it would give equity to its drivers. However, in an unexpected turn of events, Juno announced in April that it was being acquired by ride-hailing platform Gett for $200 million."
Contrasting what happened to Juno with a cooperative alternative, Coca writes, "[d]rivers had no say in the matter, despite their supposed stake in the company, and have seen little of that $200 million. ... Juno's acquisition shows that for drivers and workers to be a genuine part of the gig economy, there needs to be meaningful action to share ownership and decision-making from the get-go — and a platform cooperative or nonprofit model is one way to ensure that." Sheelah Kolhatkar wrote about the acquisition of Juno this month for The New Yorker, observing how "Juno’s founders had adopted the language of a doing-well-by-doing-good philosophy that has spread in the business world in recent years" yet recent events in tech have raised serious doubts about the viability of doing-well-by-doing-good notion.
Examples like this offer instruction on both the challenge of redefining ownership in our food system as well as the potential for outside-the-box thinking to create policy that achieves this goal.