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New Yorkers supplement income with gig work during pandemic

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TROY— Erin Bornt has been a 911 dispatcher for Rensselaer County for 20 years. Though she makes good money and has good benefits, as a single mom, the $60,000 a year wasn’t enough to pay all the bills. She became an Uber driver this year during the pandemic and is grateful that she did when she did.

“The pandemic made it easier to make money because there were fewer drivers wanting to drive,” Bornt said. Bornt works between 10 and 20 hours a week depending on the week, on top of her 40 hours at the 911 dispatch center. In her best weeks, when she’s both driving people and making food deliveries, via Uber Eats, she has made close to $900.

“Honestly I thought [the demand for rides] would lessen because fewer people were going out and about and I suppose it lessened a little bit and the food deliveries did increase, however I was still getting an awful lot of people who were still going to work and going out,” Bornt said. “Unless it was a really bad weather night I was ride to ride pretty much every single time I drove.”

Eighty percent of people working for Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Postmates, and Instacart work less than 15 hours a week, according to new data from the New York Coalition for Independent Work, a group consisting of the five companies. This means workers like Bornt have other jobs or are in school and are supplementing their income with a few extra hours of work, not using the platforms as their sole type of income.

During the pandemic, this work flexibility has been critical. Sixteen percent of drivers in New York said they drove more during the pandemic because they were laid off, furloughed, or had their hours or pay cut because of the pandemic, according to data from Lyft’s Economic Impact report. Doordash saw 1.9 million new “dashers” join across the country from mid-March through September of last year.

“The flexibility and independence of this work are critical to New Yorkers who are looking to make extra income, saving to go to school, starting a small business or caring for children,” the coalition wrote in a statement. “These platforms provide opportunities to earn when, where, and for however long you need — something that is necessary and that we need to protect now more than ever.”

For Kajal Lahiri, an economics professor at University of Albany, none of this is surprising.

“After the lockdown, with the restaurants closed, people are looking for alternatives,” Lahiri said. Though he still believes the demand for rides is low right now and nowhere near where it could be in the future.

Bornt wonders if she is going to continue having as much success as an Uber driver as more people get vaccinated.

“I do start to wonder now, because people are relaxing a little bit, if the business will go downhill a little bit because drivers are coming back on,” Bornt said. “I’ve been a little concerned about that.”

Assemblymember John McDonald surveyed his constituents in District 108 and asked them if they support gig workers remaining independent contractors or becoming employees, a controversial topic that was shot down in 2020 in California. Sixty-five percent of District 108 constituents said that they should remain independent contractors.

A lot of the responders to the survey said they use gig work to help make a little extra money on top of their full-time job and so want the flexibility, McDonald said. “There are a lot of people who want to have that flexible work schedule or they have childcare issues so they choose to drive at night to help with childcare cost.”

McDonald also said some respondents were worried that if gig workers were considered employees, the costs would get passed down to the consumer.

“Drivers have consistently said they want to remain independent contractors over employment by a 4 to 1 margin,” said a spokesperson from the coalition. “That’s because they prefer the freedom and flexibility to work when they want, where they want, and for however long they want. We are focused on policy solutions that reflect the independence drivers want, while providing access to benefits.”

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Gig companies want workers back and are paying bonuses in Colorado

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To rev up its workforce, Uber pledged this week to spend $250 million to boost incomes of drivers nationwide. While details on how this would roll out were slim, an Uber spokeswoman shared what it means for Denver drivers: $30.56 an hour.

That’s the median hourly rate — not including tips! — for drivers who spend 20 hours a week on the app and not just engaged with a customer, according to Uber, which saw its ride-sharing business plummet 80% during the early months of the pandemic. 

Right now, there are more riders than drivers, so Uber is trying to get its gig workforce to return. The more local demand, the higher the rate. And Denver, apparently, has high demand. Its hourly rate is above Chicago’s $28.73, Austin’s $26.66 and Miami’s $26.05. 

Don’t miss the free weekly newsletter on Colorado jobs and unemployment. Sign up: ColoradoSun.com/getww

“Denver is the only figure I have for Colorado, but wanted it to be clear that we are seeing demand across the state so drivers may see a boost even on the outskirts of town,” said Kayla Whaling, an Uber spokeswoman. 

That includes bonuses for completed trips on top of the hourly rates. The temporary boost is for new and existing drivers who return to their gigs and will “be in place for the next several months,” Whaling added.

Over at Lyft, an increase in demand for rides also has the company providing incentives to drivers “who are busier and earning more than they were even before the pandemic,” a spokesperson said. The average wage right now, including tips, in Denver is $45 per hour.

Lyft didn’t share specifics on incentives, but according to TheRideShareGuy.com, Lyft has been messaging drivers that it’ll pay a $250 bonus for drivers in Minneapolis who complete 20 rides a week.

Bonuses and pay are still a touchy topic for gig-economy critics, who feel the base pay needs to be raised. Some reminded us that Uber, Lyft and DoorDash spent $200 million last year fighting California’s Proposition 22. The failed initiative would have reclassified gig workers as employees and improved pay and benefits for many.

As we now know, roughly 260,000 self-employed or gig-working Coloradans have filed for the special Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, since mid-March 2020. Normally, gig workers don’t qualify for unemployment pay, but federal lawmakers included the group in the coronavirus stimulus plans. Currently, most are eligible for a minimum of $223 in PUA unemployment plus an extra $300 weekly bonus. 

To date, Colorado has distributed $1.29 billion in PUA payments since the pandemic began. As of March 27, about 87,880 PUA users were still unemployed in Colorado. 

→ No dull moments for Dashers: DoorDash’s April rewards program pays out an extra $300 for those who complete 600 deliveries during the month. That’s 20 deliveries per day for 30 days straight!

→ Better paying gigs? An effort to get DoorDash Dashers to reject lower-paying deliveries in order to get the app’s algorithm to offer a higher base payment has gained traction. But for #DeclineNow to work, more Dashers must play along. There’s been mixed results, reports Bloomberg. >> STORY

How 71,750 jobs ended up on the state’s official job board

Anyone receiving benefits through Colorado’s unemployment system knows about ConnectingColorado.com. And if you don’t, that may be what’s holding up your benefits. You’re required to register with the state’s official job board.

But do you know how those 71,750 jobs, as of Friday, ended up on the site? I explored the job board in a story this week that anyone looking for a job or looking to fill a job needs to pay attention to. 

The jobs come from two main sources: DirectEmployers Association and the state’s local workforce centers. DirectEmployers works with 900 employers nationwide and scrapes their websites directly for jobs. Workforce centers get them from local employers. 

But don’t let that job board be your only option. Some jobs were duplicated, like the one I mentioned a few weeks ago that was posted 116 times. And many more jobs aren’t even listed. 

Read the story to find out more: Thousands of new openings post to Colorado’s official job board each week. Here’s where they come from.

→ Now Hiring: Fidelity Investments has 375 positions to fill in Colorado. That’s on top of adding 500 in the state last year. The greatest need? Financial consultants and customer service representatives. >> APPLY

→ Got a $5 million idea? The Colorado Governor’s Office has partnered with ZOMALAB and other education-minded organizations to challenge thinkers to come up with a better something to help our state’s 12 to 24 year olds get the job skills needed for quality careers. If you know what that something could be, turn it into a pitch and present it to SyncUp Colorado by June 1. >> DETAILS 

Paycheck loans running out?

Reports of the federal Paycheck Protection Program running out of money began showing up this week as approved loans reached $223.5 billion as of April 4 (out of roughly $290 billion available). About $4.2 billion has so far been approved for 64,285 small businesses in Colorado. 

But is the federal program for forgivable small business loans really running out? There’s still roughly $60 billion available. Last year, when Paycheck loans debuted, small (and some pretty large) businesses, including The Colorado Sun, snapped up the $349 billion in a few weeks. The rules changed to target smaller businesses, but when the program ended in August, $100 billion still was unclaimed.

This year’s round of $284 billion had a similarly slow rollout. The American Rescue Plan, passed in March, added another $7 billion and extended the deadline to May 31. 

But now, it could run out, said Nim Patel, chief strategy officer with the Colorado Enterprise Fund, which works with local businesses that aren’t able to get a traditional business loan.  

“The weekly disbursements have been between $10 billion and $15 million the last four weeks. That says the money might last another four to six weeks max,” Patel said in an email. “Seems like the money will run out before May 31 but it’s anyone’s guess as to exactly when.”

CEF will continue accepting applications until the money runs out, he added. 

“We know there are many Colorado small businesses who have been unsuccessful accessing PPP through traditional channels and we are ready to help them out however we can,” he said.

→ Still time for a second PPP: Business owners who haven’t applied for a second loan can still do so through May 31, if money is still available. But better get on it soon. Samantha Wranosky, a Fort Collins sole proprietor who got her first one in February, checked with her bank and learned it’s not taking new applications for several weeks. She ended up applying for a second loan at another bank. “I’m glad I went ahead and went to a different bank,” she said.

→ A pause on entertainment venue loans? A day after its launch, the portal for venues hoping for a piece of the $16.2 billion federal relief remained closed Friday “due to technical difficulties.” The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant offers aid to operators of theaters, museums and other live venues forced to close last year because of COVID-19. Check back, though, because the SBA is working with the vendor in order to reopen it as soon as possible. >> Apply

IDme delays continue

IDme, the tool used by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to verify identities of unemployed applicants, had a “More than 5 hours” wait for users on March 31, 2021. CDLE is requiring everyone on unemployment to go through the IDme verification process. (Screenshot provided by Dahlia Weinstein)

While I’m receiving fewer emails this week from unemployed Coloradans complaining of long waits to get their identities verified, the wait is still long for some. This is a new requirement for those on unemployment, part of the state’s fight against fraudsters. If you don’t pass, you don’t get paid.

Mo from Highlands Ranch shared his experience with the state’s ID verifier, IDme, sent at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday:

April 5: Waited more than eight (8) hours….No trusted referee.

April 6: Waited more than 7 hours and 45 minutes…No trusted referee

April 7: Waited more than eight (8)…No trusted referee.

Today (April 8th) as I’m dictating this email note, I’ve been waiting since 5:30 a.m. with no trusted referee in sight.

As of Friday afternoon, an IDme spokesman told me that the wait is now 4 hours for a trusted referee, which is the additional step IDme takes when a user’s data — including a selfie — isn’t enough. This usually involves a video call to prove you are who you say you are. (But when everything goes smoothly, the automated process takes about 15 minutes.)

The delays started as more states joined IDme as customers and then dumped hundreds of thousands of unemployed folks onto the system. Waits of 30 minutes dragged on to 5 hours or more. IDme’s CEO Blake Hall even shared a chart last week showing us the backlog. 

And news stories nationwide have reported on the delays hitting North Carolina, Nevada and Arizona

One thing I have heard are tips from readers, CDLE staff and IDme:

  • Check your credit report and fix out-of-date or incorrect information
  • Make sure documents uploaded are clear
  • Increase the brightness on your phone’s camera when taking a selfie
  • Don’t stop after uploading your ID. There are at least nine steps
  • Start with a computer, then switch to a mobile device for the photo
  • More tips are on the private Facebook group page where 8,200 Coloradans are helping each other figure out unemployment benefits. 

And this tip coming in from Twitter: Complain to IDme’s official Twitter account. A Twitter user told me she did just that after seeing the 5-hour wait. IDme’s social staff got her through the system on April 1, she certified for her benefits on Sunday and was paid on Thursday.

IDme appears to be paying attention. In my own effort to help folks asking about IDme on Twitter, the company replied publicly: “We can look into this for you! Please DM us the email address associated to your IDme account for further assistance.”


Thanks for reading through another column. I keep it going as long as readers are interested so if you like What’s Working, share it with someone you know. Keep me posted on your job or hiring situation, tag me on Twitter and don’t forget to follow up when your issue has been resolved. Stay cool! ~tamara



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How Proposition 22 Blocks Cities and Counties From Giving Hazard Pay to Gig Workers

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Haney added that Proposition 22 has given gig companies legal grounds to sue and block an ordinance like this if they decide they don’t want to comply with it.

“Sometimes, as a local government, we are preempted by the states or feds, but usually when that’s the case, another regulatory body or the state Legislature is taking up the responsibility,” Haney said. “What’s the case here is that some regulations that were written into law by the companies and passed by the voters have made it impossible for anyone to provide more extensive and stronger regulations.”

Rey Fuentes, a legal fellow at the Partnership for Working Families, said California cities and counties have a history of pioneering progressive pro-worker legislation, like San Francisco’s paid sick leave program, which he said was the first of its kind in the nation.

Fuentes said it’s important for municipalities to test new policies out so that there are models for state and federal laws. “This allows for the experimentation that I think is so vital to our democracy and to developing good policy,” he said.

While grocery stores are pushing back on the hazard pay by temporarily closing locations and threatening legal action, gig companies don’t have to. Proposition 22 stops local governments from even trying to get higher wages or better benefits for gig workers, halting local experimentation with policy that could help the state’s growing number of app-based gig workers who are denied employee benefits and protections.

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