Giving Gig Workers Some Justice

Labor Policy Tech Workers

            New Orleans     The US Department of Labor has now moved to give so-called gig workers some of the fundamental rights that other workers enjoy by proposing a clarifying standard of tests to determine their status.  The tests would include the level of control they have over their jobs, and whether they have the opportunity to modify their work and wages by offering new services to clients.  If they don’t control wages, hours, and working conditions and can’t innovate, then they are employees, like most of the rest of us, and not independent contractors.

This has been a contentious issue ever since some now mammoth companies began pretending they were simply a tech application matching clients with workers providing a service.  Sure, Uber, DoorDash, and scores of others were matchmakers of sorts, but they were also taskmasters regulating conditions, wages, and access to work.  In other words, they were employers, and because of their techie apps, they were more hardcore bosses than a lot of other  bosses for regular workers.  Uber and Lyft did their damnedest to prevent voters in California from passing a referendum that clarified their status as employees under state labor laws, but it passed, and they’ve been filing suits and whining ever since.  New York City and some other jurisdictions have also engaged in similar battles with these companies.  The DOL standard has a chance of finally settling the matter, whether they like it or not, by showing the way.

Don’t get me wrong.  Labor exploitation is engrained in their business model.  Experts estimate that it could increase Uber and Lyft’s labor costs by 20 to 30%.  On the DOL news, Uber’s stock went down 10% and Lyft’s fell 12%.  On the short term, lawyers will have a field day.  Long term, workers will finally get their due.  Instacart, as one example, agreed to pay $46.5 million to settle accusations that it violated California’s labor code when it misclassified more than 300,000 of its delivery workers as independent contractors over a five-year period.  DoorDash and the gang are fighting an app called Para designed to help giggers that shows them their tips, which are often hidden by the companies, and lets drivers set parameters to juggle multiple apps, automatically decline low-paying gigs and flag rude customers and undesirable locations, such as confusing apartment complexes and restaurants with long waits.  If you won’t even show your workers their tips, you just proved that you are totally their boss, and a bad one!

This is good news, but it will be a battle.  It could affect the status of up to 20 million workers.  The Trump administration had tried to slip a favor to these businesses by pretending they were independent in the last days of the administration.  Luckily, the Biden DOL has not waited until the last minute to provide some justice here, so the light may finally be shining at the end of the tunnel for these workers.