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Where Gig Economy Workers And Freelancers Can Look For Some Relief Today

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In an economy stricken by a pandemic — with the demand for services across the board falling dramaticallysome tens of millions of independently contracted workers may be out of work. Because gig economy and freelance workers, from rideshare drivers to self-employed artists, generally lack full-time employment benefits like healthcare and sick days, they are extremely vulnerable to both losing their income and, like many of us, actually contracting coronavirus. This ultimately hurts us all, as the people who sit with us in enclosed spaces, touch our food, and otherwise are up in our business(es) can’t get the care they need to keep us all healthy. 

Thankfully, communities are coming together to make sure gig economy workers can find support during these vulnerable times. Here are a few concrete actions that gig workers can take to access funds and benefits to begin getting some help through this time of uncertainty:  

Apply for emergency funds.

Among the first challenges gig workers face when losing their jobs is finding the means to pay for food, rent, and other necessities — needs that just won’t diminish while other parts of our economy come to a seeming halt. Fortunately, some cities and their key organizations are stepping up with a variety of resources to help the workers who are so critical to their social fabric find funds while they find new livelihoods.

  • COVID-19 Freelance Artist Resources includes links to sources of grants, advocacy and legal information, and more. Make sure to check out their extensive list of city-by-city emergency fund opportunities.
  • In Seattle, a coalition of large donors and corporations are coming together to start a $2 million fund to help gig workers and other vulnerable populations across sectors.
  • The New Orleans Business Alliance is awarding between $500 and $1,000 to musicians, drivers, and other gig workers affected by COVID-19. Orleans Parish residents can apply here.
  • The Houston Arts alliance has compiled a highly comprehensive list of nationwide resources to support artists (for arts educators, writers, filmmakers, and more), including sources of emergency funds for artists.
  • Dance/NYC recently put out a survey to better understand the impact of coronavirus on independent dance workers. The data is staggering: with average yearly incomes already at or near the poverty line, respondents so far reported an average loss of about $4,000 each and a lack of cash flow to buy groceries in the next 2-4 weeks, let alone cover rent. As a result, the organization has begun compiling a list of emergency funding resources both in New York and across the country for artists who have been hit by the financial reality of cancelled gigs, along with other means of employment that vanished overnight. These funds include The Dance Union’s NYC Relief Fund, focused on undocumented dancers of color and night life workers, as well as the NYC Low-Income Artist/Freelancer Relief Fund.   

Look into this location-based, mutual-aid tool for gig workers.

Gig workers know the challenges of the industry in which they work, so it’s no surprise The Gig Workers’ Collective has developed a mutual aid tool so they can support each other. Using a Google Form, gig workers can specify if they need help or are able to offer help, and where they are located. Non-gig workers are also welcome to contribute. 

Share resources for undocumented gig workers. 

This crisis is a particularly difficult time for undocumented workers to find support. Undocumented migrants faced major barriers to accessing critical services like healthcare both before and during the pandemic, making them extra vulnerable and likely to be left out of upcoming relief packages. Additionally, many of the notices and resources put out across the country are available only in English. However, grassroots advocates won’t let undocumented neighbors slip through the cracks in this crisis:

  • The National Domestic Workers Alliance is raising $4 million to support 10,000 gig workers, including in-home care workers, nannies, and house cleaners. It began distributing funds on March 23. As stated explicitly in the FAQs on their website, they do not ask about immigration status, which is notable because a large percentage of undocumented immigrants are gig workers. Text RELIEF to 97779 for more information. The website also includes links to additional resources to support domestic workers. 
  • Undocuscholars.com has put together a  a thoughtful collection of resources for undocumented immigrants. It includes both national and some state-by-state programs like free testing and meals.

If you work for a large “gig economy” company, check their policy updates.

The policies of large gig economy employers affect millions of workers. Here’s an overview of some of those policy updates from the biggest players, in case you or someone you know can benefit from these corporate responses to the pandemic.

  • Postmates announced an “emergency fleet relief” fund to help cover its couriers’ medical expenses 
  • Uber is providing two-weeks of compensation (paid sick-leave) to any driver or delivery person who is diagnosed with COVID-19 or has been asked to self-isolate by a public health authority.
  • Like Uber, Lyft will provide funds to drivers diagnosed or asked to self-isolate by a public health authority and can provide documentation for either.
  • Instacart is introducing a new, accrual-based sick-pay policy that covers part-time employees.

Check your eligibility for existing government resources.

While in states like Florida, contract workers are unable to file for unemployment benefits, other forms of welfare aren’t linked to employment and are more readily accessible. Gig workers who have lost their main source of income are encouraged to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP also known as food stamps). Even if you’ve been rejected previously, the level of hardship many are currently facing may now make them eligible. You can use this free tool to check your eligibility for SNAP benefits.

We continue to wait to see whether the federal government will provide larger-scale relief and unemployment insurance to independent contract workers this week — with the issue becoming a point of advocacy for players on both sides of the political aisle. In some positive news, the Associated Press notes that the upcoming stimulus package is likely to expand unemployment benefits to cover gig workers, adding “$600 per week to normal state benefits for up to four months,” providing “an additional 13 weeks of benefits to 39 weeks of regular unemployment insurance through the end of 2020,” and making coverage retroactive to January 27th if workers have been “sidelined by the outbreak.” 

So if you’re an independent contractor finding yourself with unwanted time on your hands—or simply are someone who recognizes how much we rely on gig economy workers, cultural workers, and other independent contractors to make our lives more full — this could be a great day to call your representative and make sure the stimulus bill fully reflects the diversity of work in America. 

Thanks to Jasmine Rashid and Teju Ravilochan for their contributions to this piece. Full disclosures related to my work here. This post does not constitute investment, tax, or legal advice, and the author is not responsible for any actions taken based on the information provided herein.

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Stanford’s William Gould on Proposition 22 and the De-Regulation of the Gig Economy – Legal Aggregate

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Stanford’s William Gould on Proposition 22 and the De-Regulation of the Gig Economy – Legal Aggregate – Stanford Law School


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California’s Prop. 22 could affect the gig economy nationwide

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California’s Proposition 22 is an initiative sponsored by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig work platforms. It would exempt app-based ride-hailing companies and food delivery companies from a new state law that requires them to classify drivers as employees instead of independent contractors.

Gig companies have poured nearly $200 million into the Yes on Proposition 22 campaign, making it the most expensive ballot initiative in state history. They’ve threatened to leave California or dramatically raise prices if it doesn’t pass, and a loss could embolden other states to insist that app companies hire their drivers.

I spoke with Sam Harnett, a reporter for KQED in San Francisco. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

A headshot of Sam Harnett, a reporter for KQED in San Francisco.
Sam Harnett (Photo courtesy of Gundi Vigfusson)

Sam Harnett: Gig companies are saying, “If this doesn’t pass, we’re going to have to potentially suspend service in California.” And if it passes, Uber, Lyft and the rest of the gig companies will be able to continue operating the way that they were operating before. Their workers would be contractors, [which] means they wouldn’t have basic employee protections like unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation. And the way this proposition is written, that will be pretty much locked in. There’s this seven-eighths provision, which means it would take seven-eighths of the Senate and Assembly in California to make any changes to this proposition. And local jurisdictions, cities and counties couldn’t make any changes to give gig workers more benefits.

Molly Wood: Do these same restrictions, this un-overturnability, does that apply even if the companies are forced to classify their workers as employees?

Harnett: Well, if Proposition 22 doesn’t pass, workers will become employees, but these gig companies still have billions of dollars, and they’re going to keep fighting this tooth and claw. I mean, they see this as an existential threat to their business model. So on the one side, if Prop 22 passes, the gig model looks pretty solid. I mean, maybe something federally could lead to a change. Maybe there could be a lawsuit over something procedurally in the proposition, like maybe that seven-eighths provision I mentioned. But it’s going to be there. On the flip side, if Proposition 22 doesn’t pass, you can expect another salvo from the gig companies pretty quickly.

Wood: This is a California ballot proposition, but I wonder what implications could it have if it doesn’t pass for the gig economy nationally?

Harnett: Oh, huge. I think everybody, nationally and internationally, is looking at this case. Over the last couple years, you’ve seen the California Supreme Court, the California legislature and now the attorney general go after these companies and tell them, “Your workers are actually employees, and they need basic protections.” And if the gig companies are successful in using the ballot box to defy the three branches of government and maintain their business model, I think a lot of other states, and a lot of other countries, are going to see that as, “Well, the gig companies, they won.”

Wood: And if they don’t win, would that embolden maybe states and localities who have wanted to do something about this model to pass their own laws?

Harnett: Absolutely. In Massachusetts, they’re moving, pushing back on gig companies in a similar way. And in other states, they’re now trying to follow California’s path. And I think a victory for labor if Prop. 22 doesn’t pass, I think will ripple. And again, the companies would have to then classify workers as employees, and the rubber is going to hit the road, and we’re going to see how that all plays out.

Wood: These companies, of course, have poured a ton of money into this campaign, and they’re using their platform for that campaigning. Can you talk about some of the tactics that they’re using when you’re actually using apps like Postmates and Uber and Lyft these days?

Harnett: They got $185 million behind this, but they also have apps in hundreds of thousands or millions of voters’ pockets. So if you’ve taken Uber or Lyft, you’ve probably gotten a pop-up that has had messaging about Proposition 22. And if you work for these apps, you’re also getting pop-ups and material inside the apps urging you to vote yes on Prop 22. DoorDash has sent several million pro-Prop. 22 delivery bags for restaurants, which then the DoorDash workers have to carry the food to customers in those bags. And then Uber has a pop-up for riders that tells riders that their drivers support Prop. 22 and to talk to drivers about it. So these companies are leveraging their apps and they’re leveraging their workers in a way that has never been seen before in an election fight.

Wood: In your reporting, what are you hearing from drivers? Do you have a sense of how they’re feeling about all this?

Harnett: I’ve been covering this for five or six years, and drivers actually have always told me pretty much the same thing, which is they want to be their own boss, they want to be independent, they want to be flexible, but they also want basic protections, or at least enough money to get those basic protections. So a lot of drivers, they get these surveys that ask them if they want to be contractors, and it’s kind of confusing, because they do want to be contractors, but it’s kind of an aspirational desire to be contractors. They want to be contractors who actually make enough money to pay for health insurance, who actually make enough money to work when they want to work. And right now, what drivers are saying is that the rates haven’t been good in years, but they’ve been declining since the beginning. They’re frustrated. So I’d say workers want autonomy, independence and flexibility, but they want some basic protections.

Rideshare drivers demonstrate against rideshare companies Uber and Lyft during a car caravan protest on August 6, 2020 in Los Angeles.
Rideshare drivers demonstrate against rideshare companies Uber and Lyft during a car caravan protest on Aug. 6 in Los Angeles. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Related links: More insight from Molly Wood

The Guardian calls Proposition 22 an initiative with “the fate of an industry” riding on it. Even more than that, it’s an attempt to figure out a new framework for labor and hiring in an economy where apps like this do employ so many workers. And in some ways, like Sam Harnett said, a lot of drivers, analysts and labor experts think there should be a third way, something in between very regimented 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. employment that at least comes with benefits, and total freedom and flexibility — to die with no health insurance or miss rent if you get sick.

The delivery and ride-hail companies are positioning Proposition 22 as sort of a third way since the drivers would stay independent contractors but get some small benefits, like accident insurance and stipends to use for health insurance that go up the more hours someone drives. And, of course, it’s hard to forget that this proposition is a total end-run around a state law that the companies in question just decided to ignore. Nevertheless, opinions on Proposition 22 are fairly evenly split, even though many Californians are already voting.

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Australia – Deliveroo taken to court in gig economy unfair dismissal case (Australian Financial Review)

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21 October 2020

Australia’s Transport Workers Union kicked off its case against the human cloud food courier Deliveroo yesterday with its claim that one of its riders, whose employment was terminated in April during the pandemic, was not an independent contractor but a casual and so had unfair dismissal protection, reports Australian Financial Review. The case could have a major impact on the gig economy in Australia.  The union said Franco was terminated for completing his deliveries too slowly and the union also argued the termination was a “paradigm case of procedural unfairness” as even on Deliveroo’s own evidence it never had benchmarks for delivery times. The case is being judged by Fair Work Commissioner Ian Cambridge, who previously found a rider at gig company Foodora was not carrying out his own business but was part of the business as an employee. Under a system Deliveroo started in January 2018 but scrapped in December 2019, riders had to log in and book periods of time in particular areas where they could accept work. Once the rider booked in a period they could not change their suburb or hours. However, they could cancel a session with more than 24 hours’ notice. Transport Workers Union legal counsel Philip Boncardo argued that this was a “self-serving, self-selective system akin to a shift system”, adding that ‘That is the essence of casual employment’.

Deliveroo argued that even casuals are not allowed to do other work during shifts and this was what Franco did, fielding orders from Doordash and UberEats at the same time as Deliveroo. However, Franco gave evidence that cancelling a shift under the old system without 24 hours’ notice would impact on his “statistics” and argued that he wore a Deliveroo uniform and used a Deliveroo insulated bag while working, presenting him as part of the business.

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