The State Worker

State workers could lose use of Uber, Airbnb if this bill dies

A driver displaying Lyft and Uber stickers on his front windshield drops off a customer in downtown Los Angeles.
A driver displaying Lyft and Uber stickers on his front windshield drops off a customer in downtown Los Angeles. The Associated Press

A union that represents hotel and travel industry workers is weighing in against a bill that would allow California state employees to continue using peer-to-peer services like Airbnb and Uber when they travel for their jobs.

Since 2015, California state workers have been allowed to seek reimbursement for work-related travel expenses when they use Airbnb, Uber, Lyft and similar companies under a temporary law that expires on Jan. 1.

Assemblyman Tom Daly, D-Anaheim, is carrying Assembly Bill 2777, which would extend the policy indefinitely.

It cleared a policy committee last month by a unanimous vote and is awaiting a hearing at the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Unite Here, the hospitality union, filed a letter opposing the bill in March arguing that it would undermine the state’s ability to negotiate favorable rates with vendors and that it could leave taxpayers on the hook for “surge pricing.”

“By extending this policy indefinitely, (Daly’s bill) makes it impossible for the state to establish contractual conditions that insure that the taxpayers receive the best value and that state employees travel safely and securely,” Unite Here’s lobbyists wrote.

Unite Here regularly holds demonstrations that criticize Airbnb, arguing that short-term rentals diminish housing options for people with lower incomes, including the workers they represent. It advocated for a cap on vacation rentals in Santa Cruz County this month and held a protest in Los Angeles last month.

Normally, state workers book travel in advance through the Department of General Services, which manages contracts with airlines, hotels and car rental companies. That process funnels most state travel through favored vendors with negotiated rates.

In the last budget year, 4,450 state employees submitted requested reimbursement for services like Uber and Lyft, according to the State Controller's Office. About 3,800 state workers requested reimbursement after staying at short-term rentals offered through companies like Airbnb.

Last month, lobbyists for the Internet Association, Uber, Lyft and Airbnb advocated for the bill at the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review. The car companies said their services would save taxpayers' money on car rentals and parking fees; Airbnb's lobbyist said the company offered a good alternative for public workers traveling to dense cities or remote locations.

"The Legislature will give state employees the opportunity to save tax dollars by evaluating the most affordable options and ensure government policies keep pace with California's digital economy," Matt Middlebrook, Airbnb's chief of public policy in California, wrote to the committee.

The bill cleared the committee by a 6-0 vote.

“We’re probably all users of Uber, Lyft, Airbnb,” said the committee’s chairwoman, Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton.

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