By Christina Oatfield, Policy Director //
Have you noticed how many tech start-ups are interested in food these days? We have. There are now dozens of apps you can use to order food to be delivered to your door -- either by a human being or sometimes even by a robot. You can order take-out, groceries, or partially prepared meals through apps. And, as we’ve previously written about on our Food News Blog, there are now on-demand pick-up and delivery apps for homemade food. We are worried about what this means for home cooks, eaters, and the broader food system.
The complex issues arising out of Silicon Valley are numerous, from sexual harassment in the workplace to exclusion of women and people of color from career opportunities to dismissing impacts of the tech industry on gentrification.
And these issues are not isolated, they are deeply connected by a pervasive and insular start-up culture and an economic paradigm over-reliant on venture capital. The false promises of the “gig economy” that these companies celebrate must be faced head on, including in the food system.
That’s why we cannot support AB 626, the homemade food bill that has been pending in the California Legislature for the past year. After being stalled for several months, the bill passed a vote of the full Assembly last week. At the Sustainable Economies Law Center, we work to support creativity and innovation in many ways, including by supporting homemade food enterprises. So, it wasn’t easy to come to our decision to not support AB 626.
AB 626 was drafted at the behest of tech company executives and lobbyists. AB 626 prioritizes the interests of tech companies above the interests of home cooks and consumers. The current version of the bill makes it so that home cooks carry all of the liability while the tech platforms that promote the transaction and take a cut of cooks’ incomes cannot be held liable if anything goes wrong. Tech platforms wanting to take profits but avoid all liability is essentially the same story we’ve seen play out with Uber and Lyft denying any responsibility for liability when their passengers have been injured or even killed by negligent drivers. But AB 626 proposes unprecedented protections against liability for gig economy apps: it expressly shields web platforms from liability for any illness or injury associated with food purchased through its platform. As a point of comparison, since 2013, California law requires ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft to carry $1 million per incident liability insurance to cover their drivers (separate from any insurance individual drivers may carry). Some cities, such as San Francisco, require Airbnb hosts to carry liability insurance.
Food system workers are already among the lowest paid and the most vulnerable workers in our economy and we need to rethink what the future of work looks like in a healthy, resilient community, especially in our food and farming systems. We don’t need a technological quick fix, we need a new paradigm that values all workers, regardless of their status as employees or contractors. We need a new paradigm for workers that protects their rights in balance with consumer preference for fast and convenient service. We need a new paradigm in our economy that provides real economic opportunities for everyone, not just the elite. And we need a new paradigm in policymaking, where grassroots food justice and workers' rights organizations are at the table, not on the menu.
So we are urging the California Legislature to set a new course for homemade food sales through tech platforms, starting with rejecting AB 626 and bringing home cooks and community based organizations to the table to craft a bill that truly empowers workers. We’ve put forth a proposal for an equitable homemade food economy that includes a new type of “gig economy” platform that is owned and controlled by the very users and workers that give the company its value: a platform cooperative.
Incidentally, last week on the heels of the pro-tech platform amendments, the start-up behind AB 626, Josephine, announced it will be closing down in the next few months. This opens the door to an even higher likelihood that some other entity, with far less of an interest as Josephine in supporting home cooks, will dominate the homemade food economy. There is no guarantee that the preferred platform for homemade food will prioritize workers' rights, food safety, and economic justice. Unless we act soon.
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