What Do California’s New Employment Laws Mean For Workers?

The new employment laws will reclassify about a million independent contractors as employees. You may have heard a reference to the fight for employment for those who work for the ridesharing giant, Uber. The reclassification will allow the workers the right to join a union, which will in turn give them more sway when it comes to bargaining with Uber for better pay and benefits. Right now, Uber drivers don’t expect much.

But there are two sides to the story.

A lot of Uber drivers like their job — they feel the pay is decent if you put in the hours, and better yet, you’re the one who decides exactly what those hours are. The job is a flexible one, and it gives those who are contracted the option of working or not working depending on how they feel or how much money they’ve already made for the week. 

And here’s the thing — while unions might do great work for some employees, not everyone feels that way. Take grocery store workers, for example. How would you feel if you were forced to join a union and pay the establishment a small chunk of each paycheck, only to barely make minimum wage? The point of a union is for increased bargaining power — for better pay and benefits, in other words — and without that, what’s the point? It’s almost like you’re paying a greedy corporation to protect you from a…greedy corporation — but they don’t do the job.

Worker status will be determined by an “ABC” test, which asks three questions: is a worker bound by employer rules? Is the work done somehow different from the employer’s normally established business? Last, is the worker established in the relevant trade?

The second question is where the arguments begin to arise: it seems obvious that Uber’s primary business practices involve, well, drivers driving. But according to the rideshare company, ridesharing is actually not its primary business. If that sounds absurd, the new law’s writers agree with you.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalex (Democrat-San Diego), who helped write the new law, was primarily concerned with how workers may or may not have been taken advantage of by ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft. But other professionals will see their job status change as well.

Labor lawyer Brad Shafer said, “A problem with AB 5 is some people got exemptions because they had political juice and other people didn’t. This is a legal standard that forces people who want to be independent contractors to be classified as employees. Take any performer who comes on stage at Staples Center. That entertainer would arguably be an employee of Staples Center. The performer is providing entertainment, and that is the business of Staples Center.”

Basically, the law is causing quite a few problems, and it might be a while before any of them really get worked out.

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