Proposals included expanding paid sick leave to app-based workers and other misclassified workers, creating an emergency fund for undocumented workers, and reforming unemployment insurance requirements

NEW YORK — A wide coalition of worker justice advocates, joined by Council Member Brad Lander, held a virtual press conference to call for expansion of paid sick leave to gig workers and misclassified independent contractors, unemployment insurance expansion, and the establishment of a fund for workers who otherwise will not qualify for other assistance, such as undocumented workers and bona fide independent contractors. Video of the press conference is available for download here. 

Yesterday, Council Member Brad Lander proposed legislation to expand NYC’s Earned Safe and Sick Leave to extend paid sick leave to workers for gig companies, as well as other workers who have been misclassified as independent contractors. Such workers include Uber and Lyft drivers, Amazon Flex delivery drivers, food delivery workers, nail salon technicians, home care workers, janitors, and others.

“During this urgent public health crisis, we must extend paid sick leave to workers for gig companies. They are helping to keep us afloat through home deliveries and other essential services, and yet we aren’t even extending them basic health protections,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Workers need to be able to stay home when they are sick, or to care for sick loved ones without losing income. We cannot allow the business model of a few billion-dollar corporations to shred our social safety net.”

Lander’s legislation will amend the NYC Safe and Sick Leave Law to expand coverage by utilizing a simple test, known as the “ABC test,” to clarify who is an employee so that a greater number of workers will be eligible for the city’s paid sick time. That test includes gig workers and others whose labor builds someone else’s business rather than their own enterprise.

More than 850,000 low-paid workers in the state may be improperly classified as independent contractors, and therefore not eligible for many benefits, including paid sick leave. Such workers include Uber and Lyft drivers, Amazon Flex delivery drivers, food delivery workers, nail salon technicians, home care workers, janitors, and others. Gig workers were not included in the paid sick leave bill passed by the New York State Legislature, which only covers traditional employees, nor were they included in legislation passed by the U.S. Congress. The ongoing public health crisis has highlighted the necessity of including these workers in paid sick time legislation and other benefits, particularly because many of these workers are performing critical functions helping people get food delivered and get to the doctor.

“Right now paid sick leave would be a great help, it is an especially scary moment. Drivers are still going to work because they have to meet their families’ needs. It would give them a boost, make them feel more secure,” said Bigu Haider, an Uber driver organizing with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.

Freelancer Daisy Alioto, a member of the Freelance Solidarity Project, a division of the National Writer’s Union representing several hundred freelance media workers, spoke about the lack of safety net for freelance workers. 

“Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, freelance media workers were already navigating an incredibly precarious industry,” said Daisy Alioto. “Staff jobs have dried up, and in the most egregious cases, writers have been laid off and offered their same jobs back without benefits. These ongoing roles, with all of the expectations of an employee and none of the benefits, are termed ‘permalance’ but what they truly represent is misclassification. We have supported, and continue to support, legislation that curbs this type of misclassification. However, coronavirus has illuminated the lack of safety net for freelancers with the spotlight of catastrophe. Those who limped along in a good economy are now openly struggling, but we are not alone. I urge the City Council to take up Brad Lander’s proposal immediately. Paid sick leave is the least we can do for New York City’s freelancers and I hope in due course the city will do far more.”

The NY Do It Right Employment Classification Test (DIRECT) Coalition is a group of workers, consumers, organizers, advocates and lawyers fighting to pass a Fair Play in Employment Act for New York, a law that could help create a more clear process to determine workers’ coverage under state wage and hour and workers compensation laws. 

“While the NY DIRECT coalition is committed to addressing the statewide crisis of worker misclassification, which has robbed workers of labor protections for decades, we also are advocating for city and state officials to provide immediate assistance to the many low-wage workers who have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. We can provide emergency assistance for workers who are hurting now, while also resolving the loopholes in our economic system that leave so many workers vulnerable in crises such as this,” said Brian Chen, a staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project. 

Richard Blum, Staff Attorney in the Employment Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society, said: “New York needs to update its Unemployment Insurance rules to reflect the realities of today’s economy before the crisis, and even more important, the realities of labor during this public health and economic crisis.  We need to make sure that workers who obtain or hold onto part-time work can still get the support they need from the Unemployment Insurance system, and that the system pays workers a high enough minimum and maximum benefit to meaningfully help them get through these rough times.”

New York City can lead the way in creating fair and meaningful standards for employee benefits,” said Zubin Soleimany, a Staff Attorney at the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA). “Applying the ABC test to the NYC Earned Sick and Safe TIme Act creates clarity for employers and employees, and avoids the current methods of determining employee status based which often involves years-long litigation over access to current benefits like unemployment insurance and the minimum wage. In this moment of crisis, it is essential that the NYS DOL honor its previously issued final decisions determining Uber drivers, Lyft drivers, and other platform-based workers to be employees for purposes of the Unemployment Insurance Law.  The quick delivery of unemployment benefits will be essential to workers’ economic and physical security in the weeks and months to income, and platform-workers applications must be processed as quickly as any other employees.”

Advocates also called for an emergency fund to be created to support undocumented workers, many of whom are losing their jobs as businesses close and are not eligible for unemployment insurance. 

“We are incredibly grateful for all of the public officials working heroic hours to try to address the Covid-19 crisis. But an unaddressed crisis is rising in immigrant communities. Immigrant workers are on the frontline of this public health disaster: cleaning spaces, making deliveries, working at Amazon warehouses with a spike in demand, and working at jammed supermarket check-out lines. While at the same time, immigrant workers, who have long been the backbone of restaurant, construction and other jobs are seeing their jobs being shut down,” said Deborah Axt, Co-Director of Make the Road New York. “These workers have no ability to access unemployment insurance, and some members in Congress are doing everything in their power to cut them out of any support. The City and State need to act immediately to send cash payments to New York families regardless of immigration status, as Speaker Corey Johnson has proposed, expand the reach of the city’s paid sick days law, as Councilmember Brad Lander has proposed, and establish an emergency aid fund for those workers whose needs will otherwise go unseen and unaddressed in this moment.”