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Uber, Lyft drivers, gig workers get unemployment in Senate bill

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  • The Senate’s $2 trillion coronavirus economic bailout bill includes help for gig economy workers, like Uber and Lyft drivers, who have seen their livelihoods dissolve during the crises.
  • For the first time, these workers will qualify for unemployment insurance.
  • They will also qualify for the additional four months of extra payments that this bill provides to everyone who collects unemployment.
  • It isn’t clear exactly how much money per month drivers, contract workers, and freelancers could get, but they should qualify for a weekly payment equivalent to if they were laid-off full-time employee.
  • The maximum weekly amount varies by state, but the extra unemployment insurance will add up to a maximum of $600 more per week.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The email Business Insider received from an Uber driver was heartbreaking. St. Patrick’s day was normally a hugely busy day for her. But this year, with the bars in her state shuttered, events banned, and a quiet airport, no one was out.

“I sat for nine hours at the airport and only managed three passengers,” she told Business Insider. “I am quite distressed about how I will pay my basic bills including car payment, car insurance, as my entire livelihood relies upon my having a vehicle.”

She wasn’t sick or in quarantine, so she didn’t qualify for the company’s sick pay policy. She was technically classified as a contractor so she didn’t qualify for her state’s unemployment benefits, either.

But now there’s hope for her and the thousands of other US rideshare drivers, gig-economy workers, and freelancers who have seen their livelihoods crumble during the coronavirus pandemic.

A provision in the Senate’s coronavirus stimulus bill, under a section called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, makes contractors, freelancers, and other self-employed workers finally eligible for unemployment insurance.

It isn’t wholly clear yet how much money per week gig workers would qualify for, but the bill, which passed the Senate late Wednesday, says that the amount should be equivalent what they would have gotten from their state unemployment programs if they were a full-time employee who qualified for regular unemployment insurance.

Federal law says that unemployment payments should be the same weekly pay as they would earn from their employer, capped by a maximum amount set by the state. The max amount varies from state to state. For instance, Florida’s maximum is $275 per week; California’s is $450 per week.

But the coronavirus stimulus bill also provides for four months of additional unemployment insurance, up to an additional $600 per week, for everyone who qualifies for unemployment, including gig workers.

The extended unemployment benefits in this bill attempts to protect workers “whether they work for small, medium or large businesses, along with the self-employed and workers in the gig economy,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in a press release.

The bill must now pass in the House of Representative before it reaches President Trump’s desk to become law.

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Economy

Stanford’s William Gould on Proposition 22 and the De-Regulation of the Gig Economy – Legal Aggregate

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Stanford’s William Gould on Proposition 22 and the De-Regulation of the Gig Economy – Legal Aggregate – Stanford Law School


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California’s Prop. 22 could affect the gig economy nationwide

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California’s Proposition 22 is an initiative sponsored by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig work platforms. It would exempt app-based ride-hailing companies and food delivery companies from a new state law that requires them to classify drivers as employees instead of independent contractors.

Gig companies have poured nearly $200 million into the Yes on Proposition 22 campaign, making it the most expensive ballot initiative in state history. They’ve threatened to leave California or dramatically raise prices if it doesn’t pass, and a loss could embolden other states to insist that app companies hire their drivers.

I spoke with Sam Harnett, a reporter for KQED in San Francisco. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

A headshot of Sam Harnett, a reporter for KQED in San Francisco.
Sam Harnett (Photo courtesy of Gundi Vigfusson)

Sam Harnett: Gig companies are saying, “If this doesn’t pass, we’re going to have to potentially suspend service in California.” And if it passes, Uber, Lyft and the rest of the gig companies will be able to continue operating the way that they were operating before. Their workers would be contractors, [which] means they wouldn’t have basic employee protections like unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation. And the way this proposition is written, that will be pretty much locked in. There’s this seven-eighths provision, which means it would take seven-eighths of the Senate and Assembly in California to make any changes to this proposition. And local jurisdictions, cities and counties couldn’t make any changes to give gig workers more benefits.

Molly Wood: Do these same restrictions, this un-overturnability, does that apply even if the companies are forced to classify their workers as employees?

Harnett: Well, if Proposition 22 doesn’t pass, workers will become employees, but these gig companies still have billions of dollars, and they’re going to keep fighting this tooth and claw. I mean, they see this as an existential threat to their business model. So on the one side, if Prop 22 passes, the gig model looks pretty solid. I mean, maybe something federally could lead to a change. Maybe there could be a lawsuit over something procedurally in the proposition, like maybe that seven-eighths provision I mentioned. But it’s going to be there. On the flip side, if Proposition 22 doesn’t pass, you can expect another salvo from the gig companies pretty quickly.

Wood: This is a California ballot proposition, but I wonder what implications could it have if it doesn’t pass for the gig economy nationally?

Harnett: Oh, huge. I think everybody, nationally and internationally, is looking at this case. Over the last couple years, you’ve seen the California Supreme Court, the California legislature and now the attorney general go after these companies and tell them, “Your workers are actually employees, and they need basic protections.” And if the gig companies are successful in using the ballot box to defy the three branches of government and maintain their business model, I think a lot of other states, and a lot of other countries, are going to see that as, “Well, the gig companies, they won.”

Wood: And if they don’t win, would that embolden maybe states and localities who have wanted to do something about this model to pass their own laws?

Harnett: Absolutely. In Massachusetts, they’re moving, pushing back on gig companies in a similar way. And in other states, they’re now trying to follow California’s path. And I think a victory for labor if Prop. 22 doesn’t pass, I think will ripple. And again, the companies would have to then classify workers as employees, and the rubber is going to hit the road, and we’re going to see how that all plays out.

Wood: These companies, of course, have poured a ton of money into this campaign, and they’re using their platform for that campaigning. Can you talk about some of the tactics that they’re using when you’re actually using apps like Postmates and Uber and Lyft these days?

Harnett: They got $185 million behind this, but they also have apps in hundreds of thousands or millions of voters’ pockets. So if you’ve taken Uber or Lyft, you’ve probably gotten a pop-up that has had messaging about Proposition 22. And if you work for these apps, you’re also getting pop-ups and material inside the apps urging you to vote yes on Prop 22. DoorDash has sent several million pro-Prop. 22 delivery bags for restaurants, which then the DoorDash workers have to carry the food to customers in those bags. And then Uber has a pop-up for riders that tells riders that their drivers support Prop. 22 and to talk to drivers about it. So these companies are leveraging their apps and they’re leveraging their workers in a way that has never been seen before in an election fight.

Wood: In your reporting, what are you hearing from drivers? Do you have a sense of how they’re feeling about all this?

Harnett: I’ve been covering this for five or six years, and drivers actually have always told me pretty much the same thing, which is they want to be their own boss, they want to be independent, they want to be flexible, but they also want basic protections, or at least enough money to get those basic protections. So a lot of drivers, they get these surveys that ask them if they want to be contractors, and it’s kind of confusing, because they do want to be contractors, but it’s kind of an aspirational desire to be contractors. They want to be contractors who actually make enough money to pay for health insurance, who actually make enough money to work when they want to work. And right now, what drivers are saying is that the rates haven’t been good in years, but they’ve been declining since the beginning. They’re frustrated. So I’d say workers want autonomy, independence and flexibility, but they want some basic protections.

Rideshare drivers demonstrate against rideshare companies Uber and Lyft during a car caravan protest on August 6, 2020 in Los Angeles.
Rideshare drivers demonstrate against rideshare companies Uber and Lyft during a car caravan protest on Aug. 6 in Los Angeles. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Related links: More insight from Molly Wood

The Guardian calls Proposition 22 an initiative with “the fate of an industry” riding on it. Even more than that, it’s an attempt to figure out a new framework for labor and hiring in an economy where apps like this do employ so many workers. And in some ways, like Sam Harnett said, a lot of drivers, analysts and labor experts think there should be a third way, something in between very regimented 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. employment that at least comes with benefits, and total freedom and flexibility — to die with no health insurance or miss rent if you get sick.

The delivery and ride-hail companies are positioning Proposition 22 as sort of a third way since the drivers would stay independent contractors but get some small benefits, like accident insurance and stipends to use for health insurance that go up the more hours someone drives. And, of course, it’s hard to forget that this proposition is a total end-run around a state law that the companies in question just decided to ignore. Nevertheless, opinions on Proposition 22 are fairly evenly split, even though many Californians are already voting.

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Australia – Deliveroo taken to court in gig economy unfair dismissal case (Australian Financial Review)

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21 October 2020

Australia’s Transport Workers Union kicked off its case against the human cloud food courier Deliveroo yesterday with its claim that one of its riders, whose employment was terminated in April during the pandemic, was not an independent contractor but a casual and so had unfair dismissal protection, reports Australian Financial Review. The case could have a major impact on the gig economy in Australia.  The union said Franco was terminated for completing his deliveries too slowly and the union also argued the termination was a “paradigm case of procedural unfairness” as even on Deliveroo’s own evidence it never had benchmarks for delivery times. The case is being judged by Fair Work Commissioner Ian Cambridge, who previously found a rider at gig company Foodora was not carrying out his own business but was part of the business as an employee. Under a system Deliveroo started in January 2018 but scrapped in December 2019, riders had to log in and book periods of time in particular areas where they could accept work. Once the rider booked in a period they could not change their suburb or hours. However, they could cancel a session with more than 24 hours’ notice. Transport Workers Union legal counsel Philip Boncardo argued that this was a “self-serving, self-selective system akin to a shift system”, adding that ‘That is the essence of casual employment’.

Deliveroo argued that even casuals are not allowed to do other work during shifts and this was what Franco did, fielding orders from Doordash and UberEats at the same time as Deliveroo. However, Franco gave evidence that cancelling a shift under the old system without 24 hours’ notice would impact on his “statistics” and argued that he wore a Deliveroo uniform and used a Deliveroo insulated bag while working, presenting him as part of the business.

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