Opinion: You Call It the Gig Economy, but California Calls It “Feudalism”

From today’s New York Times:

Labor leaders cheered in the balcony and lawmakers embraced on the floor of the California Senate on Tuesday as it passed a landmark measure that defines employees, a move that could increase wages and benefits for hundreds of thousands of struggling workers.

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But the bill is as much a starting point as an endgame: It will drive a national debate over how to reshape labor laws fashioned in the industrial era of the 1930s to fit a 21st-century service and knowledge economy.

With the measure, which Gov. Gavin Newsom says he will sign, California will lead in a shift that will likely redefine the roles of governments, unions and worker organizations. Just as federal labor laws were promulgated to help the country recover from the Depression, the imperative to extend basic guarantees like a minimum wage stems from the staggering income inequality in California, the state with the highest poverty rate in the country.

The new paradigms will need to fit not the relatively stable industrial work force of the last century but a gig economy in which workers are increasingly likely to hold multiple jobs or report to no workplace at all. California lawmakers took a major step in constructing the foundation of such a model with the new measure, which presumes workers are employees, entitled to all concomitant protections and benefits, unless they meet strict criteria as truly independent contractors.

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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.

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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.

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Labor Dept. Says Workers at a Gig Company Are Contractors

From today’s New York Times:

The Labor Department weighed in Monday on a question whose answer could be worth billions of dollars to gig-economy companies, deciding that one company’s workers were contractors, not employees.

As a result, the unidentified company — whose workers, it appears, clean residences — will not have to offer the federal minimum wage or overtime, or pay a share of Social Security taxes. And while the decision officially applies only to that company, legal experts said it was likely to affect a much larger portion of the industry.

The move signals the Trump administration’s approach to the way gig companies, a growing share of the economy, must treat their work force. As companies like Uber and Lyft begin to sell shares to the public, industry officials estimate that requiring them to classify their workers as employees would raise their labor costs by 20 to 30 percent.

“Today, the U.S. Department of Labor offers further insight into the nexus of current labor law and innovations in the job market,” Keith Sonderling, an official in the division that oversees such issues, said in a statement. It is a longstanding policy for the department not to disclose the names of companies receiving such letters.

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Employers Are Finally Ready to Talk About How Much They Pay

From today’s Bloomberg News:

Up until last week, none of the 170 employees working at Verve, a marketing company, knew what anyone else made. Now, everyone’s salary is listed on an internal document for everyone to see.

By 2019, all 1,100 employees at CareHere, a Nashville based health-care company, will know the pay ranges for all positions in the company. Fog Creek, a New York-based software company with about three dozen employees, did the same last year. As did Hired, an online job search network in San Francisco that employs 200 people.

Employers have long discouraged talking about money at work, in part because obscuring salary information keeps compensation costs down. But that attitude is starting to change. In a survey of almost 2,000 employers by the consulting firm Willis Towers Watson, more than half of the respondents said they plan to increase transparency around pay decisions in the next year.

Pay transparency can mean a lot of things. A minority of companies are taking the most extreme approach, where everyone knows what everyone else makes. A larger share of companies are letting employees in on the voodoo behind their pay practices and explaining what goes into compensation decisions. Others are revealing pay ranges for positions and posting that information alongside job listings.

“Many of us who entered the workforce a longer time ago entered into a culture where you didn’t talk about pay,” said Sandra McLellan, who heads Willis Towers Watson’s North America rewards practice. “Today, people are much more comfortable discussing what they earn.”

Employees now have more access to compensation data than ever before—just not necessarily from their employer. Sites such as Glassdoor and Fairygodboss aggregate and list pay information for thousands of jobs across industries, giving workers a clearer picture of how their pay stacks up against that of their co-workers. Even LinkedIn has a feature that breaks down pay by job title and location.

The proliferation of information is leading to some issues for employers. More than anything, people want to feel like they’re being paid fairly, surveys have found. Armed with this new information, many of them are going to their managers and complaining that they’re not.

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DOJ Says Title VII Law Doesn’t Protect LGBTQ Employees From Discrimination

From today’s New York Times by Alan Feuer

The Justice Department has filed court papers arguing that a major federal civil rights law does not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, taking a stand against a decision reached under President Barack Obama.

The department’s move to insert itself into a federal case in New York was an unusual example of top officials in Washington intervening in court in what is an important but essentially private dispute between a worker and his boss over gay rights issues.

“The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination,” the Justice Department said in a friend-of-the-court brief, citing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in the workplace based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” “It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts.”

The department filed its brief on Wednesday, the same day President Trump announced on Twitter that transgender people would be banned from serving in the military, raising concerns among civil rights activists that the Trump administration was trying to undermine lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights won under previous administrations.

The filing came in a discrimination case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit involving Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor. In 2010, Mr. Zarda was fired by his employer, a Long Island company called Altitude Express. Before taking a female client on a tandem dive, Mr. Zarda told the woman he was gay to assuage any awkwardness that might arise from his being tightly strapped to her during the jump. The woman’s husband complained to the company, which subsequently fired Mr. Zarda. Mr. Zarda then sued Altitude Express, claiming it had violated Title VII.

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