December 11, 2019

Gig economy worker protection bills come to the fore - Times Union

  • In this Jan. 31, 2018, file photo, a Lyft logo is installed on a Lyft driver's car next to an Uber sticker in Pittsburgh. The “gig” economy might not be the new frontier for America’s workforce after all. From Uber to Lyft to TaskRabbit to YourMechanic, so-called gig work has been widely seen as ideally suited for people who want the flexibility and independence that traditional jobs don’t offer. Yet the evidence is growing that over time, they don’t deliver the financial returns many expect Photo: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press
    In this Jan. 31, 2018, file photo, a Lyft logo is installed on a Lyft driver's car next to an Uber sticker in Pittsburgh. The “gig” economy might not be the new frontier for America’s workforce after all. From Uber to Lyft to TaskRabbit to YourMechanic, so-called gig work has been widely seen as ideally suited for people who want the flexibility and independence that traditional jobs don’t offer. Yet the evidence is growing that over time, they don’t deliver the financial returns many expect less
    In this Jan. 31, 2018, file photo, a Lyft logo is installed on a Lyft driver's car next to an Uber sticker in Pittsburgh. The “gig” economy might not be the new frontier for America’s workforce after all. ... more
    Photo: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press
Photo: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press
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In this Jan. 31, 2018, file photo, a Lyft logo is installed on a Lyft driver's car next to an Uber sticker in Pittsburgh. The “gig” economy might not be the new frontier for America’s workforce after all. From Uber to Lyft to TaskRabbit to YourMechanic, so-called gig work has been widely seen as ideally suited for people who want the flexibility and independence that traditional jobs don’t offer. Yet the evidence is growing that over time, they don’t deliver the financial returns many expect less
In this Jan. 31, 2018, file photo, a Lyft logo is installed on a Lyft driver's car next to an Uber sticker in Pittsburgh. The “gig” economy might not be the new frontier for America’s workforce after all. ... more
Photo: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press
Gig economy worker protection bills come to the fore
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ALBANY _ With more and more New Yorkers working in the “gig economy,” state lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session will be jockeying to offer bills that will give these workers, who include Uber and Lyft drivers, benefits like unemployment and workers compensation insurance as well as minimum wage protections.

And it could facilitate their creating or joining existing unions.

The issue is shaping up as a classic business versus labor debate, although lawmakers say they will go slowly in order to try and dodge legal challenges and harming fields where freelancing has long been the norm.

“As a longtime labor leader, I’m excited to see this burst of interest in New York State for legislation that extends additional rights to workers who are misclassified as independent contractors,” New York City Democratic Senator Robert Jackson said. Jackson and fellow Democrat, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick of New York City, are sponsors of a bill that would reclassify gig workers to get them benefits.

Ride-sharing firms see it differently.

Lyft points out that most of their drivers in New York are part-time with 86 percent working an average of 20 hours a week. And they say their drivers overwhelmingly support a flexible schedule that lets them choose their own hours.

The Jackson/Glick bill is one of several measures that have come up over the past year. At the end of the last session, New York City Democratic Senator Diane Savino and Assemblyman Marcus Crespo offered a similar bill, although that’s been taken back for more work.

Labor groups are squarely behind the concept but haven’t settled on a specific bill yet.

"Senator Jackson's proposal is modeled after California’s bill and while we are generally supportive of that direction, the needs of the labor movement here in New York State are slightly different. The New York State AFL-CIO is not committing to supporting a specific bill at this time, and we are working with our affiliates and many other groups to develop a New York-specific bill," AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said in an email.

California was the first state to pass a gig economy law. It was signed in September and will take effect in January.

The law is based on the idea that an independent contractor should be free of day-to-day control by an employer; and should do work outside the usual purview of an employer. An example would be a solo plumber who is fixing a sink at a restaurant – the plumber comes only as needed and the restaurant is in the food, not plumbing, business. To be truly independent, such workers should also be in fields or trades that have traditionally been occupied by solo practitioners either in the trades, or as professionals like lawyers or doctors.

The California bill has already sparked a legal challenge from the state trucking association that contends it could keep independent truck drivers from working.

And it has gotten pushback from freelance writers. Moreover, their counterparts in New York say they are worried that they could be harmed if the law isn’t carefully crafted.

“It showed a massive ignorance on the politicians’ part, on what people are doing for freelance work,” Halley Bondy, a New York City freelance writer, said of the California law.

Specifically, it set a threshold of 35 pieces per year for a given outlet, after which freelancers would be classified as employees. That’s prompted fears that publishers, either online or on paper, will avoid hiring California-based writers.

Bondy noted that she often reaches that threshold with some of the short pieces she produces for websites.

“A lot of working mothers would be affected by this,” said Bondy.

“Legislation that includes freelance writers in the general class of allegedly exploited workers is an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist and will cause immeasurable harm,” Milton Toby, president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, said in a prepared statement about the California bill.

Bondy, though, noted that the Jackson/Glick bill doesn’t include a 35-article threshold and that lawmakers seem to be seeking lots of input on the proposal.

And a similar bill in New Jersey recently took out freelance writers, amid cries that it would hurt their business.

“My office is meeting with constituents in several different sectors to hear their perspectives because this bill may need to explicitly include or exclude some of them,” Jackson noted in his statement about the bill. “We have to build in the nuance that workers in New York State deserve.”

“There are a number of different ways that this can become complicated,” Savino said. She convened a hearing on the gig economy earlier this year. And on Thursday at 10 a.m. Crespo is holding a hearing as well in the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 518 454 5758 @RickKarlinTU

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