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Uber Targeting Labor Activists

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This is an excellent but disturbing story about how the gig company consultants are personally targeting labor activists fighting to support AB5, the bill that gives gig workers employment rights.

Dubal seems to have become a target in a complex campaign involving social media harassment, take-down articles on conservative websites and actions by at least two public relations firms hired by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates. One of those PR firms, Sacramento-based MB Public Affairs, submitted a lengthy public records request on July 28 for Dubal’s email correspondence with 130 other labor activists, academics and union leaders. 

“It’s clearly a coordinated campaign,” says William Fitzgerald, who currently runs a strategic advocacy firm called The Worker Agency and previously worked for Google on both its public policy and communications teams. “What Uber is doing now with this is way further than anything I’ve seen. It’s a totally different ballgame.”

Public records obtained by CNET from the California Secretary of State show the five gig economy companies hired the PR firms to work on a ballot measure campaign that’s up for a vote in California’s November election. The ballot measure, Proposition 22, was jointly sponsored by the five companies and aims to specifically exempt them from AB5. The proposition suggests creating an alternative to the law that keeps workers as independent contractors, but adds a few more benefits, such as expense reimbursement and a health care subsidy.

After her home address and salary were shared on Twitter, Dubal was wracked with anxiety. She says she worried about her family’s safety and didn’t know why she was being attacked so relentlessly. She reported the incident to the local police, who she says circled her block every few hours. She also paid a digital forensics firm $600 to scrub the internet of her personal information. 

Just 12 days after the tweet, a 1,400-word post titled “Veena Dubal: The unelected puppet master behind California’s AB5 law,” written by contributor Jennifer Oliver O’Connell, was published on the conservative website Communities Digital News. Dubal says neither O’Connell nor anyone from Communities Digital News contacted her for a comment. The April 10 post, which includes a few of Dubal’s tweets and statements made in interviews, calls AB5 author Gonzalez “a sock puppet” and describes Dubal as someone who “should not be allowed to be a dog catcher. Let alone have influence and set policy that dictates the lives of hard-working Americans.”

The post was followed by two more by O’Connell in Communities Digital News, both published on April 22. One of those was titled “Veena Dubal and AB5: Big Labor’s Excuse to Grab Power,” and the other was called “Dubal and AB5: A Woman of Privilege Dictating How Californians Can Work.” All three posts claim Dubal authored AB5.

“Veena Dubal, the law’s true author, created this tortured and miasmic law in order to destroy the very foundation and structure of independent contracting,” reads one of the April 22 posts.  

The whole thing is very much worth reading. This is a classic old-school anti-labor tactic, akin to mine owners killing organizers and the like. So all too typical of the New Gilded Age, which is scary in the right-wing culture of violence that has grown so rapidly.

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