California lawmakers would have you believe that the state faces some sort of public-safety crisis simply because drivers who deliver food and beverages to people’s homes need not undergo specific food-handler training, or to pay a fee to get a food-handler license from the state. The state Assembly recently voted to rectify this situation by passing Assembly Bill 1360 to further regulate food-delivery drivers.
The legislation, however, is not about protecting the public health. It’s a shamefully transparent attempt by the bill’s sponsor, the United Food and Commercial Workers union, to hobble an online-based industry that may pose a competitive threat to the retail grocery stores that employ the bulk of its workers. It’s also an attempt to impose other aspects of the labor code on these drivers – and it could make it easier for the union to organize them.
The effort doesn’t address any real problem. As the tech industry trade group, Technet, explains in the official health committee analysis, “There have been no reported issues or cases of mishandling of food that would prompt the need for the onerous requirements of this bill.” Of course there are no issues. Food-handling permits are designed for, well, food handlers – store employees who cut meats, stack vegetables and work with fresh foods.
Delivery drivers work for independent companies that pick up already prepared foods and sealed bottles of beverages from the grocery store or restaurant and then deliver them to someone’s home or business. The drivers aren’t handling anything other than a box or a bag. This is a pure anti-competitive measure that has no useful purpose for anyone outside of a labor union.
It’s particularly shortsighted given that the burgeoning food-delivery industry poses no threat to existing stores or workers. If anything, it’s good for their business, but it’s hard for old-school unions and their legislative supporters to see how newfangled industries can benefit everyone. Grocery deliveries increase grocery sales and the long-term financial health of grocery stores is the best way to protect jobs in those stores.
The measure is foolhardy for several reasons. There is no real competitive threat. Delivery companies already train their drivers, including on the need to require identification for the delivery of wine, beer and spirits. Former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill, noting his skepticism that “the existing regulatory scheme for food facilities is suitable for this new industry.” He was right. This measure would harm an emerging business model that helps consumers and grocery stores, and provides new employment opportunities.
Companies still are grappling with a California Supreme Court ruling last year that created a strict new system for employers to determine whether their workers should be considered employees or contractors. Opponents of the bill rightly fear that this measure could put delivery companies out of compliance with the court decision, because it would require them to exert an inappropriate amount of control over their contracted drivers.
The idea of food-handler rules for people who don’t handle food is nonsensical enough, but that’s not even the silliest part of it. For instance, the bill would require that delivery vehicles “include evidence of current registration, headlamp, turn signal, tail lamp, adequate muffler, vehicle pollution standards, and windshield wiper requirements.” Seriously? The California Highway Patrol already requires all vehicles to meet such standards and will gladly issue a fine to any driver who lacks a registration card or a muffler.
It creates a new crime for drivers who violate its picayune provisions, including a prohibition on “making any stops, except when necessary for rest, fuel or vehicle repair during the process of a delivery.”
The bill’s supporters should at least dispense with all the safety buncombe and publicly admit their real intention of boosting union goals. For instance, the Assembly analysisexplains that the bill “prohibits a food retail establishment from selling or transferring any food for delivery to a consumer through the use of a food delivery platform unless the food retail establishments also meets all the requirements for a client employer as described in the labor code.”
That language would impose costly wage and benefit liabilities on the stores that contract-out with third-party delivery services. It would discourage grocery chains from outsourcing deliveries, presumably to force them to hire their own drivers. More likely, many grocery stores will simply stop food and beverage deliveries if the measure becomes law, thus depriving consumers – especially the elderly and infirm – from enjoying the convenience of home deliveries.
The legislation reinforces the reality of the state’s occupational-licensing system. These training and regulatory rules are supposed to protect the public’s safety, but typically are the work of established and powerful interest groups. There is no health risk here, only a disreputable effort to impose unnecessary costs and regulatory burdens on union competitors.
Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at email@example.com