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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?

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.

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.

When considering the place of unions in the gig economy, many jump to the conclusion that the National Labor Relations Act does not apply because gig workers are usually independent contractors. While it is true that the NLRA does not apply to independent contractors, businesses should not discount the ability of gig workers to find ways to bargain for certain working conditions and get similar protections.

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.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard argument today over a proposal that would permit ride-sharing drivers who work for companies such as Uber and Lyft to organize and form unions. Given what could be at stake—the potential for the first-ever gig worker union—this has been a hard-fought legal battle to date, and today’s argument has been no different in nature.

Of all the public policy debates surrounding the gig economy of late, one of the hottest topics has been “portable benefits” – the concept that gig economy workers should have flexible, portable benefits that they can take with them from job to job, or “gig to gig.” This push just got a major jumpstart that may turn out to be a game-changer. 

As union membership in the private sector continues to dwindle (down to 6.4% in 2016), the American labor movement finds itself at a crossroads with the momentous, non-union gig economy. Just as the economy has evolved juristically over time, organized labor will also be forced to reinvent itself to maintain any form of relevancy. One way this is being done is through micro-unions.

The gig economy just got a strong ally in its fight to remain union-free: the federal government. The latest development in the ongoing saga involving an attempt to put into place the nation’s first unionization law that would cover certain gig economy companies involves the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission throwing its support behind gig companies.

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