‘Gig worker transparency’ bill rejected by Colorado Senate committee

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Michael Machor talks to ride-share drivers in a parking lot at Denver International Airport on Dec. 21, 2021, about forming a union

A bill that aimed to make platforms like Uber more transparent for their workers will not pass this year. Two Democrats on the Senate Finance committee joined with Republicans to reject the “Gig Worker Transparency” bill in a 5-2 vote on Tuesday night.

The proposal would have required that drivers be given an estimate of what a job will pay before they accept it, in addition to information about what the customer is paying and how much the platform is keeping, as well as information about other payment algorithms.

It also would have required platforms to tell customers where their money is going — and specifically how much the drivers who delivered their food or drove them to their destination are paid.

Michael Machar, a driver and labor organizer, was crestfallen after the defeat.

“It’s a lot of frustration. I just don’t know what to do,” he said. “We can’t afford anymore to be suffering. We work every day and we barely put the food on the table. This is a very sad day for us.”

The original version of the bill also would have changed what happens when a driver is suspended from a platform. It would have required the state to create and enforce rules about when a driver can be terminated. But that part of the bill was stripped away in an effort to keep the proposal alive.

“It took out most of the guts,” said Sen. Robert Rodriguez, a sponsor, as he introduced an amendment on Tuesday night. But the revised bill still would have required more financial transparency for drivers, which advocates say is essential.

Drivers say they need more information about what they’ll be paid for rides. Mo Sarr told CPR News that he once accepted a 240-mile long fare from Denver to Grand Junction, but was ultimately paid only $200 — and was left without a passenger on the way back, making the voyage a waste. He learned from the passenger that Lyft had taken a $300 cut from their $500 fare.

“They don’t respect the driver, you know what I mean?” he said last year.

The changes weren’t enough for the committee. Democratic senators Kevin Priola and Kyle Mullica joined Republicans Cleave Simpson, Jim Smallwood and Kevin Van Winkle to defeat the bill in a 5-2 vote.

Industry opponents had cited a range of concerns, including that they could be forced to disclose proprietary information. Laura Curtis of DoorDash said in a previous hearing that the changes were “burdensome, unnecessary, and negatively impact” customers and drivers.

And she argued that the bill would have limited the platforms’ ability to penalize drivers for turning down too many jobs. Representatives for some platforms said the transparency requirements would have been unique in the U.S., and they said they were already providing similar information to drivers — but drivers counter that those company policies are constantly shifting.

The senators gave only limited comments as they voted the measure down. Priola said it was too late to advance such a consequential policy, with less than a week until the session ends. The measure was introduced in January but was still less than halfway through the legislative process.

Mullica said that he wants to work on the issue in the interim ahead of next year’s legislative session session, keeping open the possibility of legislation later — but not now. “Doing nothing is not an option, and I just want to be clear on the record that if [improvements by the companies don’t] happen — there's the ability to run legislation down here,” he said before voting against the bill.

The bill was cosponsored by Rep. Stephanie Vigil and Rep. Jennifer Bacon, both Democrats.

"We are not finished with this work. This is not the end. Change for gig workers is coming to Colorado," Rep. Vigil said in a written statement. She credited gig workers as the driving force behind the bill, adding: "Customers keep paying more, the driver's compensation goes flat, and our families, communities, and local economies continue to take the hit."

Machar said that drivers will have to keep making their case to the public, and perhaps in court. His organization, Colorado Independent Drivers United, is planning a strike in which he said hundreds of drivers will stop picking up passengers at the airport for several hours on Thursday.

Editor's note: This article was updated May 3, 2023 with comment from Rep. Stephanie Vigil.