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Is the Gig Economy on Life Support? New York Proposes Process for Sweeping Changes to Worker Classification | FordHarrison

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Sheltering in place and the gig economy | Features – Aitkin Independent Age

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Coronavirus And The Gig Economy : Planet Money : NPR

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CARDIFF GARCIA, HOST:

Hey, everyone. We know that these are uncertain and stressful times, and we here at THE INDICATOR feel really fortunate that we’re still able to get up every morning and do the work of informing and explaining and just helping you make sense of it all. And one reason we’re able to do that is because of your contributions to public radio stations. So we are asking you, if you can, to please donate to your local NPR member station. And to find out how, head to donate.npr.org/indicator. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON, BYLINE: NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, “WAKING UP TO THE FIRE”)

GARCIA: Candy Roberts lives in Clayton, Del. And about a year ago, she started working for Instacart, the online grocery delivery company.

CANDY ROBERTS: I’m raising my autistic grandson, and I was struggling a little bit trying to find work that allowed me to be available when he needed me.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

Candy heard about Instacart. She learned that she could be a shopper – take people’s orders, go to the store, get their groceries, drop them off. Best of all, she’d be an independent contractor, so she would not have set hours.

ROBERTS: And it allowed me to work the hours that I wanted to work, so I did. And it works – it’s been working great.

GARCIA: Candy is able to earn about a hundred dollars a day delivering groceries, and she gets the time she needs to be with her grandson.

ROBERTS: He’s pretty awesome. He’s the funniest kid ever. He has a lot of little crazy collections that he does. We collect M&M wrappers, and we collect cereal boxes. And he’s been doing that since he was about 4 (laughter).

VANEK SMITH: Candy liked being an Instacart shopper. She liked her customers. And then, says Candy, about three weeks ago, everything changed. And going to the supermarket started to feel a lot different.

ROBERTS: The atmosphere is – I’ve never felt anything like it. It’s scary, and it’s emotional. I said, you know, I think I kind of have PTSD from shopping.

VANEK SMITH: This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I’m Stacey Vanek Smith.

GARCIA: And I’m Cardiff Garcia. There’s never been a time when gig workers were more visible or more vital to people than they are right now. Instacart, Seamless, Uber, Lyft – a lot of these services have become lifelines to people in cities that have been locked down because of coronavirus.

VANEK SMITH: But gig workers are also in an especially vulnerable position right now. Many feel forced to work even though they don’t feel safe. Today on the show, we talked to Candy about her experience and look at what this moment might mean for workers like her in the future.

Candy Roberts says being an Instacart shopper has gone from a joyful job to kind of a blood sport.

ROBERTS: People steal stuff out of your cart. You know, you might’ve grabbed the last milk. Well, don’t look away from your cart because they’re going – somebody’s going to take it out of your cart.

GARCIA: There’s also, like, a kind of constant Darwinian struggle going on for the rarest items on everybody’s list – hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and, of course, toilet paper.

ROBERTS: There is no toilet paper to be found. I just don’t – I don’t know what people are doing with it. Where is it going? I can’t figure out the toilet paper obsession right now.

GARCIA: The job, she says, used to be a joy, but now it’s just overwhelming.

ROBERTS: You know, Instacart even reached out to us and said, you know, this is the busiest time in their history.

VANEK SMITH: Are you making extra money with this extra business?

ROBERTS: Absolutely not. We’re working harder and making less.

VANEK SMITH: Candy says Instacart has typically paid a flat fee of $7 per order, and then she makes the rest in tips. But right now, she says, Instacart is paying a flat fee of around 3- or $4 per order. We reached out to Instacart many times to ask about this. They never responded. But we did confirm with other Instacart shoppers in other parts of the country that they’re also getting a lower flat fee from Instacart.

ROBERTS: I feel like they’re taking advantage of us. So they’re making loads of money. They’re not passing that on to any of the people who are making it for them.

GARCIA: Meanwhile, Candy says, the tips have gotten a little spotty. A lot of people are just worried about money right now. And on top of everything, duking it out at the supermarkets has started to feel really dangerous. It just means being around people all the time.

VANEK SMITH: Candy says Instacart hasn’t supplied her with a mask or gloves or hand sanitizer, so she’s had to improvise. She uses Listerine to disinfect her hands and this bleach solution she made up to wipe down boxes. But it doesn’t feel like enough. Candy says she’s terrified. After all, she is the sole provider for her grandson.

ROBERTS: I’m always worried that, you know, what happens if I get sick? We don’t really have a big support system – or what happens if I get sick and then he gets sick? And that’s really scary.

GARCIA: So Candy has to do this awful calculus. In order to limit her exposure, she is doing fewer orders than she used to. But that also means that she is earning less money, which comes with risks of its own for her and for her grandson.

ROBERTS: Today is the first day ever since I’ve been working at Instacart that I don’t have my rent payment because of the way things have been going. And that’s scary, thinking that I might not have a home for him.

VANEK SMITH: Here’s the thing. Workers like Candy might not actually have to work right now. The $2.2 trillion act that Congress just passed allows gig workers to file for unemployment benefits, which they usually can’t because they’re considered independent contractors.

GARCIA: That act included $600 per week for a lot of workers, on top of what they would normally get for unemployment. And that money would be a lifesaver for Candy. But actually getting that money is another issue.

Veena Dubal is a professor of employment law at the University of California, Hastings.

VEENA DUBAL: The last two weeks of figuring this out alongside gig workers has been really confusing, really frustrating and really scary.

VANEK SMITH: Like, you’re a lawyer, and you can’t figure it out.

DUBAL: That’s right. Yeah. I mean, it’s so confusing. I’ve been talking to unemployment insurance experts in the nonprofit world across the country, and everyone is really confused and scared.

VANEK SMITH: Here’s the problem. Most companies, like Walmart, Microsoft – they keep records of their workers – how much they make, how many hours they work, et cetera. So if they lay people off, the government has a record of how much that employee made. And that worker gets paid a portion of their old wage in unemployment benefits from the state.

GARCIA: But companies like Instacart and Lyft do not necessarily keep track of how many hours people work or even who their workers are. So states which are already overwhelmed with unemployment requests will have to sort out how much to pay the gig workers who apply for unemployment.

DUBAL: And that means that workers are going to get this money weeks after other workers. And it is going to be really hard for these already, you know, stretched-thin state departments to create a whole new system.

VANEK SMITH: In the face of all that uncertainty, Veena says a lot of gig workers have just opted to keep working. They cannot afford to risk not getting money for weeks or not getting money at all.

DUBAL: Everyone that I’m talking to that is in the gig economy who is still working desperately wants to stop working. No one rationally wants to put their life on the line. Everyone who is doing so right now is doing so out of economic desperation.

GARCIA: Still, Veena says, this is a powerful moment for gig workers. She says they have been on the margins of the workforce for years. They were typically dispersed and isolated, so they couldn’t really organize. And now they are suddenly finding a community, a voice and a lot of public support and visibility.

VANEK SMITH: Instacart workers went on strike last week, demanding higher pay and protective gear. Instacart says it will provide kits with masks and thermometers and hand sanitizer, as well as bonus payments for shoppers.

DUBAL: And so people are thinking about the health of these workers in a way that they’ve never had to think about before because the health of the gig workers is intertwined with the health of people who are using and benefiting from their labor. And all of a sudden, we also are completely reliant on them. And we have the sort of time and space to think about what they are experiencing on an everyday level and why it is that they’re continuing to work when so many people are not.

GARCIA: Veena thinks gig workers will start to organize more and more and that they’ll be successful at getting what they ask for because at the moment, the companies that employ them really, really need them.

VANEK SMITH: For right now, though, Candy Roberts is just doing what she can. She’s taking on as many hours with Instacart as she can stomach. She’s trying not to worry too much about money, and she’s trying to enjoy the extra time with her grandson.

ROBERTS: He’s right now practicing for his – what they call classroom karaoke so when he goes back to school, he can sing “Joy To The World” to the class.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “JOY TO THE WORLD”)

THREE DOG NIGHT: (Singing) Singing joy to the world, all the boys…

VANEK SMITH: This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Brittany Cronin and Darius Rafieyan. THE INDICATOR’s edited by Paddy Hirsch and is a production of NPR.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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For artists and gig workers, expanded emergency benefit access is ‘encouraging’ — but worries about the post-COVID-19 future remain

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Toronto drummer Nick Fraser has watched COVID-19 eviscerate the income and opportunity generated by his music career — including a scheduled tour in Italy. But for weeks, it seemed unclear whether artists, musicians and gig workers in similar circumstances would qualify for the federal government’s new $2,000 job-loss benefit.

Now, that question has been answered — at least in part.

Earlier this week, the federal government announced plans to widen access to the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, originally intended for those whose incomes were entirely wiped out by COVID-19. Soon, it will open to those with drastically reduced earnings — expected to mean those working 10 hours or less a week, or earning less than $500 a month.

“I think it’s encouraging,” Fraser said. “That’s how the gig economy works. People have multiple streams of income and they’re going to keep the ones they are able to keep.”

While the news is a glimmer of hope for some, Montreal-based musician and photographer Tess Roby says she’s still concerned the federal government’s response won’t be sufficient.

On top of her now-paused music and photography career, Roby works 20 hours a week at a part-time job; as a result, she may not meet CERB’s new eligibility criteria — criteria she worries will still shut out too many people.

“It doesn’t surprise me that the government would leave those people out — people who are in precarious work, people who live paycheque to paycheque, people who are multidisciplinary,” she said.

“It’s really difficult to think that so many people would be forfeiting work just for a chance to qualify.”

For gig workers and artists, earnings are usually low and unpredictable in the best of times; a recent Statistics Canada study found the average annual income for those in the gig economy is $4,300.

“Gig-economy workers are part of a precarious job market — their employment is not a guarantee of a livable income. In fact, during this time, many are getting less income than before,” said Jan Simpson, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

The union has called on the government to expand emergency support to both gig workers and those who do not have social insurance numbers, including international students and those who are in the process of getting their permanent residency.

“These workers already lack basic protections and almost never have access to benefits like paid sick leave. Their lack of protection forces them to continue working, even when they are unwell,” Simpson said.

Many workers now deemed essential, notes Fraser, are also among the lowest paid.

“The system is broken if you’ve got the most essential workers getting paid the least, getting paid so little that income support is going to be more money than they make in the first place,” he said.

For Roby, that reality speaks to the need for something more robust than a means-tested emergency benefit.

“I think we are closer than ever before to moving in the direction of a universal basic income,” she said. “I think that should be seriously considered by our government.”

That measure, she adds, would help support people like musicians whose income will be impacted long after the immediate COVID-19 crisis subsides. Spain recently announced it would roll out a universal basic income to deal with the pandemic’s fallout.

“There’s no foreseeable sight of when any of this will resume,” Roby said. “I think live performance is going to change after this. Even when people are allowed to go back to venues to concerts, are they going to want to go back?”

Roby says she’s grateful to have received numerous messages from fans thanking her for her music, offering them a brief escape from global angst.

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“But I also can’t help but think, if you only knew how difficult this was,” she said. “This has exposed all of the cracks in our system.”

That, says Fraser, should — at some point — prompt some collective reflection.

“I hope at the end of all this there’s a little bit of a rethink about the value of people’s work,” he said.



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