Following a proposed and failed bill in the New York State legislature during Summer 2019 that would have created a new category of “Dependent Worker,” and California’s passage of AB-5, which codified the ABC “employment” test into law, all signs pointed to 2020 being the year that New York instituted a sea change to the definition of independent contractor.
A New Jersey lawmaker recently took a big step towards creating a system of benefits for gig economy workers. New Jersey State Senator Troy Singletary introduced Senate Bill 943 which, if enacted, would “establish a system for portable benefits for workers who provide services to consumers through contracting agents” in the state.
After reviewing the 2,203 pieces of proposed legislation introduced in the California legislature by the February 21 deadline, it’s obvious that one issue will dominate debate in the 2020 session: the continued fallout from AB 5, the 2019 bill that codified and expanded the ABC test for determining independent contractor status. In fact, 34 separate pieces of proposed legislation that seek to modify or repeal AB 5, create new exemptions, or otherwise address the misclassification questions raised by the new law were introduced before the recent bill deadline. Let’s take a look at some of the key issues and the more prominent pieces of legislation.
My colleague Todd Lyon wrote an excellent piece earlier this week about the House of Representatives passing the PRO Act, essentially a “wish list” for labor advocates seeking to tip the scales back towards unions. One of the items tucked away in that long laundry list of provisions that would come to pass should this bill become law: the notorious ABC test would be put into place across the country. Currently restricted to just a handful for states (most infamously, California), this test would become the law of the land if the House has its way.
New Jersey businesses will now face an increased slate of potential penalties for misclassification violations thanks to a series of bills just signed into effect by Governor Phil Murphy, but gig economy companies can breathe a sigh of relief because lawmakers declined to adopt a large-scale misclassification California-like law that could have seen tens of thousands workers classified as employees instead of contractors. The six bills signed into effect last week emerged from a worker misclassification task force, but thanks in part to the controversy that has plagued California’s AB-5 – which codified the infamous ABC test and has caused countless headaches in workers and businesses alike – the state decided not to pursue a proposal that would have approached that same territory. But the reprieve may only be temporary: lawmakers and worker advocates alike are already heard at work in the 2020 legislative session to pass a modified ABC test that would upend the current classification structure.
In anticipation of New York’s 2020 legislative session, state lawmakers are beginning to develop a proposal to regulate the gig economy – and the news isn’t good for businesses. As we discussed in an entry back in September, New York seems intent on developing a law including California-like elements that might lead to a version of the ABC test in the Empire State. But recent news means we might see things get taken a massive step further. Some legislative leaders are also seeking to introduce the country’s first collective bargaining law that would permit gig workers to unionize.
Things were starting to get dicey in the Garden State as the legislature debated a California-like proposal that would have caused serious problems for gig economy companies and other businesses utilizing contract labor. But a measure of good news emerged last Friday as Senate leadership announced there would be changes to the draft legislation to protect a greater number of independent contractors. While we still cannot be sure about the extent of the changes and whether the resulting amendments will permit the typical gig economy company to continue business-as-usual, there is reason for optimism that the state will look to balance both the interests of workers and the needs of business when it comes to legislation in this area.
As we reported just a few weeks ago, Congress has begun to gather information and consider the “future of work,” with considerable emphasis on the role of the gig economy. Although this emergency economy is growing rapidly, tension is also growing within its ranks. In particular, gig workers are attracted to earning money while maintaining all the flexibility and control they can exercise in these arrangements. But they are not entirely comfortable with the concept of being an independent contractor (IC) if that means they have no fringe benefits, are not covered by the minimum wage, and have no protection from non-discrimination laws. In this way, and in a much truer sense, ICs are “on their own.”
Lawmakers have begun to hold a series of hearings to discuss the “future of work,” and it may be no surprise that the two political parties have differing ideas about how that should impact the gig economy. The House Education and Labor Committee held the first of three such meetings on October 23, aiming to ensure that the law keeps up with modern developments such as automation, artificial intelligence, and the gig economy. While Democratic lawmakers seem to want to increase restrictions on the industry, their Republican counterparts are looking toward more flexible options. According to an article by Jaclyn Diaz of Bloomberg Law, the working subcommittees will recommend specific legislation early next year. What might such legislation look like, and what chances of success might it have?
“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.”