Veena Dubal, an associate professor at UC Hastings law school, has spent much of her professional career examining and writing about the rise of the gig economy and the loss of employment rights by workers in the sector. She has been an outspoken critic of employment abuses by app-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, and a vocal supporter of AB5, the California law designed to rein in what she considers “employment abuses.” She has also been a critic of Proposition 22, an initiative funded chiefly by Uber and Lyft, aimed at overturning AB5.
As a result of her criticism, Dubal has become the target of harassment on Twitter – some of it downright obscene, and some of it overtly encouraged by the “Yes on Proposition 22” campaign, which is heavily funded by Uber and Lyft.
Dubal’s home address was published online, which prompted her local police department to start regular patrols around her home. She has been falsely accused of having written AB5 and having had a hand in the 2018 California Supreme Court decision that led to AB5.
A Sacramento opposition research consultant working for Yes on 22 recently filed a public records act request seeking nine months of emails, text messages or “other writings” related to AB5, Proposition 22 and the gig economy between Dubal and roughly 160 organizations and individuals. The request resembles a technique of intimidation often employed by fossil fuel, tobacco, anti-labor and other interests against researchers, scientists, activists, and other critics.
A ride-hail driver also filed a complaint against Dubal with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, alleging that she violated lobbying laws. The FPPC rejected the allegation and closed the case.
Dubal tries to laugh off the public records request, but it’s clear the attack has taken an emotional toll, particularly the posting of her home address, since it happened during the pandemic lockdown, when she had three children at home. She was forced to keep her doors locked and her kids’ windows closed, and she slept in their rooms with them.
She has been forced to change her online passwords, hire a security consultant to scrub her personal information from the internet, even removing wedding photos that had been turned into offensive memes. Although the initial tweet disclosing her home address has been taken down, she’s aware it is still circulating.
Among the attacks on Dubal was a series of articles appearing on the right-wing website Communities Digital News. They label Dubal, without evidence, the “true author” of AB5 (Dubal says it’s untrue), call her the law’s “puppet master,” and say she had a hand in the 2018 state Supreme Court decision. This implies that Dubal helped write the decision, which is also untrue: The 7-0 decision, which appeared over the name of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, mentions Dubal only once, citing an article by her in a single footnote.
It should be noted that the Yes on 22 ballot committee has collected more than $110 million in contributions, more than $70 million of it from Uber and Lyft – including $10 million contributed by Postmates, a gig company that Uber acquired in July.
AB5, which went into effect in Jan., codified a 2018 state Supreme Court ruling that gig company workers who had been classified as “independent contractors” were effectively employees and therefore entitled to benefits such as work expenses, workers compensation, unemployment insurance and the right to unionize.
Uber and Lyft, which have yet to acknowledge they’re subject to the law, responded by concocting Proposition 22. The initiative would exempt them from AB5 and substitute an alternative employment scheme that could leave gig workers vulnerable to being ripped off by the businesses they work for.
Uber has a record that appears to show a willingness to try to intimidate critics. In 2016, U.S. Judge Jed S. Rakoff of New York determined that in the course of a lawsuit filed against Uber’s co-founder and then-CEO Travis Kalanick, the company had launched a secret, fraudulent investigation of the plaintiff and his lawyer, and misled the targets about it. In 2014, then-executive Emil Michael expressed interest in looking into the “personal lives” and “families” of journalists critical of the company. Uber subsequently said it had never taken any steps Michael mentioned. In 2017, Uber critic Susan Fowler Righetti discovered that someone had been contacting her friends to glean personal information about her.
After her home address was posted online, Dubal, at the suggestion of her digital security consultant, started blocking Twitter accounts that had targeted her, sometimes with vile and obscene language and imagery. Yes on 22 then issued a tweet urging anyone she blocked to post a screenshot of the blocking notice.
Public records act requests are often effective tools for journalists and consumer advocates, allowing them to obtain records that public officials would rather keep under wraps. But voluminous requests like the one aimed at Dubal have been used by entrenched interests to discourage public discourse by saddling their critics with time-consuming busywork.
“Activists across the country have seen significant impacts using public records requests as an effective strategy to undermine the work of researchers in controversial fields,” explained Maria Shanle of UC’s general counsel’s office. “In my view, this is part of a larger political trend toward discrediting the cultural authority of scientific experts, and undermining science in general.”
It’s bad enough that gig companies like Uber and Lyft are spending nine-figure sums to promote an initiative that benefits themselves at the expense of their workers. It’s especially contemptible that they’re using some of that money to target a critic simply because she speaks out against them, and then hiding behind their initiative committee to do so.
Source: Working Women Report