As the battle for worker classification for app-based drivers rages around the country, a new organization in New Jersey has formed to advocate for the workers.
The New Jersey Coalition for Independent Work was announced on Tuesday for the purposes of advocating for and protecting the continued independence and flexibility of app-based workers in the gig economy.
The group’s initial membership includes app-based companies DoorDash (NYSE: DASH), Instacart, Lyft (NASDAQ: LYFT), Postmates and Uber (NYSE: UBER), as well as a number of local chambers of commerce, churches and other organizations.
“This type of independent work provides a critical lifeline to so many of our communities of color, which are disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn,” said Senior Pastor the Rev. Dr. Steffie Bartley Sr., a founding member of the coalition and northeast regional director of National Action Network. “These jobs offer control over one’s own schedule and the ability to balance family and work responsibilities as people see fit. Folks can build work around their lives, not the other way around.”
Companies, opponents of gig work claim, take advantage of workers by refusing to offer benefits or higher wages. Just Thursday, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives reintroduced the PRO Act, a bill that first passed the House in January 2020. The bill would strengthen labor relations laws and offer certain gig workers protections afforded employees.
New Jersey is seen as one of the next battlegrounds over worker misclassification, following the lead of legislators in California. In that state, passage of Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) sought to reclassify workers traditionally seen as independent and define them as employees. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash successfully led a voter initiative in the November election, called Prop 22, to exempt app-based drivers from the law.
In January 2020, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a number of bills into law regarding worker rights. The laws were in response to a July 2019 New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development report that found the state was losing millions each year in revenue due to companies misclassifying workers.
“In 2018, the DOL’s Employer Accounts section found that 12,315 workers were misclassified, $462,058,602.55 in wages were underreported, and $13,911,968.34 in contributions (unemployment, disability, family leave insurance, and workforce) were underreported,” the report stated.
“These jobs offer control over one’s own schedule and the ability to balance family and work responsibilities as people see fit. Folks can build work around their lives, not the other way around.”Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Steffie Bartley Sr., a founding member of the coalition and northeast regional director of National Action Network
Last month, the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG), an affiliate union to the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, announced it was launching IDG Chicago. The group, which represents more than 200,000 Uber, Lyft and other gig economy workers in the New York City area, including Connecticut and New Jersey, seeks to improve wages and benefits for gig workers.
The New Jersey coalition, though, cites a Rideshare Guy survey that claimed app-based drivers want to remain independent by a 6-to-1 margin, and as such, the coalition will “support policy solutions that meet the needs of the rapidly evolving 21st century workforce and will amplify workers’ voices with state and local officials about the benefits of independent work and the need for a modernized benefits structure,” the release announcing the group stated.
“This coalition is a broad range of community, business and faith-based organizations and leaders who are focused on ensuring the voices and views of app-based workers and the community are heard by policymakers. Together, we support solutions that enable workers to access benefits while maintaining the flexibility and independence they need,” Beth DeFalco, a coalition spokeswoman, told FreightWaves.
As states continue to push employee status, groups such as the New Jersey Coalition are concerned these efforts will undermine flexible work arrangements central to app-based workers.
“The Urban League of Essex County is committed to helping everyone achieve economic and social success and prosperity,” Vivian Fraser, president and CEO of the Urban League of Essex County, said in a statement. “Flexible work opportunities and quality transportation options are helping families attain economic self-sufficiency. We look forward to working with the New Jersey Coalition for Independent Work to create a 21st Century economy that works for everyone.”
For many gig workers, the flexibility the jobs afford is a way to supplement full-time positions, often with lower pay. An online survey conducted by payments firm DaVinci Payments, found that 63% of gig workers (approximately 59 million out of the total 93 million gig workers in the country) also held full-time jobs in 2020, a 19% increase from 2019. The average gig worker income was $17,445 in 2020, up from $16,926 in 2019, daVinci said.
The survey also found about 50% of gig workers had a household income below $50,000 per year, suggesting that many with full-time jobs worked in lower-paying industries and used gig work to increase household earnings. The average U.S. household income in 2020 was $68,703 in 2019, according to the Census Bureau.
“The strength of the New Jersey economy relies on our ability to innovate and adapt as we reopen and rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic. We must embrace and strengthen the gig economy moving forward with innovative solutions that reflect how people are working and living in today’s modern economy,” Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said in a statement.
The complete list of organizational members of the coalition includes:
- African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (AACCNJ)
- Internet Association
- NAN Newark Tech World
- Newark Regional Business Partnership
- New Hope Baptist Church
- New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA)
- New Jersey Chamber of Commerce
- South Jersey Chamber of Commerce
- Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of NJ
- The John R. Elliott HERO Campaign
- Urban League of Essex County