An Indian American law professor has faced an orchestrated six-month long campaign of harassment for her opposition to Prop. 22, a controversial California ballot initiative that seeks to keep app-based drivers as independent contractors and not employees.
University of California Hastings School of Law Professor Veena Dubal told India-West that, over the past six months, she has been harassed online with “violent, sexualized, and racialized” content. On Sept. 25, when this publication spoke with Dubal, the academic researcher had received a text message, telling her she “was going to prison,” and calling her a c**t. In March, her home address was posted online, terrifying the mother of three young children.
Prop. 22 would essentially rescind AB 5, passed by the California state Legislature last year. The bill sought to reclassify independent contractors as employees who would receive at least a minimum wage and health benefits.
AB 5 was strongly opposed by app-based driving services such as Uber and Lyft, which continued to classify their drivers as independent contractors, in violation of the new law. In August, California Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman ruled against the companies, citing them in violation of AB 5.
The ad-hoc organization Protect App-Based Drivers and Services, also known as Yes on 22, has raised $184 million to get the ballot measure passed by voters in California this November. According to data from the California Secretary of State’s office, Uber has donated more than $50 million to the Yes on 22 campaign; Lyft has donated $48 million. Doordash, an app-based food delivery service, has donated almost $48 million, while Instacart and Postmates, also app-based delivery services, donated $27.5 million and $10 million, respectively.
Almost 900,000 app-based drivers work California’s roads; the overwhelming majority work more than 40 hours a week, and receive an average of $10.17 per hour after their companies take their cut of fares, and incidentals, such as gas, tolls, and drivers’ insurance, are paid for, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute. A large number of drivers tend to be immigrants — including Indian Americans — who have few avenues to enter the formal labor market.
Online harassment of Dubal, a vocal opponent of Prop. 22, began in February as supporters of Prop. 22 began to troll her online. “I initially didn’t think very much of it,” Dubal told India-West.
In March, however, the harassment escalated as Dubal’s home address was posted to Twitter by an independent contract translator, who found the address by finding her wedding announcement, which gave the name of her husband. Dubal’s husband, an attorney, had used the home address for his registration with the California Bar Association. (India-West is not publishing Dubal’s husband’s name to avoid possible further harassment to the family.)
“I have three small children. I was scared to go out for a walk,” said Dubal.
Dubal called campus police, who in turn told her to call local police. Law enforcement went on high alert, said the law professor: patrol cars circled the family home for several days.
The Yes on 22 has also reportedly publicly attacked Dubal’s research, and filed a public records act for the professor’s texts and emails, ostensibly to search for connections to unions.
“It is a microcosm of what’s happening at the federal level. There is a lot of harassment and name calling,” Dubal said, adding that she believes Uber and Lyft are funding her harassment, using public relations firms to do their bidding.
Neither Uber nor Lyft had responded to India-West’s emailed requests for comment by press time Sept. 28. Uber forwarded India-West’s e-mail to the Yes on 22 campaign.
Geoff Vetter, a spokesman for the campaign, told India-West by email: “We may disagree on policy, but we should be able to do so without being disagreeable. The campaign’s post simply asked why an advocate for drivers is silencing the very drivers who disagree. We condemn any harassment of Professor Dubal.”
Yes on 22 had accused Dubal of blocking Twitter followers who were critical of her opposition to the measure.
The South Asian Bar Association of Northern California issued a statement in support of Dubal, which noted that the Yes on 22 campaign has encouraged Twitter users to post screen shots of notifications that they have been blocked by Dubal. The account then retweeted screenshots from users purporting to be gig drivers.
“Over the past six months, Dubal has received a number of threats and vulgar messages, some targeting her based on her race. In March, a user doxxed Dubal by posting her home address on Twitter. This was especially concerning for her because it occurred during the COVID-19 lockdown. Dubal claims that she has been harassed offline as well. She fears for her safety, as well as the safety of her family,” said SABA NC, noting it takes no position on the ballot measure.
“Acts of harassment and threats, including those that are based on race and directed against South Asians, have no legitimate role in civil discourse. We condemn anyone who is harassing or doxxing Dubal,” said the organization.
“Prop. 22 is the most dangerous labor law I have seen in my lifetime,” said Dubal, noting that drivers classified as independent contractors, also known as gig workers, often make less than half of the state’s minimum wage. Five years ago, she said, people were saying if they hustled really hard, they could make a living wage.
“Now, most people are working 60 hours a week. They are angry, stressed out and not sleeping well.”
“We are creating an underclass of people who are already on the margins of the labor force. They have no access to health insurance or financial safety nets. This is so incredibly dangerous,” she told India-West.
Dubal has a Ph.D. and J.D. from UC-Berkeley, and a B.A. from Stanford University.