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Gig workers have changed Florida’s workforce. The coronavirus response is starting to reflect that.



After 19 years as a self-employed corporate communications consultant, Bruce Benidt knew the risks of being his own boss. No paid vacations, no sick leave, and, of course, no weekly unemployment benefits when work dried up.

Then the coronavirus came along. For the first time, Congress cleared the way for independent contractors and self-employed workers to apply for federal unemployment assistance. For Benidt, 69, who saw all but one client cancel upcoming jobs, the expansion arrived just in time.

“I would have never applied for unemployment had not the federal bill included gig workers, sole proprietors, independent contractors, that kind of jazz,” he said. “I think this is a wake-up call about the structure of the economy.”

Bruce Benidt [Bruce Benidt]

In just two weeks last month, nearly 10 million laid-off Americans, an estimated 6 percent of the nation’s labor force, applied for unemployment benefits as their workplaces shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Florida claims for those two weeks totaled 301,312.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor will release statistics on how many more applied last week, with estimates of the next wave ranging up to 7 million new claims.

Related: Coronavirus unemployment crisis deepens in Florida and U.S.

“The numbers are probably going to get worse before they get better,” said Bradley Kamp, an associate professor and chairman of the economics department at the University of South Florida. During the Great Recession a decade ago, Florida’s unemployment rate peaked at 11.3 percent with more than a million people unemployed. “We’re still a long way from that, but we’re about to get there is my guess, and we’ll probably even surpass that depending on how long we’re shut down.”

Like the two previous weeks, that tsunami of claims will include a sizable — but as-yet uncalculated — number of self-employed workers and independent contractors. Categories for those two groups can have multiple definitions, but generally independent contractors are counted among the self-employed. On Sunday, the U.S. Department of Labor expanded the self-employed category specifically to include gig economy workers like ride-share drivers.

Statewide, 1.16 million people are self-employed, out of a labor force of about 10 million, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey results for 2018, the most current available year. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area has almost 158,000 self-employed people, or about 10 percent of the area’s labor force.

In a separate report from 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated there were 10.6 million independent contractors in the country, or about 6.7 percent of the labor force. The report did not break the numbers out by state, but using the same percentage as the country, Florida would have about 670,000 independent contractors, about 100,000 in the Tampa Bay area.

New coronavirus relief programs include $600 a week in federal unemployment insurance, but to get it, self-employed workers have to use the state system to apply. This week, Florida officials said they hadn’t set up a process to handle claims from self-employed workers and didn’t say when they would.

Related: Floridians could wait for weeks for unemployment checks, officials say

Florida’s malfunctioning claims website has caused an under-count of the number of people out of work.

Benidt, who lives in Port Richey, is one of them, having spent hours trying to file a claim on the state’s application website while his wife made more than 100 calls to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, all without success.

“I am spitting mad at (Florida Gov. Ron) DeSantis and (former Gov. Rick) Scott for ignoring three audits on this as they hew to their other social agendas,” he said. “It’s truly shocking. They’re not doing the job. They’re not governing.”

Related: Ron DeSantis was warned about Florida’s broken unemployment website last year, audit shows

Jesse Latzman, 42, is an independent contractor who recycles precious metals from dental offices. His earnings come entirely from commissions, and he pays for his own medical insurance.

Many dentists closed their offices, which quickly put Latzman on the employment sidelines. He’s okay financially at the moment, but in a month or two he said he’ll “have to start sweating a few things.”

Given the scope of the crisis he thought it made sense for the federal government to extend benefits to independent contractors and self employed workers. But he knows how poorly Florida’s online application system worked during good times.

“Now they are scrambling to fix something that was already broken,” said Latzman, who lives north of Orlando. “The independent contractors, all the Uber drivers, all the people that work for themselves, are going to flood the system all over again.”

Rick Jorza works as a self-employed residential contractor, fixing people’s broken homes. He started his business in 2003. Even during the Great Recession he had enough work, much of it in the Tampa Bay area. Homeowners “always need stuff done,” he said.

But this time is different. No one wants contractors traipsing through their homes, coronavirus potentially in tow. He didn’t want to get sick, either.

“It was like a light switch,” said Jorza, 56. “One day you’re busy, the next there’s no more work.”

He has spent a week trying to apply for benefits, his frustration building with each failed attempt. He scoffed at how the state had spent $77 million on such a faulty online benefits system.

“I can’t believe our state is that far behind technology-wise,” he said. “It’s a disgrace.”

To save money, Jorza moved back in with his ex-wife in Deltona. They had remained friends, so it’s not as awkward as it sounds. He also gets more time with his 20-year-old son.

“I’m getting by, but I can’t go six months or a year without work,” he said. “Something’s got to give.”

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Embr adds food delivery side gig in Early Access update




Simulator games are all the rage nowadays. All sorts of occupations have been given the treatment to varying degrees of success, but a red hot one about firefighting might just be on the horizon. Having arrived on both Steam and Google Stadia in Early Access last month, Embr will now see its first major update. Available now, Curve Digital and Muse Games have brought even more frantic action to the multiplayer affair.

Juggling gigs

The Embr Eats update will add a brand new mode to the game. Now, you can supplement your firefighting income with some action as a food delivery service employee.

“Everybody who has played the game so far knows that Embr‘s frenzied take on firefighting is a satirical way of taking a look at the gig economy,” said Howard Tsao, team lead at Muse Games.

“The new update takes that even further, with the Embr Eats feature throwing take-out delivery into the mix for good measure. Delivering food is a way for players to top up their earnings and we also think it adds a new take on the world of Embr. This is just the first of our ideas, too – we have more where this came from. We’re very much a ‘live project’ with the game in Early Access, and so improving the game – both with bug fixes and new play modes like this – is a huge priority.”

Embr Adds Food Delivery Side Gig In Early Access Update (2)

More goodies

A new level will also come alongside this new update. Empire Towers will allow firefighters to battle the flames in a densely packed high-rise, so get ready for heights and heat. Next, a new offhand tool, the Stim Pen, will allow you to regain health in an instant. And those wanting to look good while doing their job can look to the Curve Crossover Fashion Pack. It includes items such as:

  • Bomber Crew Outfit – Hat & Jacket
  • Hot Shot Outfit – Hat & Jacket
  • American Fugitive Outfit – Shirt & Pants
  • Stealth Inc Outfit: Goggles, Shirt, Gloves, & Pants
  • Early Access and Convention exclusive item: The FAX Hat

Embr is available on Early Access for Steam and Google Stadia.

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Labor Groups, San Francisco Push Bogus Taxpayer-Funded Survey to Support Anti-Gig Law




A liberal advocacy group’s own researchers raised red flags about a taxpayer-funded study used to justify a union campaign against the California gig economy.

The San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission helped fund a survey conducted by Jobs with Justice, a left-wing advocacy group largely funded by labor powerhouse Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The survey reported that 71 percent of gig workers in the San Francisco area work more than 30 hours a week and receive “poverty level” wages. According to the group’s website, Jobs with Justice planned to use the survey to “make policy recommendations and support organizing” among gig workers. The survey’s summary page emphasizes the need to enforce anti-gig labor laws.

Left-wing labor group Gig Workers Rising has used the survey to rally in support of California Assembly Bill 5, a controversial law limiting companies’ ability to classify workers as independent contractors. The group called the study “the most comprehensive survey of actual work done” in the gig economy. Internal communications obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, however, reveal that the survey was pitched to potential financial backers as “not representative,” and an academic researcher involved in the study voiced concerns regarding Jobs with Justice’s recruitment tactics.

While the study initially called for 1,200 survey respondents, Jobs with Justice narrowed the scope following the spread of coronavirus, pivoting to an online survey focusing on the pandemic that aimed to reach just 500 respondents.

“The goal behind an online survey of 500 workers, while not representative, would be to turn around data quickly … in order to inform current policy discussions,” an internal description of the updated survey obtained by the Free Beacon said. It went on to reach just 219 respondents.

Pacific Research Institute senior fellow Wayne Winegarden criticized the study’s methodology, calling the survey’s results “meaningless.”

“The survey is not representative of the intended population with the original goal of 500 responses,” Winegarden told the Free Beacon. “The study did not reach this amount, having only 219 responses. So, in no uncertain terms do these results represent the view of gig workers.”

The study also downplayed Jobs with Justice’s involvement in an attempt to bolster its academic appeal. While the published survey lists UC Santa Cruz professor Chris Benner as the project’s lead, Jobs with Justice executive director Kung Feng is described as “leading” the project in internal emails obtained by the Free Beacon. The emails also show that the online survey was written by the group’s research director, Erin Johansson. Benner merely “edited the wording in a few questions,” according to the internal communications.

Benner, who did not return request for comment, also raised concerns regarding Jobs with Justice’s incentive plan to provide a gift card to all survey respondents.

“One, I’m not sure where the budget for that comes from, and two, with an online survey, it leaves open lots of opportunities for people to game it,” Benner wrote in a March 17 email to Johansson.

Following the academic’s objection, Gig Workers Rising continued to advertise the survey in an April tweet by saying respondents would “get a $10 gift card.” A Jobs with Justice invoice for the study listed $45,181 in “survey costs,” including “incentives and app payments.” While the published study lists the gig economy companies each of the survey’s 219 respondents work for, internal data obtained by the Free Beacon shows that 91 of the respondents did not report their company, suggesting some may have been non-gig workers who completed the survey for the incentive.

The invoice was sent to San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission executive officer Bryan Goebel, who solicited funding for the study on Jobs with Justice’s behalf, internal emails show. Reached for comment, Goebel said the coronavirus-related study “was never intended to be” representative and that $50,000 in taxpayer funds were used only for the “initial pilot survey” launched prior to coronavirus. The final study combined the results of both the pilot survey and coronavirus-related survey, a methodological red flag, according to Winegarden.

“In the midst of the survey being in the field, they stopped the survey, reworked it to account for the coronavirus, and then continued with the survey,” Winegarden told the Free Beacon. “These results from before and after cannot be compared to one another.”

Goebel also told the Free Beacon that Benner “was indeed the overall lead” on the study, adding that Jobs with Justice simply “led the outreach.” He did not address the fact that the coronavirus-related survey was drafted by Jobs with Justice.

Charlyce Bozzello, a spokeswoman for labor watchdog the Center for Union Facts, said activist front groups often misuse research to advance their ideological goals.

“For years, unions have used flawed ‘research’ to support their organizing campaigns, so it’s no surprise to see Jobs with Justice involved in this project,” she told the Free Beacon. “What is surprising is that the city of San Francisco and UC Santa Cruz would lend their names to this charade.”

Other gig economy studies dispute Jobs with Justice’s findings. A Cornell University study published Monday found that 96 percent of Uber and Lyft drivers in Seattle drove less than 40 hours a week. It further found that 92 percent made more than Seattle’s minimum wage of $16.39, with the media driver earning $23.25 per hour after deducting expenses.

Jobs with Justice and Gig Workers Rising did not respond to requests for comment.

Collin AndersonCollin Anderson is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He graduated from the University of Missouri, where he studied politics. He is originally from St. Louis and now lives in Arlington, VA. His email address is

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Why the Uber driver case has the potential to alter Canada’s gig economy forever




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Heller was a driver for UberEats who argued that he was an employee, not an independent contractor. That meant Uber owed him overtime, vacation, holiday pay, as well as other entitlements.

The Supreme Court didn’t answer the question of whether Heller and other Uber drivers were employees or not, so in that respect the real issue lies ahead. But it did remove an important roadblock, paving the way for a potentially $400 million lawsuit.

Tucked away in the contractor agreement that every Uber driver must sign before they can start working is an arbitration clause.

The clause required drivers to bring any problems to arbitration in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and not to an Ontario court. The arbitration in Amsterdam would cost around $14,000 in administrative fees up front, as well as the cost of transport and legal representation in the Netherlands. Something no Uber driver could even possibly afford. Take Heller himself, who earns around $400 to $600 a week for 40 or more hours of work.

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