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A proposed federal relief bill in response to the coronavirus outbreak is setting a new precedent for gig workers, the drivers and meal couriers for companies like Uber and Lyft. It promises weekly paychecks regardless of whether the recipients are employees or independent contractors.
Including gig workers—controversially considered contractors by the companies they work for—in a relief bill is a first, signaling the growing role they play in the economy. Uber and Lyft each employ hundreds of thousands of such drivers in their networks, laying the groundwork for their growing political clout.
“If you would’ve asked me a week or two ago whether we would ever pass legislation to provide unemployment benefits to Uber drivers I would’ve said I wouldn’t count on it,” said Lawrence Mishel, a fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. “This is quite amazing.”
The bipartisan bill would provide $600 weekly plus the amount determined by each state’s unemployment department to people who are either unable to work or whose wages have dwindled due to the outbreak. The payments would be over four months.
The U.S. Senate approved the bill on Wednesday, and the House is expected to vote on Friday. President Trump has indicated that he intends to sign the bill as soon as it hits his desk.
Beyond helping millions weather the current health crisis, the bill could serve as a catalyst for lawmakers to change gig workers’ status from independent contractors to employees who would then be entitled to benefits. That would be a controversial move that would threaten the business of many companies that heavily rely on gig workers to provide their services.
Conversely, the financial assistance could convince employers that the government will aid workers regardless of whether they’re employees, saving companies the expense of paying for benefits.
“The stimulus package may incentivize states to legally find gig workers to be independent contractors,” said Ivan Pardo, volunteer organizer at Rideshare Drivers United, a group that advocates for better working conditions for gig workers. “While the stimulus package will help them now, in the future, they may not be able to get unemployment insurance as a result.”
But Demetra Nightingale, Urban Institute fellow and former U.S. Department of Labor official in the Obama administration, and the EPI’s Mishel say the nod to gig workers could signal a shift in how regulators view people who work for companies like Uber, Lyft, and delivery service DoorDash—all of which are considered “essential” businesses during the coronavirus shutdowns.
“This is a major step at the federal level that could sustain some of the momentum toward regular employment status for the workers after the crisis is …read more