Gig News – April 20th

Jon Weinberg

Jon Weinberg is a student at Harvard Law School.

As Professor Sachs recently posted, OnLabor will now provide bi-weekly updates with labor news from the “gig” – or “sharing” – economy.  The gig economy is exploding, and will continue to grow at a rapid pace according to a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers.  As the gig economy develops and evolves, many labor questions arise, such as over worker classification.  OnLabor will consolidate coverage of labor-related developments starting with today’s update:

Uber has changed its counsel for its defense against a California suit alleging that drivers are employees and not independent contractors, according to Breitbart.  The suit, previously covered by OnLabor, will be proceeding to a jury trial next year.  The Uber and Lyft suits are summarized succulently in a recent piece from the San Francisco Business Journal, which also notes the U.S. Department of Labor is not independently investigating but rather monitoring the suit closely.  Ars Technica published a summary of four lawsuits similar to the Uber and Lyft litigation over worker classification, with background of the cases and context.  Separately, Uber was sued in California for allegedly failing “to properly secure and protect drivers’ personal information, including names, driver’s license numbers and other personal information, and further failed to warn drivers that their personal information had been stolen.”

Fusion profiled Shannon Liss-Riordan, a Boston attorney specializing in worker misclassification suits who has targeted gig economy firms – filing the aforementioned lawsuit against Uber and others against Lyft, Homejoy, Postmates and Try Caviar in the past few months.  Liss-Riordan said “the litigation has an impact…We pride ourselves at our firm in challenging industry-wide practices. Sometimes entire industries are in the wrong and we will challenge them.”

Forbes published a report on efforts by Uber and Lyft to recruit more female drivers.  Only about 14% of Uber drivers are females, slightly higher than the 12.7% of taxi drivers and chauffeurs nationwide.

KQED reports on the difficulties gig economy workers face with taxes.  The story notes that many drivers for Uber and Lyft face significant tax obligations as independent contractors, such as higher tax burdens and documentation requirements, and that gig economy firms aren’t upfront about the obligations when recruiting and hiring workers.

According to the Bergen Record, the latest version of proposed New Jersey legislation to regulate Uber and Lyft does not address whether drivers are independent contractors or employees.  That decision “would be left to the state labor officials to decide, if and when a driver complaint is filed.”

Seven Days notes that Vermont’s Labor Commissioner is investigating Uber and Lyft to determine if drivers should be categorized as employees or independent contractors

Alaska is considering a pair of bills that would “exempt ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft from providing workers compensation coverage to drivers in their networks,” Business Insurance reports.

Writing for Bloomberg, Katie Benner described her different impressions of gatherings of Uber drivers and employees of Q, an Uber-like office cleaning firm.  Benner observed that the workers at Q, who are full-fledged employees that get full benefits (including healthcare), were far happier than the Uber drivers.  According to Brenner, the founders of Q “say that treating employees with respect is the right thing to do, and you get the sense that they really mean it.”  Similarly, Wired published a story on a meeting place for Uber drivers in San Francisco, noting the complaints of Uber drivers gathered together but the difficulties they face in organizing.

Fast Company reports on Dynamo, an online forum created by a Stanford-led research team for gig economy workers who find gigs on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform.  Dynamo is uniquely crafted to appeal to workers, and through it workers have organized campaigns and in one case achieved a change from Amazon.

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