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Gig economy businesses across the country looked to what happened in California this year and cringed. Other states looked there and were intrigued. After California passed the most aggressive independent contract statute in the nation in 2019 and made it extremely difficult for gig economy businesses to classify their workers as independent contractors, a string of states are considering their own equivalent statutes. 2020 could be the year that the ABC test spreads far and wide across the country.

A Massachusetts federal court just ruled that gig workers cannot escape arbitration provisions by claiming they are exempt transportation workers. The September 30 decision in Austin v. DoorDash marks the second win for gig businesses following a troubling Supreme Court ruling in January 2019 that opened the door to a possible arbitration exemption. However, there remain other federal courts that have ruled for workers on this issue, and the Massachusetts court even indicated there could have been worker victory had the fact pattern been slightly different, so companies are not out of the woods on this issue by a long shot.

You’ve been waiting quite a long time for a critical ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on the very fabric of the gig economy model – and you’re going to have wait even longer. The appeals court just announced late last week that the Lawson v. Grubhub case has been put on hold while it waits to hear from the California Supreme Court on whether the new ABC test should be applied retroactively to the case, or whether the appeal would apply the older flexible misclassification test that had been in place at the time the trial took place.

California Governor Gavin Newsom wasted little time by signing AB 5 into law earlier today, and his signing statement should cause quite a few eyebrows to be raised. It was no surprise that he signed the bill into effect; he said he would do as much in an op-ed posted several weeks ago in the Sacramento Bee. For those unaware, the new law will dramatically raise the bar for classifying a worker as an independent contractor in California by adopting the ABC test to just about all business arrangements (read our full summary here). But what was surprising was the contemporaneous statement he made while signing the bill into effect, signaling that the unionization of the gig workforce was the next step he’d like the state to pursue.

Negotiations continued right up until the end, but when the dust settled on California’s newest employment law, gig economy companies were not spared from the worst. Yesterday, state lawmakers passed AB 5, the state law that will not only codify the same ABC test introduced to the state in last year’s Dynamex decision but will take it a few steps further. 

Chalk up in the win column for businesses. Yesterday the National Labor Relations Board ruled that companies found to have misclassified workers as contractors will not automatically face liability for an unfair labor practice.

A California State Senate leader may have thrown cold water on the idea that we will see a 2019 legislative solution to the misclassification debate that would preserve the gig economy workforce model as we know it, but her office later clarified that a compromise was still possible before the close of this session. Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins told Capital Public Radio on Wednesday that it is unlikely the legislature would be able to reach a deal that would provide protections for gig economy companies this legislative session but instead may have to wait until 2020, although her office later walked back those remarks and said that Senator Atkins is not ruling out some sort of legislative deal in 2019.

With just a one-page, single-paragraph Order, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday provided the faintest glimmer of hope for gig economy businesses everywhere – but especially for those in California. The federal appeals court withdrew its May 2 decision that had extended the Dynamex decision on a retroactive basis, meaning that the ABC test might not necessarily be as broadly applied as we recently thought. Instead, the 9th Circuit decided to send the issue to the California Supreme Court, asking the state’s high court to conclude once and for all whether the ABC test should be applied to alleged misclassification controversies that arose before the Dynamex decision was ever issued. (For a quick primer on the Dynamex case and the ABC test, read here.)

In a development many wouldn’t find surprising, a collation of forces announced this week that they would like to see ride-sharing drivers for Uber and Lyft receive a guaranteed base wage, flexible benefits, and a new drivers’ association to lend a united voice to represent their interests. What is surprising? The two forces that joined to make this call were the leaders of Uber and Lyft themselves. 

Earlier this week, the California Assembly overwhelmingly passed AB5 – a measure that would codify the ABC test introduced to the state in last year’s Dynamex decision, and make life even more challenging for the average gig economy business. The best hope now is that the legislature will take business considerations into account during necessary compromise negotiations with the state Senate, and the bill will be modified from its present form to address some key issues…and perhaps exempt typical gig economy companies.

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