Weekend News & Commentary — January 5, 2020
California’s controversial AB5 law came into effect on January 1, to fierce opposition from industry. The law codifies the California Supreme Court’s Dynamex test for classifying workers as employees, rather than independent contractors. Last week, Uber and Postmates filed a suit to challenge the law, arguing that the state legislature’s decision to exempt certain industries is essentially irrational. Late last year, Uber, Lyft, and Postmates also announced that they would be sponsoring a ballot proposition to repeal the law. AB5 was introduced with the intention of protecting gig workers performing contract work for app-based companies like Uber. But freelance workers in other industries have expressed concerns about the new rule. Many fear that employers will prefer to lay off workers rather than provide the unemployment insurance, workers compensation, and minimum wage owed to employees under AB5.
More than 20,000 American railroad workers have been laid off in the last year. According to the Washington Post, trade tariffs introduced by President Trump have reduced demand for freight rail, and transportation companies have cut costs to remain profitable. The result has been a 10% drop in rail employment—the largest drop since the 2009 recession—accompanied by increased automation.
New York State has eliminated the tipped minimum wage for “miscellaneous” tipped workers—but leaves the subminimum wage intact for the hospitality industry. By the end of this year, roughly 70,000 tipped workers including car wash employees, nail technicians, and valets, will see their wage increase to be on par with nontipped minimum wage ($15 per hour in New York City, $11.10 elsewhere in the state). In a statement announcing the change, Governor Andrew Cuomo did not address the 250,000 or so waiters, bartenders, and bussers who comprise the largest group of tipped employees in the state.
Last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about how a Google spreadsheet was the most powerful tool for local labor organizers in 2019. In May of last year, a group of anonymous museum workers began sharing their salaries and benefits, together with information about their education, race, and background, on a public Google spreadsheet. Soon, workers in other industries began to create spreadsheets of their own: Philadelphia baristas, public interest attorneys, and journalists created anonymous pay spreadsheets, with baristas in other cities soon following suit. The data in the baristas’ spreadsheet prompted coffee shop workers across the city to join together to improve working conditions, and has led to a unionizing drive in at least one café.