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Not all gig workers want proposed protections

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a commission to look at improving conditions for workers in the so-called gig economy, where people work job to job with few employment rights.

But some workers say they are worried that the changes could actually harm their ability to earn money. 

Joshua McFee is a professional wrestler. His ambition is to be signed with a major television company and make it big.

“And then that’s your living,” McFee said.

In the meantime, he earns money by driving for ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft when he is not competing in matches around the country.

“I like driving,” he said. “So it just works for me.”

He said his hours are flexible — he can start at 5 in the morning if he wants to — and since he’s not on anyone else’s clock, he can quickly arrange travel to wrestling events.

“I’ll be booked Friday, Saturday, Sunday, but it’s up in Michigan, like Detroit,” he said. “And I’ve got to leave on a Thursday night.”

He said the job also gives him time to take care of his young daughter after school.

McFee came to the Capitol with the group Flexible Work for New York, which is made up of business lobby groups and local chambers of commerce across the state. They’ve seen changes for gig-economy workers happen in other states, and they’re wary of some proposed changes in New York.

Cuomo, in his State of the State message in January, condemned the treatment of gig workers, saying the state needs to set up some protections because “too many corporations are increasing their profits at the expense of the employee.”

“A driver is not an independent contractor simply because she drives her own car on the job. A newspaper carrier is not an independent contractor because they ride their own bicycle. A domestic worker is not an independent contractor because she brings her own broom and mop to the job,” Cuomo said on Jan. 8. “It is exploitive, abusive, it’s a scam, it’s a fraud. It must stop, and it has to stop here and now.”

The governor’s views on the subject have evolved. In 2015, when New York City was attempting to regulate Uber drivers, Cuomo backed the company and said the government should not be in the business of trying to regulate it because it could restrict job growth. 

Cuomo has not proposed any specific legislation. He instead will create a commission, made up of appointees from the governor and the Legislature, that will look at wages, health and safety regulations, collective bargaining and anti-discrimination protections. 

If the Legislature does not approve the commission’s recommendations, then the governor’s own labor department would issue the new rules instead. 

There are also several bills in the Legislature that would add protections for gig workers and change their status.

McFee worries, though, that changes like ones that occurred recently in the state of California, where most independent contractors were reclassified as employees, would actually hurt his ability to work the way he chooses. 

“If I’m told basically to be a shift worker, then that pretty much takes out the entire point of doing it,” McFee said. 

California’s law is under litigation. Independent truckers have successfully sued to be exempt from the law, saying it would be impossible for them to make a living if their status was changed. The media company Vox laid off 200 freelancers, saying the arrangement no longer worked under the new rules. Uber and Lyft have also filed a lawsuit. 

Christina Fisher with the trade association TechNet, which represents 80 technology companies in the Northeast. She’s also a spokesperson for Flexible Work New York. She said the group is not against the idea of the commission, but they want to make sure they have a seat at the table when decisions are made.

She worries that if the laws are anything like the ones enacted in other states, gig workers might face restrictions that hurt their ability to make a living.

“We want to maintain the flexibility that these workers enjoy and so vitally need for their lives,” Fisher said.

The group said they know the gig economy is not “perfect.” And McFee said he is interested in some of the proposals, like one that would require workers receive health care.

“Obviously, being a professional wrestler, you get injuries,” said McFee, who said he sprained his ankle in a match a few days ago.

“Somebody punched me in the back of the knee and my ankle popped,” he said.

McFee said in his job as an Uber and Lyft driver, he often provides rides to state government workers, including members of the governor’s own staff. He said he hopes that when they make the new rules, they will listen to people like him.

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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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