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Gig companies’ push for state-level worker laws faces divided labor movement, Auto News, ET Auto

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

By Tina Bellon

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 labour over whether to bargain with the companies or insist on workers being reclassified as employees with full protection of U.S. labour 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 on this story.

Similarly, the New York chapter of the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labour 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 labour 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.



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‘Gig workers of all trades, unite!’ China’s state trade union calls for branches for gig economy workers

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China’s gig economy workers employed by online platforms, including deliverymen and ride hailing drivers, should be encouraged to form unions to boost their negotiating power with Big Tech, the country’s government-backed union said.

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), which answers to the Chinese Communist Party and is the only legal labour union in China, issued “opinions” this week calling for better protection of labour rights in China’s gig economy, which is estimated to provide around 200 million jobs in the country.

The state labour union made the call at a time when Beijing is turning up the heat on the country’s big technology platforms, including criticising them for exploiting workers. One recent opinion piece in an official newspaper affiliated with the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top political advisory body, even used concepts direct from Karl Marx to take a jab at China’s internet platforms.

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On-demand services providers such as Meituan and Ele.me, and ride-hailing companies like Didi Chuxing, have employed millions of employees on a temporary basis. However, labour protections for those “employed in a flexible manner”, are often limited compared with full-time employees and the negotiating power of these workers is usually weak.

Grievances have been rising among these new types of workers, and Beijing has not hesitated to raise its concerns about the potential for social unrest with Big Tech. The Hong Kong-based NGO China Labour Bulletin (CLB) recorded 131 cases of food delivery worker protests between 2016 and 2021.

High profile cases of gig workers seeking better rights have hit the headlines recently, including the dramatic self-immolation of a delivery worker at Alibaba Group Holding-backed food delivery platform Ele.me in January. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

As Big Tech pushes for profit, labour conditions show little sign of improvement

“The state has praised the achievements of these big platform companies in the past, about how they have pushed the economy into a more hi-tech direction,” said Aidan Chau, researcher at CLB. “But in the meantime, the platforms have come to control a large amount of data generated by workers and consumers, often neglecting the lives of their workers as they conquer new industries.”

More than 95 per cent of food delivery workers work more than 8 hours a day, with 28 per cent clocking up more than 12 hours a day, according to a 2020 survey conducted by Beijing Yilian Labor Law Centre, a non-government organisation.

Beijing has recently upped the ante on tech firms, with eight government departments lecturing representatives of online ride-hailing providers over payment practices in May. The government has also been pushing tech platforms to provide basic welfare benefits to part-time employees.

At the same time though the Chinese government has maintained a strict ban on any kind of spontaneous labour union formation or strikes by gig economy workers. The Chinese authorities also arrested one of the most prominent gig worker activists, delivery worker Chen Guojiang, who had repeatedly called on fellow food deliverymen to take group action. He is currently awaiting trial on several charges, including credit card fraud and “provoking trouble”.

Why this flexible work platform is seeing a boom in sourcing riders for delivery giants

The state labour union submitted proposals on strengthening the protection of gig workers in March 2021 during the Two Sessions, the country’s most important political event. Despite the political pressure, not all analysts are convinced that the latest “opinions” will radically change the situation for gig workers.

“The union will not challenge the informal or flexible labour arrangement of these workers,” said CLB’s Chau. “Worker competition with each other will continue to be intense and their sense of insecurity will likely persist.”

This article ‘Gig workers of all trades, unite!’ China’s state trade union calls for branches for gig economy workers first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2021.

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From the gig economy to working from home — these trends are changing the future of our jobs

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Working from home has become increasingly popular, necessary and in many cases compulsory due to the pandemic.

A recent study of corporate executives around the world found 19% said they expected employees to work three or more days remotely post-pandemic.

These results showing a shift towards working from home is mirrored in other studies from the US to Europe.

The tech that makes working from home possible

Adam McHale is the European Vice President of Cisco, a company that builds the technology that enables people to work from home. He told Euronews’ The Exchange that due to the pandemic, “broadband infrastructure became critical national infrastructure”. He added that internet traffic grew at a rate we would normally see in the space of 18 months in the space of a few days.

Cisco did a survey of 13,000 people across six different countries and 78% of them told the company that broadband connectivity “was absolutely critical to them”.

‘We can’t put everybody in the same box’

Estonia is a nation pushing the boundaries of remote and home working, often hailed as the most digitally advanced country. It is the nation that gave us Skype and made internet access a basic human right.

Its Minister for Health and Labour, Tanel Kiik, gave us his thoughts on how we should approach this new way of working.

He said that he thinks the changes to the way we work and the new forms of work are “only a positive thing”. “We can’t put everybody in the same box and say that this is your work contract and these are your working hours and this is your salary and be happy with that,” he added.

The Gig Economy

For a long time, this sector has been popping up on the news and not always for positive reasons, including cases of employment disputes and claims of infringement of workers’ rights.

But what exactly is the gig economy?

Dictionaries describe it as “a job market which consists of short-term or part-time work done by people who are self-employed or on temporary contracts”. However, this definition leaves out online platforms that many have started associating with it. In its simplest form, the gig economy can be described as flexible, temporary, or freelance jobs that often involve connecting clients or customers via apps and websites.

Its advocates say the new mode of work allows employees, businesses and consumers to adapt quickly to the needs of the moment. They also say it can also give workers more flexible hours to fit their lifestyles.

Kiik believes that the gig economy is something that is here to stay and is likely to grow in popularity. For that reason, he doesn’t see any point in fighting against it. “The world is changing constantly, the economy is changing and of course the work market and the jobs market are also changing”, he adds.

Online platforms and changing employment

Brands like Amazon and Alibaba have created profound changes to the way people live and work. Despite these billion-dollar success stories, people are still divided about the gig economy.

Qatari startup Snoonu, which offers a one-stop application that facilitates online shopping and deliveries, relies on the gig economy but is trying to remedy flaws in the mode of work’s fabric.

It has some 600 drivers poised to react to the ping of an order for thousands of locations around the country who are fully trained by the company. It also has over 250 young employees from 35 different countries whose jobs are constantly evolving thanks to digital innovation.

Entering the job market

The world of recruitment is also transforming to match new employee and employer needs. Juliet Eccleston is an employment expert and she told The Exchange that when people are straight out of college, it’s often “difficult to see the difference” on their CVs.

To her, and new employers like Snoonu, what makes people stand out are their vocational experience. “A lot of younger people have gone onto platforms and they’re actually micro-entrepreneurs behind the scenes, sharing things, renting things out and selling goods,” she explained. “Those kinds of skills are actually incredibly interesting for businesses”.

Whether employees are working from home, on a temporary contract, or on flexible hours, one thing is for sure; the future of work is changing.

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‘Gig economy can boost jobs for women’

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New Delhi: Alternative work arrangements in the gig economy can lead to the absorption of more women and increase their participation in the workforce with some re-skilling, according to a new study by the United Nations Development Programme in India (UNDP India) and industry federation Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci).

The rise of the gig economy following the coronavirus outbreak has the potential to boost women’s employment in formal jobs, said the study that collected data from 150 firms, of which one-third were from the manufacturing sector and the remaining were service firms.

“The adoption of new technologies could create better opportunities for women. However, re-skilling will be crucial to expand opportunities for women in the formal sector,” said the study that received support from the government of Japan.

The survey claimed that sectors such as health and pharmaceuticals, electrical and electronics, and fast-moving consumer goods are likely to see more female employment. At the same time, women’s employment in the finance and accounting divisions may moderately change because of the adoption of new technology.

“At least 57% of the heads of surveyed firms felt that the advent of the gig economy would boost women’s employment, while just 4% said that it would not. The remaining 39% of the heads of firms surveyed remained inconclusive,” according to the study titled Future of Work for Women in the Formal Sector in India.

Around 57% of the surveyed firms agree that the gig economy will itself expand and boost women’s job prospects because it is based on flexible, temporary or freelance jobs, often involving connecting with clients or customers through an online platform.

“This underscores that alternative work arrangements in the gig economy have the potential to absorb more women and increase their participation in the workforce,” the study said. However, it did not address the question that gig work is often not a primary assignment and there is no job security. A boost in the use of technology and increased acceptance of virtual working for sales and distribution jobs could open up opportunities for women in fields where interactions are managed via apps and phone calls, it said.

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