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Disrupting the disrupters: How the coronavirus will change the gig economy



SALT LAKE CITY — Working in the American gig economy was already hard enough.

Just ask Jonathan Cousar. He began driving for Uber in New York City in 2014, which was “great at first,” he said.

“When I first started driving, Uber had just come into this area,” Cousar told “And it was really awesome, because they were charging maybe four to five times what they charge now and they had a lot fewer drivers, so each individual driver could actually get a decent amount of trip requests.”

Over time, however, the number of drivers shot up and fares went down. Driver earnings “began to plummet,” Cousar said.

“Back then (in 2014) you could have made $30 to $40 an hour during morning and afternoon rush hour,” he said. That had come all the way down to about $15 an hour before expenses in a 2019 survey by Ridester, a website that covers on-demand transportation for which Cousar now writes.

And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Seemingly overnight, demand for ride-hailing services fell off a cliff. For the first time, Congress made self-employed and contract workers eligible for a form of unemployment in the March coronavirus aid bill — but states then had to figure out how to implement the new program, delaying aid to gig workers by weeks or even months.

The virus fallout has been nothing short of “devastating” to the industry and its workers, Cousar said. “The main sources of business are the afternoon and morning commute to work, airport business and nightlife,” he said. “All of that was shut down.”

Here in Utah, gig workers got some relief in mid-April when the Department of Workforce Services unveiled the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, Utah’s implementation of the congressional mandate to bring unemployment aid to the self-employed. Kevin Burt, director of the department’s Unemployment Insurance Division, said the state had to create the program “from scratch.”

“Pandemic Unemployment Assistance was certainly a brand-new program,” Burt said. “It was different, and it does cover a group of individuals that historically are not eligible for unemployment insurance.” The program has been federally funded through the end of the year and can be used for up to 39 weeks, he said.

Last week the state saw about 1,300 new claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and 8,800 ongoing claims, down from peaks of about 7,500 new and 18,000 continued claims, Burt said.

Solutions and the future

Not every job in the gig economy has suffered like ride-booking services. Food delivery apps, for instance, helped restaurants reach customers even when dine-in service was prohibited.

And some are exploring new models. Eric Nalbone is the vice president of marketing for Drum, a new app that lets users earn commissions for word-of-mouth product and service referrals, “drumming” up business for companies.

“So the business wins,” Nalbone said. “They’re able to really leverage their customers, and people who know the business already, to spread the word about that business. And the individuals win because they actually get compensated for this valuable service that they’re providing” — a service that people already provide for free all the time, he said.

Drum launched a pilot program last fall, Nalbone said, and didn’t originally intend to launch nationally until this summer. But once the pandemic hit, Drum’s leadership saw a need for its service and expanded in April instead. “This is certainly a time when more businesses need support and more individuals need support than ever before,” he said.

Still, for Uber and Lyft drivers, the outlook remains challenging. Ridester released a report this week finding that, after expenses, many drivers are pocketing less than $5 an hour.

And the expiration of the extra $600 of weekly unemployment aid — another provision of the March coronavirus aid bill that ran out just last week — will make matters worse, Cousar said.

“Now that the $600 has run out, all of these drivers who’ve been sitting at home are going to get back out on the streets,” he said. “And drivers who are making $5 to $10 an hour — because there’s not a lot of business, but there weren’t a lot of other drivers out there, either — now they’re going to be competing with three to four times the number of drivers they’ve been up against these last few weeks.”

Cousar’s advice for workers in the gig economy?

“Get some new skills,” he said. “Learn to do computer programming. Learn software coding. Learn coding for websites. Because even before this (pandemic) happened, it was really difficult to earn much more than minimum wage driving for Uber and Lyft.”

That’s not to say gig work is a bad solution for everyone, Cousar said. He was once struck by data indicating a large number of Uber and Lyft drivers are over age 50.

“A lot of these guys are retired,” he said. “They have a little time on their hands and like to make a little extra spending money, and that’s a great way for them to do it.” But as for young drivers?

“The younger guys should get out of it so those guys can make some money at it. And the younger guys can go improve their skills, and up their game, and try to do something else.”

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IWGB wins workers status and rights for gig economy couriers at CitySprint




CITYSPRINT couriers’ status as workers with rights was confirmed once and for all today after the company was dragged back to an employment tribunal for the third time.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) claimed victory in its battle to gain basic employment rights for five gig-economy workers at the company. 

CitySprint had changed workers’ contracts rather than comply with a previous ruling that they are entitled to holiday pay and the legal minimum wage. 

The company could now be forced to give them thousands of pounds in lieu of the holidays they were denied once its financial liability is established at a final hearing in October.

Claimant Phil Weber said: “This victory over CitySprint shows what strength there is in being part of an active front-line union like the IWGB. I hope it gives others courage. 

“So many ‘gig economy’ courier companies wrongly classify their workforce as self-employed independent contractors. 

“We all know they’re playing the system to deny basic rights like holiday pay and pension contributions, but most workers are afraid to stand up for themselves because, as it is, there’s not enough work to go around and so little job security. We’re left fighting for scraps. 

“But when we are united and fight together, things can turn out very differently.”

The IWGB said it was appalled that it had had to take the company to an employment tribunal three times because the company “was so determined” to deny workers basic protections. 

But yesterday’s victory shows that even when terms of contracts are manipulated, union organising can still win the fight for workers’ rights, the IWGB added. 

General secretary Dr Jason Moyer Lee said: “CitySprint and other ‘gig economy’ companies are making a mockery of the British legal system.  

“If the law were enforced and sanctions were real, CitySprint wouldn’t have dreamed of simply acting like it hadn’t already lost a tribunal claim over its couriers’ workers’ rights. 

“In the absence of the state enforcing the law, the IWGB will continue to hold these cowboy companies to account.”

A separate £43,668.86 holiday pay claim is being made against Royal Mail-owned eCourier on behalf of three couriers transferred from CitySprint.

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Gig-Workers Across CA Protest in Advance of Judge’s Ruling




Gig-Workers Across California Protest on Thursday 8/6 in Advance of Judge’s Ruling

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Gig-Workers Demand That Uber And Lyft Obey AB 5

This Thursday, August 6, gig-workers across the state of California will be participating in actions demanding that Uber and Lyft obey AB 5 and immediately reclassify their workers as employees. Workers will also be demanding that the companies drop their Prop 22 Ballot Initiative (which the company’s have committed to spend $110m on) which would roll back gig-workers’ rights. This statewide day of action comes in advance of a judge’s ruling on the preliminary injunction motion filed by the California Attorney General in the state’s lawsuit against Uber and Lyft, which will come down at 1:30 PM on Thursday.


“Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe this moment,” Seth Klarman noted in his second-quarter letter to the Baupost Group investors.  Commenting on the market developments over the past six months, the value investor stated that events, which would typically occur over an extended time frame, had been compressed into just a few months. He noted Read More

In Oakland, drivers from Gig Workers Rising, Rideshare Drivers United & We Drive Progress will be holding a rally titled “Workers Can’t Wait” to demand the employee status they are legally owed under AB 5. Workers will gather at the East Oakland Lyft Hub and, starting at 11:30 AM, various drivers will speak about the grave mistreatment by the companies and demanding that voters vote no on Prop 22.

In Los Angeles, Mobile Workers Alliance and Rideshare Drivers United will host a joint press conference at a Lyft hub. The action is scheduled to begin at 10:30 AM.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a coalition of city attorneys filed an injunction in June to require Uber and Lyft to immediately begin obeying AB 5, which took effect in January. AB 5 requires the companies to reclassify their drivers as employees. Uber and Lyft argue that they shouldn’t be required to follow the law until after voters vote on Prop 22 in November. Becerra argues the harm currently facing drivers is so great that it would be neglectful to wait until the end of the current litigation. The law is clearly on the workers’ side.

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GiG Expands in Buenos Aires with Grupo Slots Alliance




Gaming Innovation Group (GiG) is set for expansion in Argentina after recently signing a head of terms agreement with local gambling company Grupo Slots.

Under the terms of the newly announced agreement, GiG will provide its new partner with a full online gambling turnkey solution that will support its entry in the regulated iGaming market of the City of Buenos Aires.

GiG will supply Grupo Slots with its technical iGaming platform, its sportsbook solution, front-end development, the GiG data platform and GiG Logic. The deal has an initial contract period of four years with an automatic extension for another year.

GiG and Grupo Slots are set to sign a final agreement before the end of this year’s third quarter. The deal is based on a revenue share model and set up fees. Details about the portion of revenue GiG will get from Grupo Slots have not been disclosed.

Grupo Slots is one of Argentina’s leading gaming and entertainment groups. The company boasts more than three decades of experience in the gambling industry. It is headquartered in San Luis and operates more than 20 casino locations, gambling, and bingo halls around its homeland. It also conducts lottery activities and manages the gaming website. In addition, the company operates hotels, dining outlets, and convention centers.

LatAm Expansion

Grupo Slots is among the companies to have expressed interest in obtaining a license to conduct online gambling activities in Buenos Aires as part of the reorganization of the city’s iGaming market. The company will be looking to leverage its popularity and leading position in Argentina’s land-based gambling market as it expands online.

Commenting on their partnership with the operator, GiG CEO Richard Brown said that they “see great potential in the regulated markets within Argentina”, and that they consider it a great opportunity to partner one of the largest land-based operators there and to be thus able to showcase their product in the LatAm region “while delivering the platform for online gambling transformation for Grupo Slots.”

Grupo Slots General Manager Juan Ignacio Torres said that they are extremely pleased to have teamed up with GiG and that this agreement complements them and provides them “a tool of quality and excellence to continue growing in this market with so much future potential.”

The Buenos Aires legislature passed last year legislation that authorized the reorganization of the city’s gambling market to permit online sports betting and casino activities. The move aimed to create a well-regulated environment and curb the proliferation of unregulated offshore gambling.

The Buenos Aires gambling regulator, Loteria de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (LOTBA), launched this past February a license application process for operators interested to conduct online gaming and betting activities within city limits. LOTBA said back then that it anticipated first licenses to be issued by the end of the fourth quarter of the year with regulated website launches following shortly.

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