24-hour match: 2x your gift’s impact today! Double my donation
COVID & Unemployment

California court to rule on gig worker classification

Meghan McCarty Carino Aug 5, 2020
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
A driver takes part in a caravan protest against Uber and Lyft in Los Angeles. For many ride-share drivers, unemployment insurance and other benefits are major issues. Mario Tama/Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

California court to rule on gig worker classification

Meghan McCarty Carino Aug 5, 2020
Heard on:
A driver takes part in a caravan protest against Uber and Lyft in Los Angeles. For many ride-share drivers, unemployment insurance and other benefits are major issues. Mario Tama/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

A California court is expected to hand down a big ruling Thursday about how gig workers are classified.

The state attorney general and the city attorneys of Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego have asked for an injunction that would force Uber and Lyft to immediately reclassify their drivers as employees, rather than independent contractors. And which side of that line the workers fall on has taken on added significance during the pandemic.

It’s all about the safety net. Traditional full-time employees — for the most part — have one to fall back on. Independent contractors like gig workers? Not so much.

“The option is between working or losing the roof over my head,” said Edan Alva, a Lyft driver who lives outside San Francisco. He got sick in January with what he thinks was the regular flu. 

“And since I don’t get sick days, there is no way for me to stop working,” Alva said. “So I was working while having the symptoms, which I hate myself for doing it. It’s dumb.”

Paid leave, subsidized health insurance, unemployment benefits — they’ve all become crucial during the pandemic. They’re also usually paid for by companies. New emergency laws like the federal CARES Act have provided some of these benefits to workers who aren’t full-time employees.

“But I think it’s just revealed how many holes we have for too many people in our economy in general,” said David Weil, a professor at Brandeis University. He’s the author of “The Fissured Workplace,” about how the traditional work model the country’s safety net was built on has been breaking down.

That leaves some workers without benefits and the government with fewer resources to respond to emergencies.

Because gig platforms like Uber and Lyft don’t pay into unemployment insurance like regular employers, the federal government is now shouldering the cost of providing relief to gig workers who’ve been sidelined by the pandemic. And state unemployment trust funds are quickly running out of money.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

Read More

Collapse

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.

Don’t miss this match!

Donate today and your gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the American Public Media Board.