The past two months have laid bare the holes in our economic system. Millions have been laid off and it will be a long time before those companies start hiring employees again.
I’m fortunate that even though I can’t work my usual job as a DJ, which was deemed nonessential, I have been driving with a ride-hailing service as a means to fall back on. With ride-hailing services, I’m in control of when and where I make money and therefore can’t be laid off. And because of the recent federal stimulus bills, if I get sick or can’t drive anymore, I’m still able to access several weeks worth of relief to help me stay afloat.
But all that could come to a crashing end at the worst time if a pending Massachusetts federal court case plays out the wrong way.
Right now, the court is weighing whether drivers like me should be forced to become traditional employees. The fact is, most of us drive only a few hours per week and have regular full-time or part-time work. For the most part, we drive to supplement income we earn elsewhere, and we love the flexibility that this type of work provides. We drive as much or as little as we want.
I drive with ride-hailing because during normal times the extra income helps me cover my bills. But now, this flexibility takes on new meaning as I’m able to earn through it as I need to without having to worry about being let go. If I were forced to become an employee, it would be devastating.
First, if ride-hailing companies were forced to reclassify drivers as employees, that would likely mean there would only be enough jobs for a fraction of us — just look at how many companies are shrinking their payroll right now. In all likelihood, I would lose the opportunity to earn on the platform entirely.
Second, because the country is facing an unemployment crisis, it would be nearly impossible to find another job just to get by. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 600,000 people have filed for unemployment in Massachusetts since March 15, more than in the previous three years combined, and all of them are looking for work. And even once I can return to my DJ business, it will be a while before my income returns to normal.
Third, and this is the real kicker, if there are changes to the ride-hailing industry’s current business model, I would no longer qualify for the federal stimulus funds that are helping me stay afloat.
Right now, as an independent contractor, the federal stimulus bills provide 10 days of paid sick or family leave, 50 additional days of paid family leave, and 39 weeks of “pandemic unemployment assistance.”
Contrast that with Massachusetts’ Earned Sick Time Law where the majority of ride-hailing drivers would only accrue 3 hours or less of earned sick leave annually as employees, and the choice is clear — I would much rather receive the federal assistance, and would not want to risk losing out on federal benefits for a small amount of sick leave under Massachusetts law.
I know some think that forcing ride-hailing companies to treat drivers as employees is the answer, but for me and millions across the country like me, that’s simply not the case. And the middle of a global pandemic is not the time to mess with my livelihood just so others can play political and legal games — especially when the type of work model they want to force is shedding millions of jobs a week.
During this public health and economic catastrophe, the government and the judicial system should have one mission only: to get the most help to the most people as quickly as possible. The federal government understood this when it passed the stimulus bills. And I hope the court sees the light as well.