News & Commentary

July 30, 2020

Minnie Che

Minnie Che is a student at Harvard Law School.

On July 24, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that an unemployed worker who had qualified for unemployment benefits could not be disqualified based on classification as “self-employed” when he then started driving for Uber. The worker in this case, Donald Lowman Jr., obtained compensation benefits after he lost his job in the behavior health field. He began driving for Uber, which argued that Lowman’s work for them qualified as self-employment in his independently established business. The consequences of this classification meant that Lowman would be disqualified from partial benefits granted for individuals who pick up part-time work, which would have a detrimental effect not only on him, but also other gig workers in a similar position. While Uber argued that Lowman was a “partner” of the company and that his work constituted his own business, the Supreme Court rejected that argument and affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s finding that Lowman’s work was controlled by and dependent on Uber. Factors of control included GPS tracking, monitoring of work, and pay structure. The ruling is a great victory for gig workers and opens the door for other drivers to obtain unemployment benefits once they stop driving for Uber. 

On Monday evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released the HEALS act, which reduced unemployment assistance for over 30 million unemployed Americans in addition to allowing for the expiration of eviction stays and lowering safety and health protections for workers. The proposal is the Republicans’ Covid-19 relief package. Worker safety is an important issue during the pandemic that seems to have fallen to the wayside by some companies. Just one in ten employees at Walmart report having masks required at work and available in stores. At Amazon warehouses, workers report that the company refuses to clean freezer suits between uses and that harsh quotas prevent proper social distancing. Airlines are similarly rebooking full seats on planes without regard for social distancing. McConnell’s proposal creates a “safe harbor” for companies as long as they “make reasonable efforts” to comply with safety regulations, but this may bar Covid-19 related claims but for intentional misconduct and gross negligence. Read more about the potential consequences of the proposal here.

new study on hiring in Seattle’s fine dining restaurants revealed discrimination in hiring practices based on race. The study, conducted by Researchers with the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) and the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, paired white and Black fake applicants to interview for positions in more than 100 fine dining restaurants in Seattle. The pairs of applicants had matching job qualifications, only differing in race. Anecdotes that came from the study included a manager of one restaurant telling a Black female applicant that they were not hiring, while asking a white female applicant to start immediately. Additionally, “front of the house” and “back of the house” jobs were highly segregated by race and ethnicity. Restaurant workers of color also described discrimination in interactions with managers, customers and coworkers. Harvard University sociologist, David Pedulla, studied race discrimination in hiring and found that Black job applicants with no gaps in employment history received similar callback rates as white applicants who had been unemployed for a year. These hiring disparities illustrate the implicit and explicit biases inherent in the workplace. 

Australia’s employment rate has seen a 1.1% dip between mid-June and mid-July due to a fresh wave of Covid-19 infections. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, payroll jobs decreased by 2.2% in Victoria alone. A record 532 new cases of Covid-19 were reported on Monday, with another 384 new cases reported on Tuesday. Economist Su-lin Ong predicted another 50,000 jobs lost in the upcoming months. Before this new wave, Australia’s economy was on a steady growth as the businesses began to reopen. The unemployment rate was at a steady 5.2%, but jumped up to 7.4% in June. In response, the Reserve Bank of Australia has slashed its cash rate to a record low 0.25% and launched a bond buying program, pledging to keep interest rates low until employment and inflation goals are reached. This development may be foreshadowing for the US economy as states reclose amidst new rates of infection and fears of a second wave.

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