A bill designed to look outwardly pro-labor might not be, according to union leaders and advocates.
Bloomberg reported that New York’s state government is coming close to a deal with companies such as Uber and Lyft that would give the latter the right to keep classifying its employees as independent contractors. The bill would also prevent recently organized labor from picketing, boycotting and striking.
However, the bill would acknowledge union and bargain agreements through a process involving the state government.
New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) Executive Director Bhairavi Desai said, in a statement, that the bill takes drivers for fools, and she sees through the charade.
“The bill is an insult and affront to real bargaining, unionization and worker organizing,” said Desai. “The bill reads like Uber’s fantasy novel,” Desai continued. “They get everything they want: ultimate deregulation, a phony union to give them cover, and workers at their mercy with no labor law or right to strike to build their power. This bill needs to be shredded.”
Both Lyft and Uber representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Uber and Lyft classify workers as independent contractors in order to, according to labor activists, avoid paying full benefits and don’t give them the protection of the National Labor Relations Board.
Desai, and other union leaders and advocates, believe that the proposed legislation is designed to weaken momentum for the Protect the Right to Organize Act being pushed in Congress. They believe that ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft are looking for workarounds to avoid having to compensate labor with a living wage.
In March, the House voted in favor of the Protect the Right To Organize (PRO) Act. Some of the act’s details include forbidding employer interference and influence in union elections (like what happened at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Bessemer, Ala.), barring employers from using a worker’s immigration status against them, and allowing unions to override state laws that let workers opt out of the union but still receive the same benefits.
One of the few holdouts among Senate Democrats regarding the PRO Act is Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz). The Intercept recently learned that Kelly has served on a five-year, state-paid seat on the board for restaurants such as Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Landry’s and Morton’s The Steakhouse. While he was serving on its board, Landry’s introduced a forced arbitration agreement to its employees. It requires them to sign away the ability to enter class lawsuits.
Actions like this would be illegal under the PRO Act.
In a joint statement, put together by unions and community organizing groups such as the National Employment Law Project, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, the National Writers Union, and the New York Civil Liberties Union, groups of unions and community groups declared their opposition to the state’s potential legislation noting that its language would undercut the PRO Act.
“The bill would reverse gains that workers have made at the city level and would block local municipalities from passing stronger workplace laws going forward,” read the letter. “It would destroy the first-in-the-nation New York City minimum pay standard for app-based drivers. This bill would undermine the current efforts of Los Deliveristas Unidos (LDU) to fight for better working conditions at the NYC level, such as the right to use bathrooms, transparency from the apps, and better pay.”
The collective pointed out that because the bill outlaws regulatory limits on the number of app-based drivers competing for passengers, driver pay could fall below $10 an hour when compared to the currently-mandated $17.47 an hour.
“App drivers would no longer be compensated for wait time, which is more than a third of their work time,” read the statement.
SEIU 32BJ President Kyle Bragg said he isn’t too fond of the bill’s language as it’s currently constructed.
“Our initial review of the draft legislation regarding app-based drivers and delivery workers raises serious concerns about how it would impact workers,” said Bragg. “We believe that legislation that addresses gig economy and other misclassified workers should at minimum maintain gains made by workers at the local level, retain existing state protections, and allow localities the power to establish improved standards.
“It should also afford workers a real voice and the ability to truly expand and strengthen their labor rights, benefits, and protections,” continued Bragg. “The proposal we have examined does not provide for those conditions and jeopardizes critical wins that workers have fought for over the years. What we have seen so far is not good for these workers in particular, or any working New Yorker.”