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IAATW Launch Aims to Bring Gig Workers Together

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Photo: Damian Dovarganes (AP)

As Uber, Lyft, and lesser-known transportation companies masquerading as tech firms have gradually squeezed savings out of their contingent workforces, those same contract drivers have gotten angry and organized. The first big mass action was a global strike in May of last year, kicked off by LA’s Rideshare Drivers United (RDU).

On Thursday, many of those groups, both grassroots and union-backed, are coming together to meet in London under the auspices of the philanthropic group Open Society Foundations to found a new entity they’re calling the International Alliance of App-Based Transport Workers (IAATW).

“The rapid growth of platform companies has been built on a business model that excludes fair labor practices and perpetuates low pay for drivers. But the global reach of the companies dominating this sector also presents important opportunities for shared action among workers across borders,” Elizabeth Frantz, director of Open Society Foundations’ Fair Work portfolio, told Gizmodo over email. Attendees will span 23 counties, and include several U.S.-based heavy hitters like RDU, as well as New York’s Taxi Workers Alliance and the Philadelphia Drivers Union, and will be hosted by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain.

While ridesharing looms large in the conversation for worker rights, according to Frantz, IAATW will also include contingent security, janitors, bike couriers, and foster care contractors.

Despite the impressive list of groups intent on convening, IAATW doesn’t truly exist yet: The first order of business will be the production of a manifesto that, one assumes, will guide the operations of any future actions. Open Society Foundation, founded by billionaire George Soros and operating with a $1.2 billion budget for 2020, has thrown the clout of its name and a $130,000 grant to cover convention costs behind this effort. And as of now, however, no governance structure or policy goals have been set in stone. RDU and IWGB did not respond to a request for additional comment.

Both the current nebulous state of the group, as well its funding source, draws an immediate comparison between IAATW and Athena, the Open Society-backed coalition that made its splashy debut in the New York Times in November. A cadre of groups currently taking action against Amazon—Illinois’s Warehouse Workers for Justice, Minnesota’s Awood Center, and national policy center Good Jobs First—have thrown their names behind Athena. And while it may grow into a fearsome force, currently its broad mandate and lack of policy wins make it feel more like a holding company of loosely connected ideas. “A coalition to stop Amazon’s injustices—#spying, gentrification, #dirtyenergy #monopoly & worker abuse,” the group’s Twitter bio currently reads: all important fights, but ones that have historically remained the target of separate actions.

Even if a one-off is all IAATW amounts to, it’s a crucial way for often-atomized workers who don’t share an office or other means of direct communication to build relationships and swap strategies. Naturally, though, the attendees have higher hopes. “In California, we are fighting to defend AB5,” Nicole Moore a member of RDU wrote in a statement to press, referencing the bitter fight over a new gig-work law in California. “But what we are learning through international organizing is that no matter where the gig giants go, they break the law at every turn. That’s why we need the IAATW—not just to share information, but to build a global strategy.”



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As Congress scrutinizes gig worker rules, small-business owners need to know the basics – The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Uber’s UK ruling could have implications for gig economy startups

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Former Uber drivers Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar first brought their case against Uber in 2016
(Carl Court/Getty Images)

The UK’s Supreme Court has rejected Uber‘s appeal against an earlier ruling that said its drivers must be classified as workers, a result that may have a significant impact on other gig economy companies.

The decision—which cannot be appealed—means thousands of UK Uber drivers cannot qualify as being self-employed, entitling them to both minimum wage and holiday pay. The ridehailing company could now face paying substantial compensation to its drivers.

The ruling, which criticized Uber for sidestepping UK labor laws to withhold benefits, could influence other battles between gig workers and the companies that hire them. Earlier this month, the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain appealed against a court decision preventing riders for food delivery startup Deliveroo from engaging in collective bargaining due to their self-employed status. Deliveroo, which is backed by investors including Durable Capital Partners and Amazon, is looking to go public this year.

“Employees should benefit from improved rights; however, employers are likely to face increased costs of labor and disruption to their business models, which have proven to achieve rapid scale with gig workers,” said PitchBook analyst Nalin Patel. “The ruling may also now set a precedent in the UK and force other gig economy startups that utilize the self-employed contractor model to rethink how they operate in the region moving forward.”

Former Uber drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam originally won their tribunal against Uber in 2016. Uber appealed the decision, but it was upheld in 2017, and again in 2018 by the High Court.

“This ruling will fundamentally re-order the gig economy and bring an end to rife exploitation of workers by means of algorithmic and contract trickery,” said Farrar, who is also a general secretary with the App Drivers and Couriers Union. “Uber drivers are cruelly sold a false dream of endless flexibility and entrepreneurial freedom.”

In a statement, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, Jamie Heywood,  said the court decision was focused on a “small number of drivers” who used the app in 2016. Since then, he said the company had made changes to its business,  providing free insurance in case of sickness or injury. He added: “We are committed to doing more and will now consult with every active driver across the UK to understand the changes they want to see.”

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The future is now for gig-based entrepreneurship – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

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With Californian Kamala Harris as vice president, it’s clear the new Biden administration is taking its cues from the once-Golden State on labor policy.

In one of its first acts in office, the Biden Administration placed a regulatory freeze on a Department of Labor regulation enacted in the waning days of the prior administration relating to independent contractors.  The rule, according to labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips, “aims to make it easier for businesses to classify workers as independent contractors.”

It’s unlikely this rule to give more workers freedom to be their own boss and set their own schedules will survive in a Biden administration that was heavily reliant upon labor unions for money and manpower to win the 2020 campaign.

Meanwhile, House Democrats recently re-introduced the controversial PRO Act in Congress, which “seeks to reduce the use of the independent contractor classification by companies such as Uber,” according to CNBC.

Both of these efforts followed the lead of California’s liberal legislative majority, which two years ago enacted the controversial Assembly Bill 5 to severely restrict the ability of Californians to work as independent contractors.  Their goal is to increase union membership and dues and force people to work in traditional, 9-to-5, union jobs that are relics of the past.

Doubling down on AB 5-type restrictions at the national level – which may be the Biden administration’s goal with the nomination of Julie Su, California’s chief AB 5 enforcer, as deputy Secretary of Labor – would be a tremendous mistake.  It would threaten innovation and hurt the ability of Americans who have lost their jobs to put food on the table during a global pandemic.

As documented in the new Pacific Research Institute study, “The Small Business Gig,” Americans are increasingly working in the gig economy.  They don’t want government – whether in Sacramento or Washington, DC – dictating how they can earn a living.

A 2018 Gallup survey found that 36 percent of U.S. workers have some sort of a gig worker arrangement.  Whether renting out an extra room to earn cash to pay the mortgage or using an app to earn a living on an alternate schedule, the gig economy is increasing opportunities for Americans to become entrepreneurs, while providing customers with lower cost services.

Many in California state government see the gig economy as exploitative and disruptive.  But data from the ADP Research Institute shows that 70 percent of gig workers are independent workers by choice.  Gig Economy Data Hub research found that more than two-thirds of gig economy workers are satisfied with their current work arrangement.

Government shouldn’t pick winners and losers in the economy.  New restrictions on the gig economy, like those proposed in Congress, will limit people’s freedom to become entrepreneurs while institutionalizing the old way of doing work.

Instead of adopting regulations at the federal level that 58 percent of Californians – Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike – rejected when they passed Proposition 22 in November, the Biden administration and Congress should take the opposite approach and enact market-based policies to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.

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