[By DENIS SLATTERY]
The future of the “gig economy” in New York has labor leaders and tech companies at odds.
The two sides squared off Thursday at an Albany hearing as the debate over contract and independent workers in the so-called “gig” business, which includes app-based delivery services as well as ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft, heats up ahead of the legislative session next month.
Democratic lawmakers, who control both chambers in the capital, have already begun laying out plans to regulate the industry and ensure workers have access to benefits like unemployment and workers compensation insurance as well as minimum wage protections.
Union groups agree, arguing before Assemblyman Marcos Crespo (D-Bronx), the sole pol in attendance, that gig workers should be considered employees and deserve to be protected by employment laws.
“These workers don’t have the same rights and protections as other workers and in many instances these workers are doing the same exact job,” said Mario Cilento, president of the New York state AFL-CIO. “That’s why so much of this is frustrating to those of us who advocate on behalf of working men and women.”
Business groups and the tech firms behind the apps, meanwhile, have a very different view of regulations they say will reduce the independent nature of the industry and hit workers in the wallet.
Flexible Work for New York, a coalition of businesses that includes both Uber and Lyft, contend that there are myriad benefits that stem from the flexible nature of the work.
“Millions of hardworking New Yorkers rely on flexible work to start small businesses, care for loved ones, pursue an education, or supplement their income by working when, where, and for however long they want,” the group said in a statement. “New York should seize this opportunity to not only protect independent workers’ rights but to also allow them to work in a way that best suits their lives.”
Cilento said the companies are simply putting profit over people.
“This has always been about app companies gaming the system to bolster their profits by simultaneously depriving workers of their rights, disadvantaging traditional employers who play by the rules and shifting their responsibility onto the government and ultimately the taxpayer,” he said.
The focus on the burgeoning sector comes as a California law extending wage and benefit protections to roughly a million workers currently considered independent contractors. The controversial measure, slated to go into effect on Jan. 1, has faced push-back and legal challenges.
Gov. Cuomo has said he’s fully on board with expanding labor protections and a number of bills have already been floated as the session nears. One by Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) would create a task force to study the gig economy. Another, sponsored by Sen. Robert Jackson, would redefine most independent contractors as full-time employees.
Crespo sponsored a bill earlier this year with Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) that would have reclassifying gig workers and allowed them to unionize, but the legislation was put on hold as lawmakers opted to hold hearings and hear from all sides.