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Nevada launches system to accept gig workers’ weekly claims

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John Locher / AP

People wait in line for help with unemployment benefits at the One-Stop Career Center, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation and its partner organizations, like the One-Stop Career Center, have seen an increase in traffic due to the coronavirus.

CARSON CITY — Nevada has launched a system to accept weekly claims from non-traditional workers for unemployment benefits authorized by the federal government.

The Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation announced late Saturday morning that residents eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program could begin filing weekly claims.

The department made the announcement about 2 1/2 hours after saying it and its vendor had worked “tirelessly” overnight to launch the system as scheduled at 8 a.m. but that “technical complications” delayed the launch.

The first payments for gig workers, contract workers and self-employed workers are expected to be made beginning Wednesday, the department said.

“We know there is a great deal of interest and demand for weekly filing and expect our call center and claims portal to be very busy today,” said DETR Director Heather Korbulic. “Staff will continue to work including the upcoming holiday to ensure this functionality is available for Nevadans.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak later tweeted that his staff told him that 2,000 claimants filed 9,500 weekly certifications in 45 minutes.

The new system is independent of the traditional unemployment insurance system and Nevada was among the last states to get the expansion working.

Nevada’s travel-oriented economy and its workforce have been battered by the impact of closures of casinos and other non-essential businesses in March due to the coronavirus outbreak.

State officials said Friday that Nevada topped the nation with an April unemployment rate of 28.2%, the worst any state has seen since the national jobless rate was estimated at 25% in 1933 during the depths of the Great Depression.

Sisolak has begun allowing businesses to reopen and expand operations that had been restricted, and he has set a tentative June 4 date for reopening casinos.

The Democratic governor said in a statement Friday that Nevada has continued to see decreasing cases of the coronavirus and hospitalizations of COVID-19 when some restrictions began to be eased nearly two weeks ago.

In other developments:

— State officials reported that Nevada had 7,696 COVID-19 cases with 388 deaths as of Saturday.

Most people with the virus experience symptoms such as fever and cough for up to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems can face severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority recover.

— A Reno man who is a veteran of both the U.S. Army and state government has been appointed by Sisolak as Nevada’s COVID-19 response director.

Caleb Cage was appointed to the federally funded position after serving most recently as the incident commander for the state’s COVID-19 response.

He previously served as head of the State Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and as an administrator in the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Cage served five years in the Army as an artillery officer following college.



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Gig workers face shifting roles, competition in pandemic – The Denver Post

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NEW YORK — There were the two-hour, unpaid waits outside supermarkets when San Francisco first started to lock down, on top of the heavy shopping bags that had to be lugged up countless flights of stairs.

And yet even after signing up for several apps, 39-year-old Saori Okawa still wasn’t making as much money delivering meals and groceries as she did driving for ride-hailing giant Uber before the pandemic struck.

“I started to juggle three apps to make ends meet,” said Okawa, who recently reduced her work hours after receiving unemployment benefits. “It was really hard, because at that time, I could not afford to stay home because I had to pay rent.”

Okawa is one of an estimated 1.5 million so-called gig workers who make a living driving people to airports, picking out produce at grocery stores or providing childcare for working parents. Theirs had already been a precarious situation, largely without safeguards such as minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workers compensation and health and safety protections.

But with the pandemic pummeling the global economy and U.S. unemployment reaching heights not seen since the Great Depression, gig workers are clamoring for jobs that often pay less while facing stiff competition from a crush of newly unemployed workers also attempting to patch together a livelihood – all while trying to avoid contracting the coronavirus themselves.

U.S. unemployment fell to 11.1% in June, a Depression-era level that, while lower than last month, could worsen after a surge in coronavirus cases has led states to close restaurants and bars.

Marisa Martin, a law school student in California, turned to Instacart when a state government summer job as paralegal fell through after a hiring freeze. She said she enjoys the flexibility of choosing her own hours but hopes not to have to turn to gig work in the future. The pay is too volatile — with tips varying wildly and work sometimes slow — to be worth the risk of exposure to the virus.

“We are not getting paid nearly enough when we’re on the front lines interacting with multiple people daily,” said Martin, 24, who moved in with her parents temporarily to save money.

Alexandra Lopez-Djurovic, 26, was a full-time nanny in a New York City suburb when one of the parents she works for lost her job while the other saw his hours cut.

“All of a sudden, as much as they want me to stay, they can’t afford to pay me,” she said. Her own hours were reduced to about eight per week.

To make up lost wages, Lopez-Djurovic placed an ad offering grocery delivery on a local Facebook group. Overnight, she got 50 responses.

Lopez-Djurovic charges $30 an hour and coordinates shopping lists over email, offering perks the app companies don’t such as checking the milk’s expiration date before choosing which size to buy. Still, it doesn’t replace the salary she lost.

“One week I might have seven, eight, 10 families I was shopping for,” Lopez-Djurovic said. “I had a week when I had no money. That’s definitely a challenge.”

Upwork, a website that connects skilled freelance workers with jobs, has seen a 50% increase in signups by both workers and employers since the pandemic began, including spikes in jobs related to ecommerce and customer service, said Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork.

“When you need to make big changes fast, a flexible workforce helps you,” he said.

Maya Pinto, a researcher at the National Employment Law Project, said temporary and contract work grew during Great Recession and she expects that many workers will seek such jobs again amid the current crisis.

But increased reliance on temporary and contract work will have negative implications on job quality and security because it “is a way of saving costs and shifting risk onto the worker,” Pinto said.

It’s difficult to assess the overall picture of the gig economy during the pandemic since some parts are expanding while others are contracting. Grocery delivery giant Instacart, for instance, has brought on 300,000 new contracted shoppers since March, more than doubling its workforce to 500,000. Meanwhile, Uber’s business fell 80% in April compared with last year while Lyft’s tumbled 75% in the same period.

For food delivery apps, it’s been a mixed bag. Although they are getting a bump from restaurants offering more takeout options, those gains are being offset by the restaurant industry’s overall decline during the pandemic.

Gig workers are also jockeying for those jobs from all fronts. DoorDash launched an initiative to help out-of-work restaurant workers sign up for delivery work. Uber’s food delivery service, Uber Eats, grew 53% in the first quarter and around 200,000 people have signed up for the app per month since March — about 50% more than usual.

“Drivers are definitely exploring other options, but the issue is that there’s 20 or 30 million people looking for work right now,” said Harry Campbell, founder of The Rideshare Guy. “Sometimes I joke all you need is a pulse and a car to get approved. But what that means is it’s easy for other people to get approved too, so you have to compete for shifts.”

Delivery jobs typically pay less than ride-hailing jobs. Single mom Luz Laguna used to earn about $25 in a half-hour driving passengers to Los Angeles International Airport. When those trips evaporated, Laguna began delivering meals through Uber Eats, working longer hours but making less cash. The base pay is around $6 per delivery, and most people tip around $2, she said. To avoid shelling out more for childcare, she sometimes brings her 3-year-old son along on deliveries.

“This is our only way out right now,” Laguna said. “It’s hard managing, but that’s the only job that I can be able to perform as a single mother.”

Other drivers find it makes more sense to stay home and collect unemployment — a benefit they and other gig workers hadn’t qualified for before the pandemic. They are also eligible to receive an additional $600 weekly check from the federal government, a benefit that became available to workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. Taken together, that’s more than what many ride-hailing drivers were making before the pandemic, Campbell said.

But that $600 benefit will expire at the end of July, and the $2 trillion government relief package that extended unemployment benefits to gig workers expires at the end of the year.

“So many drivers are going to have to sit down and decide, do I want to put myself at risk and my family at risk once I’m not getting the government assistance?” Campbell said.

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Nationwide strike for gig workers delivering groceries

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With help from John Hendel and Leah Nylen

Editor’s Note: Morning Tech is a free version of POLITICO Pro Technology’s morning newsletter, which is delivered to our subscribers each morning at 6 a.m. The POLITICO Pro platform combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.

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— Front-line gig workers revolt: Instacart shoppers across the country are set to go on strike today to demand more physical and financial protection from the grocery delivery platform that has seen its business surge in recent weeks.

— Amazon walkout: After employees in at least 10 Amazon warehouses across the country tested positive for coronavirus, workers at a New York City facility are walking out today to demand the company do more to protect them.

— Valley vs. virus: Leading Silicon Valley tech companies are shelling out millions (Facebook) or hundreds of millions (Google) to support global response efforts and accelerate the search for a Covid-19 cure.

HEY ALL YOU COOL CATS AND KITTENS; WELCOME BACK TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Alexandra Levine. Yes, the president signed the CARES Act into Law on Friday, but the mega-bailout leaves mega-questions.

Got a news tip? Write Alex at [email protected] or @Ali_Lev. An event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. Anything else? Full team info below. And don’t forget: add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.

TODAY: GIG WORKERS GO ON STRIKE — Many of Instacart’s hundreds of thousands of shoppers are going on strike today to protest the grocery delivery app’s handling of their safety concerns during the worsening pandemic. The countrywide campaign, led by Instacart Shoppers and Gig Workers Collective, demands that workers receive basic safety essentials (like hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectant products) at no cost and get “hazard pay” made up of an extra $5 per order and a default in-app tip amount of at least 10 percent. The groups also want to expand protective benefits like sick pay to workers beyond only those who’ve tested positive for the virus or have been put into mandatory quarantine by officials to also include those with pre-existing conditions or other risk factors. The groups said they “will not return to work until our demands are met.”

“Instacart has turned this pandemic into a PR campaign, portraying itself the hero of families that are sheltered-in-place, isolated, or quarantined,” they wrote in a blog post. “Instacart has still not provided essential protections to Shoppers on the front lines that could prevent them from becoming carriers, falling ill themselves, or worse.” They continued: “We will not risk our safety, our health, or our lives for a company that fails to adequately protect us, fails to adequately pay us, and fails to provide us with accessible benefits should we become sick.”

— Remember: The $2 trillion emergency relief package passed Friday was a key win for self-employed, contract and gig economy workers, who are now set to receive expanded unemployment insurance benefits, as we reported in MT. “This bill is an incredible victory for the millions of freelancers who are unable to work due to this crisis,” Freelancers Union President Rafael Espinal said Friday afternoon. Instacart workers are calling “for more substantial and preventative help.”

— Instacart told MT on Sunday that it would begin providing free disinfecting supplies to full-service shoppers (a majority of the platform). The company also announced a new customer tip setting on Sunday that defaults the tip to the amount the user tipped on the previous order. A spokesperson did not address MT’s questions on how the platform plans to handle the shopper shortage during the strike and whether the company will make further concessions to those workers.

MEANWHILE: PROTEST AT AMAZON — Employees at Amazon’s JFK8 facility in New York City are walking out today to amplify their complaints that the company isn’t doing enough to protect warehouse workers as some have tested positive for coronavirus at facilities across the country. “All employers need to prioritize the health and safety of their workforce at this time,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Amazon appears to be prioritizing maximizing its enormous profits even over its employees’ safety — and that is unacceptable.”

— Amazon has called allegations of unsafe working conditions at its warehouses “unfounded,” as Cristiano reported Friday for Pros.

— Scrambling to respond to demands for grocery deliveries, Amazon is also offering many of those same warehouse workers more money to switch over to picking and packing groceries at Amazon-owned Whole Foods, Reuters reports.

COVID UPDATES FROM SILICON VALLEY — Silicon Valley giants continue to put their money and power behind the battle against Covid-19.

— Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced Friday that the search giant is committing more than $800 million to support coronavirus crisis response by health organizations, governments and businesses around the world. That includes $340 million in Google Ads credits for small and mid-size businesses and $250 million in ad grants for the World Health Organization and more than 100 government agencies. Google is also lending financial support, supply chain resources and engineering and health care expertise to help partners and suppliers more quickly produce facemasks for the CDC and ventilators, Pichai said.

— Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Friday that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are donating $25 million to study existing drugs that could be used to prevent or treat the fast-spreading virus, which lacks an imminent cure. “Since these drugs have already gone through clinical safety trials, if they’re effective, it will be much faster to make them available than it will be to develop and test a new vaccine — hopefully months rather than a year or more,” he said.

— Apple CEO Tim Cook announced Friday that the tech giant had worked with the White House and FEMA to launch a new app and website updating users on coronavirus testing information and the latest CDC guidelines, as POLITICO’s Mohana Ravindranath reported for Pros. “As always,” Cook said on Twitter, “the data is yours and your privacy is protected.”

Sign up for POLITICO Nightly: Coronavirus Special Edition, your daily update on how the illness is affecting politics, markets, public health and more.

FTC, DOJ RESUME EARLY TERMINATIONS — The U.S.’s two antitrust agencies said they will resume so-called early terminations for mergers that don’t raise competitive concerns, Leah reported for Pros. Starting today, companies can ask the FTC or DOJ to let them finalize non-problematic deals more quickly, instead of waiting the 30 days required by statute. “Covid-19 has changed the game for merger review,” said Megan Browdie, a partner at Cooley. The agencies “do not want to be a bottleneck in an already stressed economy and so do seem to be making efforts to facilitate procompetitive transactions.” The agencies moved to an online system for merger reviews on March 17 and suspended early terminations at that time. Browdie told MT that the agencies’ announcement likely means they haven’t been experiencing problems with the new system and employees’ move to telework.

PLUS: FTC DELAYS SCRUTINY ON INSTA INFLUENCERS The FTC extended its deadline for public comment on whether the agency should revise its endorsement policies for social media influencers who use Instagram and YouTube to plug products and brands, an effort MT examined earlier this year. Due to the pandemic, the April 21 deadline was moved to June 22.

FCC FINDS TIME TO WEIGH INTERNAL CONSOLIDATION Media industry, take note: As of the past week, an FCC action item is now circulating that could spell some structural changes within the commission, specifically within its Media Bureau that deals with TV and radio issues. “If adopted, this proposal would consolidate the Media Bureau’s Engineering Division with the Bureau’s Industry Analysis Division,” an FCC spokesperson told John.

— Context on a shrinking bureau: For the coming fiscal year, the FCC requested funding for 131 full-time employees for its Media Bureau, a number that’s been dwindling in recent years amid the changing media landscape. By comparison, there were 171 full-time staff for the bureau in fiscal year 2015, 183 in 2012 and more than 250 just a few years prior.

Tony Samp, a government affairs policy advisor at DLA Piper focusing on the law firm’s artificial intelligence practice, has joined the Center for a New American Security as an adjunct senior fellow in the technology and national security program. … Pat Garofalo, formerly of Talk Poverty, will begin soon as director of state and local policy at the American Economic Liberties Project.

Eyeballs watching emoji: TikTok is hiring a privacy policy counsel.

Layoffs continue: The clothing rental platform Rent the Runway laid off its entire retail staff via Zoom on Friday, The Verge reports.

Tech for good: “How I’ve been using free virtual Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to connect and stay sober while in COVID-19 isolation,” via Business Insider.

Blog OTD: The Future of Privacy Forum put together a repository on how countries around the world are addressing data and privacy issues related to Covid-19. Here is the repository, and here is the organization’s Privacy and Pandemics blog.

Wedditors: Reddit’s most popular wedding planning channel “has become a source of detailed information on coronavirus for frustrated couples whose dream days have been derailed by the pandemic,” WIRED reports.



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Govt hopes more gig workers will register with Socso

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KUALA LUMPUR: The government hopes more workers in the gig economy will register with the Social Security Organisation (Socso) through the National Economic Recovery Plan (Penjana) for the gig economy so that their welfare is safeguarded.

Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz (pix) said the government had allocated grants worth RM50 million in the form of matching grants for the gig economy platform for workers’ contribution under the Socso employment injury scheme.

He said from January till date, Only seven per cent or 28,425 workers in the gig economy were registered with Socso compared with the total number of gig workers of 400,000 people.

To spur the initiatives for gig workers under Penjana, several engagement sessions were carried out with the agriculture sector, hawkers, transportation, goods, and food sectors, as well as some 38 supervisory platforms of the gig services.

“More than 188,000 potential freelancers have been identified,” Tengku Zafrul said to reporters after making an official working visit to Socso today.

Also present was Socso chief executive Datuk Seri Dr Mohammed Azman Aziz Mohammed.

Tengku Zafrul said up to June 26, a total of RM7.07 billion was approved under the wage subsidy programme for 307,518 employers and saved more than 2.46 million workers.

Applications under the wage subsidy scheme were not approved due to various factors including technical issue, he added.

“Some 97 per cent of the issues have been settled. The main problem is (putting) incorrect business registration number and this caused them to receive the assistance late compared with those who gave the correct business registration number.

“The other is that companies gave the incorrect bank account number and are not active,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mohammed Azman said Socso had set up a working committee to resolve the issue.

“It will take some time for us to settle because there are about a few thousand (applications) or so but we are in the process of resolving it,” he said. — Bernama



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