Press Release

AALDEF testifies at NYS Senate Committee hearing on workers in the gig economy

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Today, AALDEF submitted testimony to the New York State Senate Internet and Technology Committee, which held a hearing to “identify the needs of workers and employers operating outside the traditional employee-employer dynamic and determine possible legislative avenues.” AALDEF called for the equal treatment of workers in the gig economy:

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), founded in 1974, is a New York-based national organization that protects the civil rights of Asian Americans through litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing. Economic justice is one of AALDEF’s program priorities, and we submit this testimony to address the major problem of worker protections in the gig economy.

Tech companies continue to operate in a Wild West of weak employment protections and rampant misclassification. Today, we resist this status quo and turn our focus and resources toward advancing an equitable future for gig workers. As we approach the 2020 legislative session, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) joins with our allies in the NY Do It Right Employment Classification Test (DIRECT) Coalition to combat the most egregious practices of the gig economy.

Misclassifying workers as “independent contractors” results in companies stripping workers of rights and protections that they are owed. Unlike employees, independent contractors do not have to be paid minimum wage, overtime, or benefits like health insurance, retirement or pension benefits, social security benefits, or workers’ compensation protections. Worse, many companies pass on the costs of doing business to the “independent contractors” by deducting them from workers’ pay. These expenses often include normal business expenses like fuel, insurance, travel expenses, and supply costs. If the misclassification occurred for several years, the back wages and reimbursements owed can be enormous.

Misclassification also enables other forms of abuse. For racial minorities who have been misclassified, the lack of protection from federal laws relating to employment discrimination is especially alarming. Many algorithms are opaque, and rate workers in ways that perpetuate biases and lead to discrimination. In Asian communities, and other immigrant communities, this is a huge cause for concern. In one 2016 Northeastern University study, for example, it was found on several apps “that black and Asian workers received lower ratings than white people. And on TaskRabbit, women received fewer reviews than men, and black workers received lower ratings than white ones.” See Alex Rosenblat et al., “Discriminating Tastes: Customer Ratings as Vehicles for Bias,” Oct. 19, 2016 (available at SSRN). Despite reports like these, tech companies continue to refuse to explain their data metrics, operating as though algorithmic transparency is impossible. We know that this is blatantly false, and that tech company’s opacity is meant only to prevent advocates from accessing and understanding information that would illuminate systemic inequities.

We ask our legislators to stand with us in building on the historic success of our brothers and sisters in California. Inspired by the “employee-presumption” found in the ABC test legislation, we are pushing for similar legislation in New York. By making companies prove that their workers are independent contractors and not employees, we seek to combat misclassification and ensure that gig workers get the dignity and protections that they deserve. As this Coalition goes forward, AALDEF is committed to working toward broader and more inclusive worker protections.

You can also download a copy of our testimony here.

For more information, contact:
Audrey Winn, Skadden Fellow