Unions, gig-economy firms gear up for New York benefits battle

Mon Nov 28, 2016 6:51am EST
 
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By Dan Levine and Kristina Cooke

(Reuters) - Faced with a barrage of lawsuits from workers demanding benefits and recognition as employees, some companies in the fast-growing 'gig economy' are looking to settle the issues through legislation.

Joseph Morelle, the number two Democrat in the New York State Assembly, said he has been talking about portable benefits with such companies, which use occasional workers to provide rides, deliveries, house-cleaning and other services through websites and apps.

He said he plans to introduce legislation early next year, which would be the first of its kind in the United States and is likely to draw scrutiny from organized labor.

In advance of that effort, online home-cleaning company Handy has circulated a draft bill, seen by Reuters, that would establish guidelines for a portable benefits plan for New York workers at gig-economy companies.

A key element of the draft bill is that it classifies workers at companies choosing to participate in the program as independent contractors rather than employees under state law, as long as the companies' dealings with their workers meet certain criteria.

Morelle would not say whether his proposed law would be based on the draft bill circulated by Handy, only that he was focused on passing some form of legislation to address the issues it raises.

"The gig economy is something more and more people will gravitate toward, and we clearly want to make sure they can get benefits," he said.

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Uber driver Sam Salem, 29, protests with other commercial drivers with the app-based, ride-sharing company Uber against working conditions outside the company's office in Santa Monica, California June 24, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo