During a normal spring break, aesthetician Rosalia Fiske fills up her calendar with client appointments for facials and waxing. But the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has already cost her between $4,000 and $5,000, she says, because unlike other gig workers who can take their services virtual, Fiske needs to get her hands on her clients’ faces, and New Jersey’s mandatory stay-at-home order makes that simply impossible right now.
So Fiske is dipping into savings to cover the $4,000 per semester in tuition she pays as a full-time nursing student, plus her share of the $4,000 in rent for the apartment she shares with roommates in Hoboken, New Jersey. And then there’s food, utilities and more.
Fiske, who is pursuing her degree at Hudson County Community College, said she does not think she qualifies for unemployment benefits, and she is not sure she will be eligible for a $1,200 stimulus cheque from the government’s coronavirus relief plan, either.
“I feel like there’s so much unknown when it comes to that check – amongst other relief – to be honest,” Fiske told Al Jazeera. “I have zero income coming in right now, so it’s the responsibility of paying your bills and being frugal.”
Amid record-high unemployment numbers, many gig workers wonder which benefits apply to them. Some 36 percent of Americans participate in the gig economy in some way, according to a 2018 Gallup poll, and the term encompasses ride-share drivers, nannies and carers for the elderly, freelancers, house cleaners, fitness instructors and delivery people, among others.
While those gigs offer flexibility, they have historically come with no safety net, and gig workers have not normally been eligible for unemployment benefits, employer-paid health insurance or paid sick leave. The ongoing coronavirus crisis has also brought many of those long-term struggles to the fore.
Fiske is one of the gig workers Al Jazeera interviewed last month as the coronavirus crisis began in the US. We’ve reached back out to the people we talked to for that story to see how they’re doing now. All three live in the New York City area, which has become the epicentre of the US outbreak.
‘It’s a struggle’
Aaron Robinson is now collecting unemployment after being laid off from the BMW warehouse where he worked full-time on March 22. Robinson’s town of Teaneck, New Jersey, has been hit hard by coronavirus; Bergen County has the highest numbers in the state with nearly 8,000 positive cases and more than 300 deaths.
“Everything is shut down,” Robinson told Al Jazeera. “I can’t work, so I’ve got to collect unemployment like everybody else. It’s a struggle.”
Although he also used to supplement his income by driving 20 to 25 hours a week for Uber, he stopped about a week ago and does not know when he will start again. “I need to find out more specifics of how this virus is transferred,” Robinson said. “I don’t do Uber because of my family. I would still do it, but I don’t want to catch it and spread it to them.”
Robinson said the unemployment benefits he receives are about a third of his BMW wages and are not enough to live on. Like Fiske, he is not sure if he qualifies for the $1,200 stimulus cheque.
Everything is shut down. I can’t work, so I’ve got to collect unemployment like everybody else. It’s a struggle.
Aaron Robinson laid-off BMW warehouse worker and part-time Uber driver
But Robinson said he did call his landlord and electric and water companies to ask for more time to pay his bills, which they granted. “Everybody postponed everything,” Robinson said. “You don’t want to live like this, but you take all the right precautions and you should be able to survive until this blows over.”
His children are home from school and his wife, who is a teacher, is trying to help her students with distance learning from home. Right now, they are focused on staying inside and staying safe. But the uncertainty about how long COVID-19 could last concerns him. “I’m worried because nobody can live on unemployment, so depending on how long it lasts, I don’t know,” he said.
‘No safety provisions’
The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed by President Trump on March 27, makes gig workers eligible for 39 weeks of unemployment benefits, an additional $600 a week for up to four months, and the option to apply for loans for relief, says Maria Figueroa, the director of labour and policy research at Cornell University’s Worker Institute. But there are still gaps.
“This is a step forward for protecting the approximately 24 million Americans who are gig workers, but it is not enough as many of them are front-line workers – food delivery, ride-hailing, even healthcare – and they need to continue working during the crisis,” Figueroa told Al Jazeera.
Unemployment insurance benefits in the US also normally require that a recipient prove they have been actively looking for work, she explained, “and it’s not clear how some workers will qualify for unemployment insurance if they can’t seek work during the crisis. It is not clear if this requirement has been dropped to qualify for unemployment insurance.”
Some of the gig workers who are still on the job – including domestic workers, warehouse workers and delivery people – have also sounded the alarm about the lack of health protections they have amid the pandemic, and workers from major companies including Amazon and Instacart went on strike last week.
Amazon.com is now under investigation by New York City’s human rights commissioner after it fired one of the workers who participated in a walkout at its Staten Island warehouse.
“There are no [safety] provisions under the Cares Act, and many workers – gig and regular – are retaliated against by their employers for refusing to work under unsafe conditions,” Figueroa said.
‘The buzzword is pivot’
Michelle Goitia, a prenatal yoga teacher, birth doula and childbirth educator, has taken her business online, but it has come with a major pay cut. She’s teaching about half of the courses she once was, and people are paying less for her virtual classes. The nannies that brought babies to her class are not working, and stressed-out, working-from-home parents do not always have time for postnatal yoga.
Still, she is grateful that taking things virtual is even an option. “The buzzword these days seems to be ‘pivot’. What can you do to pivot and adapt to these current times?” Goitia told Al Jazeera. “One of my good friends is a massage therapist, and she has no work, so she’s working on her pivot, and she’s changing her business. But it’s tough. It takes time to change.”
Goitia said she would qualify for the $1,200 cheque from the government, plus $500 for her son. But that one-time payment doesn’t go very far for many workers, says Erin Hatton, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
“We need to extend the benefits by distributing ongoing monthly stimulus payments until this health and economic crisis subsides,” Hatton told Al Jazeera. “More people need to be eligible for such payments, including people whose 2019 income exceeded the limits but have now lost their jobs due to the crisis, as well as young workers who are working to support their families but are categorized as dependents.”
Even amid this time of incredible economic uncertainty, the gig workers we spoke to are finding ways to be grateful.
Goitia has launched a special support group for women who are pregnant and due to deliver during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has had more than 40 couples attend so far.
She prides herself on keeping in touch with the women she meets during prenatal and postpartum periods, carrying around a worn little notebook with their names, babies’ names and information. She’s working to keep those same connections over Zoom. Those women, in turn, have had her back.
“When I first sent out an email saying I had to stop teaching altogether, a couple of people bought some class cards from me and said, ‘We know you’ll be back and we’ll use them then,'” Goitia said.
Fiske is planning to give free facials to nurses at the local hospital after the COVID-19 crisis is over, and it is made her realize “how fortunate I am, and that health is really wealth,” she explained. “This is all temporary and an easy sacrifice.”
Robinson agrees. “I think this is a way for everybody to realize the special things they had with regular life,” he said.
Embr is a co-op game about firefighting in the gig economy
As we increasingly rely on delivery and ride-sharing apps to connect us with basic goods and services, it’s worth wondering how that system might play out applied to other public utilities – venture capitalists in the tech sector, after all, are measuring the drapes on services like public transportation and education. Embr is a game that provides a satirical peek at what “Uber, but for fighting fires” might look like.
As a game, Embr is a manic co-op affair for up to four players – start out thinking Overcooked or Moving Out and you’ll be in the right neighborhood. The action has you barreling into residential conflagrations armed only with a hose and some instructions gleaned from your firefighting app. You’ve got to try to put out the fire, sure, but the important thing is to make sure you get paid.
“With Embr, we set out to shine a satirical alight on the gig economy – not in terms of the people making those deliveries and driving those taxis, but rather the companies at the top powering this particular brand of venture capitalism and deregulation,” said Howard Tsao, the team lead for Embr at Muse Games. “On a gameplay basis, we also wanted to see just what mayhem would occur if the untrained masses headed out with a hose and tried to put out fires in the same way people deliver take-out or drive people around in makeshift taxis.”
Here’s the trailer:
“The end result is just as fun and frenetic as we thought it would be,” Tsao said. “It just makes you appreciate what a difficult and almost impossible job real-life firefighters do.”
You’ll have to rush to put out fires, potentially stealing anything salvageable in the process, and spend the money you ‘earn’ on upgrades to your firefighting equipment – after all, you’ve got to keep up with rival firefighting app Hosr (naturally, it’s a Canadian outfit).
Embr launched in early access on Steam and Stadia this week, and publisher Curve Digital says cross-platform multiplayer is enabled, as well as iCUE integration for PC players with Corsair peripherals installed. Muse says it plans on “expanding the game significantly” while Embr is in early access.
For more fun with friends, check out our list of the best co-op games on PC in 2020.
Ask Sonny Anything… Worst gig ever?
Steve….welcome in to our shin dig. Reminds me sometimes of Lavonia, Georgia, or Columbus, Ohio. The good times.
The worst circumstances. There were several that I would think twice before going there again. Now, I have a choice… then I didn’t.
1. Winter of 1953 – We were working in Knoxville, TN for Cas Walker, since November 6. Bobby was 22 (just released from the Marine Corp and back from Korea), I was 16. Downtown Knoxville, flatbed truck bed, 25 degrees, snowing hard, 1 week before Christmas. When Cas said play, you play or go…. in this case we had to play or we wouldn’t get our $25 that week. But Lord, it was cold. My right hand was numb, I couldn’t feel the picks, trying to play the banjo and it had a skin head. Enos Johnson and L.E. White were there with Bobby and I. Thirty of the coldest minutes known to man.
2. November 1955 – Quebec Canada, snowing for a week, we had been playing every night for that week, no crowds, Not enough gas in the car to get back to Wheeling….Stress 101….5 PM…Kids were playing Hockey in the street. 7 PM a few people started to gather. 7:30…No one showed up to open the building, we needed every penny to buy gas…Food? What’s that? We needed gas for the hungry car. Top priority.. I found a window unlocked which I opened, climbed in and with a flash light found a light switch, unlocked and opened the front door, stood there and collected $490… did our show, people were happy, we were ecstatic, they loaded the car, while I locked the front door, locked the back door, turned off the lights, climbed back out the window, went back to Wheeling…still broke, but lived in the USA to play another day.
3. Presque Isle, Maine – Summertime 1968. Bobby, Dale Sledd, Ronnie Reno, and I (that’s me of course, how else would I know…DUH). We go on stage at the fairgrounds with over 5000 people in the bleachers. By our 3rd or 4th song the large, unhappy crowd had thinned down considerably. They left in droves of 20-50 each…’twas a mass exodus. There might have been 200-300 diehards remaining. Man, we didn’t even want to look at one another. Embarrassed, there must be another word, I know what that word is too, but it is not appropriate in mixed company. We felt better after I went to the office and collected our dough. I found out they had advertised us as The Osmond Brothers. I can just hear the conversation between a couple old ladies…”Which one is Marie?”
Steve, this probably doesn’t answer your question but these were a few of the trying times which makes one appreciate the good ones, and also makes one realize that there must, simply must be a higher power.
Hi Sonny. Sure Fire is one of my favorite tunes. Can you tell us how that one came about? All the best, Chuck.
Chuck, come on in here…Thank you for your time. It’s appreciated you know. Sure Fire is a mandolin tune written by my brother Bobby. The Wilburn Brothers, Doyle, Teddy, Leslie, and Lester are the people responsible for quite a lot of the successful paths we took which brought us to this town and being able to further our career playing the music we grew up around. And not to mention a membership in the Greatest show in the history of Country/Bluegrass Music…The Grand Ole Opry…back when that membership really meant something.
I mention all of the above to get to the point that the Wilburns owned a publishing Company with the name of Sure-Fire Music. We recorded many of the songs Teddy found for us, and Bobby wrote several too, all which were published by Sure-Fire… One being an instrumental with the name of Sure Fire. Great tune played by close to 100% of all mandolin players.
Ok, I’ll bite. Tell us about the great con job of the recording industry. Truly enjoy your music and have been a fan as long as I can remember. Thanks for giving us an inside view. Your music has always been the best.
Larry, I don’t want to do this, but it says ask me anything. I do appreciate your time and I thank you.
1959. We realized that we HAD to have a good record deal and The Grand Ole Opry. The Wilburn Brothers seemed to be the most probable to get that done for us.
Fast forward to Doyle Wilburn’s office, Nashville, April of 1963. Doyle is on the phone with Owen Bradley, head of Decca records in Nashville. He is telling Owen that we are good and Chet Adkins is going to sign us on RCA this afternoon. Owen can get us for Decca if he’ll do it NOW.
Owen says No. We’re devastated.
Yes, we had been to Chet at RCA and he turned us down flat. Doyle says not to worry, he’s not done yet. He puts a call in to New York, the absolute head guy of Decca (seems like I remember his name as Sid). Doyle tells him the same story and that Owen has turned us down, and Decca would be losing a good group to RCA if he didn’t do something right them. And he closed that with “Have I ever steered you wrong?” He hung up and Doyle looked at us Bobby, Benny Birchfield and I and just smiled and winked. He said, “Owen will call in about 10 minutes.”
I will swear to this as truth. Under 10 minutes his secretary opened the door and said…”Mr. Bradley is on Line 5.” Doyle picked up and said “Owen, how you doin’?” “Yeah, They’re still here….sure, we’ll be right over.”
So, all this happened within a period of 45-60 minutes and we signed the first of 13 one year contracts with Decca.
We told Doyle we needed the Opry and he promised that in 18 months. 13 months later, late July 1964 we were members of the aforementioned Grand Ole Opry. Wilburns were a powerful bunch mid ’50s throughout the ’60s . s
Hi Sonny, It’s always so good to read your posts at Banjo Hangout and on Bluegrass Today. I have Chief MP-13 built in 2007, which is a good un of course. Sounds and looks awesome! Do you know how many of the MP Chiefs were made? Thanks so much!
Gary….Thanks for following Banjo Hangout and do you realize how long the Hangout thing has been going? I said that because I want to remind everyone who reads this that Terry Herd and John Lawless have endured me for one, uno, ein, year with this episode. My goodness.
Gary you asked how many Maple Chief banjos were built…I would guess probably 250-300 range. Maybe 50-75 Mahogany and Walnut. That number is a guess. I don’t want to actually get down in the floor with books and figure it out. Too hard to get up. It was all fun though. June 16 will be 22 years. And I didn’t spend one cent advertising the Chief banjo. I wanted them to sell themselves and they did. I didn’t want to be in the banjo building business, just make a professional quality banjo, reasonable price. I did that. Only a few banjo companies left…reason… folks started building they own…(they comes from Raymond Huffmaster.) That’s my opinion.
Kirk and Kate Schaumannk wanted to know about Jim Mills’ Old Banjo Seminar. I’m sorry to say I don’t know that but I will try to get your interest known to Jimmy and perhaps he’ll follow through.
Ask Sonny Anything is a recurring feature where our readers pose questions to the great Sonny Osborne, one half of the iconic Osborne Brothers
Challenge To California Law Giving Gig Workers Benefits Will Go Before Voters On November Ballot – CBS San Francisco
SACRAMENTO (AP) — A ballot initiative backed by business giants Uber, Lyft and DoorDash is now set to go before California voters in November, a multimillion-dollar shot aimed at excluding the companies from a law that would make them give more benefits and wage protections to their drivers.
California approved the labor law last year, the strictest in the country around when employers can classify workers as independent contractors. It’s aimed at pushing businesses to put more freelancers and independent workers on payroll, ensuring access to benefits and minimum wages. Praised by labor groups, the sweeping law set off lawsuits from independent contractors like truck drivers and freelance writers who say it puts them out of work.
Titans of the so-called gig economy like Uber are mounting the fiercest resistance. Joined with ride-hailing rival Lyft and food-delivery service DoorDash, they want California voters in November to essentially exempt app-based drivers from the law’s restrictions. All three committed to spend at least $30 million each promoting the measure, surely making it one of California’s most expensive ballot fights.
California’s secretary of state announced late on Friday the measure became eligible for the ballot after collecting over 623,000 signatures.
If the companies are successful in California, it could set a national precedent.
The companies want the power to keep their workers independent, proposing as part of the ballot measure a new law that would give drivers who work at least 25 hours a week full health coverage and benefits if they are injured on the job. Drivers would be able to work across any app and earn a base of 120% of minimum wage plus more based on miles driven.
California upped the stakes over the fight when it sued Uber and Lyft in early May for allegedly misclassifying its drivers as independent contractors under the law. The coalition leading the ballot initiative, Protect App-Based Drivers & Services, claims to represent 60,000 drivers and said the lawsuit would lead to job losses during the pandemic-induced recession.
Labor organizations have vowed to fight the initiative since it began collecting signatures this year, but campaigning will be uncertain due to the coronavirus outbreak derailing traditional canvassing efforts. Campaigners said in late February they had already collected over a million signatures to qualify the initiative, much more than required.
“It’s a power grab by Uber and Lyft to essentially write a law that exempts them from basic worker protections,” said Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation, which plans to replace door knocking with more phone calls and texts to voters in opposition. “It’s going to be a bit of a battle royale.”
Stacey Wells, a spokeswoman for the ballot campaign, said the proposal is a “win-win for drivers.”
She said 80% of the million or so drivers in California work for apps for fewer than 20 hours a week. The new benefits will be a draw for drivers, she said, “versus a rigid employment model that’s going to prevent them from working on multiple apps with a set schedule.”
Critics also accuse the law of unfairly targeting some industries. Freelancer groups for journalists and photographers earlier this year unsuccessfully argued the law cannot exempt some writers from the its rules while it holds freelance news journalists to a stricter standard. They are appealing a federal judge’s dismissal of the case.
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