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Gig Work on the Ballot in California

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In September of 2019, the California state legislature passed Assembly Bill 5. Informally known as the “gig-economy bill,” A.B. 5 aimed to address the challenges faced by people who drive for Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and other similar companies; so-called gig workers, who are classified as independent contractors, do not receive fundamental worker protections, such as guaranteed minimum wage or paid sick days, no matter how much they drive. “We will not in good conscience allow free-riding businesses to continue to pass their own business costs on to taxpayers and workers,” the bill’s author, the assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, said, following its passage. Six weeks later, Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash launched a campaign to combat the bill. A spokesperson for the effort told the Los Angeles Times, “We’re going to spend what it takes to win.”

A.B. 5 was written to codify a 2018 California Supreme Court decision that determined, after a thirteen-year fight, that delivery couriers for Dynamex, a nationwide same-day delivery service, were employees and not independent contractors. The court and the law addressed the issue of gig work in a somewhat blunt fashion. Under A.B. 5, a worker must pass a three-point test in order to count as an independent contractor: she must be free from the “control and direction” of her employer, do work that is “outside the usual course” of the company’s business, and have an independent business of her own in the same industry. Those who don’t pass the test are classified as employees and entitled to certain benefits, including a guaranteed minimum wage, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, sexual-harassment protections, overtime pay, paid leave, and shared responsibility for payroll taxes.

A.B. 5 was instantly divisive. Certain kinds of workers—doctors, real-estate agents, lawyers, and others—were exempted off the bat, because they often dictate their own fee structures, make more than minimum wage, and have a direct line to customers. But when the bill went into effect, on January 1, 2020, some freelancers, including journalists, photojournalists, composers, and musicians, found themselves out of work. Within a few months’ time, exemptions were granted for freelancers in both journalism and the music industry; since then, more than a hundred other exemptions and limitations to A.B. 5 have been implemented. The law seems to have made a category error, addressing freelance jobs in general rather than gig-work jobs in particular.

Uber and Lyft, the largest ride-hailing firms in California, fought bitterly against A.B. 5, not just in court but through noncompliance. Beginning in January, they simply refused to reclassify their workers, and continued operating as they had before. Last September, Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer, told reporters that Uber’s drivers could pass the three-point test. “Just because the test is hard doesn’t mean that we will not be able to pass it,” he said, on a press call. “In fact, several previous rulings have found that drivers’ work is outside the usual course of Uber’s business.” Uber, by this logic, is not really a transportation business—it is, as West put it, “a technology platform for several different types of digital marketplaces.”

In the spring, California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, along with a number of city attorneys from across the state, filed a lawsuit against Uber and Lyft, ordering them to immediately reclassify eligible drivers as employees. In response, both companies filed an appeal, and then threatened to shut down their operations in California. The court granted the companies an extension until November 4th. The day before, Californians will have voted on a new ballot initiative, drafted and promoted by gig-work companies, that carves out an exception within A.B. 5 for app-based services. The initiative, Proposition 22, is not a referendum on A.B. 5, but a tech-industry-specific exemption. Its goal is to prevent drivers and delivery couriers from being reclassified as employees; it is called the “App-Based Drivers as Contractors and Labor Policies Initiative.”

If A.B. 5 is imperfect, imprecise legislation, then Prop. 22 is worse. In arguing for the new law, the ride-hailing companies have emphasized its inclusion of perks for drivers who work more than fifteen hours a week. Prop. 22 gives them a guaranteed wage that is twenty per cent higher than the legal minimum, occupational accident coverage, and a graduated health-care stipend. But critics have noted that the law has abundant loopholes and weaknesses. Prop. 22 counts working hours in terms of “engaged time,” which includes only the period between accepting a ride and dropping a customer off; time spent driving between rides doesn’t count. Some studies estimate that drivers spend thirty per cent of their time idling, cruising, and waiting for customers. Even if a driver racks up more than twenty-four hours of engaged time each week, the health-care stipend will likely be insufficient to cover even the most basic, out-of-pocket health-insurance plans. Meanwhile, as independent contractors, drivers would not receive the benefits, such as paid sick leave and unemployment insurance, that they would have received under A.B. 5. They would also be on the hook for payroll taxes in their entirety. If they were employees, they would split taxes with their employers. By classifying their workers as independent contractors, Uber and Lyft have saved hundreds of millions of dollars in California payroll taxes. In late 2019, the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley, released a report estimating that drivers working under Prop. 22 could receive a net wage as low as five dollars and sixty-four cents an hour—less than half the minimum wage in California, and hardly a third of the minimum wage in San Francisco.

In publicly making their case for an exemption from A.B. 5, Uber and Lyft have claimed that Prop. 22 protects drivers’ scheduling flexibility and ability to work for competitors. Uber and Lyft have said that adapting their software to an A.B. 5-compliant model could be its own time-consuming undertaking, during which service might be suspended—leaving drivers out of work. They’ve also previewed more permanent changes. “Shifting to an employment model would put pressure on Uber to consolidate working hours across fewer workers in order to manage costs that are fixed per employee,” Alison Stein, an in-house economist at Uber, wrote, in a recent blog post. “Under an employment model, it is likely that the new norm for Uber drivers would conform with the 40-hour work week which is the standard for full time U.S. employees.”

Such changes, if they were to happen, would not be mandated by law. Even if drivers’ current flexibility is diminished, A.B. 5 does not mention predetermined shift scheduling; it explicitly allows for part-time work, and for workers to spread their time across competitive services. The real issue is that most gig-work business models are predicated on the availability of low-paid, independent contractors who can be compensated according to algorithmically determined, dynamic pricing. Some analysts have estimated that reclassifying millions of eligible drivers as employees would increase operating costs at Uber and Lyft by twenty to thirty per cent. The companies could be incentivized to limit the number of drivers on the platform or to charge more for rides. Currently, neither company is profitable; earlier this year, when Uber acquired Postmates, an UberEats competitor, it was unclear which service would be the loss leader. The obvious endgame for these companies is monopoly, pursued through low prices: Uber and Lyft want to undercut, and then corner, the market on private-transportation services. This suggests that the fight about Prop. 22 is not just about labor rights. It’s also about antitrust.

During the past few months, the ride-hailing companies—along with DoorDash, Instacart, the Republican Party of California, and others—have spent lavishly on television and radio ads, mailers, and billboards in favor of Proposition 22. The campaign has cited support from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. (Uber has historically been one of MADD’s largest donors.) The companies have also endorsed the proposition in their apps, using their direct line to customers to campaign for it. These tactics have been unusual. Uber has sent out “Yes on 22” push notifications, and added a number of in-app modules encouraging riders to vote for the initiative, including a graphic of a car with a speech bubble stating “Yes on 22” that appeared during the checkout flow. Earlier this month, on Uber, a pop-up screen asked drivers to commit to voting for Prop. 22. (The options were “Yes on Prop 22” and “OK”; the language on the pop-up has since changed.) Earlier this month, DoorDash distributed free carry-out bags printed with “Yes on 22” to restaurants, and Instacart handed out stickers reading “Yes on 22” to its fleet of shoppers, instructing them to affix them to customers’ orders.

In total, the “Yes on 22” campaign has received more funding—nearly two hundred million dollars—than any other ballot-measure campaign in California history. The opposition, “No on 22,” has raised about fifteen million dollars. It has the political support of the California Democratic Party; state senators Maria Elena Durazo, Nancy Skinner, and Scott Wiener; various California labor unions; and Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Kamala Harris. (Harris has been relatively quiet on the issue, perhaps because West, the Uber C.L.O., is her brother-in-law.) Even so, advocates for Prop. 22 have tried to curry favor on the left. In late August, on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s “I Have a Dream” address, in 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Uber launched an advertising campaign in thirteen cities, with billboards that read, “If you tolerate racism, delete Uber.”

Earlier this month, some residents of Southern California received political mailers that looked, at first glance, like progressive voter guides. The fliers claimed to have been prepared and sent by a small handful of organizations with names like “Feel the Bern, Progressive Voter Guide,” “Our Voice, Latino Voter Guide,” and “Council of Concerned Women Voters Guide.” The endorsements were consistent with those by the California D.N.C., with one notable difference: the guides supported Proposition 22. SFGate, a sister-site of the San Francisco Chronicle, published an investigation into the mailers and determined that none of the named organizations are legitimate political organizations. At the moment, Yes on 22 has a slight lead in polls: in late September, a U.C. Berkeley poll of fifty-nine hundred would-be voters indicated that thirty-nine per cent would vote yes on Prop. 22, thirty-six said they would vote no, and twenty-five per cent said they were undecided.

California has a rich history of leading on labor rights, and, in that context, some have referred to Proposition 22 as a bellwether. If drivers become employees, they could form an impressive union; on the other hand, the passage of Prop. 22 could resonate across the country for years to come, inhibiting regulation elsewhere. The law could also serve as a blueprint for future entanglements between Silicon Valley and the political system. One of its clauses states that any future amendments to its provisions will require a seven-eighths supermajority vote of the state legislature. A two-thirds majority is more common for ballot propositions; a seven-eighths majority is unheard of, and audacious. Realistically, if Prop. 22 passes, the only way to alter or repeal it will be through a subsequent ballot initiative. The proposition, therefore, is a power play that favors the sort of political muscle that only comes with vast financial resources. The campaign for Prop. 22 may signal a new stage in Silicon Valley’s fight against regulation. Venture capital has given companies like Uber enough money to rework markets. The same money might rework the law.

A previous version of this post incorrectly described the parameters of “engaged time” for rideshare trips.



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Food delivery deaths show why gig economy workers need more rights

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Australia’s gig economy road toll is growing, with five food delivery riders killed in the past two months – and those tragic deaths have ignited debate over the rights of workers.

While the companies behind the apps rake in pandemic profits, workers’ advocates warn we will see more delivery riders die and be injured on our roads, with limited rights to compensation if nothing changes.

Hungry Panda delivery rider Xiaojun Chen died after being hit by a bus while delivering food in Sydney on September 29.

Last week, representatives of the firm failed to front a NSW parliamentary inquiry looking into the death, with no explanation given.

Mr Chen’s widow, Lihong Wei, was told by Hungry Panda that they considered her husband to be an independent contractor, not an employee, so she would not be entitled to compensation.

Slater and Gordon lawyer Jasmina Mackovic is now representing Mrs Wei and pursuing a death-benefit claim under the NSW workers’ compensation scheme.

“They’ve lost the breadwinner and they don’t want this sort of thing to happen to any other family, especially given the state of that industry, and the fact that there’s all these loopholes, and there’s really no proper compensation,” Ms Mackovic said.

Mr Chen was the sole income earner for his family back in China, and his death has left Mrs Wei to support herself and their two children with no guarantee of financial compensation from either Hungry Panda or the state government.

Like many gig economy workers, Mr Chen was a migrant on a temporary visa.

These workers are not entitled to the federal government’s pandemic safety nets JobKeeper and JobSeeker, and they have little option but to take on low-paid, insecure and risky gig economy jobs to survive.

Gig economy companies have a history of pouring large sums into lobbying against workers’ rights.

In California, Uber and Lyft recently spent more than a-quarter-of-a-billion dollars to successfully fight law reform that would have seen gig economy contractors classified as employees.

In September, a Transport Workers’ Union survey of delivery riders in Australia showed that average earnings after costs were just over $10 an hour.

More than one in three riders said they had been injured on the job, with the vast majority (80 per cent) receiving no support from their companies.

The NSW government this week set up a taskforce to investigate the four delivery rider deaths on the state’s roads in the past two months.

Delivery riders in Australia earn an average of $10 an hour, the TWU says. Photo: Getty

But gig workers’ rights are a national issue and need to be addressed by both federal government and state governments, Ms Mackovic said.

“Both state and federal governments have a role to play to ensure that these companies don’t avoid their responsibilities, and to ensure they adequately protect the people that work for them,” she said.

Transport Workers’ Union national secretary Michael Kaine also called for the federal government to step in and “acknowledge its role”.

“It’s not good enough that states are in a piecemeal way trying to address the problem,” Mr Kaine said.

“We need the Federal Government to act and regulate.”

Hungry Panda did not respond to questions put to it by The New Daily.



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Pearl Thusi Bags A Huge Gig After Getting Booted Out Of Netflix

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Pearl Thusi Bags A Huge Gig After Getting Booted Out Of Netflix, She Has Partnered With Yvette Davis’ Sitota Collection

Pearl Thusi Bags A Huge Gig After Getting Booted Out Of Netflix. She Partnered With Yvette Davis' Satota Collection
Pearl Thusi Bags A Huge Gig After Getting Booted Out Of Netflix. She Partnered With Yvette Davis’ Sitota Collection

It seemed like a dead-end for Queen Sono lead actress, Pearl Thusi when the show unexpectedly got booted out of Netflix’s streaming service amid production for season two – but sis fell, stood and brushed herself fast enough.

She bagged herself yet another gig and continues to secure the bag.

She has partnered with American legendary music industry’s biggest icon, Yvette Davis Gayle to produce a new luxurious home fragrance, called the BlackRose under Sitota Collection.

Sitota Collection is one of the big home fragrance companies in America and abroad.

They boast in producing hand-poured soy candles and artisan soaps made with natural oils and kinds of butter.

The new fragrance is said to combine Bulgarian rose with blackcurrant and sweet berries.

Speaking on her recent big win after the Netflix flop, Pearl Thusi said the opportunity came at a right time for her and has always been a dream of hers to get into such business.

“The partnership with the Sitota Collection came naturally and it felt right. I am a businesswoman and venturing into luxury home products has been a dream of mine, who better to partner with than the best in the business?

I can’t wait for the local community to experience what we have put together. I feel this is my full-circle moment.

The collaboration is incredible because the soap and candle used my favourite scents and ingredients,” she said.

Yvette Davis Gayle is one of America’s legendary music icons.

She is well known in the musical circle for overseeing the day-to-day media and public relations efforts for such standout recording artists as 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, The Game, Diddy Dirty Money, Keyshia Cole, and Keri Hilson as well as various artists that graced the rosters of Aftermath and G-Unit Records back in the day.

She ventured into the fragrance collection business back in 2011 and her company, Sitota Collection has won her a fortune.

Pearl Thusi Bags A Huge Gig After Getting Booted Out Of Netflix


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Gig economy: Panacea or a silent killer?

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Image Credit: Agency

You probably never heard of Jang Deok-jin. And now you never will, because he’s dead.

27-year-old Jang, a former Taekwondo enthusiast in South Korea, was of the millions bit by the bug of the ‘gig’ economy — the new-age system typified by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. The biggest employment this has created is in the online marketplace — where millions of bike or vehicle drivers deliver packages of goods bought over the internet.

No doubt Jang thought that this would help him earn big bucks. He did, for a while. In the process, he lost 15kg after doing 18 months of night shifts, according to a BBC report. One night, he came home from a night shift last month at around six in the morning and headed for a shower. His father found him dead an hour later.

Master-slave. Landlord-serf. Bourgeoisie-proletariat. And now — Aggregator-partner.

By whatever name you choose to call it, throughout human history, the relationship between the oppressors and oppressed has always remained the same. The terminology may have changed over time, the levels of oppression may have varied, but the essence of the relationship still continues as they have been through the millennia — a miniscule group of people calling the shots, and the starving millions toiling for their lives to eke out a meagre existence.

We all thought it was a momentous event when the ‘Iron Curtain’ of communism came crashing down three decades ago. The 1990s were heralded as the beginning of a new epoch of liberty, human rights and prosperity, as the stifling conditions of the communist bloc gave way to liberal democratic regimes, championing the free market and industrial progress.

But are we really free?

With the advent of globalisation, free movement of goods followed as a natural course. The companies’ profits also ballooned as a consequence. As a result of globalisation, the factories moved from the industrialised states to countries where labour was cheap and plentiful, and more importantly, less likely to complain about low wages. So, while the workers in the West lost their jobs, the workers in the East gained employment under poor conditions. The classic example of this situation gained worldwide attention in 2013, when Rana Plaza, a building housing garment factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh, came crashing down, killing over 1,100 people, who were all sewing clothes for multinational brands.

Let us take a peek into the moulded pages of history to gauge how the present situation has come about.

In the 18th century, as the global economy was moving from an agricultural dominance towards industrialisation, it also became necessary to get the labour for the factories. The so-called ‘emancipation of serfs’ was nothing but a ruse to take the farm workers away to the assembly lines. The worker’s wellbeing was the last thing on the mind of those championing their liberties. It is no coincidence that the French Revolution — 1789 — occurred just 25 years after the first cotton mill opened in England.

As the factory owners pounded the labourers with more and more work, the issue of labour rights began to come to the fore — championed foremost of course by German philosopher Karl Marx. This explosion of the communist movement saw rising demand to improve workers’ rights, and increasing popularity of left-leaning movements.

As these movements caught on, it was in 1936 that France became the first European country to grant paid vacations for working class employees beyond national and religious holidays, with the post-war consensus steadily expanding those privileges. Other Western countries followed suit, establishing the social security network that forms the bedrock of social organisation at present in those nations.

However, by the end of the past century, two global events shook the very foundations of society as we knew it. One, the communist block crumbled, effectively removing the opposition to unfettered capitalism. Second, the advent of the internet ushered in a new world of connectedness like never before.

New ideas exploded. And as a natural consequence, new industries too. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution under way, a plethora of new work opportunities resulted. It was thought to be the ultimate panacea — knowledge-based industries.

And so it did — for a while and in some places. But then, the dark clouds gathered.

As it is with globalisation, manufacturing had largely moved from the assembly lines of the Western nations to cheaper locations in the Eastern hemisphere. The same happened here as well — with distances no barrier, companies moved a major part of their operations to similar places. A new term — ‘Bangalored’, referring to the city in India — made its way into the English lexicon, which refers to a person losing his/her job because that position was outsourced somewhere else. The ‘Business Process Outsourcing’ companies flourished in the less developed countries as a result, India being a major gainer.

But did it really mean the people working in these countries go better off, at least economically? For a while, yes. You suddenly saw 20-somethings with no skill to speak of but a rudimentary knowledge of computers and a smattering of accented English break out in the socioeconomic space, buying apartments, fancy cars and bikes. However, as this group reached the next decade of their lives, it was increasingly seen that they remained stuck to those positions. There was hardly any movement up the corporate ladder, and with unearthly working hours thrown in, the situation quickly became desperate.

And then came the ‘gig’ economy. The internet-based businesses were hailed as the solution to the masses being laid off due to the blue-collar jobs vanishing. But as the millions of bikes rode out to deliver parcels, the stark aspects of this new phenomenon —zero holiday pay, and employment only when there’s work available — became increasingly visible.

These are now becoming the default employment terms in what’s now considered the developed world. Governments have struggled to create a safety net of the same strength for this workforce as that being provided to people in traditional employment models, which is becoming increasingly scarce. This insecurity “has likely led gig economy workers to continue working, even when they perhaps should not, as the alternative risks substantial shortfalls in income,” Lazard Asset Management wrote in a recent note.

Thus the entire globe is increasingly moving towards an informal employment model, where there is unlikely to be any form of permanent labour benefits. This is bound to have ripple effects — not just for workers’ health. For example, if a worker does not find stable employment, will he/she think about setting up a family? How is he/she to support such a family without the knowledge of what he might be earning in the near future? Without a social security net, how will the children be educated? Without company-provided insurance, how will the health care of the workers and their families be taken care of?

No concrete answers have yet come up on these questions. Movements have begun in parts of the world for greater rights for these ‘partners’ in the gig economy, but hardly anything has been achieved yet. And the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, has worsened conditions for these workers while beefing up the ‘aggregator’s’ bottomline.

So the next time you sit in the cocoons of your home, sitting in front of your laptop and order that next round of food or anything else from the ‘aggregator’s’ website, spare a thought for the ‘partners’ like Jang Deok-jin, who gave his life in the process.

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