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Gig Workers Are Here to Stay. It’s Time to Give Them Benefits.

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Executive Summary

While labor advocates support providing financial assistance to gig workers, many worry that interventions like the recent Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will validate Uber’s contentious claim that their drivers should be classified as independent contractors, not employees. But this is bigger than just ridehail. During the coming recession, as in previous ones, firms that are struggling themselves will likely increase their reliance on subcontracted and gig labor rather than hiring full-time employees. The pandemic has demonstrated that workers’ access to unemployment (not to mention other vital benefits, such as health insurance) shouldn’t depend on their employment status, and that it is in fact entirely possible for the benefits traditionally associated with employment to be detached from any particular job. It’s time for lawmakers to think bigger, and work towards making permanent changes that protect all vulnerable workers – regardless of their employment status – through this crisis and the next.

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Over 48 million Americans have applied for Unemployment Insurance (UI) in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. And though ridehail drivers are considered “essential” workers, Uber’s business dipped by 80% in April as shelter-in-place orders kept passengers at home. As demand for rides has plummeted, many ridehail drivers have also become uneasy about continuing to work because of the health risk to themselves, their families, and their passengers.

Julie*, based in Cincinnati, has enjoyed driving for Uber for the last four years. She’s proud to be the sole breadwinner for herself and her 16-year-old daughter, but she was scared to continue even after switching from passenger to food delivery. “I applied for unemployment because I delivered to four different houses and each of the people tipped me just a little over a dollar and I’m sorry, but my life is not worth that,” she explained.

Historically, gig workers like Julie have not been eligible for unemployment benefits. But in March, the federal CARES Act extended Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to independent contractors such as gig workers (an outcome that Uber lobbied for). Julie added, “I don’t feel it would be anyone’s responsibility for my finances except myself. I am so grateful for the help, but I feel absolutely awful for having to take it. I would much rather be out driving people around and pointing out all the cool stuff and history of Cincinnati!”

Further Reading

While labor advocates support getting financial assistance to gig workers, many worry that interventions like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will validate Uber’s contentious claim that their drivers should be classified as independent contractors, not employees. These concerns are legitimate, but they also overlook a larger public policy opportunity to make gig work in the U.S. work better for everyone. This crisis is a chance to update our benefit and safety net systems for how people actually work (and sometimes don’t work) right now — we shouldn’t let it pass us by.

To be sure, classification isn’t just a matter of terminology. Categorizing drivers as independent contractors has long enabled Uber and Lyft to avoid paying employee payroll taxes for their drivers, taxes which fund benefits like state and federal UI programs. This means that taxpayers are effectively subsidizing many gig employers under the CARES Act, and state budgets are losing out on a significant source of revenue. New Jersey, for example, alleges that Uber evaded taxes and incurred fines amounting to $650 million by misclassifying their drivers. Similarly, California may have missed out on $413 million in contributions from ridehail companies to its rapidly depleting UI fund.

However, despite these costs, the biggest threat to the American economy right now is mass unemployment, not misclassification. This crisis is an opportunity for policymakers to break out of the contractor-employee binary by creating a permanent social safety net that would cover all types of workers. This would let companies like Uber (along with other employers) off the hook for the costs of traditional employment. But as more people seek out gigs to make ends meet, it could significantly improve economic security for independent workers.

After all, this is bigger than just ridehail. During this recession, as in previous ones, firms that are struggling themselves will likely increase their reliance on subcontracted and gig labor rather than hiring full-time employees. Today’s gig economy sprung from the last recession, and these gig work platforms — which offered a job to anyone who wanted one — emerged as a lifeline for many facing financial instability. This trend is likely to be even more pronounced as the current crisis is pushing many people to search specifically for non-traditional forms of employment that can be done from home.

Ultimately, gig work exists because companies, workers, and customers all benefit from it. In the past, even when Uber blatantly evaded transportation and employment laws, regulators hesitated to crack down because both shutting down popular services like ridehailing and eliminating jobs with a low barrier to entry were understandably unpopular stances. We can anticipate that as states reopen for business, politicians will once again encourage people to find or create any job they can to mitigate mass unemployment. And Uber’s gig economy model, despite its flaws, is excellent at one thing: connecting a worker in need of a job with a customer who wants a service.

To be sure, there are major problems with the gig work system — and the current interventions are an imperfect solution to the financial precariousness that stems from both misclassification and mass unemployment. The unemployment insurance that’s currently available to gig workers, along with other temporary benefits, is just one of the rights employee status confers on workers. A temporary emergency bailout of gig employers’ UI obligations does not make obsolete that entire bundle of rights, which includes OSHA protection, overtime pay, collective bargaining, and more. In addition, the current status quo of misclassifying drivers puts employers who do pay their employment taxes at a disadvantage.

Given the unemployment landscape we’re facing, however, we need to acknowledge and plan for the reality of a rapidly expanding gig economy. Instead of hoping in vain for gig employers to reclassify their workers as employees, we should accept that the gig model will only become more entrenched, and as such we should focus on expanding the temporary gains gig workers have seen during the pandemic into a permanent social safety net. This will likely necessitate corresponding changes in how companies that rely on gig workers, such as Uber, pay into that system. Uber has signaled their willingness to make compromises, such as supporting portable benefits, so if policymakers can meet them in the middle with a new model for taxing employers, it could create a more stable foundation for all gig businesses.

The pandemic has demonstrated that workers’ access to UI — not to mention other vital benefits — shouldn’t depend on their employer’s classification choices, and that it is entirely possible for the benefits of employment to be detached from any particular job. Some labor scholars suggest that the longer-term solution to fissured or sub-contracted workplace relationships — as well as other threats to formal employment, such as automation — is to shift certain costs of employment from employers onto society at large. Instead of pushing gig employers to reclassify their workers (which is unlikely to be successful on a national scale, given the significant financial disincentives in place), we should think more broadly about delinking healthcare, unemployment insurance, and other vital benefits from specific forms of employment, while providing a protective labor standard for all workers that includes collective bargaining (even for self-employed workers), OSHA, and other workplace rights.

Creating buffers, from extended UI to a universal basic income, that support a baseline of broad economic security for all working people (including those who cannot or should not go to work due to health concerns, layoffs, or any other valid reason) could improve the status quo for workers across the wider spectrum of low-wage and unstable work. The CARES Act shows that there is bipartisan support for distributing public resources more equitably among workers. It’s time for lawmakers to think bigger, and work towards making permanent changes that protect all vulnerable workers — regardless of their employment status — through this crisis and the next.

*Name changed to protect identity.

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Workers

Buckle Reinvents Insurance Model for Gig Economy with $31 Million Series A Funding

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JERSEY CITY, N.J.–()–Buckle, a tech-enabled financial services company, has filed its Regulation D and disclosed it raised $31 million through its Series A funding round co-led by HSCM Bermuda and Eos Venture Partners. Addressing gaps in conventional insurance policies that leave gig workers underinsured, Buckle is using the funding to reinvent the insurance model with new sources of data to underwrite risk, making insurance comprehensive, affordable, and easy to obtain for rideshare drivers.

“Whether rideshare drivers are on duty or driving their family around on personal time, Buckle will have them covered,” said Dustin Walsey, co-founder of Buckle. “We are excited to offer comprehensive, easy-to-understand insurance to active rideshare drivers for overall better personal protection.”

In 2019, Buckle launched its core rideshare insurance policy that combines personal and commercial coverages, in collaboration with Munich Re’s Digital Partners. Earlier this year, it expanded the program through a partnership with Lyft.

In June, Buckle announced the acquisition and recapitalization of Gateway Insurance Company (Gateway), including its 47 state insurance licenses. Now, through Gateway, Buckle is expanding insurance coverage to include transportation network companies (TNCs), traditional taxi, limo, and livery businesses using the Curb app.

“The ride-hailing market is expected to grow globally to approximately $260 billion by 2024,” said Vikas Singhal, Partner and CIO of Insurtech at HSCM Bermuda. “As the market grows, demand for straight-forward and affordable insurance coverage for both providers and TNCs will grow with it. We’re excited to help the Buckle team take the company to the next level.”

“The rideshare and dispatched delivery markets need specialized insurance expertise,” said Jonathan Kalman, Founding General Partner at Eos Venture Partners. “Buckle has built a comprehensive insurance solution to this growing market.”

Buckle plans to launch other products and partnerships as it expands nationwide.

About HSCM Bermuda

HSCM Bermuda is an asset manager focused on investments in the Re/Insurance and Transportation sectors. HSCM was launched in 2016 and focuses on core economic sectors that are likely to outgrow global GDP, offer low correlations with broader markets, and are experiencing a shift from balance sheet and to market financing. For more information about HSCM Bermuda, please visit www.hscm.com.

About Eos Venture Partners

Eos Venture Partners is a global independent Strategic Venture Capital Fund focused exclusively on InsurTech, investing in early and growth stage technology businesses that accelerate innovation and transformation across the insurance industry and value chain. Eos was founded in 2016 to bridge the “digital chasm” between InsurTech start-ups and traditional (re)insurance companies. Investors in the Eos fund, EVP I, are from the insurance sector, forming a close strategic relationship with the Eos team to capture both strategic and financial value from the innovation and technology change in the insurance industry. See more at: www.eosventurepartners.com.

About Buckle

Buckle offers total insurance coverage specifically for rideshare and other gig economy providers and TNCs, looking to get coverage that’s fair and simple. Buckle Rideshare Insurance isn’t a gap product that supplements an existing policy, but replaces a driver’s current auto insurance, providing continuous 24×7 coverage on-and-off the clock with one low rate. Connect with Buckle on Facebook and LinkedIn and visit www.buckleup.com.

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CERB 2.0? Trudeau Hints at New Benefit for Gig Workers

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The CERB may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean out-of-work Canadians can’t still get benefits.

That’s the takeaway from a recent statement by PM Justin Trudeau, who announced that his government had been working on a “21st century EI system.” In covering Trudeau’s statement, the Canadian Press reported that the revamped EI system would replace the CERB, bringing more Canadians under coverage — including one group of Canadians who had been sorely neglected until the CERB came into effect.

An “EI-like benefit” for gig workers

One of the main beneficiaries of Trudeau’s “transitional EI-like benefit” would be gig workers. Under current rules, gig workers are considered self-employed. That means that they’re opted out of EI by default. Gig workers can indicate that they want to pay in to EI, but usually don’t. The self-employed pay twice the usual rate on CPP; passing on EI premiums is a way to partially offset that extra tax. As a result, many self-employed Canadians aren’t covered by EI.

Trudeau’s new EI benefit could remedy that. While details on the plan are scarce so far, it appears that there will be an interim benefit to cover non-EI eligible Canadians, followed by a totally revamped EI system. It’s hard to predict exactly what the latter will consist of, but the former will probably be regular EI with looser eligibility requirements.

Why this is good news

While many out-of-work Canadians may bemoan the loss of the $2,000 a month benefit, it may ultimately be a good thing. The CERB has always been beset by concerns about eligibility and fraud. Many Canadians have reported being “scared” to spend their CERB money, and ominous CRA statements probably haven’t helped with that.

Getting back to EI could therefore be a welcome development. While the average monthly amount isn’t as high as the CERB, EI has fewer eligibility questions hanging over it. As a result, individuals receiving EI may feel more free to spend it.

For example, if you received $1,000 a month in EI, you could spend that money on investments. If you took $1,000 worth of EI and spent it on shares in Fortis, you’d be within your rights to do so. After all, it’s a program you paid in to, and if you’ve been laid off, you’re eligible to benefit from it. It doesn’t matter how you spend the money.

With the CERB, it’s not quite so simple. There’s been a big question mark about eligibility ever since the program began, and spending CERB money on non-essential items has been frowned upon. If you took $1,000 worth of CERB money and bought FTS shares with it, that wouldn’t make you ineligible. However, it could be inconvenient if the shares declined in value, and you were later forced to repay the CERB. With EI, you always know that you’re entitled to the money you’re getting, as applications are pre-screened for eligibility. As a result, you can sleep soundly no matter how you spend the money — be it on groceries, Fortis shares, or anything in between.

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Observers call on National Wages Council for more aggressive wage support, office to look after gig workers, Manpower News & Top Stories

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In September and October 1998, as the full impact of the Asian financial crisis on Singapore’s economy became more apparent, the National Wages Council (NWC) was convened a second time that year to revise its annual wage guidelines.

Its original guidelines, issued in May, had called for wage restraint and non-wage cost-cutting measures, as the Trade and Industry Ministry forecast economic growth for the year of between 2.5 per cent and 4.5 per cent.

But as the crisis deteriorated, the growth forecast for the year was revised downwards in June to between 0.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent.

The NWC in November proposed that in addition to a 10 percentage point cut to employers’ Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions recommended by the Committee on Singapore’s Competitiveness, total wages for 1998 be cut by 5 per cent to 8 per cent, as compared with 1997.

This year, with Singapore headed for its worst recession since independence due to the Covid-19 pandemic, observers suggested that the council consider calling for more aggressive wage support, an office to look after gig workers and pay hikes for low-wage staff.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in a Facebook post yesterday that the NWC will reconvene this year. The council made its annual wage guidelines in March this year.

Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) chief executive Mayank Parekh said that without the prospect of a near-term recovery of demand, there could be more job losses and wage cuts on the horizon.

“It is timely for the NWC to review its earlier recommendations and seek support for additional measures to safeguard jobs and enhance employability,” he said.

“More aggressive wage measures, higher support for job redesign and re-training and additional guidelines on retrenchment payments could be considered.”

Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem suggested the council look at whether the Jobs Support Scheme of wage subsidies can be extended, as well as the need for funding to facilitate job redesign for future-ready jobs.

It could also propose the setting up of a tripartite office to help and protect gig workers, who tend to fall under the radar because they do not have employers, she said.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari said the NWC should continue to push for wage increases for low-wage workers, even amid the pandemic.

“Instead of recommending a quantum wage increase, I would like NWC to set a long-term target of where wages of these vulnerable low-wage workers who are performing essential services should be at. This could then act as a guideline for the wage increases and the necessary productivity initiatives that must be embarked upon to make it sustainable,” he added.

This is only the fourth time since being set up in 1972 that the council has been convened twice in the same year.

Aside from 1998, it also released revised recommendations in 2001, after the Sept 11 attacks on the United States, and in 2009 amid the global financial crisis.

In January 2009, the council updated its guidelines to recommend – among other things – that companies work with unions and workers to manage costs, such as through wage freezes or wage cuts, to save jobs.

The NWC had in March this year considered whether to recommend reducing CPF contribution rates to cut wage costs.

But Permanent Secretary for Manpower Aubeck Kam had said then that as the Jobs Support Scheme wage subsidy far exceeds the employer CPF contribution rates of up to 17 per cent, the Government did not feel that a cut to the rate was warranted.

DBS Bank senior economist Irvin Seah said that short of extending the JSS payouts for worst-hit industries, a temporary cut in employer CPF contribution rates could be an option the NWC considers.

But he cautioned that such a move would need to be weighed very carefully. “It would be a reduction in workers’ savings, on top of already widespread wage cuts.”

Amid reports of major retrenchment exercises in recent weeks, Mrs Teo also commented yesterday on the Fair Retrenchment Framework proposed by the NTUC last month. It includes protecting the Singaporean core of the workforce, while foreigners with special or critical skills could be retained as well.

She said in her Facebook post that the Singapore National Employers Federation will consider the framework and discuss a mutually acceptable way forward with NTUC.

In the meantime, the Manpower Ministry will continue its work on the Fair Consideration Framework, she said, adding that there would be updates soon.

“Tripartite partners are aligned on one thing – the need to support our workers and businesses through the storm brought about by Covid-19. Much work ahead,” she said.



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