State Representative, Cambridge Democrat whose district includes Belmont and parts of Arlington and Cambridge
This pandemic has held up a mirror to our society and much of what we have seen is good – neighbors helping neighbors; brave workers laboring under difficult circumstances; and a sense of shared sacrifice. Unfortunately, the mirror also reveals more clearly deep fissures of inequality. As we reopen the economy, we have a chance to right injustices and secure a better future for all of us.
One injustice is the plight of those who work in the so-called “gig economy,” such as Uber and Lyft drivers. Tens of thousands of our friends and neighbors working in those occupations lack basic workplace protections. For instance, “gig workers” do not receive unemployment benefits because they are classified as “independent contractors” rather than “employees.” In this crisis, guess who paid the bill for that misclassification? That’s right – you and me – not the executives and investors in these companies.
When the pandemic hit and people stopped using gig services, workers had no safety net because Big Gig companies have refused to pay into the system. Congress had to bail out Big Gig, paying unemployment benefits to these workers; the companies paid nothing. We, the taxpayers, are left to clean up Big Gig’s mess. No matter what they tell you about the “flexibility” their workers have, it’s just not right.
To remedy this wrong, State Representative Jay Livingstone and I filed legislation to require these companies to meet a threshold minimum of corporate responsibility – to pay into the unemployment system. The bill is straightforward, specifying that any company with a business model that substantially relies on independent contractors to provide its service or product is an “employer” for unemployment law purposes. The bill helps all workers get the safety net they need.
We cannot simply go back to business as usual, not after the glaring inequities this crisis has revealed. California recently sued Uber and Lyft for shortchanging their workers. With our long commitment to the leading edge of public policy, Massachusetts must act now. The time to allow our friends and neighbors to languish as second-class citizens in the workplace must end. Gig workers need and deserve a safety net.
Malden resident; Northeastern University master’s degree student; part-time driver on Lyft; founder, the Angus Effect consulting business
Pushing new taxes impacting independent contractors and the gig platforms we use would kill thousands of jobs for working families right when we need them most. I moved from Florida to Massachusetts two years ago to pursue my education and build my future. As both a Northeastern University MPA student and the founder of a career and personal development business, I know all too well the value of being able to flexibly earn money in my spare time.
Many independent contractors using gig economy platforms already pay unemployment taxes indirectly if they have other jobs — when employers pay taxes it means less money in workers’ pockets. And the platforms themselves pay unemployment for their traditional (non-contract) employees. Consider those of us who offer rideshare through the Lyft platform:
52 percent have regular jobs — teachers, office workers, retail clerks. We drive three or four hours weekly. We effectively pay unemployment through our regular jobs and we pay taxes on the extra cash we earn driving.
22 percent own our businesses — photographers, personal trainers, IT consultants. We drive between projects, off-season, or during slow periods. We pay twice the Medicare and Social Security taxes regular employees pay, and our health insurance costs are much higher because we don’t get group coverage from an employer.
7 percent are retired — cops, veterans, teachers. We drive when we want so we can spoil our grandkids or supplement our pensions. We’ve paid taxes all our lives.
6 percent are students. We drive when not studying or during breaks in classes. Some may be living on our parents’ couches, but driving lets us chip in for groceries.
12 percent are between jobs. We also deliver groceries, move furniture, and design websites. These gig economy platforms allow us to continue paying our bills while looking for work. We’ve contributed plenty to unemployment taxes.
2 percent are full-time drivers. We make $40,000 to $70,000 a year driving and use rideshare platforms to find riders.
Independent contractors already pay more than their fair share of taxes. Should gig economy companies and by extension those who earn with them pay into unemployment? The truth of the matter is we already do.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact email@example.com.