Reforming Work On-Demand in 2017


How to improve the lives of vulnerable workers in the US economy? The National Employment Law Project has answers for state legislatures and agencies.

The NELP, a labor advocacy project based in New York City, issued “The On-Demand Economy & State Labor Protections,” a group of brief papers for lawmakers and policymakers. The aim is to broaden economic security for workers whose labor occurs under precarious employment conditions.

First, what is the on-demand economy, and how does it function for the relevant class interests? It is where “many online and app-based companies seek and provide workers who drive, clean, deliver food, do odd jobs, care for children and elders, and perform tasks online—often for very little money, with no job security, and no labor protections at all,” according to the NELP.

Recall that about one year ago, Lawrence F. Katz of Harvard and Alan B. Krueger of Princeton, two Ivy League economics professors, released a paper on the growth of “alternative work arrangements,” a term that includes the on-demand economy. Their research found “that all of the net employment growth in the US economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements.”

Meanwhile, owners of on-demand firms tout the “flexibility” this trend affords working people. What is not to like?

Job flexibility conceals more than it reveals. On-demand workers lack the core standards for labor that protect people on the job.

Employers use their political power to sidestep such labor standards. To wit, 26 states have passed laws to exempt transportation firms such as Uber to exempt workers from labor laws to protect them: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

This is a class conflict between capital and labor over the wealth that the latter makes and the former takes. The NELP explains the process: “Their employers get away with this major workplace violation largely by classifying their workers as independent contractors—who are not, by traditional definitions, guaranteed the same protections as employees.”

Billions of dollars are at stake here, as the NELP shows. “A 2010 study estimated that misclassifying workers shifts $831.4 million in unemployment insurance taxes and $2.54 billion in workers’ compensation premiums to law-abiding businesses annually,” according to the NELP.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, folks. Statehouses are a critical terrain of labor-law reform.

Accordingly, the NELP focuses on key areas to improve the labor conditions and standards of on-demand workers at the state level. They range from improving workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, fair-chance hiring to job flexibility.

Last but not least is the NELP’s model state legislation. The anti-labor American Legislative Exchange Council does not own the copyright for MSL.

In all, the NELP’s brief papers provide material to advocate and make better labor policy for workers in the on-demand economy nationwide. To read “The On-Demand Economy & State Labor Protections” visit:

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2017

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