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Independent contractors bill creates confusion in “gig” economy – News – New Jersey Herald

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The powerful South Jersey Democrat spoke about the bill on Thursday during a Senate Labor Committee hearing packed with freelance workers, labor leaders and business advocates. He told the lawmakers and crowd that the bill has been amended and now seeks to codify existing state labor regulations surrounding so-called independent contractors.

TRENTON — Senate President Stephen Sweeney tried to dampen some of the controversy surrounding legislation to crackdown on employers who intentionally misclassify their workers as independent contractors.

The powerful South Jersey Democrat spoke about the bill Thursday during a Senate Labor Committee hearing packed with freelance workers, labor leaders and business advocates. He told lawmakers and the crowd the bill has been amended and now seeks to codify existing state labor regulations surrounding so-called independent contractors.

An earlier version of the bill sparked widespread criticism and alarm from scores of workers and business groups, including freelance journalists, public relations and social media consultants, Uber and Lyft drivers, commercial truck drivers and nonprofit groups who feared the bill would make it impossible for companies to hire them as independent contractors.

Sweeney, D-3 of West Deptford, stressed that the bill would not change the existing regulations governing their status as freelancers but would codify those measures into law.

“It’s a pro-worker bill that simply codifies into law existing regulations that are already in place to protect workers from misclassifications. Nothing new or different from what the administration does now,” Sweeney said during the hearing. “A worker’s status as an independent contractor employee will not change as a result of this bill. The bill will continue to ensure the ability of legitimate independent contractors to continue to pursue their work at the same time it safeguards against misclassification.”

By misclassifying workers as independent contractors, businesses don’t have to provide them the same benefits as employees and also don’t have to contribute payroll taxes to the state for unemployment insurance and other protections. It’s been described as a growing problem in New Jersey and across the nation as the “gig” economy flourishes.

The issue received widespread attention last month when Bloomberg reported that New Jersey was seeking $650 million in disability and unemployment insurance payments from ride-sharing giant, Uber, arguing that its drivers should be classified as employees rather than independent contractors.

A New Jersey Department of Labor audit last year found that at least 12,315 workers were misclassified, costing the state more than $13.9 million in tax payments. The audit looked at just 1% of registered employers.

“Misclassification not only hurts workers, it hurts law-abiding businesses and the state,” Sweeney said. “The businesses that don’t play by the rules aren’t paying into the unemployment fund or the disability fund, which raises costs for all other businesses. It shortchanges everyone else.”

Sweeney’s words did little to soothe the fears of scores of workers who attended the hearing, including several freelance writers, who said they were already losing work because of the threat the legislation could become law.

“We are already being blacklisted on the threat of this legislation passing,” said Kim Kavin, a freelance writer from Morris County. She said a magazine paid her $2,000 an article last year but will no longer hire her.

“You just took $2,000 an article out of my income,” she said. “This is an assault on independent contractors like us.”

All sides seem to agree that distinguishing between employees and independent contractors has become increasingly challenging.

The state regulations Sweeney referred to are known as the ABC test and gauges whether a worker is independent based on whether they are under control of their own hours and work schedule and whether they are performing work outside the employer’s usual course of business, premises or typical place of business. The third part of the test asks whether the worker is part of an independent “trade, occupation, profession or business.”

The second part of the test has garnered much of the controversy since the original version altered the definition to make clear that workers who do the work outside a company’s place of business could still be classified as employees. But one of the amendments to the bill changed the language to mirror the existing regulation.

That appeared to satisfy a representative from Rev.com, a transcription service that had suspended hiring New Jersey freelancers because of the legislation. The representative said the company still hoped for some more changes to the legislation but that the amendments laid out Thursday would be enough to lift the suspension.

Eric Richard, legislative affairs director for the New Jersey AFL-CIO, also testified in support of the measure, arguing that it was a better bill than a recent California law that opponents said has created chaos among the freelance industry there.

“I know a lot of folks think this will do away with independent contractors. It couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “What it does do is change business as usual. … If a business or corporation is misclassifying employees that should change.”

Mike Egenton, executive vice president of government relations for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said the changes to the bill seemed to be improvements but that confusion was still rampant.

“Everything is in the eye of the beholder,” he said.

The bill was advanced from the committee by a 3-1 vote, which followed over four hours of testimony.

It was the second time the Senate committee had considered the legislation. The labor panel also voted to advance it on Nov. 14, just a week after the bill was first introduced. Sweeney and Labor Committee chair Fred Madden agreed to return it to the committee for a second hearing and vote due to the controversy and amendments.

A companion bill in the Assembly was also advanced from that chamber’s Labor Committee last month and Sweeney said the changes made to the measure on Thursday make it identical with the Assembly bill.

Both the full Assembly and Senate must still vote to approve the measure in order to send it to Murphy to consider. The governor has not publicly weighed in on the bill, but his administration has been outspoken about the need to combat employee misclassification.

Murphy convened a task force to study the issue last year that suggested fines for misclassification be increased among other recommendations.

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Amazon looks for gig workers to pick up and deliver orders at Whole Foods

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Photo (c) Andrei Stanescu – Getty Images

With the gig economy continuing to grow but the COVID-19 pandemic cutting into wages, gig workers looking for work might want to pay Whole Foods a visit. Amazon is now recruiting contract workers to both shop for and deliver groceries for Whole Foods Market customers who order their groceries online.

According to a Bloomberg report, drivers can easily sign up for the Shop and Deliver program by simply reviewing an online tutorial about how Whole Foods products are picked, packed, and handled, as well as scoring a passing grade on a quiz.

Until now, Whole Foods relied on its own employees to assemble online orders, but the program model is akin to Amazon Flex, an initiative the company rolled out several years ago that relies on independent contractors to deliver packages. 

Inherent issues

From its catbird seat, various grocery industry watchers raised questions about Amazon’s move. 

“By entrusting gig workers to put orders together for Whole Foods customers, Amazon is potentially increasing the risk that items could be damaged, spoiled or delivered late that is inherent in grocery e-commerce,” GroceryDive’s Sam Silverstein wrote.

Another question raised was that while delivery service is an easy thing to learn, in-store tasks like picking aren’t.

“Delivery from A to B is a beautiful on-demand task because it’s very straightforward, very repeatable and you don’t need a lot of training, [but] tasks in stores are often much more complicated,” Jordan Berke, a former Walmart executive and e-commerce expert who runs Tomorrow Retail Consulting, told GroceryDive.

“A person that comes to your store once a day or once every two days to pick two orders is always learning, while a person that picks 50 orders five days a week” has a better opportunity to become familiar with the lay of the land inside a grocery store, and is more likely to know where items are located and how they should be handled.

Potential good news for consumers

Online grocery shopping is growing in leaps and bounds. The segment is expected to grow from about $38 million in 2018 to nearly $60 billion by 2023. Amazon and Walmart are in a pretty secure place for the moment — and keep upping the ante — but more and more companies are trying to elbow their way in like Uber and DoorDash. The upside for consumers is that companies are constantly trying to find ways to keep prices as low as possible. 

“They’re always going to look for ways to keep their cost of service as low as possible, and always look for ways to be super responsive in fulfilling customer demand,” Tom Furphy, former Amazon vice president of consumables and Amazon Fresh, told GroceryDive. 

“Those are three constants that will always exist as long as Amazon’s around, and they will absolutely look to deliver on that in the grocery environment.



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Iberdrola and GIG in 3.3GW offshore wind push in Japan

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Iberdrola has acquired local developer Acacia Renewables and entered into a joint venture with Macquarie’s Green Investment Group (GIG) to develop its 3.3GW offshore wind portfolio.

Prior to the acquisition, Acacia was Macquarie Capital’s Japanese renewable energy platform, according to its website.

Acacia’s portfolio includes two projects with a combined capacity of 1.2GW at a more advanced stage, and a further four with a combined capacity of 2.1GW.

Spanish energy giant Iberdrola and the GIG aim to enter the first 1.2GW batch of wind farms – located off the south-west coast of Japan – in upcoming auctions announced by the Japanese government.

These first two projects could be commissioned by 2028, Iberdrola claimed.

The company said it has set its sights on Japan as a “new growth platform” in renewables, and offshore wind in particularly.

Iberdrola has stakes in operational offshore wind farms worldwide with a combined capacity of just over 1GW, while GIG has backed operational offshore wind projects with a combined capacity of just under 1.3GW, according to Windpower Intelligence, the research and data division of Windpower Monthly

The two companies will both take charge of developing Acacia’s projects.

Acacia had issued public notices of Environmental Impact Assessments for the six sites. These are wind farms called Satsuma, Nanao Shika, Fukui Konpira, Shiroishi Kosugo, Fukui Konpira and Tono.

There is currently just over 40MW of operational wind power capacity installed in Japanese waters, according to Windpower Intelligence.

However, a growing number of developers are targeting the nascent market ahead of offshore wind tenders, which are expected to be opened shortly.

Last week, Equinor, Jera and J-Power joined a long list of partnerships targeting the Japanese offshore wind market, despite the nation’s apparent slow uptake of the technology.

In 2019, the Japan Wind Power Association said that the lengthy process for environmental impact assessment was having an impact on the development of offshore wind.

One of the main obstacles for wind developers in Japan comes from opposition from local fishing communities.

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In Season Of Strikes For Gig Workers, Now Swiggy Delivery Execs In Noida Rebel

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After strikes in Chennai and Hyderabad in the last 30 days, Swiggy’s delivery executives in Noida have gone on strike to protest against low wages

The delivery workers are demanding a minimum payout of INR 35 per order and restoration of monthly incentives, among other demands

Similar demands were also raised by Swiggy’s delivery partners in Hyderabad, who went on an indefinite strike last week

With similar demands as their counterparts in Chennai and Hyderabad, delivery executives with Indian foodtech unicorn Swiggy in Noida, on Thursday (September 17), went on a strike to protest against low wages. 

The strike comes just days after Swiggy’s delivery partners went on an indefinite strike in Hyderabad to protest against the low wages and to press their demands. 

In Noida, the protesting delivery workers are demanding a minimum payout per order of INR 35, a minimum payout of INR 20 per batched order (when the driver has to make more than one delivery in a single trip), and a payout at the rate of INR 10 per km after the worker has travelled more than 5 km for making a delivery, among other things.

The delivery partners in Noida, affiliated with the All India Gig Workers Union (AIGWU), have also demanded the reinstatement of monthly incentives of up to INR 3,000 for full-time work and INR 2,000 for part-time work. 

Further, the delivery partners are also demanding extra wages for deliveries made while it rains, or in nights, as also, compensation for waiting time at restaurants, while the order is being prepared. 

“Swiggy delivery workers are taking extraordinary risks by delivering food and essentials to people during this pandemic. The company cannot reward us by cutting our payouts and incentives. Our demands should be met at the earliest,” reads the letter stating the demands of AIGWU for Swiggy’s delivery workers, addressed to Swiggy’s CEO Sriharsha Majety. 

The demands of the delivery workers in Noida are similar to the demands of the workers in Hyderabad, who, earlier this week, launched an indefinite strike to protest against Swiggy paying low wages to the delivery workers. 

The workers in Hyderabad have alleged that during the lockdown, their minimum payout per order reduced from INR 35 to INR 15, while the company also removed monthly incentives to the tune of INR 5,000. 

When asked about the protest of delivery workers in Hyderabad earlier this week, a Swiggy spokesperson told Inc42, “Most delivery partners in Hyderabad make over INR 45 per order, with the highest performing partners making over INR 75 per order. This INR 15 is only one of the many components of the service fee.”

“Naturally, no active delivery partners in Hyderabad have made only INR 15 per order in the last four weeks. It is important to note that the service fee per order is based on multiple factors to adequately compensate our partners including distance travelled, waiting time, customer experience, shift completion and incentives. Regular competitive benchmarking shows that these are at par, if not higher than the industry standards,” Spokesperson added.

In what has been a season of strikes for gig workers, last month, Swiggy’s delivery executives in Chennai had gone on strike to press for their demands. A few days after the strike in Chennai, Swiggy told NDTV that the company had had a positive dialogue with the protesting delivery partners and was back to serving the entire city of Chennai with its fleet of workers.

Meanwhile, the Indian government’s new draft social security code is said to have recognised gig workers, and will mandate gig economy companies to contribute to a social security fund for gig and platform workers, reported Business Standard. Approved by the Union Cabinet last week, the code, which will have several other benefits outlined for gig workers, will come up in the Parliament’s ongoing monsoon session.



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