Is Uber disclosing enough information about its lobbying? 30% of shareholders want more

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A shareholder resolution asking Uber Technologies Inc. to be more transparent about its lobbying spending failed this week, but the investors who proposed it are vowing to keep pressure on the ride-hailing and delivery company.

Thirty percent of shareholders voted for the proposal calling for Uber
UBER,
+0.92%
to produce a report on its lobbying, according to preliminary results announced by the company Monday at its annual shareholder meeting.

As Uber continues to try to interpret or change labor laws to be compatible with its business model of treating drivers and delivery workers as independent contractors, not employees, its lobbying activities are bound to remain under scrutiny. After Uber and the other gig companies persuaded 58% of California voters to approve Proposition 22 in November, allowing them to circumvent a state law on worker classification, they said they want to expand their victories to other states and elsewhere.

See: In record-breaking $200 million fight to preserve the gig economy, messaging doesn’t always need money

The Teamsters General Fund, which proposed the first-time resolution, said Tuesday that if the company doesn’t make “meaningful changes” in its lobbying disclosures, it may refile the same proposal next year.

“Thirty percent support for the proposal in its first year at Uber shows a significant base of support for this reform, which we believe will only grow over time,” a spokeswoman for the Teamsters said Tuesday. “Transparency and accountability are necessary at Uber and throughout the ‘gig’ industry.”

Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC (Media and Information Companies Initiative), a nonprofit that works on socially responsible investing, agreed with that assessment.

“[It’s] a strong signal that the underlying issues are important to an influential contingent of investors — and the company’s board and management would be wise to begin addressing those issues,” he said.

Connor added that the vote was “almost certainly helped” by two influential proxy advisory services, Glass Lewis & Co. and Institutional Shareholder Services, which also deemed Uber’s lobbying disclosures inadequate and recommended that shareholders vote for the resolution. Glass Lewis called the company’s spending on Proposition 22 “controversial.”

In its proxy, Uber recommended a vote against the proposal, arguing that it already complies with all state and federal lobbying-disclosure laws. The San Francisco-based company also said it discloses payments to trade associations of more than $50,000.

Keir Gumbs, Uber’s deputy general counsel, said in the filing that the company’s “political advocacy activities are strongly aligned with our business strategy, the interests of our stakeholders, and the creation of shareholder value.”

The company did not return a request for further comment Tuesday.

Rondu Gantt, an Uber driver in the San Francisco Bay Area and a member of Gig Workers Rising, presented the resolution at the company’s shareholder meeting.

“Without adequate disclosures, investors are blind to the untold sums that Uber funnels through other groups to finance state, local and grassroots lobbying efforts,” he said during the meeting. “What we don’t know can hurt us.”

In an interview with MarketWatch after the proposal failed to pass, Gantt said: “The best we can hope for is to have the conversation again. This is risking making Uber look bad.”

Uber spent more than $57 million on Proposition 22, and a record $2.5 million on lobbying in 2020. This year, the company spent $490,000 on lobbying in the first quarter, according to a disclosure filed with the Senate last month. The company mentions it is lobbying against the PRO Act, which would likely give its workers the right to organize.

See: PRO Act, called ‘most important labor legislation in several generations,’ passes House

Among the other specific lobbying issues Uber listed in the first-quarter report:

  • Issues related to the future of work and the on-demand economy, possible anti-competitive activities that could limit consumers access to app-based technologies.

  • Issues related to COVID-19 safety measures.

  • Issues related to federal pre-tax benefits impacting transportation costs and independent contractor classification.

  • Issues related to federal agency guidance on reimbursement for transportation network companies (TNCs).

See: Uber and Lyft set records in annual spending on Washington lobbying

Lyft Inc.
LYFT,
-0.69%
shareholders are scheduled to vote on a similar proposal from the Teamsters at the company’s annual general meeting on June 17. Lyft’s board has recommended that its investors vote against the resolution, saying the company already complies with state and federal disclosure laws and could be placed at “a competitive disadvantage” if it expands disclosure.



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