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Critics Warn Worker Protections at Risk Under "Gig Economy" Bill

At least nine states, including Colorado, are considering measures that would make it easier for companies to classify workers as independent contractors if they are signed up with platforms including Uber. (Sandeepnewstyle/Wikimedia Commons)
At least nine states, including Colorado, are considering measures that would make it easier for companies to classify workers as independent contractors if they are signed up with platforms including Uber. (Sandeepnewstyle/Wikimedia Commons)
April 3, 2018

DENVER – More than 100,000 workers in the "gig economy" - including drivers, plumbers, electricians and child-care professionals - could lose workers-comp and unemployment-insurance coverage if a new bill making its way through the state Legislature becomes law.

Senate Bill 171 would change the current litmus test used to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.

Rebecca Smith, the work structures portfolio director for the National Employment Law Project, says the measure would make it easier for companies to categorize people as contractors.

"If we have an employer, we're entitled to minimum wage and protection from discrimination, and the right to come together with other workers and negotiate," she explains. "And we get benefits if we're injured on the job and benefits if we lose our job."

Under the bill, contractor status would apply to workers if they are not directly supervised, don't have to accept a minimum number of job requests and can work flexible hours, among other requirements. Proponents argue that platforms such as Uber shouldn't be treated the same as conventional employers because they're in the business of creating and maintaining software products that connect consumers to services.

Smith says many marketplace platforms actually do the same things that conventional employers do: they screen workers before they hire them, they set standards and subject workers to discipline for violations, they set rates of pay, and can fire workers.

"So they really are employers," she adds. "They're just coming up with a whole new test to make it seem like they're not the employers of the workers so that they can save money on payroll taxes and so they don't have to comply with baseline labor standards like minimum wage."

Smith adds similar bills have been introduced in at least nine states this year. Senate Bill 171 cleared the state Senate and could be heard in the House Judiciary Committee as early as this week.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO