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‘More than a job’: the meal delivery co-ops making the gig economy fairer | Gig economy

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Cristina González did a lot of waiting in 2018. Back then, the 29-year-old was a courier for the Spanish food delivery platform Glovo in her Basque home town, Vitoria-Gasteiz. She talks about feeling as if she was on standby the whole time: “You’re effectively having to be working constantly.”

While Glovo serves restaurants, customers can also order from supermarkets. This, Gonzalez says, was “a complete shitshow: supermarket orders are really easy to screw up”. If the supermarket did not have an item in stock and González completed the order, she might get a poor rating from the customer because of the missing item. If she turned down the order, González worried that it might affect her score on the platform. “It was very, very stressful.”

Gonzalez is still a courier but is making €10 (£8.70) an hour after tax and social security contributions, more than double her previous wage. She says customers of Eraman, the delivery cooperative she now rides for, are more understanding about minor issues, the jobs are more varied;she despatches as well as delivering, there is better communication, and she feels like she has more control.

Cristina Gonzelez at work for Eraman
Cristina Gonzelez at work for Eraman. Photograph: Paul Iano/Eraman

She could, she says, imagine staying in this version of the gig economy far longer than she might have at Glovo – five to 10 years, she says. “It’s a job, but it’s also more than that. In Eraman you are a link in a chain, a member of a team, in Glovo you are a pawn, the last position in a hierarchy.”

In Berlin, Mattia Carraro experienced a similar trajectory: the 33-year-old courier worked at Deliveroo for two years before joining Khora, a 30-person food delivery collective set up in March last year. Germany offers relatively decent conditions for food delivery couriers – those working for the big platforms are employees with social security generally paid by the hour rather than per delivery as is the case for most couriers in the UK.

While satisfied with the pay, Carraro was bothered by the deep insecurity of the job, “that from one day to the next it might go away”, as well as the anonymity. Deliveroo ceased operations in Germany in 2019 and when Khora came along he signed up. Although his role involves significantly more administration – a two-hour weekly general meeting where decisions are reached via consensus, plus approximately 15 hours of unpaid managerial duties a week – Carraro feels happier working as part of a cooperative.

“For me, it’s OK to earn less money but to work in an environment that always makes me feel good, where I know problems are going to be solved and we’re all friends. This is something we don’t want to do for just a season or until we find something better, but a job you really want to keep and you like.”

Mattia Carraro of the Khora collective taking a break at Hermannplatz, Berlin
Mattia Carraro of the Khora collective taking a break at Hermannplatz, Berlin. Photograph: Marvin Systermans

Carraro doesn’t just do bike deliveries: like other members of the cooperative, he handles some of Khora’s dispatching work. “I go for a nice walk with my dog and eat breakfast outside, then at noon I start work, while chain-smoking, eating yoghurt and popcorn as I dispatch. Then at 10pm my shift is over and I eat properly.”

At different ends of Europe, these cooperatives are worker-led and pride themselves on being democratically governed. Eraman’s co-founder, Paul Iano, 28, says the 10-person cooperative reaches decisions via discussion. “The thing I like to say about cooperatives is that if you’re having to vote on it, you’ve already got a problem.”

But neither venture could exist without the bike delivery software they rely on.

Enter CoopCycle, the brainchild of Alexandre Segura, a computer programmer from Marseille. Back in the spring of 2016, Segura found himself heading to the Place de la République in Paris almost every evening for Nuit debout, a French protest movement that has been compared to Occupy.

Segura helped build a website for the movement and spent much of his time talking about how the gig economy could be exploitative and harmful, and how more of it should be run by the users. “It planted seeds in my mind,” he says.

So, later that year, when his brother-in-law along with thousands of others lost his job as a courier for the Belgian food delivery startup Take Eat Easy, it prompted Segura to start a new venture in his spare time “as an intellectual exercise”.

He says he wanted to reverse-engineer the technology offered by Deliveroo, Uber and other big platforms to empower couriers. The result was a delivery app that offered software and support but required users to fulfil two conditions: they had to be worker-owned and all profits had to be distributed among the worker-owners.

“No CoopCycle, no party,” is how Carraro puts it, telling me that the cost of getting a bespoke delivery app designed would be prohibitively expensive for the average collective.

Recently, the world seems to have started thinking more like Segura does. Spain’s supreme court ruled in September that riders working for Glovo are not self-employed but salaried employees with the right to paid holidays and sick leave.

At least 40 legal challenges to employment conditions for riders and drivers have been raised against gig economy companies including Uber and Deliveroo.

Deliveroo’s shares plunged 26% in its much-anticipated London stock exchange debut in March, with many investors expressing concerns about the conditions faced by its self-employed riders.

This increased scrutiny came with rolling lockdowns that shut down much of the hospitality industry and sent meal delivery orders through the roof. The Amsterdam-based Just Eat Takeaway reported a 79% increase in orders for the first three months of 2021. And despite its disastrous stock market launch, Deliveroo is reporting a doubling of order volumes in the same period.

Segura’s colleague Adrien Claude says 90% of non-profit food delivery cooperatives have also reported a boost in business during lockdown.

The co-ops say their business model offers a better deal for restaurants as well as riders. Eraman, for example, charges restaurants between 10-20% of the value of the order, while Deliveroo takes 32%, Glovo’s average fee is 35% and Just Eat and Uber Eats’ commission is 36.20%. In Berlin, Khora offers a flexible system which gives restaurant-clients more autonomy than if they were to pay a set percentage.

But whether worker-led delivery co-ops can provide a real alternative to the delivery giants remains to be seen.

A Glovo food delivery courier in Madrid during the first wave of the pandemic
A Glovo food delivery courier in Madrid during the first wave of the pandemic last year. Photograph: Juan Medina/Reuters

Prof Vera Trappmann of the University of Leeds, one of the co-authors of Global labour unrest on platforms: the case of food delivery workers, thinks the cooperative model shows us the possibility of a different future – “of alternative ways of dividing up risks and earnings”. A radical change in working conditions for couriers ushered in by Coopcycle seems unlikely, she says. Yet, she believes this amalgamation of digital platforms with worker-led co-ops is here to stay.

“We know that young people especially don’t like working in the bureaucratic, exploitative environments offered by many companies and as such, often opt for self-employment. They’re more prone to questioning the value of working for corporations, and co-ops may become more and more of a home for such people.”

CoopCycle now has 67 co-ops across seven countries in its “federation” and has extended from Europe to Canada and Australia. It is on the cusp of deals with collectives in Argentina and Mexico for the first time, though there is a debate in process over whether motorcycles would be a breach of the federation’s environment-friendly values.

Claude sounds both fired up about the future and gently exhausted. “We’re trying to change the world – it’s tough because we’re human and nothing’s perfect. It probably never will be perfect but we’re trying to make things better by the day.”

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Gig companies’ push for state-level worker laws faces divided labor movement

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By Tina Bellon

(Reuters) – Uber and other gig economy companies are trying a new approach to ending their battles with unions, and getting ahead of possible federal regulation that could upend their business based on classifying workers as independent contractors.

In New York, for example, gig economy companies are working with several unions including the Machinists and Transport Workers Union to strike a compromise that would allow drivers and food delivery workers to organize in a union and negotiate minimum pay and other benefits without being reclassified as employees.

With the support of the unions, the gig economy companies are pushing state lawmakers in Albany to pass a bill that would allow workers to negotiate wages and caps on company commission fees, and provide unemployment insurance in some circumstances.

Among the most vocal opponents of a proposed bill to achieve that goal is the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) northeastern Local 32BJ, which says the compromise would enshrine gig workers’ misclassified status and create a company-sanctioned union that would only further erode workers’ rights by setting no floor for the negotiations.

“This legislation moves workers backwards,” Kyle Bragg, 32BJ’s president said. “There’s too much company manipulation.”

Amid the controversy, efforts to have the bill introduced before the end of the state’s legislative session this week failed.

New York is just one of several states where gig economy companies led by Uber, Doordash, Lyft and Instacart are courting unions and state officials in an effort to cement their workers’ status as independent contractors across the United States.

FAULT LINES

The push by the gig economy companies has exposed divisions within organized labor over whether to bargain with the companies, or insist on workers being reclassified as employees with full protection of U.S. labor standards – and a clear legal right to join unions.

The rifts at times also run within the same union. For example, while 32BJ rejects the New York bill, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry in the past said she would back workers’ demands in reaching a deal with companies. The SEIU declined to comment for this story.

Similarly, the New York chapter of the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation, backs the compromise proposal, while members of its Colorado chapter said they were opposed to bargaining agreements with the gig companies.

According to a Reuters review, the companies over the past few months set up lobbying groups in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Colorado and Washington to push for laws that declare app-based ride-hail and food delivery drivers independent contractors, while proposing to offer them some benefits. In some states the companies hope for buy-in from labor groups, company and union officials said.

The companies are trying to build on their success in California, where voters approved an industry-backed ballot measure that exempts ride-hail and food delivery workers from rules that require other types of contractors to be classified as employees, and provides them with limited benefits.

The companies say they pursue tailored policies for each state to combine flexibility for their mostly part-time workers with benefits and protections. They have yet to offer concrete proposals in most states.

Some executives hope state-based independent contractor laws can also forestall federal action by the labor-friendly Biden administration, which has vowed to end the misclassification of workers as independent contractors.

“The models that are developed at the state level can be given a framework at the federal level,” Lyft President John Zimmer said during an interview last month.

While any state law could be superseded by federal rules, Zimmer’s calculation assumes that the U.S. Labor Department is less likely to act once facts on the ground are established.

The companies’ race for state backing runs counter to the labor movement’s single biggest legislative priority, the passage of a far-reaching labor reform bill known as the PRO Act in Congress. The bill would make worker organizing easier and among other things reclassify most independent contractors as employees for the purpose of collective bargaining, though not for wage laws and benefits.

The bill is unlikely to pass the Republican-led U.S. Senate, but even if it did, several years of regulatory and court wrangling would ensue, a time during which gig workers’ rights would remain unchanged, said Wilma Liebman, former chair of the National Labor Relations Board.

SKEPTICS ON BOTH SIDES

Some union figures have therefore taken a more pragmatic approach. Andy Stern, former president of the SEIU and at the time one of the most politically influential labor leaders, for the past six years has been trying to strike deals between the gig companies and unions, including failed attempts in California to ward off the ballot measure.

The California referendum, a costly victory for the gig companies, was also a cautionary tale for unions, as well as for drivers, who are now left without any avenues to organize or object to the terms stipulated by the companies.

Stern said internal union surveys in New York had repeatedly shown that a majority of drivers did not want to be employees and said debates focused solely on reclassification were based on unrealistic and purist sentiments.

Stern instead advocates for drivers’ rights to organize in unions and negotiate their own contracts.

“Give a worker a union and collective bargaining and they’ll decide themselves what kind of status, wages and benefits they want. People who believe litigation and legislation are the solution have failed these workers,” Stern said.

Stern and others dubious of reclassification point to Seattle and New York City, where years of union efforts to organize drivers have led to the only driver minimum wage laws in the country.

Uber and Lyft have rocky histories with unions and workers who want to organize. The companies in 2015 enlisted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for a years-long court battle against a Seattle law spearheaded by the Teamsters union that would have allowed ride-hail drivers to bargain collectively.

Uber more recently appears to have opened up to such agreements, however. The company last month recognized Britain’s GMB union as the collective bargaining unit of its 70,000 British drivers. Lyft’s Zimmer said the company was having constructive conversations with labor leaders.

Many union officials remain skeptical about basing workers’ fate on the goodwill of companies.

“You never get everything you want out of collective bargaining…and it would be better to give drivers more options and protections under the law,” said Kjersten Forseth, political and legislative director for the Colorado AFL-CIO, which plans to make state-based gig worker policy solutions its focus over the next two years.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in Austin; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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US Domestic News Roundup: Gig companies’ push for state-level worker laws faces divided labor movement; Former Virginia Governor McAuliffe wins Democratic primary in closely watched governor’s race and more

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Following is a summary of current US domestic news briefs.

Gig companies’ push for state-level worker laws faces divided labor movement

Uber and other gig economy companies are trying a new approach to ending their battles with unions, and getting ahead of possible federal regulation that could upend their business based on classifying workers as independent contractors. In New York, for example, gig economy companies are working with several unions including the Machinists and Transport Workers Union to strike a compromise that would allow drivers and food delivery workers to organize in a union and negotiate minimum pay and other benefits without being reclassified as employees.

Former Virginia Governor McAuliffe wins Democratic primary in closely watched governor’s race

Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe easily won the Democratic nomination on Tuesday for the state’s gubernatorial election, securing his spot in a race that could signal where voters stand after the divisive 2020 presidential contest. McAuliffe, a 64-year-old moderate who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, was leading four other candidates, with more than 60 percent of the vote with 2,063 precincts of 2,584 reporting. Major news organizations projected him the winner shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m.

U.S. Senate passes sweeping bill to address China tech threat

The U.S. Senate voted 68-32 on Tuesday to approve a sweeping package of legislation intended to boost the country’s ability to compete with Chinese technology. An indignant China responded to the vote by saying it objected to being cast as an “imaginary” U.S. enemy.

U.S. pharmacist jailed for three years for tampering with COVID-19 vaccines

A Wisconsin pharmacist who pleaded guilty to trying to spoil hundreds of doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine because he was skeptical about them has been jailed for three years, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesay. Steven R. Brandenburg, 46, was also ordered to pay about $83,800 in compensation to the hospital at which he worked, according to a statement https://www.justice.gov/usao-edwi/pr/hospital-pharmacist-sentenced-attempt-spoil-hundreds-covid-vaccine-doses on Tuesday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

U.S. forming expert groups on safely lifting global travel restrictions

The Biden administration is forming expert working groups with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the United Kingdom to determine how best to safely restart travel after 15 months of pandemic restrictions, a White House official said on Tuesday. Another U.S. official said the administration will not move quickly to lift orders that bar people from much of the world from entering the United States because of the time it will take for the groups to do their work. The White House informed airlines and others in the travel industry about the groups, the official said.

Senator Manchin unmoved by U.S. civil rights leaders’ voting rights push

Seven U.S. civil rights leaders met with Senator Joe Manchin to urge the Democrat to drop his opposition to a sweeping election reform bill backed by his party, but the West Virginian emerged from the virtual meeting unmoved. The bill is a Democratic response to a slew of measures making their way through Republican-controlled state legislatures, which voting-rights activists say would limit the ability of some voters to go to the polls.

U.S. to buy about 1.7 million courses of Merck’s COVID-19 treatment for $1.2 billion

Merck & Co Inc said on Wednesday the U.S. government has agreed to buy about 1.7 million courses of the company’s experimental COVID-19 treatment, molnupiravir, for about $1.2 billion, if it is authorized in the country. Molnupiravir is an experimental antiviral therapy Merck is developing with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics for the treatment of COVID-19 patients who are not hospitalized.

U.S. Vice President Harris pledges to visit U.S. southern border

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday defended herself from Republican critics who criticized her for making her first international trip to Mexico and Guatemala instead of visiting the U.S. border with Mexico, saying she has visited the border and will do so again. After meeting with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico City, Harris told reporters she had “been to the border before and will go again.”

Gambling habit: nun admits squandering school cash at casinos

A retired California nun has agreed to plead guilty to federal fraud and money laundering charges for stealing more than $835,000 from a school to pay for personal expenses including gambling trips, the Justice Department said. Mary Margaret Kreuper, 79, faces a maximum jail time of 40 years in federal prison for the charges, according to a Tuesday statement https://www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/pr/nun-who-ran-catholic-school-torrance-will-plead-guilty-federal-charges-after-embezzling from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Central District of California.

U.S. investigates disclosure of tax records on rich Americans

The Treasury Department has asked law enforcement authorities to investigate the disclosure of tax records cited in a media report that showed that some of America’s richest people paid little to no income taxes, U.S. officials said on Tuesday. U.S. media outlet ProPublica said it obtained “a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people, covering more than 15 years.” The data indicated that billionaires including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Tesla founder Elon Musk paid no federal income taxes during some years.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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RPT-FOCUS-Gig companies’ push for state-level worker laws faces divided labor movement

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(Repeats to additional customers)

By Tina Bellon

June 9 (Reuters) – Uber and other gig economy companies are trying a new approach to ending their battles with unions, and getting ahead of possible federal regulation that could upend their business based on classifying workers as independent contractors.

In New York, for example, gig economy companies are working with several unions including the Machinists and Transport Workers Union to strike a compromise that would allow drivers and food delivery workers to organize in a union and negotiate minimum pay and other benefits without being reclassified as employees.

With the support of the unions, the gig economy companies are pushing state lawmakers in Albany to pass a bill that would allow workers to negotiate wages and caps on company commission fees, and provide unemployment insurance in some circumstances.

Among the most vocal opponents of a proposed bill to achieve that goal is the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) northeastern Local 32BJ, which says the compromise would enshrine gig workers’ misclassified status and create a company-sanctioned union that would only further erode workers’ rights by setting no floor for the negotiations.

“This legislation moves workers backwards,” Kyle Bragg, 32BJ’s president said. “There’s too much company manipulation.”

Amid the controversy, efforts to have the bill introduced before the end of the state’s legislative session this week failed.

New York is just one of several states where gig economy companies led by Uber, Doordash, Lyft and Instacart are courting unions and state officials in an effort to cement their workers’ status as independent contractors across the United States.

FAULT LINES

The push by the gig economy companies has exposed divisions within organized labor over whether to bargain with the companies, or insist on workers being reclassified as employees with full protection of U.S. labor standards – and a clear legal right to join unions.

The rifts at times also run within the same union. For example, while 32BJ rejects the New York bill, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry in the past said she would back workers’ demands in reaching a deal with companies. The SEIU declined to comment for this story.

Similarly, the New York chapter of the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation, backs the compromise proposal, while members of its Colorado chapter said they were opposed to bargaining agreements with the gig companies.

According to a Reuters review, the companies over the past few months set up lobbying groups in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Colorado and Washington to push for laws that declare app-based ride-hail and food delivery drivers independent contractors, while proposing to offer them some benefits. In some states the companies hope for buy-in from labor groups, company and union officials said.

The companies are trying to build on their success in California, where voters approved an industry-backed ballot measure that exempts ride-hail and food delivery workers from rules that require other types of contractors to be classified as employees, and provides them with limited benefits.

The companies say they pursue tailored policies for each state to combine flexibility for their mostly part-time workers with benefits and protections. They have yet to offer concrete proposals in most states.

Some executives hope state-based independent contractor laws can also forestall federal action by the labor-friendly Biden administration, which has vowed to end the misclassification of workers as independent contractors.

“The models that are developed at the state level can be given a framework at the federal level,” Lyft President John Zimmer said during an interview last month.

While any state law could be superseded by federal rules, Zimmer’s calculation assumes that the U.S. Labor Department is less likely to act once facts on the ground are established.

The companies’ race for state backing runs counter to the labor movement’s single biggest legislative priority, the passage of a far-reaching labor reform bill known as the PRO Act in Congress. The bill would make worker organizing easier and among other things reclassify most independent contractors as employees for the purpose of collective bargaining, though not for wage laws and benefits.

The bill is unlikely to pass the Republican-led U.S. Senate, but even if it did, several years of regulatory and court wrangling would ensue, a time during which gig workers’ rights would remain unchanged, said Wilma Liebman, former chair of the National Labor Relations Board.

SKEPTICS ON BOTH SIDES

Some union figures have therefore taken a more pragmatic approach. Andy Stern, former president of the SEIU and at the time one of the most politically influential labor leaders, for the past six years has been trying to strike deals between the gig companies and unions, including failed attempts in California to ward off the ballot measure.

The California referendum, a costly victory for the gig companies, was also a cautionary tale for unions, as well as for drivers, who are now left without any avenues to organize or object to the terms stipulated by the companies.

Stern said internal union surveys in New York had repeatedly shown that a majority of drivers did not want to be employees and said debates focused solely on reclassification were based on unrealistic and purist sentiments.

Stern instead advocates for drivers’ rights to organize in unions and negotiate their own contracts.

“Give a worker a union and collective bargaining and they’ll decide themselves what kind of status, wages and benefits they want. People who believe litigation and legislation are the solution have failed these workers,” Stern said.

Stern and others dubious of reclassification point to Seattle and New York City, where years of union efforts to organize drivers have led to the only driver minimum wage laws in the country.

Uber and Lyft have rocky histories with unions and workers who want to organize. The companies in 2015 enlisted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for a years-long court battle against a Seattle law spearheaded by the Teamsters union that would have allowed ride-hail drivers to bargain collectively.

Uber more recently appears to have opened up to such agreements, however. The company last month recognized Britain’s GMB union as the collective bargaining unit of its 70,000 British drivers. Lyft’s Zimmer said the company was having constructive conversations with labor leaders.

Many union officials remain skeptical about basing workers’ fate on the goodwill of companies.

“You never get everything you want out of collective bargaining…and it would be better to give drivers more options and protections under the law,” said Kjersten Forseth, political and legislative director for the Colorado AFL-CIO, which plans to make state-based gig worker policy solutions its focus over the next two years. (Reporting by Tina Bellon in Austin; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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