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A screen displays the company logo for Uber Technologies Inc. on the day of it's IPO at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 10, 2019. Photo by: Brendan McDermid/File Photo/Reuters

Uber, Lyft threaten $60 million California ballot measure

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Uber and Lyft threatened Thursday to spend at least $60 million on a California ballot measure if they can’t reach a deal with unions and lawmakers on legislation that would change the rights of gig workers.

“We remain focused on reaching a deal, and are confident about bringing this issue to the voters if necessary,” Adrian Durbin, senior director of communications at Lyft, said in a statement.

The companies’ team-up comes as California lawmakers debate a bill that would make it harder to classify workers as independent contractors instead of employees. As employees, workers are entitled to more wage protections and benefits. But the companies say labeling them as such would upend their business model built around driver flexibility.

The legislation faces a vote Friday in a key state Senate committee. California’s law would be the strictest on worker classification in the nation and potentially set a precedent for other states to follow, increasing the pressure on the companies.

Both companies say they would avoid a costly ballot fight if they can reach a deal with Gov. Gavin Newsom and unions on a new piece of legislation that sets separate rules for gig workers.

Davis and White say the companies have agreed to set a base hourly wage of $21 for drivers, to pay into a fund that drivers could tap for portable benefits and to establish sectoral bargaining. That would allow drivers who work for various companies to bargain together.

Proposed text for the ballot measure has not been released, but Davis and White said the companies plan to deposit the money in a campaign account later Thursday.

A ballot measure would surely prompt an expensive clash between tech companies that have upended the transportation industry and labor unions. Newsom, a Democrat, clashed with the State Building and Construction Trade Council earlier this week on the bill. But at least one union, the SEIU, has indicated a willingness to set new standards specific to gig workers.

Ann O’Leary, Newsom’s chief of staff, said in a statement Wednesday that the governor’s office is “aggressively fighting for the right of workers to organize and earn higher wages.”

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