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Editorial: Don’t stifle the gig economy, vote yes on California Prop. 22



Proposition 22 is a battle between two determined and equally unappealing combatants. Proponents consist of the gig economy companies — Uber, Lyft, DoorDash among them — that are pouring $180 million into a campaign to dictate how they would be regulated on workplace issues. Opponents are the labor unions and the politicians they control, who refused to come up with a reasonable compromise in Sacramento.

It’s hubris versus hubris, with voters left to make a binary choice in what should be a nuanced policy that would allow the ride-hail and delivery companies to keep rolling in a way that would increase driver pay and protections while acknowledging that their business does not fit within the realm of traditional employment.

As imperfect as it may be in many regards, Prop. 22 at least makes an attempt at striking that balance — and will keep the app-based, ride-hail and delivery services operating in California. The legislative recalcitrance and lawsuits from labor-beholden politicians in the state capital, San Francisco and elsewhere give us no confidence that a reasonable solution could be reached if the initiative were to fail.

The origin of this dispute is important to know:

The California Supreme Court’s landmark April 2018 decision involving the Dynamex courier and delivery service laid out a severely rigid test for whether workers should be classified as employees or independent contractors. In that case, the usurpation of worker rights was clear and unjust: In 2004, Dynamex reclassified its drivers as independent contractors as a cost-saving measure. The justices made the right call on the case, but went too far.

In that ruling, the court mandated that a hiring entity must satisfy all three of these criteria to classify a worker as an independent contractor:

• The worker is free from the “control and direction” of the hiring entity.

• The worker performs duties that are “outside the usual course” of the hiring entity’s business.

• The worker is engaged in an “independently established” trade, occupation or business.

Labor unions quickly pounced on the opportunity to etch those standards into California law, with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, doing their bidding as author of Assembly Bill 5. The impracticality of the rigid rules (known as the “ABC test”) for certain endeavors became readily apparent, and interest groups began lining up for exemptions. Some received carve-outs right away (doctors, real-estate agents, hairdressers), others had to keep fighting this year to obtain them (interpreters, musicians and vocalists, youth sports coaches). Full disclosure: California newspapers (including The Chronicle) were among the industries that lobbied for relief from AB5 for newspaper carriers. The Legislature ultimately granted an extension until Jan. 1, 2022, for newspapers to comply with AB5.

Altogether, more than 100 exemptions have been issued.

But the process has been anything but rational. At one point, industry advocates seeking an exemption had to fill out an application with labor groups. One veteran legislator told us he had never seen elected officials so willingly delegate decisions to a special interest on a major bill.

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig economy companies, outcasts in Sacramento, never quite had a fair chance in the Legislature — and they knew they would have a more sympathetic audience with voters who have become accustomed to the convenience and responsiveness of their operations. They also knew they had no shortage of drivers who would vouch for their preference to be independent contractors.

And they are independent contractors by any reasonable definition not laid out by the court or politicians. They can decide when they want to work and for how long. They can work for anyone else they choose, including competitors. Most of us in traditional jobs would agree: That is not the generally understood definition of an employer-employee relationship.

Again, there are points to dislike about Prop. 22. Any change in the law would require a seven-eighths vote of the Legislature, a nearly impossible threshold for anything other than a Mother’s Day resolution. It does guarantee some new benefits for drivers (120% of minimum wage, health-care subsidies, vehicle insurance, occupational accident insurance, limits on driving hours, training programs) but less than the full array of legal protections they would enjoy as employees.

Under the status quo, with the rigid guidelines of AB5 and court rulings that they apply to these enterprises, there is a genuine risk that ride-hailing would be limited to hours in urban areas where predetermined shifts would be sufficiently lucrative. And there would be fewer opportunities for the majority of drivers who work part-time at hours convenient to them. It’s important to note that these ride-hail companies are not merely an alternative to taxis: They deliver food to homebound seniors, transport patients to and from medical facilities, and support bike-share networks.

Our preference would have been for our elected representatives to come up with a forward-looking solution in the public interest. AB5 failed to do that. Californians now must choose between two flawed options. Vote yes on Prop. 22.

This commentary is from The Chronicle’s editorial board. We invite you to express your views in a letter to the editor. Please submit your letter via our online form:

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Amazon looks for gig workers to pick up and deliver orders at Whole Foods




Photo (c) Andrei Stanescu – Getty Images

With the gig economy continuing to grow but the COVID-19 pandemic cutting into wages, gig workers looking for work might want to pay Whole Foods a visit. Amazon is now recruiting contract workers to both shop for and deliver groceries for Whole Foods Market customers who order their groceries online.

According to a Bloomberg report, drivers can easily sign up for the Shop and Deliver program by simply reviewing an online tutorial about how Whole Foods products are picked, packed, and handled, as well as scoring a passing grade on a quiz.

Until now, Whole Foods relied on its own employees to assemble online orders, but the program model is akin to Amazon Flex, an initiative the company rolled out several years ago that relies on independent contractors to deliver packages. 

Inherent issues

From its catbird seat, various grocery industry watchers raised questions about Amazon’s move. 

“By entrusting gig workers to put orders together for Whole Foods customers, Amazon is potentially increasing the risk that items could be damaged, spoiled or delivered late that is inherent in grocery e-commerce,” GroceryDive’s Sam Silverstein wrote.

Another question raised was that while delivery service is an easy thing to learn, in-store tasks like picking aren’t.

“Delivery from A to B is a beautiful on-demand task because it’s very straightforward, very repeatable and you don’t need a lot of training, [but] tasks in stores are often much more complicated,” Jordan Berke, a former Walmart executive and e-commerce expert who runs Tomorrow Retail Consulting, told GroceryDive.

“A person that comes to your store once a day or once every two days to pick two orders is always learning, while a person that picks 50 orders five days a week” has a better opportunity to become familiar with the lay of the land inside a grocery store, and is more likely to know where items are located and how they should be handled.

Potential good news for consumers

Online grocery shopping is growing in leaps and bounds. The segment is expected to grow from about $38 million in 2018 to nearly $60 billion by 2023. Amazon and Walmart are in a pretty secure place for the moment — and keep upping the ante — but more and more companies are trying to elbow their way in like Uber and DoorDash. The upside for consumers is that companies are constantly trying to find ways to keep prices as low as possible. 

“They’re always going to look for ways to keep their cost of service as low as possible, and always look for ways to be super responsive in fulfilling customer demand,” Tom Furphy, former Amazon vice president of consumables and Amazon Fresh, told GroceryDive. 

“Those are three constants that will always exist as long as Amazon’s around, and they will absolutely look to deliver on that in the grocery environment.

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Iberdrola and GIG in 3.3GW offshore wind push in Japan




Iberdrola has acquired local developer Acacia Renewables and entered into a joint venture with Macquarie’s Green Investment Group (GIG) to develop its 3.3GW offshore wind portfolio.

Prior to the acquisition, Acacia was Macquarie Capital’s Japanese renewable energy platform, according to its website.

Acacia’s portfolio includes two projects with a combined capacity of 1.2GW at a more advanced stage, and a further four with a combined capacity of 2.1GW.

Spanish energy giant Iberdrola and the GIG aim to enter the first 1.2GW batch of wind farms – located off the south-west coast of Japan – in upcoming auctions announced by the Japanese government.

These first two projects could be commissioned by 2028, Iberdrola claimed.

The company said it has set its sights on Japan as a “new growth platform” in renewables, and offshore wind in particularly.

Iberdrola has stakes in operational offshore wind farms worldwide with a combined capacity of just over 1GW, while GIG has backed operational offshore wind projects with a combined capacity of just under 1.3GW, according to Windpower Intelligence, the research and data division of Windpower Monthly

The two companies will both take charge of developing Acacia’s projects.

Acacia had issued public notices of Environmental Impact Assessments for the six sites. These are wind farms called Satsuma, Nanao Shika, Fukui Konpira, Shiroishi Kosugo, Fukui Konpira and Tono.

There is currently just over 40MW of operational wind power capacity installed in Japanese waters, according to Windpower Intelligence.

However, a growing number of developers are targeting the nascent market ahead of offshore wind tenders, which are expected to be opened shortly.

Last week, Equinor, Jera and J-Power joined a long list of partnerships targeting the Japanese offshore wind market, despite the nation’s apparent slow uptake of the technology.

In 2019, the Japan Wind Power Association said that the lengthy process for environmental impact assessment was having an impact on the development of offshore wind.

One of the main obstacles for wind developers in Japan comes from opposition from local fishing communities.

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In Season Of Strikes For Gig Workers, Now Swiggy Delivery Execs In Noida Rebel




After strikes in Chennai and Hyderabad in the last 30 days, Swiggy’s delivery executives in Noida have gone on strike to protest against low wages

The delivery workers are demanding a minimum payout of INR 35 per order and restoration of monthly incentives, among other demands

Similar demands were also raised by Swiggy’s delivery partners in Hyderabad, who went on an indefinite strike last week

With similar demands as their counterparts in Chennai and Hyderabad, delivery executives with Indian foodtech unicorn Swiggy in Noida, on Thursday (September 17), went on a strike to protest against low wages. 

The strike comes just days after Swiggy’s delivery partners went on an indefinite strike in Hyderabad to protest against the low wages and to press their demands. 

In Noida, the protesting delivery workers are demanding a minimum payout per order of INR 35, a minimum payout of INR 20 per batched order (when the driver has to make more than one delivery in a single trip), and a payout at the rate of INR 10 per km after the worker has travelled more than 5 km for making a delivery, among other things.

The delivery partners in Noida, affiliated with the All India Gig Workers Union (AIGWU), have also demanded the reinstatement of monthly incentives of up to INR 3,000 for full-time work and INR 2,000 for part-time work. 

Further, the delivery partners are also demanding extra wages for deliveries made while it rains, or in nights, as also, compensation for waiting time at restaurants, while the order is being prepared. 

“Swiggy delivery workers are taking extraordinary risks by delivering food and essentials to people during this pandemic. The company cannot reward us by cutting our payouts and incentives. Our demands should be met at the earliest,” reads the letter stating the demands of AIGWU for Swiggy’s delivery workers, addressed to Swiggy’s CEO Sriharsha Majety. 

The demands of the delivery workers in Noida are similar to the demands of the workers in Hyderabad, who, earlier this week, launched an indefinite strike to protest against Swiggy paying low wages to the delivery workers. 

The workers in Hyderabad have alleged that during the lockdown, their minimum payout per order reduced from INR 35 to INR 15, while the company also removed monthly incentives to the tune of INR 5,000. 

When asked about the protest of delivery workers in Hyderabad earlier this week, a Swiggy spokesperson told Inc42, “Most delivery partners in Hyderabad make over INR 45 per order, with the highest performing partners making over INR 75 per order. This INR 15 is only one of the many components of the service fee.”

“Naturally, no active delivery partners in Hyderabad have made only INR 15 per order in the last four weeks. It is important to note that the service fee per order is based on multiple factors to adequately compensate our partners including distance travelled, waiting time, customer experience, shift completion and incentives. Regular competitive benchmarking shows that these are at par, if not higher than the industry standards,” Spokesperson added.

In what has been a season of strikes for gig workers, last month, Swiggy’s delivery executives in Chennai had gone on strike to press for their demands. A few days after the strike in Chennai, Swiggy told NDTV that the company had had a positive dialogue with the protesting delivery partners and was back to serving the entire city of Chennai with its fleet of workers.

Meanwhile, the Indian government’s new draft social security code is said to have recognised gig workers, and will mandate gig economy companies to contribute to a social security fund for gig and platform workers, reported Business Standard. Approved by the Union Cabinet last week, the code, which will have several other benefits outlined for gig workers, will come up in the Parliament’s ongoing monsoon session.

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