Raising the Floor For Workers In The Gig Economy: Tools for NYC & Beyond
New report highlights innovative policies the New York City Council can adopt to strengthen rights, protections, and benefits for gig workers
For Labor Day 2016, New York City Council Member Brad Lander has released a new policy report identifying challenges facing workers in the gig economy, and outlining concrete steps that New York City can take to protect gig workers from wage theft and discrimination, as well as longer term efforts to offer portable benefits and a framework for worker organizing.
The "gig economy" has grown dramatically in recent years, in NYC and around the United States. The percent of workers engaged in the “alternative work arrangements” that characterize the “gig economy” (including independent contractors, freelancers, temps, on-call workers, and contract workers) in the United States rose from 10.1% in 2005 to nearly 16% in 2015.
While these arrangements can provide flexibility, convenience, and lower prices, they come with severe downsides. Many of the workers in the gig economy are denied the rights, protections, and benefits of traditional employees, making it far more difficult to piece together a decent standard of living.
- Most federal and state labor and civil rights laws do not apply to independent contractors.
- Employers too often misclassify employees as independent contractors, to avoid legal obligations and liability.
- More than 70% of freelancers report being the victim of wage theft or late-payment.
- Contingent workers on average earn less than traditional employees, and are more likely to live in poverty. They are more likely to be young, Hispanic, and less educated than standard full-time employees.
Without these protections, American workers and businesses alike will fall behind. While partisan gridlock hinders action at the state and national levels, local municipalities have the opportunity to act now.
This report highlights the stories of workers who have experienced wage-theft and non-payment, discrimination, a lack of access to benefits, and an inability to organize.
Informed by key stakeholders and national best practices, the report then outlines the ways in which the New York City Council can help lead the way to establish basic protections for workers in the gig economy:
- Working closely with Freelancers Union, the Council can protect independent workers from wage theft, with the ground-breaking “Freelance Isn’t Free Act” (Intro 1017-A), which provides a right to full and timely payment and new tools for enforcement.
- We can clarify the application of the NYC Human Rights Law to protect independent and contingent workers from discrimination (Intro 1016).
Over the longer term:
- We can work to provide a “portable benefits fund” – first to drivers in the Taxi and Limousine Commission – that offers benefits (e.g. health care and retirement security) that traditional employees often receive through their workplace. Council Member Corey Johnson will introduce a bill this month authorizing the TLC to establish such a fund, which could serve as a model for other sectors as well.
- We can aim to establish new frameworks that provide gig-economy workers with the ability to organize, elect their own representatives, and bargain collectively around the terms and conditions that determine whether they can make a living where they are otherwise unable to do so under existing laws.
As these tools are developed, care must be taken not to erode existing benefits and protections for workers. Government actors and advocates alike are working hard to strengthen, expand and enforce protections already in place, and to prevent the misclassification of workers as independent contractors. The recommendations in this report are intended to support and supplement that work – to ensure that all gig workers have the rights, benefits and protections they deserve.