A Warning on the Gig Workers Legislation Coming to Your State

January 12, 2021

By: Terri Gerstein, Director, State and Local Enforcement Project, Harvard Labor and Worklife Program & Senior Fellow, Economic Policy Institute and Rebecca Smith; Director, Work Structures Portfolio at National Employment Law Project (NELP)

Proposition 22 was a California ballot initiative that passed in November. Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and other gig companies spent over $200 million to deprive their workers of important employment rights in exchange for a paltry package of benefits. The companies are now pushing this model in other states and legislators should be prepared to counter an aggressive and well-funded campaign.  

What’s at stake?

Gig companies want to exempt themselves from laws that every other employer has to follow—minimum wage, overtime, discrimination, unemployment insurance, paid sick time, paid family leave, workers’ compensation, and workplace safety and health—and they want to give very little in return. We are expecting legislation or ballot initiatives in at least CO, IL, MA, NJ, NY, and WA in 2021.

What are the actual facts about these drivers?

These companies have disclosed little data about who their drivers are, how many are full-time, how many hours they work, and how much money they make. One rare exception, a 2018 study from New York City, revealed: 

  • Driving was the primary job for two-thirds of workers; 
  • They earned low wages (the median amounted to less than state minimum wage); and
  • Many qualified for public benefits including Medicaid and federal supplemental nutrition assistance.

We also know that Black and Latino workers comprise almost 42 percent of app-based workers. Relegating them to a second tier of labor protections recreates historical racist exclusions of Black and Latino workers from basic protections.

What have courts said? 

Courts have repeatedly held that these workers are entitled to their rights as employees (five courts in three states in 2020). 

What does Proposition 22 do? 

As this New York Times op-ed explains, Prop 22 is a bad deal. It denies California’s gig workers paid sick leave, unemployment benefits, and overtime pay, allows many weekly work hours to be unpaid, offers exceedingly limited benefits, and requires a whopping 7/8 vote for any amendment. 

What can you do? 

You can fight efforts to pass similar measures in your state: 

  • Learn about Proposition 22, including its terms, and short/longer-term consequences; 
  • Meet with unions, worker groups, and other stakeholders in your state;
  • Be wary of “astroturf” groups & others funded by gig companies to show support; 
  • Require companies to disclose extensive data about worker conditions in your state; 
  • Urge others tempted by the companies’ pitch to wait and see what happens in California before taking action; and 
  • Find ways to expand gig workers’ and other workers’ rights within your jurisdiction. 

Want more information? We will be offering a webinar in 2021, but if you’d like more information sooner, let SiX know!

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