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Gig drivers now just hanging on

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After driving for Lyft for six years, Joni Bicknese decided to invest in a minivan at the beginning of 2020, reasoning that she could make more money if she could transport more riders. Then came what she calls Nashville’s quadruple-whammy: a tornado, coronavirus closures, protests that rocked downtown, then more closures.

Many drivers opted simply to stay home and try to collect unemployment, something that wasn’t available to them before Congress extended benefits to gig workers in response to the economic chaos brought by the virus. But the $600 per week federal supplement ran out recently, leaving just the maximum weekly unemployment benefit of $275 in Tennessee.

Bicknese says business has gone from dismal to tolerable, but only because so many drivers have voluntarily stayed home. Bicknese chose to keep driving because she didn’t think she could make her car and insurance payments on unemployment. March and April were “devastating, horrible,” she said.

“For four or five weeks it was no income. Then what happened is so many drivers filed for unemployment and stopped driving that demand came back,” she said.

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Samuel Moore is one of those who left the business. The public school teacher was driving part time for extra cash but quit at the beginning of March over concern about the virus.

“I had intended on driving pretty heavy over the summer full time,” he said. “Alas, that didn’t work out.”

Moore had his main job to fall back on, but others drive as their full-time job.

Joy Evans, who moderates a private Facebook group for drivers with more than 2,000 members, said many are worried that the unemployment supplement is ending but demand for rides is still low. Evans estimates that many drivers working full time before the pandemic were probably earning about $60,000 a year. She said they likely won’t be able to get by on just $275 a week.

The pandemic has been particularly harsh on America’s estimated 1.5 million gig workers, who operate largely without safeguards such as minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workers compensation and health insurance.

A spokesman for Uber said the company is offering up to 14 days of financial assistance to drivers diagnosed with covid-19 or asked to self-isolate by a public health authority and already has provided more than $19 million in aid.

Spokesman Javier Correoso declined to address how many drivers are still on the road, either in Nashville or across the U.S., but did say demand for the service is generally on the rise.

“After falling 75% in the second quarter from a year earlier, it’s now at less than a 60% decline from the prior year,” Correoso wrote in an email, citing a call between Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and investors from the beginning of July.

Lyft also declined to release driver numbers but said in an email that the company has begun a pilot project to deliver things like meals and medical supplies to government agencies, nonprofits, businesses and health care organizations.

Rodney Neighbors remembers driving around panicked tourists just before Nashville shut down in March.

“The next day it was a ghost town,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God. What am I going to do?'”

Neighbors was lucky enough to be offered extra hours at a second part-time job until the ride-share business picks up. He says he’s making close to what he did before the pandemic but has to drive a lot farther. He’s also worried about the future.

“If there’s another partial shutdown, no one’s going to be able to afford to take Uber because they won’t have jobs,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Even though business is better now than in March, things aren’t the same as before the pandemic. Instead of well-heeled tourists, Bicknese finds herself driving people on unemployment, factory workers and patients travelling to medical appointments. She recalls giving 25 rides one day without getting a single tip.

And then there are the fights over masks. Uber and Lyft now require both drivers and riders to wear them, but Bicknese said customers don’t always cooperate. Just southeast of Nashville in Rutherford County, where she lives, “all it is is fighting people over masks. It’s like the Wild West.”

Driver Samuel Taylor said he started wearing a mask back in March, but passengers were uncomfortable, thinking it meant he was sick. He ended up not driving for several months because of low demand and safety concerns. Taylor lives with his mother, so he said he tries to be extra cautious.

He started driving again a couple of weeks ago, stretching a 10-pack of single-use masks Uber sent him by spraying them with disinfectant and reusing them.

Before the pandemic, Taylor said he would often drive to nearby Franklin in the evenings, looking for business travelers going to the airport or trying to get to Nashville for a night on the town. These days, he mostly picks up locals going to work or heading home.

“Sometimes it’s a waste of time,” he said, noting he’s making about half of what he did before the pandemic. “But I haven’t pushed too much. I’m still testing the waters.”

photo

Lyft driver Joni Bicknese checks her phone app between riders Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. Business became dismal after what she calls Nashville’s quadruple-whammy: a tornado, coronavirus closures, protests that rocked downtown, then more closures.Bicknese chose to keep driving because she didn’t think she could make her car and insurance payments on unemployment. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

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Insurers may gain from California gig drivers’ new benefits

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Ride-hailing and food delivery companies like Uber Technologies Inc., DoorDash Inc. and Lyft Inc. are preparing to roll out benefit packages that include health insurance subsidies for their gig drivers in California, a move that experts say could benefit managed care providers.

The healthcare subsidies are one of the results of California voters approving Proposition 22 in the Nov. 3 general election. The measure allows gig economy companies to continue treating their drivers as independent contractors rather than employees but also requires them to offer certain benefits comparable to those of full-time employees.

Under the provisions of Prop 22, gig employers must provide subsidies consistent with the average employer contributions required under the Affordable Care Act, which would enable contractors to buy healthcare coverage. Beginning in 2021, drivers will receive subsidies each quarter after they submit proof of coverage either via private carriers or through the exchanges.

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“If drivers were to pick an insurance coverage through the exchanges or the individual market, UnitedHealth and Anthem would be well-positioned to absorb this demand because they offer cost-effective access to healthcare services through a large network of physicians, hospitals and outpatient facilities,” Hardy said in an interview.CFRA Research analyst Sel Hardy said the new law could present profitable opportunities for carriers such as Anthem Inc. and UnitedHealth Group Inc.

Piper Sandler analyst Sarah James said Centene Corp. and Molina Healthcare Inc. could also benefit from the new measure.

“Insurance companies are making anywhere from low- to high-single-digit margins on exchange products,” James said in an interview. “Centene is one of the largest exchange providers and they’re also, from a percent of total company earnings perspective, the most exposed to that business.”

The subsidies will be based on drivers’ engaged time with passengers, which is limited to driving to, picking up and transporting customers to their destinations. Time spent waiting between gigs would not count.

Drivers engaged between 15 and 25 hours a week would receive subsidies amounting to approximately $184 per month, while drivers engaged more than 25 hours per week would receive subsidies of about $367 per month.

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The new law also requires network companies to provide on-demand occupational accident insurance to cover medical expenses, up to $1 million, as well as lost income resulting from injuries or illnesses suffered during engaged time. Disability payments and death benefits also must be similar to those provided by workers’ compensation.

However, gig employers do not have to offer other protections such as workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance, nor do they have to provide for family leave or sick leave or allow workers to form labor unions.

The measure overrides California Assembly Bill 5, signed into law in September 2019, which sought to bring labor protections to more gig workers and force companies to classify them as employees.

The industry responded by pushing Prop 22 and spending $200 million to back its passage. The measure was approved by a 58% to 42% margin.

The measure is scheduled to be officially approved by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Dec. 12 and go into effect on Dec. 17.

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Labour eyes stronger employment rights for precarious ‘gig economy’ workers

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Labour is looking at extending employment rights for workers in the so-called “gig economy” under plans detailed in a new think-tank report.

Precarious workers like Deliveroo riders and Uber drivers would get the same rights as other employees and have their rates set by collective bargaining, under the proposals being examined by Ed Miliband.

While the party’s final policies are yet to be decided, the shadow business secretary said new blueprint drawn up by Common Wealth contains “useful insights” into how workers’ rights could be extended.

Many workers currently miss out on basic employment rights because firms have successfully argued in court that they are in fact self-employed – a loophole that leaves them without holiday pay and even minimum hourly wages.

“There is nothing innate in the concept of the platform that means that work organised through it should be precarious, badly paid, or lacking in control,” the Common Wealth report argues.

Pinpointing “a weakness of regulation and the wider power imbalances” in the labour market, the think-tank recommends closing the loopholes exploited by tech companies to run down pay and conditions for workers on their platforms.

It says this could be done by creating a new “worker” legal status covering all jobs, whether agency workers, bogus “self-employed” or employees. There would be a “statutory presumption that all individuals qualify as employees unless the employer can demonstrate that they are genuinely self-employed”.

This would ensure all workers enjoyed rights such as statutory redundancy pay, sick pay, maternity, paternity, and adoption leave and holiday pay – which many do not currently get.

Zero hours contracts would also be scrapped and replaced with flexible contract that guaranteed employees a minimum number of hours, based on the existing German model.

Responding to the report, Mr Miliband, who sits on the board of the think-tank, said: “Digital innovation and developing technologies offer big opportunities for society, but we must ensure that companies do not wield excessive and anti-competitive power, so that technology works for the public good.

“This report provides useful insights into key ideas and concepts, including looking at how workers rights could be enshrined in light of the changing use of data; and how a National Investment Bank could help catalyse private investment in projects focused on the public good.”

The report also suggests that digital platforms like Deliveroo and Uber should be regulated like public utilities if they achieve monopoly status. It also

Mathew Lawrence, report co-author and Director of Common Wealth said: “There is nothing fixed or inevitable about how the digital economy operates.

“Though the monopoly power of the platform giants is producing a series of stark economic and social challenges, we can reimagine their power and recode how they operate. That should start with a new deal for all workers.”

He added: “But we should go further. A new architecture of multi-stakeholder ownership and control, giving suppliers and users of the platform genuine voice and control, can better unlock the democratic and enlivening potential of platform technology for all.”  

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This New Fort Worth Tech Firm Is Bringing the Gig Economy to the Energy Industry » Dallas Innovates

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A new technology firm has launched out of Fort Worth that uses first-of-its-kind technology to connect mineral managers and royalty owners to energy professionals across the U.S. for project-based work. 

Fittingly named, the company essentially offers freelance jobs to those in the energy industry through a tech-enabled marketplace. The platform, which Energy Freelance says is the only one of its kind, has two-fold benefits for both sides of the energy industry.

Mineral managers and mineral and royalty owners are given access to a network of experts, and can create projects and hire qualified workers in a matter of minutes. On the other end, landmen and energy professionals are able to find consistent contract work during a period of market change amidst COVID-19.

Projects posted range from title research and due diligence to GIS mapping and data validation.

[Photo: Energy Freelance]

According to Energy Freelance, the tech is filling an urgent need in the industry. Millions of landmen, title attorneys, and others now have a dedicated place to complete projects they traditionally wouldn’t have an opportunity to.

They’re also able to be their own bosses. The benefits of using the platform, according to the Energy Freelance team, are: access to personalized job recommendations, more money earned by working directly with a client, and working from wherever and whenever.

At the same time, the millions of mineral and royalty owners are assured experienced, qualified workers have been hired to handle their energy needs.

In a time when the gig economy is booming, Energy Freelance’s entirely online marketplace wants to open a previously unavailable segment of the market.

“Uber has proven that there is a strong market for the ‘on-demand service’ and ‘be your own boss’ model,” Energy Freelance CEO and Co-Founder Ryan Vinson said in a statement. “We are taking that same concept and applying it to a vast and growing energy marketplace.”

Vinson, a serial entrepreneur, and the team that brought MineralWare and Energy Domain to market are the ones behind Energy Freelance.

Fort Worth-based MineralWare is a provider of cutting-edge mineral management software for banks, institutions, investment funds, foundations, family offices and individuals. In November 2019, MineralWare launched sister company Energy Domain, an oil and gas minerals royalties marketplace, the industry’s first end-to-end transaction platform of its kind.

Energy Freelance is also a MineralWare company.

“The industry and our clients at MineralWare have continued to ask for easier access to trustworthy industry professionals and competitive rates for project-based work,” Vinson said. “Through an efficient tech-enabled platform, Energy Freelance does just that and more.”

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