Bernie Sanders has stepped away from the campaign trail to join the picket line for corn-processing workers in Iowa and Verizon employees in New York, the extension of a long career as a champion of American unions.
But the labor presidential candidate has been strangely silent on the issues driving much of the conversation about labor in the 21st century: The “gig economy” of Uber, TaskRabbit, Instacart, and the growing array of other companies springing from Silicon Valley to change American labor.
When Sanders talks about labor, it’s from a 20th-century perspective, more about manufacturing jobs lost to China than warehouse jobs lost to robots or white-collar jobs lost to artificial intelligence. His website contains a single mention of Uber, in an aggregated Atlantic article titled ”Uber Is Not The Future Of Work.”
To some of his supporters and critics alike in the tech industry, it’s a notable gap.
The Sanders campaign uses "an old songbook,” Makerbase co-founder Anil Dash told BuzzFeed News. “It was written before the internet, let alone before apps and the mobile economy."
Rick Burnes — founder and CEO of the venture firm Charles River, who has donated to both Sanders, and, to a much greater degree, Clinton — told BuzzFeed News that Sanders is "just trying to rely on the unions. That's not the direction of the work world.”
Sanders has many supporters in Silicon Valley which — outside a small sect of techno-libertarians — has long leaned left. Some of them, too, say they’d like to hear more about how he’d regulate the gig economy.
“I don’t think it’s turned out super fair,” said Steve Wozniak, the Apple co-founder, who backs Sanders, of the gig economy. It “would be nice,” Wozniak said, if Sanders addressed the issue.
Among Sanders’ campaign donors are at least 58 gig workers, especially Uber and Lyft drivers, but also TaskRabbit taskers, as well as people who make extra cash renting out their homes on Airbnb. Most gave under $50 — but a few gave considerably more.
Tim Or, a Seattle-based Lyft driver and Bernie Sanders for President volunteer, has so far given nearly $500 to the campaign. But Or doesn’t necessarily expect Sanders to address the gig economy on the campaign trail.
"I support Bernie Sanders first and foremost because of his willingness to reject big money. That's why I've donated so much to him,” Or told BuzzFeed News. While he said his support isn't contingent on Sanders addressing the future of work, “I would love if he mentioned the issues concerning ride-shares.”
Caroline O'Donovan is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Caroline O’Donovan at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.