When you last heard from me regarding the state of the gig economy, the discussion at the beginning of 2018 focused on the fact that small businesses were joining large corporations in embracing the on-demand model. Now, let’s shift focus from the “who” to the “where” and the “what.”
Online digital marketplaces such as Uber, Handy, and PostMates are now firmly rooted in many American’s daily lives. With the seemingly overwhelming and growing presence, these companies continue to face uncertainty when classifying their workers which may result in longstanding financial, legal, and social implications. The business models of online digital marketplaces rely on their workers being classified as independent contractors, not employees, which are significantly less expensive to hire than employees and are not subject to most labor protections.
Now that sports betting has been legalized by the Supreme Court, I might want to consider laying some action on an upcoming game, because I am on fire with my recent predictions. In a blog post from last week, I correctly predicted the two arguments that Grubhub would be making in response to the plaintiff’s argument that the trial victory should be wiped off the books and returned to the lower court for further proceedings. Late last night, the gig economy company filed a brief with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to preserve its momentous trial victory.
How much has the gig economy changed in the last 13 years? We’re (finally) about to find out. According to Tyrone Richardson at Bloomberg Law, the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is scheduled to release a report on “contingent and alternative employment arrangements” on June 7, 2018. To put in context how much things have changed since the last time the BLS released such a report—February 2005—that was the same year Destiny’s Child split up and two years before the first iPhone was released. Many of these on-call workers and independent contractors are not included in the BLS’s monthly jobs report despite studies that suggest these types of “alternative” arrangements accounted for 94 percent of net employment growth in the U.S. economy over the last decade.
If you’ve been following the legal fight over Seattle’s 2015 proposal to permit ride-sharing drivers who work for companies such as Uber and Lyft to organize and form the country’s first gig economy unions, you might feel like you have been watching a tennis match. At first a court granted a preliminary injunction to block the ordinance from taking effect in April 2017, but a few months later the court dismissed a legal challenge and cleared the way for the ordinance to eventually take effect. But just today, before the law could become official, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals revived a challenge filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the ordinance on antitrust grounds, sending the case back down to the lower court for further action.
As if gig businesses haven’t had enough bad news to digest in the past few weeks... fresh off the heels of the California Supreme Court’s decision in the Dynamex Operations case, members of Congress are now focusing on increasing workplace rights for gig economy workers while handing them the ability to bargain collectively.
The ink on the Dynamex court decision is barely dry, but plaintiffs’ attorneys are not wasting any time in taking advantage of the new misclassification standard established for California businesses. In a pair of lawsuits filed on May 8 in a San Francisco state court, workers for both Lyft and Postmates filed claims alleging they were improperly classified as contractors. The lawsuits each use specific language aimed at conforming to the new ABC test established by the California Supreme Court. Specifically:
The California Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court last week. The weight of the court’s decision to apply a three-prong test to determine whether a worker is an employee is heavy, without a doubt. As my colleague Rich Meneghello says, the decision will “appear in the nightmares of gig economy executives.”
As of a few months ago, there were approximately 127.7 million full-time gig workers in the United States. And with statistics supporting continued growth into the future, upstart businesses, traditional businesses, and every type of enterprise in between should pay attention. The success, or failure, of your business might very well depend on it.
Late Friday afternoon, the attorneys for the worker who came out on the losing end of the Grubhub misclassification trial asked the appeals court to return the case to the lower court for a new hearing. Their reasoning? Last week’s momentous Dynamex ruling by the California Supreme Court changed the standard that courts should follow when making a classification determination between employee and independent contractor, and the plaintiff wants the court to take a fresh look at the case with this new standard in mind. This maneuver was all but inevitable, and gig companies around the country (but especially in California) should pay close attention to the proceedings to see how this development might impact them.