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This Pandemic Is a ‘Fork in the Road’ for Gig Worker Benefits

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Fitzpayne thinks that visibility means the public may finally be tuned-in enough to force even broader regulatory changes. “For the first time since the gig economy has become a household term, around 2009 or so, legislators are thinking very actively that the benefits being provided are not just going to employees but also self-employed individuals and those who are part of the gig economy,” he says. “That’s an important evolution.”

There have been previous attempts at so-called portable benefits, which are tied to individuals rather than the corporations they work for. In 2018 the National Domestic Workers Alliance piloted Alia, a program that pools voluntary contributions from clients that cleaners can then redeem for disability insurance, accident insurance, life insurance, or paid time off. Clients make small, recurring payments—the recommended amount is about $5 per house cleaning—and workers can access their accrued funds in an online dashboard.

Shah says there hasn’t been much urgency around providing these benefits until very recently. Now, as more platforms for portable benefits are emerging, it will be important for them to use the momentum to catch on. “With the coronavirus crisis, I think we’re going to see public opinion change very quickly,” says Shah. “A large part of what we needed was visibility. We have that now.”

Legislation has started to emerge that would address some of those needs. Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) reintroduced a bill in February that would earmark $20 million for states and nonprofits to offer benefits like workers’ comp, disability coverage, and retirement savings to people without traditional employers. “Coronavirus is underscoring how vulnerable some American workers are without access to a safety net,” Warner tweeted. “This crisis is demonstrating why we need a portable benefits system for gig workers, independent contractors, and other contingent workers.” And in May, Philadelphia will become the first city in the country to pilot its own portable benefits program, which affords domestic workers up to 40 hours of paid time off each year.

And while companies remain unlikely to offer benefits freely, some gig workers find themselves with more leverage than ever. In March, Instacart announced that it would hire 300,000 more shoppers to meet demand. Workers were able to secure better treatment, including the promise of protective supplies like masks and hand sanitizers and a higher raised tip amount. Workers for Shipt, a Target-owned grocery delivery company, followed suit this week with a similar strike.

“It is significant that you’re seeing more of that type of activism in this moment than we’ve seen in the past,” says Fitzpayne. “Workers are feeling that they’re in a strong enough position to make those types of requests.”

Still, even if Instacart met all of the demands of its workers, it wouldn’t do much for the millions of other workers with similar types of jobs. “If you’re giving them benefits while preserving these illegal business models, then you’re allowing employers to get away with not providing protections to workers that are due,” says Larry Mishel, a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute. Some states are pushing for companies to reclassify their workers as employees, not contractors. California recently passed legislation that defines Uber drivers, DoorDash delivery workers, and similar roles as employees; in New York, a court recently ruled that Postmates workers cannot be classified as independent contractors. Those companies are aggressively pushing back.

The coronavirus crisis may divert attention away from those recent regulatory decisions, but Fitzpayne argues that long-term change will ultimately require legislation. “We’re seeing temporary solutions, but that invites the broader question,” says Fitzpayne. “Are we going to be able, as a country, to take some of these temporary solutions and make them more permanent?”

If that push for more durable solutions doesn’t happen now, while public sympathies for gig workers are exceedingly high, then it may never happen at all.


More From WIRED on Covid-19



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3 Firms Guide Chinese Gig-Worker Platform’s $33M US IPO

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Law360 (July 10, 2020, 4:25 PM EDT) — Chinese gig-worker platform Quhuo started trading Friday after raising $33 million in an upsized initial public offering steered by Wilson Sonsini, Maples and Calder and Commerce & Finance Law Offices.

Beijing-based Quhuo Ltd. said Friday it priced 3.3 million American depositary shares at $10 apiece, a larger offering than its earlier plan to sell 2.7 million American depositary shares. The ADSs also began trading on the Nasdaq Global Market on Friday, where they opened at $15.31 and are trading under the symbol QH. Each ADS represents one share of Class A common stock.

Quhuo is headquartered in Beijing and registered in…

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UK – Union to proceed with judicial review that could extend health and safety rights to gig workers

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13 July 2020

The UK’s High Court has granted permission to the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain to proceed with a judicial review that could extend health and safety rights to hundreds of thousands of gig economy workers.

The union is arguing that the government failed in its obligation to transpose health and safety directives from EU law into UK law. Whereas UK health and safety law only protects employees, EU law extends these protections, to all those classified as workers.

If successful, the judicial review would force the government to extend health and safety protections to all ‘workers’, including hundreds of thousands in the gig economy, such as Uber drivers and parcel couriers.

This would include a right to personal protective equipment and a right to bring legal action against an employer if a worker suffers a detriment or is dismissed after refusing to work under unsafe conditions.

IWGB President Henry Chango Lopez said,“Gig economy workers have been among those with the highest death rates from Covid-19. This isn’t by accident, but the result of a failure by this and past governments to properly implement health and safety legislation.

“For far too long, the government has turned a blind-eye to the abuses of gig economy employers, allowing them to make up the rules as they go along, while ignoring the safety of their staff,” Lopez continued. “With this case we will start to reclaim some of the basic rights that are being routinely denied to these workers.”

Fiona Coombe, SIA director of legal and regulatory research provided some clarification. “There is a distinction here between workers who are classified as self-employed contractors working for one of the gig economy platforms and agency workers. Agency workers have had health and safety protection through many regulations including the Working Time Regulations and Conduct Regulations and in practice are often given the same level of protection as employees of the hirer. That does not seem to be the case for the workers who are the specific focus of this case.”

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 COVID-19 Pandemic Erases Years of Financial Gains in Months, Disproportionately Affecting People of Color, Women, Gig Workers and the Young

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NEWARK, N.J.–()–The first months of the COVID-19 pandemic largely wiped out three years of financial gains in the United States, with more than half of Americans reporting their financial health has been compromised. People of color, women, younger generations and small business owners were among those disproportionately affected, Prudential’s (NYSE:PRU) 2020 Financial Wellness Census™ finds.

“This crisis exposed deep fissures in our public health and economic systems, pervasive racial and social inequity, and how weak our collective immunity is to financial disruption,” said John Kalamarides, president of Prudential Group Insurance. “Tackling these systemic vulnerabilities will require bold thinking and public/private partnerships to help our society overcome financial fragility and prosper through an inclusive recovery.”

Fielded in May 2020, the study shows nearly one-in-five respondents said their household income was cut by half or more in the months following the pandemic’s outbreak, with 17% losing employer contributions to a retirement plan, 14% losing health insurance and 10% losing group life insurance benefits, eliminating critical safety nets.

The negative impact is disproportionately high for certain segments of the population. For example, while 48% of all of those surveyed said they were worried about their financial future, 56% of Black Americans and 56% of Latino Americans said they were worried about their financial futures. And while 17% of all Americans reported being unemployed, that figure was considerably higher for those with household income under $30,000 (34%) versus those with household income of over $100,000 (8%).

Where 17% of respondents said their household income was cut by half or more, that number rose to 31% for gig workers, 25% for LGBTQ Americans and 24% for those employed in the retail industry.

The results are a startling contrast to findings just months earlier, in December 2019, showing Americans were financially on the upswing. More than half (52%) ranked themselves financially healthy by objective measures, up from 46% in Prudential’s first Financial Wellness Census conducted in October 2017.

Additionally, the economic fallout from the pandemic shrunk the portion of respondents who qualified as financially confident to 36% from 40% in 2019, while swelling the number of those who are discouraged to 33% from 31% in 2019. Regardless of household income, the survey revealed nearly half of Americans (48%) are worried about their financial future, up from 38% just a few months earlier.

Asked what changes they would like to see as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, census respondents cited more affordable health care, more flexible work options and better government programs to support small businesses. Those with lower incomes were most focused on changes that strengthen their finances and social safety nets, citing affordable health care and universal health care coverage, better government support of small businesses and the unemployed, a higher minimum wage and more protections for workers.

The data also show that Americans most often look to the federal government for financial assistance in times of crisis (32%), followed by family and friends (28%), then state and local governments (27% and 17%, respectively).

Employers also play a critical role when it comes to financial health. The workplace benefits Americans most value include retirement savings opportunities, paid time off, and comprehensive health care and prescription drug coverage, according to the census.

Read the full report for more information.

About Prudential Financial

Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE:PRU), a financial wellness leader and premier active global investment manager with more than $1 trillion in assets under management as of March 31, 2020, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential’s diverse and talented employees help to make lives better by creating financial opportunity for more people. Prudential’s iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit news.prudential.com.

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