Earlier today the New York Daily News published an Op-ed by Hector Figueroa, President of 32BJ SEIU and Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance urging legislators to oppose AO8343 and S06538, also known as the New York State Dependent Worker Ac t.
Throwing drivers under the bus: Albany is poised to rush through a bill that purports to protect gig economy workers; it would do nothing of the sort
New York Daily News Op-ed | June 18, 2019
By Hector Figueroa and Bhairavi Desai
At a time when workers are under attack from all sides, organized labor needs to stand united to protect their rights. Unfortunately, this is not what we are seeing here in New York, where the State Federation of Labor felt compelled to support an 11th hour bill that would let unions collect dues from gig workers without affording those workers the full rights of ordinary employees.
Rather than giving them the full protections of labor law, the bill cherry picks which labor laws to apply to gig workers.
If this legislation, made public just four days before the session ends, passes, it would become law despite having zero public hearings and no input from the workers it claims to benefit.
Don’t be fooled by the pro-labor packaging: The “Dependent Worker Act,” as it’s dubbed, is a giveaway to gig companies who fear nothing more than being forced to both pay their workers a living wage and make the unemployment contributions that virtually every other company must make.
Unions exist to raise the ceiling on what workers can win, not to dig out the floor for workers who then have to claw their way back up. We win when we are fighting for more, not accepting less. That’s why movements like the Fight For $15 — where unions are using our collective power to raise the ceiling for all workers — have gained so much support.
Collective bargaining without a minimum wage, which is what this would be, means that we are forced to bargain for what should already be rightfully ours.
Pay increases are a great thing, especially for app drivers, many of whom make less than their state’s minimum wage after expenses and some of whom have been stuck in predatory loans that left them with as little as a penny in income after a week of work.
Here in New York City, we won a minimum pay standard for Uber drivers. It was a great start; we created a floor so that drivers couldn’t fall any lower.
But we shouldn’t pass a law that makes workers fight sector by sector for rights that many of us have counted on for generations — from workers’ compensation, to minimum wage, to unemployment benefits, to protections against wage theft.
On the other coast, California’s Labor Federation has championed a broad range of employee rights for gig workers. There, the state’s highest court ruled that regardless of how flexible their schedules may be gig workers, including Uber and Lyft drivers, are fully entitled to employee rights through something called an ABC test.
The ABC test means essentially that if a worker performs work that is the core service of a business, i.e. an Uber driver providing rides to passengers, that he or she is an employee of the company and entitled to all the rights that go along with that designation. The California legislature is working to codify that ruling into state law.
Uber and Lyft, of course, are terrified. They see this as an existential threat to their business model, which is based on forcing workers to bear almost all of the expenses, buy their own cars and cover gas and maintenance, with no guaranteed wages or benefits.
The two competitors even put a hold on their rivalry to pen a joint op-ed against California’s bill. And they’ve been working to cut a backroom deal with some unions in California that would exempt drivers from employee status but give them some minimal benefits and pay increases.
Workers need more than scraps from the bosses. We need the power of a collective voice. And we need the protections of labor law.
We are calling on Albany not to pass this cynical bill. Instead, let’s follow the lead of California and fight for our own “ABC test” bill.
Workers found to be employees under such a test would be entitled to all protections under New York State Labor Law. Equal rights are equal rights, period.
Figueroa is president of of 32BJ SEIU. Desai is executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.