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Dubal and AB5: A Woman of Privilege dictating how Californians can work

Written By | Apr 22, 2020
Dubal, Verna Dubal, California, AB5

Image courtesy of University of Hastings, School of Law

LOS ANGELES: The editors of the Orange County Register wrote a blistering editorial on Monday, once again calling out the arrogance of Sacramento politicians regarding AB5. They demand the law’s repeal, especially amidst this COVID-19 pandemic, and the state’s need to work toward recovery:

“It is because of Gonzalez, and every member of the Legislature who voted for AB5, that many Californians have been unable to find work and now have to juggle yet another cost burden imposed by out-of-touch politicians.
“The flaws of AB5 are made perfectly clear by the fact that the law, which already contains several narrowly targeted exemptions for certain lines of work, continues to be the subject of promises for further exemptions.
“If a law needs numerous exemptions to make sense, it probably doesn’t make sense.” [emphasis mine]

This writer posits that this was intentional.

UC Hastings associate professor Veena Dubal, the law’s true author, created this tortured and miasmic law in order to destroy the very foundation and structure of independent contracting. I wrote at length about the letter signed by Dubal and her colleagues in the article Veena Dubal: The unelected puppet master behind California’s AB5 law.

Since then, the enforcement arm of the California Employment Development Department under the Service Employee International Union’s thumb has been working overtime to dupe independent contractors into revealing their clients. Once that information transfers, the EDD can turn around and audit those clients for upwards of $25,000 per misclassified individual, per year.

Thanks to the network of independent contractors and freelancers supporting each other, this damage has been minimal, and the Unions are flummoxed.

Veena, Lorena, the Unions, all the players are desperate to justify the AB5 law.

The problem is it is unjustifiable. What has been exposed is a bare-knuckled attempt to destroy small businesses and prevent individuals from doing what they love. What they are trained and credentialed to do as independent contractors, not as “workers”.

It is also hampering the response to COVID-19 because people essential to the front line response: nurses, nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, translators and interpreters have been swept under the AB5 morass.

California’s AB5 gig economy law puts Nurses at risk during COVID-19

But that has done nothing to stop the momentum to destroy the independent contractor model, and in turn, the people who make a living (or used to) by it. As a colleague said, “No amount of suffering distracts them from their evil goals.”

The California EDD has finally offered guidelines to all independent contractors and freelancers (this still includes Uber and Lyft drivers) on how to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) payments. (How to apply for unemployment benefits if you’re a freelancer or self-employed)

The application form will be available on April 28, less than a week from now. Despite this, the EDD is still sending out tweets insisting that if you apply for regular unemployment insurance (UI), they can help you “figure out” the whole misclassification issue.


Veena took it one step further, offering false information as commentary to her retweet of the above.

The campaign to prove misclassification at all costs is obviously not having the intended effect.

Here’s the problem: the longer they play this game to own the app companies, the more other hard-working professionals suffer because of this woman’s law. Once again, this was done with great intentionality.

Veena has spent over a decade in an obsessive focus on taxi drivers and app-based drivers in order to destroy the business models of entrepreneurial enterprises like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash. Her goal is to prove the independent contracting model is in and of itself destructive.

AB5 keeps translators and interpreters from the fight against COVID-19

On this quest, she has exhibited a wholesale disregard for independent professionals who have nothing to do with any of those companies. These professionals are not misclassified, they have made a choice, and in many cases trained for many years with multiple degrees and certifications (this writer being one of them) to maintain the right to work in their field as they see fit.

After the April 10 publication of my first article, Veena Dubal took to Twitter to attempt to debunk my findings, and to counter the blowback she received from the millions of independent contractors and freelancers she has adversely affected.


What she dismissively wrote off as “targeted harassment & the dissemination of false information—some of it dangerous”, was not false information—it came straight from the horse’s mouth. But I agree with her on her final words: some of it is “quite dangerous.” In fact, if you are a person who appreciates your freedom to earn a living as you choose, all of it is.

This writer took more than 2 minutes—I spent an entire week and a weekend reading over her scholarship. Everything from, “The Drive to Precarity: A Political History of Work, Regulation, & Labor Advocacy in San Francisco’s Taxi & Uber Economics”, to “An Uber Ambivalence: Employee Status, Worker Perspectives, & Regulation in the Gig Economy”.

I have watched every media and conference appearance I could get my hands on.

Dubal is a prominent voice in the PBS documentary, City Rising: The Informal Economy. She was a featured panelist for AI Now Institute’s 2019 Conference, “This Moment in Artificial Intelligence”, because Dubal’s second obsession, making sure the AI companies are unable to profit from the data they gather, has also put her in the spotlight.

So Veena’s assertion that if one simply reads her scholarship she would be a “sympathetic ear” is as hypocritical as her fight against “precarity” and helping the marginalized worker.

As of this writing, I am still blocked from her Twitter account. For someone trained in the Socratic method of debate, Dubal seems to have no desire to engage in one.

It is almost as if she feels the independent contractors, freelancers, and gig workers who challenge her have no right to engage her and are a waste of her precious scholarly time.

This is not untypical of someone who was raised and continues to fester among the elite. The plebes mean little to them except a project to be engaged or a cause to be championed.

Veena Dubal appears to have lived a life of privilege, of tremendous opportunities, and of choice.

Her parents are well-paid professionals who gave her a life in the affluent suburbs of Houston, Texas and Lexington, Kentucky. Dubal went on to study at the West’s Ivy League think tanks, receiving her Ph.D. from University of California Berkeley, her JD from Stanford University School of Law, and her B.A. at Stanford University in International Relations with a minor in Feminist Studies.

A year before she became an associate professor at the University of California Hastings School of Law, she did a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford.

Veena uses her scholarly work at UC Hastings to influence and make changes to employment law in order to benefit those she feels are marginalized workers, and to do detrimental harm to large corporations, particularly those with an app-based technology focus.

This noble, scholarly position also keeps her in privilege and comfort. According to Transparent California, Dubal gets paid a handsome $156,367.00. That doesn’t include another $22,158.00 in benefits.

Veena is married to Ryan Gilfoil, senior corporate counsel at Amazon Lab126.

She often gives thanks to him in her scholarship footnotes. Amazon is not only synonymous with Big Tech and the evils of artificial intelligence (Alexa, what’s the definition of “hypocrisy”?), but the company has a proven record of labor abuses.  I find it interesting that Uber and Lyft’s supposed crimes are the ones Dubal and her colleagues like to research and rail against.

Suffice to say, it gives new meaning to sleeping with the enemy. Although since one of the Labor Unions’ goals is to unionize Amazon, maybe Mr. Gilfoil is a Manchurian candidate. I will explore that thought in future articles of this series.

Veena and her senior corporate counsel spouse occupy a multi-million dollar home in the toney suburbs of Silicon Valley. As independent contractors and freelancers in California struggle to pay their rent or mortgages due to four months of AB5’s work-killing legislation, Dubal is “big pimpin’”, while pretending to defend the rights of the marginalized.

It appears for the most part, that Dubal has spent her life and career in academia or in activism.

I very seriously doubt she has ever had to hustle for a job or get her hands dirty. And if she did, it was probably in the pursuit of her “scholarship”.

So why would the Labor Unions tap someone who, for all intents and purposes, appears to have never gotten their hands dirty, to write the AB5 law which transforms the very nature of the way people work?

Jennifer Oliver OConnell

Jennifer Oliver OConnell offers witty, insightful, and direct opinion, analysis and musings on local and national politics and popular culture, with occasional detours into reinvention, food, and Yoga. Jennifer also teaches Yoga, and coaches clients on careers and reinvention. You can keep up with what's in Jennifer's orbit through her As the Girl Turns website.