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Many of Florida’s Gig Workers Still Waiting for PUA Benefits

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — While gig workers make up 22 percent of Florida’s workforce, many have yet to receive federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits and have received no answers from state officials on when help might arrive.

What You Need To Know

  • Florida’s Unemployment System: Your Questions Answered
  • FLORIDA GOVERNMENT GUIDE: Contact Your State Lawmakers
  • More coronavirus stories

Fifty-seven days and more than 20,000 calls later, $5,250 that has yet to appear in the bank for Julia Shear’s husband.

It’s a numbers game that Shear said does not want to be a part of. 

“It took us 27.5 hours to apply for [my husband] the first time and it took 7.25 hours to apply the second time,” she said.

She, her husband, and her son are currently all unemployed. 

While she got her first batch of benefit  payments on May 13, her husband, a limousine driver for six years and worked until the day his company shut down for COVID-19 on March 17, has yet to receive a cent. 

“It shows he’s eligible but now a week and a half and no payment,” she said.  

Together, Shears and her husband have called the unemployment hotline a whopping 20,842 times (as of the moment I conducted this interview on May 13). 

Of those times, she says she’s only gotten through to someone about 13 times. 

​“So you’ve said that he’s eligible for these funds, it’s been a week and a half, you keep telling us to wait 72 hours. Where’s that money at?” Shear said.

 

As of May 12, the unemployment dashboard shows that only 28,054 PUA claimants have been paid. 

“They’re not paying that money, that PUA money, they’re just not paying people like they should,” Shear said.

“We were asked by our government, our elected officials, to stay home, stay safe, flatten the curve — we did all of those things and it feels like a punishment,” she went on. “It feels like you did everything we asked you to do and now we’re going to push you into homelessness and hunger.”

All they can do is wait for answer. Like scores of other Floridians, however, they simply can’t afford to wait. 

“Those are not stories of the American dream,” she said. “Those are stories of an American nightmare.”



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Amazon puts out call for gig workers to pick orders at Whole Foods

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Dive Brief:

  • Amazon is recruiting gig workers to shop for and deliver groceries for Whole Foods Market customers who place online orders, according to a Bloomberg report.
  • Drivers can sign up for the program, known as Shop and Deliver, by reviewing an online tutorial about how to pick, pack and safely handle groceries and passing a quiz.
  • The program is related to Amazon Flex, an initiative the e-commerce provider launched in 2015 that uses independent contractors to deliver packages.

Dive Insight:

Amazon’s effort to use contractors instead of employees to pick Whole Foods orders represents a change of course for the company as it continues its drive to disrupt the grocery industry. Whole Foods, which the company bought in 2017, has until now relied on its own store employees to assemble orders from online customers.

The new program brings in an additional dimension to Amazon Flex, which typically limits contractors to driving orders from an Amazon staging facility to customers’ homes. By entrusting gig workers to put orders together for Whole Foods customers, Amazon is potentially increasing the risk that items could be damaged, spoiled or delivered late that is inherent in grocery e-commerce.

“Delivery from A to B is a beautiful on-demand task because it’s very straightforward, very repeatable and you don’t need a lot of training, [but] tasks in stores are often much more complicated,” said Jordan Berke, a former Walmart executive and e-commerce expert who runs Tomorrow Retail Consulting. “A person that comes to your store once a day or once every two days to pick two orders is always learning, while a person that picks 50 orders five days a week” becomes highly familiar with where items are located and how to handle them.

The detailed website Amazon has set up to recruit workers for the Shop and Deliver program reflects the complexity and potential pitfalls associated with the picking process. The site provides step-by-step instructions about how to keep food safe, bag products, select produce and otherwise properly — and efficiently — assemble grocery orders.

“What you’re looking at here is a fairly disruptive efficiency step toward unlocking potential efficiency,” Berke said. “The platform that figures this out and is able to take a part-time on-demand worker and make them as efficient as an in-store dedicated worker does unlock some significant advantages.”

The use of contractors to handle grocery picking is nothing new, of course. Companies like Instacart have depended for years on gig workers to shop for and deliver grocery orders, and Whole Foods itself worked with Instacart until the companies split up in 2019. But while Instacart works as a partner with grocers, Whole Foods has enjoyed an advantage by having its own, store-based employees manage the order-management process.

Amazon’s decision to test the labor model in Whole Foods stores is part of the company’s broader effort to try new ways of selling groceries, something no other company is as well-equipped to do, said Tom Furphy, a former Amazon executive who is now CEO and managing director of Consumer Equity Partners, which invests in retail technology.​

The e-commerce retailer’s extraordinarily deep pockets put it in a position to be able to experiment freely and try multiple approaches at once as it looks for the best ways to make inroads in a line of business, Furphy said. Those expansive resources also give Amazon the ability to continuously look for ways to reduce costs while keeping customer service top of mind.

Whole Foods has been concentrating on lowering prices, and the company’s CEO, John Mackey, said its ownership by Amazon has played a key role in helping it cut costs, CNBC reported. 

“Amazon is always going to look for ways to keep prices as low as possible. They’re always going to look for ways to keep their cost of service as low as possible, and always look for ways to be super responsive in fulfilling customer demand,” said Furphy, who was formerly Amazon’s vice president of consumables and Amazon Fresh. “Those are three constants that will always exist as long as Amazon’s around, and they will absolutely look to deliver on that in the grocery environment.”

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Gig Workers Continue To Experience Problems Getting Unemployment Benefits From Colorado Department Of Labor – CBS Denver

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LAKEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4)– It’s been months and Simone F.M. Spinner is still unable to get her unemployment. We started talking with her in March, when she was applying for help as a gig worker.

(credit: CBS)

“I work in hospitality and wine and academia, tourism. All of those industries have just been decimated.”

At first when she applied for unemployment, the state was trying to get a system up and running to provide assistance to gig workers like Simone, who gets the majority of her income from freelance work.

“I understand back when I talked to you in March that these difficulties were happening and gig employers, gig employees were never able to apply before but they’ve had six months to figure this out.”

And still, she’s having troubles.

The State of Colorado said it had fixed the tool many people were stymied by as they tried to apply for help recently.

(credit: CBS)

“The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) re-launched its online and telephone certification functions for the Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) unemployment benefits program after technical difficulties,” wrote chief communications officer Cher Roybal Haavind in a statement.

The online and phone system had been down since Monday, overwhelmed with requests. But the problems with that system are only part of the frustrations for many people like Simone, who have been unable to get benefits.

“I still haven’t been able to file correctly to get the gig work section of the money of the employments benefits because of the one W2 that I have,” she said.

She has not gotten benefits since July when her initial unemployment help exhausted. Less than a quarter of her income came from part-time teaching work. That meant receiving a W2. Most of her income was freelancing for which the government indicated all she had to do was show proof of income from recent tax returns. But her attempts to get onto the system as a worker with both types of income have been frustrated time after time. So she’s called, a lot.

“It’s been a complete nightmare,” she said.

(credit: CBS)

On July 25, she entered into a cue for a callback about her problems. Her appointment time: Oct. 26 at 10 a.m.

“And it’s a 10-minute call.”

The unemployment system has had troubles dealing with unique situations. Simone owns a home, but is concerned as she runs out of money.

“I am worried about losing my house. I’m worried about not being able to find a job.”

She has applied for over 150 jobs with no success. Those include many out of her industry.

“I’ve applied for everything from working at Starbucks to working as a writer for nonprofits and everything in between, Costco. Just about anything I can find,” she told us.

(credit: CBS)

But her advanced degree, a doctorate, may be a problem with potential employers thinking she won’t stay. Now, she waits for the system to work for her as a pandemic cripples her industry.

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California unemployment claims remain high at 230,000; claims from gig workers fall 53% in coronavirus era

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New official figures on new claims for unemployment benefits in California dipped slightly last week but remained at the high pandemic level. Meanwhile, applications for special help for the self-employed and gig workers plummeted 53% last week, even ahead of new rules to stem a surge in suspected fraud.

New applications for conventional unemployment insurance were 230,225 last week, down 13,000 from 243,404 the week before, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

New claims have been 200,000–300,000 since late May, following a big spike just after the state’s shelter orders for the coronavirus went into place in mid-March. Weekly claims were 30,000–50,000 before the virus.

Californians last week made up 29% of the 790,000 new claims nationwide, up from 28% of 866,000 applications the week before.

Residents receiving traditional unemployment benefits totaled 2.76 million in the most recent tally, for the week ending Sept. 5, down 256,000 from 3.01 million the week before.

Californians accounted for 22% of the 12.3 million Americans receiving benefits as of Sept. 5, roughly the same proportion as the in the week before, according to the latest figures available on recipients.

For the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits for the self-employed and gig workers, put into place in California in late April from the federal CARES Act, new claims totaled 204,700 in the Golden State last week, down by 236,000 from nearly 441,000 the week before.

On Sept. 11, the California Employment Development Department said it will require more proof before payments are made on the new type of benefits, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The department will no longer automatically backdate claims for the new benefits to the date of claimed work loss and limit multiple claims at the same address.

It’s one of the reforms Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he’s trying to make to the state’s employment safety net, which at one point had a backlog of 1 million claims and was not answering a number of calls.

The roll of Californians getting the new benefits dropped by almost 592,000 the week ending Aug. 29, the latest data available, to 6.39 million, down from 6.98 million the week before. Recipients of these benefits in the state accounted for 44% of the 14.5 million getting them nationwide, down from almost 48% of 14.6 million the week before.

The hardships of the pandemic economy also came just three months after a new California law, Assembly Bill 5, took effect, reclassifying many independent contractors as employees. However, categories of workers have been excluded from that law by legislation and court orders in the months since.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before the Business Journal, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. He has a degree from Walla Walla University. Reach him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

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