The Bully's Playbook

How app corporations hold back worker organizing and harm democracy

April 2024

An in-depth look at tactics ridehail and delivery corporations are using to interfere in local democracy and worker organizing.

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A joint report with the National Employment Law Project

App-based ridehail and delivery corporations have been honing their tactics to block the communities they serve from having any say in their operations, allowing these corporations to exploit drivers and riders not only to drive money into the hands of wealthy executives and Wall Street, but also to maintain governing power over a burgeoning industry. This is part of a larger pattern of corporations buying, bullying, and bamboozling their way into controlling workers and their communities across the country to continue to exploit them for profit. This report lays out their corporate playbook, and how workers are fighting for more for themselves, their families, and their communities.

A snapshot of the playbook: 

BUY:  Uber and Lyft, along with delivery app corporations DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates, spent $220 million in California to pass Prop 22. Over two election cycles, they have spent nearly $50 million in Massachusetts—so far—in an ongoing fight for a similar ballot measure there. They also buy their way into progressive circles by hiring former Democratic staffers to provide a pro-worker sheen to their exploitative business models, as well as supporting corporate-funded worker organizations that oppose policies supported by independent worker organizations and sow divisions within worker movements.  And they join forces with each other and with other major corporations to form and fund innocuous-sounding front groups aiming to turn stable and secure employment into precarious “gig” jobs.

BULLY: App corporations not only bully elected leaders but they also  use their data-hoarding, power, and influence to pressure community members and drivers from backing off from or blocking policies that would hold them accountable.  They target customers, threatening to pull out of a market, raise prices or deteriorate customer service, and they target workers, threatening to take away their scheduling flexibility or otherwise worsen job quality. At the same time,  they exercise their control of data to keep the public in the dark about their operations, making it difficult to critically assess their claims that they cannot adhere to worker-friendly policies—such as minimum pay standards—without radically disrupting service and operations. And when the app corporations’ bullying tactics don’t work at the local level, they pressure states to preempt localities from regulating them and adopting minimum labor standards.  

BAMBOOZLE: App corporations get away with their buying and bullying tactics by misleading communities and misrepresenting  their business models. App corporations have been building their public image as progressive saviors and innovators while pushing policies and utilizing business models that harm drivers and customers.  They deploy narrow concepts of racial justice, claiming that app-based work is the answer to racist barriers to job creation that Black and brown communities face, while opposing policies that would improve the precarious working conditions of their predominantly people of color workforce.  They co-opt progressive ideals and use recognizable buzzwords like “flexibility”, “independence” and “freedom”, to confuse legislators and community members and offer superficial solutions to the work/life balance issue that working families face. And they seek to redefine flexible and independent work to mean the gamified and controlled work provided through their apps. 

This report also includes a list of worker organizations around the US who are, in the face of corporate opposition, leading campaigns to pass critical minimum labor standards—like a meaningful wage floor, basic benefits, transparency about the terms and conditions of their work, and protections from unfair disciplinary actions like “deactivations.”

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