In 2009, in the city of San Francisco, Uber was founded as UberCab by Garret Camp. Camp was a software engineer who saw a need for people to have more affordable options for getting around. His eye-opening experience was with a New Year’s Eve party. Wanting to stay safe and do the right thing, he and his friends threw down almost a thousand dollars to hire a driver for the evening. Camp saw that with new technology emerging around the cellphone, a more affordable option could be created and, by 2011, his beta application was launched.
Who knows why Camp came up with the name “Uber” for his service but perhaps it was prescient. In the German language, the word “uber” means “over” or “above.” One might recall from history class learning Germany’s Third Reich motto: “Deutschland Uber Alles.” The literal meaning is, “Germany Over Everything.” With the passage of Assembly Bill 5 and a number of other laws that took effect Jan. 1, it might be said that our state government has adopted a similar motto: “Sacramento Uber Alles.”
If one reads through Assembly Bill 5 and considers its strident application to independent contractors, it may be obvious that the intended target of Sacramento’s attack was Uber and its not too distant cousin, Lyft. It hits many more than those two companies, however, and extends to other professions like writers, photographers and truckers, to name a few.
Why did the politicians in Sacramento see a need to take control over independent contractors? My take on it has to do with the fact that taxi cab drivers belong to a union and that union is affiliated with the powerful and politically influential AFL-CIO. If true, it certainly would not be the first time our elected representatives in Sacramento have bowed to the lobbying of unions. The AFL-CIO’s influence might also explain how the unintended consequences of Sacramento’s shotgun approach was not considered. As noted above, AB 5 hit many professions besides Uber and Lyft drivers.
What I personally find interesting with the AB 5 law is the experience I had as a new city councilmember back in 2001. Shortly after getting elected, I began to dig up some curious arrangements in City Hall having to do with independent contractors. One particular case had to do with a department head who essentially retired on a Friday and came back to the office on Monday as an independent contractor. The arrangement allowed for the individual to begin taking their pension while continuing to work and getting paid as an independent contractor. I went to our state representatives at the time to see what could be done to close the loophole. I was ignored and told there wasn’t anything anybody could do. Perhaps my mistake was not bringing a bucket of money with me.
So what other laws did Sacramento put “Uber Alles” with our passing into the New Year? Well, there are many and I may hit on some others in future columns but there is one in particular that piqued my interest as a big proponent of local government, first and best. The new law is one that bans teachers from suspending unruly elementary school students.
When I first heard of this coming down the pike, I could not believe my ears! What business is it of Sacramento politicians to meddle in the affairs of local school districts to this degree? Should it not be a policy left to the local school district and its elected board members? Think about it, if parents have a beef with how their children are being disciplined at school, it is relatively easy for them to attend a local school board meeting and make their objections known. If they want to gather together like-minded parents and come out in force, they can do so. What is the likelihood, on the other hand, that they would or could do the same, if they felt the need when the policy is being laid down by our legislators in Sacramento?
Thankfully this new law only applies to first through fifth grade initially and will only expand to the eighth grade some years later. Additionally, the law is set to sunset in 2025 and is to then be evaluated for how it is working ... or not.
A former member of the San Carlos City Council and mayor, Matt Grocott has been involved in political policy on the Peninsula for 17 years. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.