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Lawmakers Eye Stronger Coronavirus Help For Gig Workers

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Law360 (March 25, 2020, 7:33 PM EDT) — Local lawmakers across the U.S. are championing greater labor protections for gig economy workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the crisis sees both a tremendous spike in demand for workers delivering groceries and hard times for other industries where such labor pools have become common.

While much of the U.S. workforce is working from home to reduce the spread of the virus, many gig economy workers remain out and about, delivering goods as the novel coronavirus pandemic drags on.

The demand for delivery workers has never been greater, and neither has the risk.

Not only are gig economy workers doing deliveries at a greater risk of contracting the virus, but they also face economic uncertainty if they have to stop working. Many gig workers are classified as independent contractors and thus lack access to paid leave, employer-provided health insurance and unemployment insurance.

Lawmakers recognizing those financial insecurities and the health risk are demanding labor protections for such workers.

“In these uncertain times, we need to act to protect all workers, especially those who don’t have access to unemployment insurance assistance,” a group of Washington state legislators urged their counterparts in Washington, D.C., this week.

“These workers include those considered by employers to be independent contractors in the gig economy and those who are self-employed. We are hearing from these workers about the economic difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic,” the Washington state legislators wrote. “This threatens their livelihoods and the strength of the broader economy.”

The pandemic has caused a boost in hiring at some companies to help meet the demand for food deliveries. Online grocery service Instacart announced plans to hire 300,000 workers in North America over the next three months, and Amazon and Walmart said they are hiring 100,000 and 150,000 workers, respectively.

The workers who take those roles will join the millions of Americans who depend on gig economy jobs as their primary source of income, but for those who are independent contractors, their employers largely won’t be paying into states’ unemployment insurance funds on their behalf.

The Washington state lawmakers urged their congressional delegation to work with the Trump administration to ensure that more Americans gain access to unemployment insurance, even if they don’t meet some of the standard eligibility requirements.

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has also publicly called for broadening unemployment insurance eligibility to include independent contractors.

Veena Dubal, an associate professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, told Law360 the pandemic underscores the problem with work that is unprotected, saying it is devastating workers across the country.

Lawmakers seeing people trapped in “really desperate situations” have started to call for basic protections for gig workers, Dubal said.

In California, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who authored the state’s 2019 landmark bill Assembly Bill 5 extending employee classification status to workers in the gig economy, has called for action at both the federal and state level.

“Gig workers are on the frontlines of serving our communities during this crisis,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez is urging Congress not to concede to the demands of corporations “exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to exempt themselves from existing employer obligations under state and federal law that require them to pay into unemployment insurance, Medicare, Social Security, and provide minimum wage and overtime pay, paid sick days, paid disability leave, and workers’ compensation for their workers.”

Meanwhile, she urged California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency to “immediately provide” unemployment benefits to workers “misclassified” as independent contractors.

Also in the Golden State, San Francisco legislators called this week for enforcement of A.B. 5 to ensure that gig economy companies are meeting their legal obligations to workers.

But Uber and Lyft, whose drivers have had trouble finding work as people stay confined to their homes, argue that the law doesn’t apply to those workers.

Uber’s CEO urged President Donald Trump in a letter this week to embrace a “third way” and create a new category of workers between employees and independent contractors.

A Lyft spokesperson countered the San Francisco lawmakers’ proposed resolution, arguing that ride-hailing companies, also known as transportation network companies, are delivering essential services during the pandemic and that requiring them to reclassify drivers as employees now would threaten to interrupt crucial services.

“Attempting to force TNCs to adopt an employment model in the midst of this crisis would result in the widespread elimination of work for hundreds of thousands and the immediate interruption of essential services for vulnerable populations. It will hurt drivers and at-risk communities at a time when they need our services most,” Lyft spokesperson Julie Wood said in a statement Tuesday.

Dubal said that in California, the governor needs to enforce state law. While some gig workers are completely out of work, other gig workers who are doing deliveries are being overworked, lack sufficient access to hand sanitizers and “are really putting their own bodies on the line” right now.

In terms of sick pay, some gig economy platforms have started rolling out basic benefits for independent contractors amid lawmakers’ appeals.

Instacart announced that all of its in-store shoppers now have access to sick pay and that in-store shoppers and full-service shoppers, who deliver groceries, can receive up to 14 days of pay if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or if they are “placed in individual mandatory isolation or quarantine as directed by a local, state, or public health authority.”

Lyft, Uber, Amazon, Caviar and Doordash all announced similar benefits in recent weeks for workers that they have classified as independent contractors.

And help could still be coming at the federal level, said Rebecca Smith of the National Employment Law Project, pointing to the Providing Americans Insured Days of Leave Act. The bill would provide independent contractors nationwide with two weeks of federally funded paid sick leave during the COVID-19 crisis and employer-funded paid sick days after 2021.

Overall, Smith said, the pandemic has exposed “gaping holes in our country’s social benefits” and the “employer practices and policy gaps that leave millions of America’s workers — and their families and communities — at risk of grave illness and financial ruin.”

–Editing by Aaron Pelc and Emily Kokoll.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.



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State Urges Man To Apply For Gig Worker Unemployment After Penalty Weeks Hold Up His Benefits For Months – CBS Chicago

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CHICAGO (CBS) — A possible solution has emerged for an unemployment benefits problem we have been reporting on for months.

A man still serving unemployment penalty weeks said he got a call that could mean he will be getting money from the state soon. The call came days after CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov’s reporting.

Two business days after Ken Scott’s story aired, he heard from an Illinois Department of Employment Security employee telling him to apply not for regular unemployment benefits, but for benefits earmarked for independent contractors and business owners.

But an independent contractor he is not.

“Makes no sense to me,” Scott said. “I just got the call right out of the blue.”

It’s a call that could put thousands of dollars into Scott’s pockets and help him pay his bills. But it has left him confused too – the call was from an IDES employee telling Scott to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, and he would get benefits dating back to March 1.

But Scott is still serving out 24 unemployment penalty weeks for a $143 overpayment two years ago.

So how is that possible?

“He said that the penalties have to keep going, but this is a way to alleviate some of the pressure,” Scott said.

The financial pressure of the result of months of Scott having no income because of those so-called penalty weeks. But PUA benefits are meant for independent contractors and so-called gig workers, of which Ken Scott is neither.

“I did ask him – is this something handed down for people going through this with penalties?” Scott said, “I never got an answer.”

Scott’s call came four days after we first introduced viewers to him and his personal struggle. That same week, state Sen. Celina Villanueva (D-Summit) sent Gov. JB Pritzker a letter asking for an immediate revision to the penalty week law during the pandemic to help thousands of people like Scott.

Villanueva said she knows the governor got her letter, but has heard nothing else. And Scott’s potential good news is still peppered with frustration.

“When I tried to put in going back to March 1 like he instructed, it kicked me out,” Scott said.

Scott will now have to deal with the IDES callback system, and some have had to wait weeks or more than a month to get a call back.

 

Kozlov sent IDES spokeswoman Rebecca Cisco two emails Tuesday asking if this change to apply for PUA benefits is just for Scott, or if they are making a change to the penalty week law statewide.

As to Villanueva’s letter to Pritzker, Kozlov reached out to the Governor’s office last week and again on Tuesday to get Pritzker’s reaction to the senator’s letter and ask if he was considering making changes. There had been no response as of early Tuesday evening.

There is a new acting IDES director, and it is possible she is making some changes, But until we get answers from those who are supposed to provide them, we won’t know for sure.

Several other states reportedly have issues with penalty weeks holding up benefits. New York and California have changed their laws, but so far as we know, Illinois won’t budge.

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We’ll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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Can Patreon and Twitch Drive the New Gig Economy? – OZY

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

The pandemic is giving rise to a freelance model driven by platforms geared toward remote working and for a generation that’s digital first.

  • Amid the unemployment crisis, platforms that enable self-employed workers to charge subscriptions for their content are having a surge in sign-ups.
  • From journalists to bookkeepers, IT engineers to porn actors, these platforms could be the future of the gig economy.

In an episode of the Netflix original series Love, Bertie Bauer, played by Claudia O’Doherty signs up for Tinder after a rocky breakup. She asks her roommate Mickey Dobbs (Gillian Jacobs): “What does it mean when someone says they’re a project manager?” Mickey responds: “They’re unemployed.”

While pop culture has often equated self-employment with unemployment, freelance work is a reality for a growing number of Americans. A 2017 survey by Edelman Intelligence concluded that a majority of Americans — especially those living in urban areas — would be freelancers by 2027. Now the coronavirus pandemic is giving rise to a freelance model driven by a set of platforms geared for remote working and for a generation that’s digital first.

Patreon is a subscription-based platform popular among creators, from musicians to printmakers, who want to sell and distribute their work. In just the first three weeks of the pandemic, as job losses battered America’s workforce, it added 30,000 sign-ups.

Substack, a platform that allows writers to build and distribute customized subscription-based newsletters, saw a 49 percent increase in sign-ups in March, as newsrooms across the country laid off journalists. Well-known writers, including former The New Republic climate science writer Emily Atkin, ThinkProgress founder Judd Legum and Matt Taibbi, a former Rolling Stone contributor, have turned to the platform. Some writers on Substack make six figures — the average salary for a staff reporter in the U.S. is $46,270, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If the pandemic continues there is a high probability that more and more people will use these platforms in full-time capacities.

Chris Stanton, Harvard Business School

Upwork, which connects employers with gig workers for tasks ranging from a six-month UX design project to a weeklong bookkeeping stint, boasted a 19 percent growth in revenue in the second quarter and 21 percent in the first quarter. 

“Freelancing takes a lot of hustle. There is a freedom that comes with it as well,” says Carol Wolper, author of Adapt or Wait Tables: A Freelancer’s Guide. “People must adapt to this moment.… In the freelance world, to be successful you’ve always had to bring something to the table that no one else can.”

The reality of course is far from idyllic, especially for the millions of workers who don’t have a choice but to seek freelance work. In the past six months, companies ranging from Uber to NBCUniversal to Boeing have laid off employees, as industry after industry has been decimated. The United States is in the middle of its largest economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Week-over-week, unemployment numbers continue to rise as furloughs turn into layoffs and then the cycle repeats itself. “The idea that there will be a V-shaped recovery is looking less and less plausible,” says Chris Stanton, an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. Until now, the platforms seeing monumental growth in sign-ups for self-employed gigs have often been used for supplemental income, he explains. The current crisis could change that. “If the pandemic continues there is a high probability that more and more people will use these platforms in full-time capacities,” Stanton says. 

That’s why platforms like Twitch are also on the rise. The world’s largest livestreaming platform has historically been home to gamers. That has expanded across several industries, with everything from yoga classes to cooking shows filmed at temporarily shuttered restaurants. Sponsored content on Twitch grew 89 percent in the first two months of the pandemic.

Twitch has partnered with Bandsintown, a platform that connects musicians, fans and brands, to help elevate emerging artists at a time when performances in bars and clubs are not an option. OnlyFans, a London-based content subscription platform used principally for pornographic content, has seen a 75 percent month-over-month increase in users since the start of the pandemic, offering a lifeline to an industry brought to a halt because of social distancing norms.

In some ways, this explosion of growth is in keeping with a shift toward freelancing that’s been evident for a few years, says Trevor Blake, author of Secrets to a Successful Startup: A Recession-Proof Guide to Starting, Surviving & Thriving in Your Own Venture. “But the pandemic [has] clearly accelerated the process.” He expects to see more independent contractors performing roles ranging from HR to IT for businesses. How all of this shapes the future of the American workforce remains an open question. But as the economy shifts toward freelance work driven by these 21st-century platforms, the stigmatization of self-employed workers could soon be a thing of the past.



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Gig Based Business Market Overview Along With Company Profiles Product Data- TaskRabbit Guru Rover HopSkipDrive Freelancer Fiverr Favor Delivery Upwork DoorDash BellHops Turo,,,,, etc

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The major players profiled in this report include: TaskRabbit Guru Rover HopSkipDrive Freelancer Fiverr Favor Delivery Upwork DoorDash BellHops Turo

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