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.
You can tell we’re well into the midst of the campaign season when presidential hopefuls reveal their plans for handling various societal concerns. We saw it as several Democratic candidates lined up to offer their plans to combat pay equity issues. Now, it’s the gig economy’s turn. A few months ago, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg put forth a plan that called for greater protections for gig economy workers. Next up: Senator Bernie Sanders.
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.
“Anything you can do, I can do better.” That’s essentially the sentiment floating around Albany these days as New York lawmakers look enviously towards California and its groundbreaking new law that will soon revolutionize the way workers are characterized as contractors or employees. In the wake of California’s AB 5 – a bill that will codify the stringent ABC test into state law and make it extremely difficult for companies to classify their gig economy workers as independent contractors – New York legislative leaders are lining up to be next to reshape the state’s misclassification test, according to Newsday, “on a scale that one veteran lawmaker said would be similar to sweeping changes made during the Industrial Revolution.”
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.
The Gig Economy has caught the attention of at least one presidential candidate who has unveiled a plan called “A New Rising Tide” which, among other things, calls for greater protections for gig economy workers.
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.)
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.
It’s been a roller coaster two weeks for gig economy companies. On April 29, the U.S. Department of Labor handed gig economy companies a nice outcome by issuing an opinion letter confirming that typical gig workers are, indeed, independent contractors. Just days later, the 9th Circuit spoiled the party by saying that the California ABC test should be applied retroactively, opening the door for massive potential exposure against companies with a California presence. And on May 9, gig companies felt the second hit from a one-two punch when California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement issued an opinion letter extending the reach of the ABC test. Today, however, gig companies are feeling the good kind of whiplash after the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel released an advice memo concluding that a group of Uber drivers are properly classified as independent contractors and shouldn’t be permitted to proceed with their labor claims. The advice memo means it is much less likely that a traditional gig economy company, structured in a typical fashion when it comes to workforce operations, will face a valid unionization effort or could be found liable for an unfair labor practice charge.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this one. Today the 9th Circuit handed a big loss to gig economy companies by concluding that last year’s Dynamex decision from the California Supreme Court and its wide-reaching ABC test should be applied retroactively. That means that the ABC test – which makes it very difficult for gig economy businesses to properly classify their workers as independent contractors rather than employees – will be applied to federal cases when evaluating relationships that businesses thought were to be adjudged under a much more flexible standard.