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Bill to protect N.J. gig workers advances, but freelancers still worried

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During a contentious state legislative hearing Thursday on a bill to address the misclassification of workers in New Jersey, the only thing anyone could seem to agree on is that they really don’t know what it would do.

“I have to tell you, in my 20 years in the Legislature, I’ve never seen a bill this confusing,” state Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, said during the hearing at the Statehouse in Trenton. “And the reason is I’ve heard testimony from good people. … It sounds very convincing. Then I hear testimony from other people, and it sounds very convincing.”

Nonetheless, the bill cleared the state Senate Labor Committee and now heads to the full Senate.

Freelancers, truck drivers, bakers, wedding photographers and musicians were among the dozens of testifying against the bill (S4204) which would update New Jersey labor laws by expanding the definition of who is an employee versus an independent contractor. It would also ensure that employees are properly paid minimum wage, receive benefits and paid overtime.

Opponents of the bill who filled the room applauded and cheered several speakers. State Sen. Fred Madden, D-Camden, chairman of the committee, reminded the large crowd to keep quiet during the four-hour hearing.

There’s been major pushback on the bill from independent contractors representing a swath of industries who say it will prevent them from finding work and force them to move out of the state. Some freelancers estimate they could lose two-thirds of their income.

But state Senate President Stephen Sweeney argued changes and exemptions were made to protect workers being exploited in the growing ‘gig economy’ and codify regulations to protect workers like freelancers in the future.

“There was some confusion, but the reality is people are overreacting to this. Freelance writers are not impacted by this,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester.

He said freelancers would have had legitimate concerns if the bill advanced without amendments, which were made to match the state Assembly bill (A5936). He also clarified it’s not the same as a California law that also requires businesses to hire workers as employees instead of independent contractors and has faced mounting criticism.

“What’s happening with independent contractors is, it’s going to an extreme,” Sweeney said. “People have taken advantage of other people. And then you force other businesses playing by the rules that are employing these people, whether they’re drivers or construction workers, to take advantage of the independent contractor law so they can compete. If I don’t have to pay taxes on any of these people, my cost is lower.”

He called it a pro-worker bill that reflects the state labor regulations already in place as they’re interpreted. The AFL-CIO also spoke in support of the bill, calling it a “win-win” for the state.

The classification of workers has been a hot topic, with Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, convening a task force to examine the issue, which found more than $462 million in wages were underreported. And ride-sharing giant Uber was recently hit with a $650 million bill for violating labor laws.

Freelancers and other opponents agree that employers exploiting their workers by intentionally misclassifying them should be held accountable — but the bill has gone too far in their eyes.

“We’re not exploited gig workers. We are successful professionals that choose to run our own businesses and pay our taxes. Don’t sweep us up in a world of employers who are shirking their duties, which we agree is a problem,” said Kim Kavin, a Long Valley-based freelance writer.

Edisson Villacis, a truck driver in Elizabeth, said he will most likely need to move out of New Jersey for work. Nearly 80 percent of port drivers in New Jersey are independent contractors, he said, and trucking companies will go to other states to hire cheaper employees.

Companies and businesses have already started “blacklisting” New Jersey freelancers, Kavin said. She has already lost a client that would have brought in $10,000 in income. Rev.com, a transcription service, stopped accepting New Jersey freelancers in anticipation of the legislation passing.

When Kavin noted the loss of business during her testimony, state Sen. Joseph Lagana, D-Bergen, said he “finds that disappointing.”

Kavin contended that what she found disheartening was the state senators voting to advance the bill, even when the they said in the committee they were confused or called it flawed.

“I’m disappointed that they didn’t vote their conscious,” she said.

Sophie Nieto-Munoz may be reached at snietomunoz@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her at @snietomunoz. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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Workers

Gig economy workers demand fair conditions

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James Yang is still angry over the road deaths of five colleagues at work who suffered the same pressure he felt as a food delivery driver.

The Chinese migrant worked for Hungry Panda but says the company booted him off the app after raising concerns about conditions.

Mr Yang earned as little as $12.50 an hour working 12-hour days.

He and fellow gig economy workers met with politicians at federal parliament on Thursday, campaigning for the same rights afforded to other workers.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese believes gig workers should be given the minimum wage and greater scope to access other base employment standards.

He urged the Morrison government to stand up to Uber and Hungry Panda in the same way it took on tech giants over the news media bargaining code.

“What we can’t have is a circumstance whereby we have two industrial relations systems,” Mr Albanese said.

“One that has pay, one that has annual leave, sick leave, one that has conditions that most Australians take for granted, and another whole section of society who are marginalised, who don’t enjoy any minimum wage.”

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said he had a great deal of sympathy for Mr Yang but he’s not going to tell him there’s an easy fix.

He said the Fair Work Commission had consistently ruled gig workers were contractors and not subject to the same conditions as employees.

Mr Porter said media code negotiations with Facebook and Google were years in the making after a consumer watchdog inquiry.

He noted the cost to business of changing the gig model and impact on consumer pricing as key complexities in regulating the sector.

Rideshare driver Malcolm McKenzie said gig workers didn’t have the same avenues to pursue unfair dismissal.

“Drivers face the possibility of termination through the app as a result of a fallacious claim against them, unsubstantiated claim against them,” he said.

Delivery driver Ashley Moreland said he faced losing his job if orders weren’t met on the company’s timeline.

“It really is time that laws caught up to the technology and that we brought some rights to this industry,” he said.

“Because I think it’s a bit of a shame that in a modern developed democracy, we have this situation of third world work.”

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Gig workers to form 20% of finance workforce in next five years

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More than half (52%) of financial institutions say they expect to have more gig-based employees in the next three to five years, according to PwC’s report, ‘Productivity 2021 and beyond: Upskilling the workforce of the future to create a competitive advantage in financial services’.

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Gig economy to supply fifth of financial services workers by 2026

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Up to a fifth of workers in financial services could be gig economy employees within the next five years globally, new research by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests (PwC).  After surveying 500 financial services businesses, the researchers found that slightly more than half expect to have more gig-based employees – such as online platform workers – over the next three to five years.  The gig economy currently supplies just 5% of talent in financial services, but PwC expects this to rise to between 15% and 20% by 2026, driven by continuous cost pressures and the need to access digitally-skilled talent.  Crowdsourcing – which typically involves using the internet to divide work between many different participants – was also highlighted as a key contributor to improve productivity by the survey respondents.  Half of businesses said they had leveraged the practice, up from 21% in 2018, of which 80% said it had added “high value” to their organisations.  John Garvey, global financial services leader at PwC US, said that COVID-19 and remote working have “opened the door to accessing talent outside of a firm’s physical location”, including outside of the country.  “What we are seeing now is a talent marketplace for gig workers in financial services, competing to take advantage of their specialist skill set and boost productivity within their businesses,” he continued.  “Leaders in the industry are looking seriously at their workforces to evaluate which roles need to be performed by permanent employees and which can be performed by gig-economy workers, contractors or even crowd-sourced on a case-by-case basis.”  However, challenges remain for financial services businesses wishing to take on gig workers, which will require overcoming several obstacles.   The survey found that the most common issues for businesses include confidentiality concerns, a lack of knowledge, regulatory risk, and overall risk avoidance.  Garvey said that few full-time employees and an increasing percentage of gig-economy talent and skills that they

Up to a fifth of workers in financial services could be gig economy employees within the next five years globally, new research by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests (PwC).

After surveying 500 financial services businesses, the researchers found that slightly more than half expect to have more gig-based employees – such as online platform workers – over the next three to five years.

The gig economy currently supplies just 5% of talent in financial services, but PwC expects this to rise to between 15% and 20% by 2026, driven by continuous cost pressures and the need to access digitally-skilled talent.

Crowdsourcing – which typically involves using the internet to divide work between many different participants – was also highlighted as a key contributor to improve productivity by the survey respondents.

Half of businesses said they had leveraged the practice, up from 21% in 2018, of which 80% said it had added “high value” to their organisations.

John Garvey, global financial services leader at PwC US, said that COVID-19 and remote working have “opened the door to accessing talent outside of a firm’s physical location”, including outside of the country.

“What we are seeing now is a talent marketplace for gig workers in financial services, competing to take advantage of their specialist skill set and boost productivity within their businesses,” he continued.

“Leaders in the industry are looking seriously at their workforces to evaluate which roles need to be performed by permanent employees and which can be performed by gig-economy workers, contractors or even crowd-sourced on a case-by-case basis.”

However, challenges remain for financial services businesses wishing to take on gig workers, which will require overcoming several obstacles. 

The survey found that the most common issues for businesses include confidentiality concerns, a lack of knowledge, regulatory risk, and overall risk avoidance.

Garvey said that few full-time employees and an increasing percentage of gig-economy talent and skills that they can access on-demand, are making organisations far more innovative, nimble and cost-efficient.

“Many of the most valuable companies in the world share one thing in common: they have embraced the platform economy as a business model,” he added.

 

Image credit: iStock

Author: Chris Seekings

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