SAN FRANCISCO — Just days after Hillary Rodham Clinton raised concerns about labor practices at companies like Uber, Jeb Bush used the ride-hailing service to travel to a firm that helps people find plumbers.
His visit here Thursday coincided with an aggressive West Coast fundraising swing and allowed Bush to fully embrace a fast-growing segment of the economy that is becoming a hot topic on the campaign trail.
During his visit to Thumbtack, a Web site that helps people find service professionals such as dog walkers or interior designers, Bush said the company is helping Americans “customize their own dreams.” And he said that Uber provides “a pretty vital service” that is helping people earn extra income.
His visit and comments put him somewhat at odds with Clinton, who warned this week that the new efficiencies brought by many tech-focused companies lack traditional worker protections and benefits.
“Many Americans are making extra money renting out a small room, designing Web sites, selling products they design themselves at home, or even driving their own car,” she said during an economic address on Monday. “This on-demand or so-called gig economy is creating exciting opportunities and unleashing innovation. But it’s also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.”
Bush on Thursday suggested that concerns with how companies in what’s commonly called the “sharing economy” comply with federal policy will be sorted out — but that the government should catch up first.
“The government today in Washington looks more like General Motors in 1975. The government of the future needs to look more like Thumbtack,” he told a few dozen employees. “Lower cost, higher quality, focused on outcomes, really committed to the citizens — in your case, your customers.”
Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan said at a breakfast held by the Christian Science Monitor this week that the candidate has no “beef” with Uber but that she believes such companies “raise hard questions about workplace protections and the future of work.”
Beyond concerns about labor laws, Uber is facing other troubles. On Wednesday, California regulators ordered Uber to pay a $7.3 million fine for failing to hand over information about safety and accessibility for disabled customers. The company said it would appeal the fine.
Asked about the case, Bush said, “There’s going to be a big tension between companies that are disrupting the old order — and if they’ve done something wrong, they should pay a fine.”
Clinton’s comments were particularly notable given that several seasoned veterans of Democratic politics work for Silicon Valley firms. David Plouffe, who led President Obama’s 2008 campaign, is a top strategist for Uber. Matt McKenna, who was a close aide to former president Bill Clinton, is an Uber spokesman.
Jim Messina, who managed Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, is a top adviser to Uber and Airbnb. Several former mid-level Obama administration officials also work at Airbnb. Joe Lockhart, one of Bill Clinton’s White House press secretaries, worked for a time at Facebook. Chris Lehane, who was an aide to former vice president Al Gore, advises Lyft, an Uber rival.
Plouffe referred a reporter to an Uber spokeswoman. She had no comment on Hillary Clinton’s remarks.
Venky Ganesan, the managing director of Menlo Ventures, a leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm, said that some of the reporting and reaction to Clinton’s remarks have been “sensationalistic.”
But he added: “Our labor laws were really built in the factory era, and we need to update them to the mobile era. . . . It’s not like these jobs are dangerous. These are grown-ups making choices in what they want to do, and I think it would be foolhardy for us not to innovate, create and celebrate these kinds of companies, because it makes our labor market more flexible and gives people choice.”
Menlo Ventures was an early investor in Uber and in April announced $400 million in fresh capital to launch its 12th fund.
Bush toured Thumbtack’s offices for about 30 minutes before taking questions from company executives and employees. He faced questions about gun control (he defended Florida’s gun laws), women’s pay (he said equal pay laws should be enforced) and net neutrality (he said a recent Federal Communications Commission decision went too far).
The 350-employee company was founded by Jonathan Swanson, a former member of President George W. Bush’s National Economic Council. Jon Lieber, another NEC staffer, is the company’s chief economist.
Republicans such as Tucker Bounds, a former spokesman for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who used to work at Facebook and recently co-founded a San Francisco start-up, said that despite resistance to GOP presidential candidates in California, they should continue pressing their economic message in Silicon Valley.
“It’s certainly a bright spot for the American economy, and in a campaign, you’re always wanting to talk about the future and what you can do for the electorate going forward,” he said.
Several GOP presidential candidates have spent time wooing Silicon Valley leaders. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) has visited several times and has a campaign office in San Francisco. Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) is backed by former Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison and recently gave an economic speech at a shared start-up work space in Chicago.
Bush held five fundraisers in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Silicon Valley, according to a schedule sent to top donors. His lead California fundraisers are Renee Croce, a former fundraiser for former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), and Michael Sowers, who has worked on several statewide political and referendum campaigns.
When he meets with voters, Bush often raves about smartwatches. He used to wear one made by Pebble but switched recently to the Apple Watch, saying that he likes to use it to read e-mails and track Twitter.
In a recent interview, Jeb Bush Jr., the candidate’s son and former business partner, said they’re both “nerdy tech guys” who once talked to Google about investing in driverless cars — a growing field of research and investment in Silicon Valley.
The Uber driver who brought Bush to the event Thursday morning was Munir Algazaly, 35, an immigrant from Yemen.
“He was a nice guy,” Algazaly said — but added that he didn't know that Bush was a presidential candidate.
And when pressed, Algazaly said he would probably vote next year for Clinton.