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Gig-economy workers already knew what coronavirus is teaching the rest of us now

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A pandemic isn’t forever, but it should forever change the way we view our vulnerabilities.

Medically, most of the afflicted will recover.

Economically, most of those affected will rebound.

But the way we work — the way we think about jobs and the jobless — will never be the same. It hasn’t been for a long time.

If today feels abnormal — waiting at home for weeks to be called back to your old workplace — welcome to the new normal. If you’re lucky, you at least have a workplace still waiting for you.

If you think these are tough times, spare a thought for those already living it, and likely to experience it for the rest of their working lives. Who are these people?

Today these people are us, cooped up at home. But in recent years, it has been a lot of “other” people — from the millennial children of boomers who have never known anything but the gig economy, to new immigrants lacking local experience, to older workers lacking retraining.

Bouncing from part-time job to contract job to temporary job. Waiting at home to get a gig offering free food samples to shoppers; or on call to deliver your Amazon parcels; or checking the part-time roster at Tim Hortons for an unscheduled shift.

The new world of work long predates the novel coronavirus. And long after the pandemic disappears, the gig economy will keep growing — and going viral — with all the uncertainty, insecurity and disruption you feel in your bones today.

We may put off the pandemic by bending the curve and displacing the peak. But we cannot bend the old economy back into shape, because the gig curve keeps getting steeper.

The pandemic will one day go away, but the precarious economy won’t. We can no longer ignore either of these global phenomena.

Now that we have your attention and rumination, consider the solution. Like infectious diseases, insecurity is nothing new — it keeps coming back in one form or another.

We all hope there will one day be a vaccine for the pandemic.

But we already have the antidote to precarity: security — income security.

And not just in an emergency.

Income security sounds like something abstract or complicated, but nothing could be more tangible and understandable: If you lose income, you make it up with a guaranteed minimum; if you gain or regain income, you give up your supplement (it’s taxed back).

You want complexity and uncertainty? Consider the current patchwork of social welfare programs for those in need, in economic distress, or without employment income:

Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program. There’s also EI, OAS, GIS and ODB — short for Employment Insurance, Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplement and Ontario Drug Benefit.

There are many more, but you get the idea. Yet did you truly know — before the pandemic hit and emergency aid magically appeared from Ottawa — that less than one-third of unemployed Ontarians were eligible for jobless benefits?

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What’s the point of EI if it has been whittled away to a boutique insurance program targeting only the most resilient among us? What about those who need it most, but can’t get EI in the same way that people with pre-existing conditions can’t get health insurance in the U.S.?

Few people paid attention when the province’s last Liberal government proposed a three-year pilot program to give the most vulnerable Ontarians an understandable and dependable minimum income. There were no votes in it, because the minimum income isn’t a partisan play.

Yet it’s a practical idea that attracts support from both left and right for its simplicity, efficiency and humanity. It also inspires skepticism from people on all sides of the political spectrum who are suspicious of motives and skeptical of change.

But the world is changing. Even if some politicians prefer disruption to adaptation.

Running to be premier, Doug Ford’s campaign made an explicit promise to retain that minimum income pilot. Upon winning power, Ford broke that promise and barely anyone noticed.

Within days of taking over, he also cancelled a new OHIP+ program that extended major drug coverage to young adults and senior citizens — the beginnings of a universal pharmacare program patterned on our successful medicare OHIP coverage. Many workers enjoy private workplace programs, so why worry about those without — until it affects us?

Don’t blame Ford alone for his thoughtlessness — he did what he thought he could get away with, knowing voters would think little of it. Once he realized people were paying attention to the punitive and perilous nature of sick notes for ill workers — banned by the previous government but restored by Ford — he belatedly banned them again this week.

When people panic, our politicians respond quickly with programs to plug the gaps, as we saw this week from both our federal and provincial governments. What will it take for all of us — and all our politicians — to understand that the time for a minimum income has come?

Politicians don’t really change until people change.

Sitting at home, worrying about when we’ll be back in the workplace, it is perhaps easier for people to grasp the gig economy that leaves so many others out of work so much of the time. The realization may slowly sink in that this is the new normal, not just in times of pandemics but in precarious times.

What happens when life returns to normal? Will it be business as usual for those without work?

Are we going to just withdraw the temporary social safety net extended for this month’s pandemic? Once most of us bounce back, will we leave everyone else to brace for a hard landing in the precarious workplace that never goes away?

Unlike a pandemic, precarity is permanent.



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The gig economy – The Irish Times

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The gig economy  The Irish Times

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EVs for all: What Biden’s executive order means for gig economy

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President Biden on Thursday announced an ambitious new goal for the automobile industry – for EVs to make up half of all U.S. vehicle sales by 2030. The president signed an executive order declaring the nonlegally binding milestone a priority, while also proposing new vehicle emission standards to cut pollution by 2026.

But what does this mean for the gig economy, much of which is composed of rideshare companies and drivers? It could spell trouble.

Automakers Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Stellantis NV – the maker of Chrysler – released a joint statement announcing their intent to at least come close to the president’s goal, aiming to achieve “40% to 50% of annual U.S. volumes of electric vehicles … by 2030.” Uber (NYSE: UBER) and Lyft (NASDAQ: LYFT) also expressed a willingness to comply, setting the goal of transitioning entirely to EVs by 2030 in North America and Europe. The automakers are on board, the ride-hailing giants have signed off – so what’s the problem?

The paradox of EVs

Here’s a crazy stat: EVs make up a tiny 0.7% of U.S. passenger vehicles, but an even more miniscule 0.5% of ride-hailing vehicles. What’s more, for Uber and Lyft to reach the goal of their ridesharing fleets transitioning to all-electric by the end of the decade, they’d have to catch up to the pace of the larger U.S. market – and surpass it by 10 times.

The reason for this is actually quite simple; Uber and Lyft don’t pay their drivers enough to be able to afford EVs. An electric car is expensive – 10% to 40% more expensive than a gas-only model of comparable size and make – and while it can ultimately save users thousands on gas, it’s near impossible for most Uber and Lyft drivers to get their foot in that door.


Read: GM to bring electric cargo van, medium-duty truck to market

Read: DHL Express orders electric cargo planes from Eviation


By and large, drivers have been left high and dry when it comes to the all-electric switch. In a 2021 study conducted by Gridwise, a popular companion app for rideshare drivers, data showed that Uber drivers made about 75 cents per mile in December 2020, the most recent month for which data is available. But that same study also found that the combined costs of fuel, insurance, maintenance, repairs and depreciation add around 30 cents per mile to drivers’ expenses, a figure that was later verified by Uber’s own chief economist. And while the IRS offers some reimbursements for fuel-related costs, the company itself offers none.

Of course, EVs would help drivers offset those expenses, most of which relate to fuel. But drivers will need to be able to afford EVs in the first place, which is where the paradox lies – they’re cheap to operate but expensive to buy. Uber is taking some small steps to help drivers with the transition, such as a bonus on Uber Green trips, a zero-emissions incentive and discounts on vehicles and charging stations, but that won’t be enough to bring about the type of shift the company wants. Lyft, meanwhile, hasn’t even done that.

Uber and Lyft’s road ahead

Back in May, the companies were ordered by the California Air and Resources Board (CARB) to have EVs account for 90% of their ride-hailing mileage, but they complained that they would require more public tax subsidies to reach the milestone, despite pledging to meet a similar goal just a few months prior. Having shown an unwillingness to subsidize the cost of an EV fleet, the companies could turn to other forms of funding, but they’ll come at a steep price – it’s estimated that to meet the CARB regulations alone, Uber and Lyft will need almost $1.73 billion in funding, even when accounting for government subsidies and EV depreciation.

So if Uber and Lyft are unwilling or unable to fund a full-on electric transition, then what does the road ahead look like? Depending on how the rest of the country’s transition goes, the companies’ hesitancy to accelerate a transition could mean that they get left behind, victims of a carbon-free future. Already, passenger vehicles are skewing electric at a higher rate than rideshare vehicles. And that’s before Biden’s executive order and the anticipated billions of dollars of government funding really start to come into play.

While the companies claim to be behind the idea of an all-EV fleet, they’ll need to walk the walk. It appears that Uber and Lyft are facing yet another reckoning – either pay their drivers more or go extinct.

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Uber CEO calls Massachusetts gig economy ballot measure the ‘right answer’ – TechCrunch

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Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi expressed his support Wednesday for a ballot initiative in Massachusetts that would keep gig economy workers classified as independent contractors, fulfilling a promise he made nearly a year ago to push for laws that preserve its business model.

“In the state of Massachusetts, we think the right answer is our IC+ model, which is independent contractor with benefits,” Khosrowshahi said during the earnings call with investors. “Our drivers love it. Prop 22 has proven to be incredibly popular with California drivers.”

His comments come a day after a coalition of app-based ride-hailing and on-demand delivery companies, which includes Uber, Doordash, Lyft and Instacart, filed a petition for the ballot initiative that would classify app-based ride-hail and delivery workers as independent contractors and provide them with benefits such as healthcare stipends for drivers who work at least 15 hours per week. The coalition claimed that the provision would allow drivers to earn a minimum of $18 per hour in 2023 before tips. The ballot measure, if it passes legal muster and receives enough signatures, would be included in the November 2022 election.

Proposition 22, a ballot measure that kept gig workers in the state classified as independent contractors. passed in California in November last year. It also exempts gig companies like Uber from AB-5, the bill that entitles gig workers to self-classify as employees with usual labor protections that don’t apply to independent contractors, like minimum wage, sick leave, unemployment and workers’ compensation benefits.

Gig companies, which largely have yet to become profitable, spent $205 million in marketing for this ballot measure and made no secret about plans to do the same thing in other states. Which brings us back to Massachusetts.

Khosrowshahi said during the earnings call that the vast majority of drivers prefer the IC+ model over full-time employment. The Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights disagreed, arguing that the ballot language has loopholes that would create a subminimum wage for app-based workers and that few would qualify for the healthcare support promised. It also noted that the measure would remove anti-discrimination protections, eliminates workers’ compensation rules and allows companies to cheat the state unemployment system of hundreds of millions.

“Uber has been using independence as a red herring for years,” Shona Clarkson, organizer for Gig Workers Rising, told TechCrunch. “We know that drivers do not actually have independence while driving for Uber. There is no independence in working 70+ hours a week, not being able to set your own rates, not being able to see where a ride is going and having no real control at work. The benefits promised under Prop 22 were a sham that have not materialized. As a network of over 10,000 gig workers in the state of California, we have not seen Uber drivers able to access any meaningful benefits since the implementation of Prop 22.”

Khosrowshahi said Californians voted in favor of Prop 22 because they had driver support, and he sees no reason why Massachusetts should be any different.

“We absolutely prefer a legislative outcome in Massachusetts, but if we can’t get there we’ll take it to the vote and based on what happened in California, we’re quite confident,” he said.

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