Unions at The Ringer and Gimlet Media announce their first contracts

From today’s New York Times:

Unions representing employees at two prominent podcasting companies owned by Spotify, the audiostreaming giant, announced Wednesday that they had ratified their first labor contracts.

The larger of the two unions, with 65 employees, is at The Ringer, a sports and pop culture website with a podcasting network. The second union, at the podcast production company Gimlet Media, has just under 50 employees. The two groups were among the first in the podcasting industry to unionize, and both are represented by the Writers Guild of America, East.

Lowell Peterson, the guild’s executive director, said the contracts showed that the companies’ writers, producers and editors “bring enormous value to the major platforms for whom they create content.”

The contracts establish minimum base pay of $57,000 for union members at The Ringer and $73,000 at Gimlet Media, annual pay increases of at least 2 percent, and a minimum of 11 weeks of severance pay.

The agreements include provisions that limit the use of contractors and allow workers to receive titles that reflect their seniority.

The two companies will create diversity committees that include managers and union members, and will require that at least half the candidates seriously considered for union positions open to outsiders come from underrepresented groups, such as racial minorities or people with disabilities.

Read the complete article here.

With a Huge Victory, UK Uber Driver Moves on to Next Gig Worker Battlefront

From today’s Inequality.org:

In recent weeks, courts in multiple countries have delivered huge victories for gig workers by establishing the principle that these workers are, in fact, employed by digital platforms and are thus entitled to basic worker rights and protections.

The most stunning win was the UK Supreme Court’s recent scathing judgement against Uber. While lower courts had ruled again and again that UK-based drivers are in fact workers, the company had refused to comply with this classification until this final ruling.

James Farrar, a former Uber driver and a lead plaintiff in the case, is celebrating this huge victory, which means that gig workers will have the right to wage protections, holiday pay, and other basic benefits. But during six years of litigation against Uber, Farrar and his colleagues realized that gig workers would need to fight on additional fronts. Right now, these employees lack access to the data that their app-based employers gather about them.

To take on this critical battlefront for worker rights in the 21st Century, Farrar has founded Worker Info Exchange. I asked Farrar to explain why he started this new nonprofit organization and what it hopes to achieve.

How did you come to realize the need for a data rights strategy?

When we brought the employment case, Uber challenged me with my own data and they came to the tribunal with sheaves of paper that detailed every hour I worked, every job I did, how much I earned, whether I accepted or rejected jobs. And they tried to use all this against me. And I said we cannot survive and cannot sustain worker rights in a gig economy without some way to control our own data.

So I used Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to try to extract my data from Uber. And it began by asking questions, what data do you have and what can you give me? And I began to understand that Uber was unwilling or unable or both to give it to me. And I needed an entity behind me to get that to happen.

How will access to their data help workers?

Gig workers need access to data to see how they are being managed and paid. Right now companies are using automated decision making. This means allocation of work, performance management, and dismissals are decided based on data that the app gathers and feeds into algorithms. We need to understand the code behind those because sometimes those decisions are unfair. When decisions are unfair we can’t just let company executives say it wasn’t intentional. We need to expose and challenge the logic fed into the algorithm. Very few people are doing this right now.

GDPR is useful because it doesn’t just give you the right to data, it’s access to logic of processing. I have a right to fairness of processing under GDPR. So data rights are more comprehensive than just simple access to raw information. What we have done so far is challenge Uber to disclosure — what data the app collects, things like GPS trace. But what we really want are inference data. What decisions has it made about me? How has it profiled me? How does that affect my earnings? This is what Uber has not given us.

Read the complete article here.

Amazon to Pay $62 Million Fine for Withholding Tips From Delivery Drivers

From today’s New York Times:

Amazon agreed on Tuesday to pay $62 million to the Federal Trade Commission to settle charges that it withheld tips to delivery drivers over a two-and-a-half year period, in a case that highlights the federal government’s increased interest in gig-economy workers.

The F.T.C. said in an announcement that Amazon had promised its Flex delivery drivers that they would receive 100 percent of all customers’ tips. But starting in 2016, the F.T.C. said, Amazon secretly lowered the hourly delivery wages, which were advertised at $18 to $25, and tried to mask the smaller wages by using customer tips to cover for the smaller hourly pay. The net effect was that the contract workers received smaller overall take-home pay, the agency said.

The practice wasn’t disclosed to drivers but the Flex drivers noticed the compensation reductions and began to complain. Amazon stopped the practice in 2019, after it became aware of the F.T.C.’s investigation, the agency said. The company settled without admitting wrongdoing.

“Rather than passing along 100 percent of customers’ tips to drivers, as it had promised to do, Amazon used the money itself,” said Daniel Kaufman, the acting head of consumer protection at the F.T.C. “Our action today returns to drivers the tens of millions of dollars in tips that Amazon misappropriated, and requires Amazon to get drivers’ permission before changing its treatment of tips in the future.”

Flex workers are classified by Amazon as independent contractors and often use personal vehicles for deliveries of the company’s Prime Now and AmazonFresh items. Customers can give a tip to delivery drivers on the checkout page.

Amazon is facing greater regulatory scrutiny overall. The Seattle company is under investigation for antitrust violations amid growing concerns from lawmakers and regulators about the power of the big tech companies.

Read the complete article here.

Uber likely to shut down in California for over a year if new ruling not overturned

From today’s NBC News Online:

In new court filings Wednesday, a top Uber official said the company would “almost certainly need to shut down” ride services in California for “likely more than a year” if a judge’s groundbreaking ruling issued this week is upheld on appeal.

In a new four-page declaration, Brad Rosenthal, Uber’s director of strategic operational initiatives, said that if the company has to reclassify the bulk of its workforce as employees rather than contractors, it will “force Uber to dramatically restructure its entire business model and its relationships with drivers and riders.”

In a call with investors Wednesday, Lyft CEO John Zimmer said the company would likely also suspend operations in the state for similar reasons.

Earlier Wednesday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the company would halt service in its home state of California for a few months if a judge’s groundbreaking ruling this week is upheld on appeal.

“We will have to shut down until November,” Khosrowshahi told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle in an interview.

On Monday, Judge Ethan Schulman of the San Francisco County Superior Court found that there was an “overwhelming likelihood” that both Uber and Lyft had misclassified drivers as contractors rather than employees. Drivers make up the bulk of those companies’ labor forces.

The ruling was the latest twist in a lawsuit brought against the companies in May by the state’s attorney general. Schulman put a hold on enforcement of his ruling for 10 days pending appeal.

In the new filings, both companies asked the judge to at least extend this hold period beyond 10 days while they begin the appeals process. Schulman is set to hold a hearing on this issue Thursday.

Read the complete article here.

Sweeping bill rewriting California employment law sent to Gov. Newsom

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

California lawmakers rewrote the rules of employment across a wide swath of industries Wednesday in legislation that could grant hundreds of thousands of workers new job benefits and pay guarantees.

After vigorous debates over what occupations should be exempted, Assembly Bill 5, which curbs businesses’ use of independent contractors, gained final approval in the state Senate and the Assembly and was sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has pledged his support.

The 6,700-word bill is one of the most controversial of the year. It could upend the relationship between workers and bosses across businesses as varied as ride-hailing tech giantsconstruction, healthcare, truckingjanitorial servicesnail salonsadult entertainment, commercial fishing and newspapers.

The message of the legislation, said its author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), is “we will not in good conscience allow free-riding businesses to continue to pass their own business costs on to taxpayers and workers. It’s our job to look out for working men and women, not Wall Street and their get-rich-quick IPOs.”

Contractors, including many in multibillion-dollar technology companies, are not covered by laws guaranteeing a minimum wage, overtime pay, sick leave, family leave, unemployment and disability insurance, workers’ compensation and protection against discrimination or sexual harassment. Nor do businesses pay into Social Security or Medicare for contractors.

After months of lobbying by the California Chamber of Commerce and a score of trade associations, AB 5 exempted a host of occupations — but not platform-based gig giants Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates and others that mounted a powerful push to avoid reclassifying their workers as employees with labor law protections.

Read the complete article here.

A California bill that would ban forced arbitration heads to Gov. Newsom

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

When companies in California tell job candidates they have to give up their right to sue the company for most disputes, a bill headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk would let the candidates decline without fear of losing their job offer.

The bill is the latest effort by state governments to limit private companies from imposing forced arbitration agreements, whose surge in popularity has contributed to the difficulty of workers suing their bosses for sexual harassment in the era of #MeToo.

Federal law and some U.S. Supreme Court decisions do not let state governments ban these arbitration agreements. Supporters argue that the bill in California would not ban arbitration agreements, but make them optional: Employees could sign them, but they may not be punished for declining to. The bill would not affect existing arbitration agreements and would apply only to people hired after Jan. 1, 2020.

Still, Republicans and the state’s business groups said the bill is illegal and would probably be challenged in court. The state Senate voted Thursday to approve the bill.

The Economic Policy Institute says more than 67% of all employers in California require workers to sign these arbitration agreements. Companies like these agreements because arbitration costs less than going to court and moves faster. Labor groups argue that arbitration puts employees at a disadvantage because the employees don’t have an attorney and are subject to the ruling of an arbitrator who is often selected and paid for by the company.

Read the complete article here.

SCOTUS Upholds Workplace Arbitration Contracts Barring Class Actions

From today’s New York Times:

 The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that companies can use arbitration clauses in employment contracts to prohibit workers from banding together to take legal action over workplace issues.

The vote was 5 to 4, with the court’s more conservative justices in the majority. The court’s decision could affect some 25 million employment contracts.

Writing for the majority, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said the court’s conclusion was dictated by a federal law favoring arbitration and the court’s precedents. If workers were allowed to band together to press their claims, he wrote, “the virtues Congress originally saw in arbitration, its speed and simplicity and inexpensiveness, would be shorn away and arbitration would wind up looking like the litigation it was meant to displace.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, a sign of profound disagreement. In her written dissent, she called the majority opinion “egregiously wrong.” In her oral statement, she said the upshot of the decision “will be huge under-enforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well being of vulnerable workers.”

Justice Ginsburg called on Congress to address the matter.

Brian T. Fitzpatrick, a law professor at Vanderbilt University who studies arbitrations and class actions, said the ruling was unsurprising in light of earlier Supreme Court decisions. Justice Gorsuch, he added, “appears to have put his cards on the table as firmly in favor of allowing class actions to be stamped out through arbitration agreements.”

As a result, Professor Fitzpatrick said “it is only a matter of time until the most powerful device to hold corporations accountable for their misdeeds is lost altogether.”

But Gregory F. Jacob, a lawyer with O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, said the decision would have a limited impact, as many employers already use the contested arbitration clauses. “This decision thus will not see a huge increase in the use of such provisions,” he said, “but it does protect employers’ settled expectations and avoids placing our nation’s job providers under the threat of additional burdensome litigation drain.”

Read the complete article here.

California’s top court makes it more difficult for employers to classify workers as independent contractors

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

In a ruling that could change the workplace status of people across the state, the California Supreme Court made it harder Monday for employers to classify their workers as independent contractors.

The unanimous decision has implications for the growing gig economy, such as Uber, Lyft and other app-driven services — but it could extend to nearly every employment sector.

In recent years, the hiring of workers as independent contractors — not subject to government rules on minimum wage, overtime and rest breaks — has exploded. A 2016 study by economists at Harvard and Princeton universities estimated 12.5 million people were considered independent contractors, or 8.4% of the U.S. workforce.

The ruling is likely to lead many employers in California to immediately question whether they should reclassify independent contractors rather than face stiff fines for misclassification, employment lawyers said.

“A huge number of businesses will be calling their lawyers saying ‘What should I do?'” said Michael Chasalow, a professor at the USC Gould School of Law.

To classify someone as an independent contractor, the court said, businesses must show that the worker is free from the control and direction of the employer; performs work that is outside the hirer’s core business; and customarily engages in “an independently established trade, occupation or business.”

“When a worker has not independently decided to engage in an independently established business but instead is simply designated an independent contractor … there is a substantial risk that the hiring business is attempting to evade the demands of an applicable wage order through misclassification,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote for the court.

A worker may be denied the status of employee “only if the worker is the type of traditional independent contractor — such as an independent plumber or electrician — who would not reasonably have been viewed as working in the hiring business,” the court said.

Instead, an independent contractor would be understood to be working “in his or her own independent business,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote.

The court offered examples: A plumber temporarily hired by a store to repair a leak or an electrician to install a line would be an independent contractor. But a seamstress who works at home to make dresses for a clothing manufacturer from cloth and patterns supplied by the company, or a cake decorator who works on a regular basis on custom-designed cakes would be employees.

Read the complete article here.

House GOP passes bill that rolls back “joint employer” protections for workers

From yesterday’s New York Times by Christine Owens:

House Republicans on Tuesday took another step in their campaign to cheat workers out of fair pay and workplace rights. On a vote largely along party lines, the House advanced a bill to roll back longstanding “joint employer” protections for workers contracted by big companies like Apple or Alaska Airlines.

For years, when two companies both control the terms and conditions of employment, they are also both considered responsible for workplace violations like wage theft, sexual harassment or safety problems. So if a window washer working for a contractor fell because safety equipment was improperly installed by the company whose building he was cleaning, he could sue both the contractor and the larger company for damages.

But under the bill passed on Tuesday, large corporations that outsource jobs would get virtually full immunity from workplace violations, while the typically smaller, poorly capitalized local businesses that provide the workers would bear all the liability. This could leave these small businesses exposed to bankruptcy, leaving workers in danger of having no remedies at all.

Contracting out work is not necessarily bad; it’s often a smart way for companies to efficiently handle certain tasks, like payroll administration and cleaning work.

But the problem is that many companies also contract out to lower compensation costs and, sometimes, to avoid basic legal responsibilities to workers. Even when such cost-cutting is not the top reason a company outsources, workers usually suffer.

Read the entire article here.