Gig workers in Washington are indeed in a lighter mood as a bill that grants new benefits to ride-hail workers passed the statehouse.
The bill is surprisingly backed in partnership by Uber, Lyft, and the Teamster Local 117 union. It was actually a compromise between the government and the companies.
Under the bill, gig workers will get paid sick time, minimum workers’ compensation, immunity from retaliation, and an opportunity to contest account close-down. However, the workers are still classified as independent contractors after companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart continue to spend millions lobbying to let them continue using the classification for their gig workers. For example, the companies won Proposition 22 in California that asked people to vote on whether the classification should be allowed to stand or not. They are preparing to do the same in Massachusetts.
Teamsters Local 117 VP Brenda West said to the Washington House in an email, “This bill is supported by both Uber and Lyft, as well as the Teamsters, their affiliated Drivers Union, and dozens of labor and community-based organizations across the state. Moreover, it is backed by the people who matter most—the drivers themselves.”
However, not all the drivers affected by the bill are satisfied with the bill. Some feel that being regarded as independent contractors is not as crucial as securing essential benefits. Others think not being independent workers will keep them tied to the ride-hailing companies, curtailing the freedom promised by gig work.
Meanwhile, some drivers are not happy with the benefits mandated by the bill because they are not comprehensive enough. For instance, they can only accumulate paid sick leave during the hours they have passengers inside their vehicles, which, according to a study, is about half of their working time.
Under the law, the companies cannot fix their workers’ schedules, a nod to the basic idea of the gig economy. Also, cities can’t regulate the companies.
Speaking to Bloomberg, Peter Kuel, president of the Teamsters-affiliated Drivers Union, said, “Thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers — predominantly immigrants and people of color — will benefit from this long overdue expansion of pay raises, benefits and protections statewide.”
However, as noted by the publication LaborNotes, the Drivers Union was forced to back the bill because the companies threatened to go for a ballot similar to Proposition 22 if there was no compromise. A board member of Drivers Union, Don Creery, told LaborNotes, “They’re also holding the gun at our heads with the possibility of an initiative. They spent $200 million on California. It comes down to the reality that we don’t have the money to buy TV ads. They do. They will misinform the public with a barrage of TV ads, so we will lose an initiative. We could lose everything.”
Some gig workers had protested against California’s Proposition 22 because it did not allow them to unionize so they could demand better working conditions.