It’s rare that labor and industry interests align, but in the hazy, hectic days of the end of the state legislative session, anything can happen.
State Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo introduced a bill on Friday that would allow gig economy workers and other independent contractors to unionize and collectively bargain with their employers. While tech companies predictably objected, the legislation has also managed to draw criticism from several labor groups, including SEIU 32BJ and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents taxi, livery and app-based drivers.
Here’s what each side is saying about how the bill comes up short.
What would the legislation do?
The Dependent Worker Act from Savino and Crespo would create a new classification of worker – a “dependent worker” – to include gig economy workers and extend to this classification the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing. The bill defines “dependent worker” as anyone who provides personal services to a consumer through a private third party. That third party includes digital app platforms like Uber and Postmates, as well as any others that establish how much a worker is to be paid for their services or how much a consumer is charged, or which collects payment from the consumer or pays the worker.
Additionally, the bill extends to this new category of workers protections including prohibition of wage theft and recordkeeping requirements, and the state Department of Labor would have the authority to enforce those rules. The bill also requires that the commissioner of labor hold public meetings with representatives of businesses, employees and dependent workers on the feasibility of extending additional benefits to dependent workers, and report findings and recommendations for further action to the governor and state legislative leaders.
Who backs the bill?
The primary labor group backing the bill is the New York State AFL-CIO, which has called attention to the lack of protections afforded to those employed by digital app platforms. “The bill would allow app workers that do not meet current legal definitions of employment the right to form a union,” Mario Cilento, president of the union, said in an emailed statement. “It also provides important wage payment protections and provides the Department of Labor with regulatory authority for enforcement purposes. Of course, we would prefer to provide these workers with the full suite of employment protections. However, this bill can be passed this session and we can get these workers some protections now.”
Representatives for Savino and Crespo, the legislation’s sponsors, did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. But Savino, chair of the state Senate’s Committee on Internet and Technology, has raised the issue of the gig economy as a priority in the past. “I’ve been speaking for the past several years about the need for labor laws to be dragged into the 21st century, particularly for a sector that’s commonly referred to as the gig economy,” she told City & State back in January. “I’m going to focus on how to get a handle on this in terms of legislation and policy to protect workers and provide a clear set of rules for employers.”
Why are some labor groups upset?
In an opinion piece published in the Daily News on Tuesday, Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, and Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, called out the state AFL-CIO for supporting the bill, which they say “cherry picks” the labor laws that should apply to gig workers. “The bill basically says that the only employee-like benefit that the gig workers would be protected under is collective bargaining. But it’s collective bargaining without protections on minimum wage, overtime, workers compensation, paid time off, even protection against unlawful deduction,” Desai told City & State. “The bill is actually not strong on protecting against wage theft.”
Desai argues that giving workers the right to collectively bargain doesn’t mean much if they’re not also guaranteed other protections like minimum wage. That, she said, puts the burden on workers to bargain from a weak starting point. “Collective bargaining happens in the context where workers already have other labor law protections,” she said. “To isolate collective bargaining from other labor law protections leaves the workers bargaining from zero.”
Desai and Figueroa advocate for something more akin to legislation that has passed the California state Assembly and is making its way through that state’s Senate. That bill would codify a ruling in California’s Supreme Court establishing an “ABC” test for determining whether a company can classify a worker as an independent contractor. In order to classify a worker as such under that test, the company has to prove that the individual is free from control of the employer, doing work outside the usual course of business of the employer and engaged in an independently established business.
Desai says the legislation on the table in Albany undermines much of the work she and other organizers have done on behalf of gig workers. “I think most importantly, it misses a massive opportunity,” she said of the push to pass this bill by the end of the session. “Through gut-wrenching organizing, we’ve built up momentum to really lift up the veil, to really expose the gig economy as nothing but a business model that leaves workers in poverty, in insecurity. And so we have momentum finally. And how could one of the most progressive states in the country use that momentum to lock workers out, rather than advancing rights?”
What doesn’t the tech industry like about it?
On the opposite end of the spectrum, those representing tech interests argue that this new worker classification would upend the industry in an 11th-hour move that doesn’t even give companies a seat at the table. “As with most things, this is a complicated problem, and there are no easy answers,” said Julie Samuels, executive director of the industry group Tech:NYC. “But if you don’t have all sides at the table trying to work that out, you’re going to end up with a solution that is unworkable for one side.”
That doesn’t mean that tech is completely opposed to changes in the gig economy, Samuels said. “Our very old model of independent contractor versus full-time employee is not fit for the way people actually work,” she said. “What we really need is a new framework that makes sense for workers, that makes sense for companies, that makes sense for our society. And a lot of these companies are absolutely on the record wanting to do more for the workers who find work on their platforms, but because of the way the law is currently structured, they’ve found their hands tied.”
Tech:NYC has advocated for alternatives in the past, Samuels said, including an effort in New York to introduce a portable benefits system for independent contractors that would provide a safety net without turning them into full-time employees.
Where do industry and labor’s objections align?
While representatives for tech companies and their workers take issue with different aspects of the legislation, they agree on one thing: This bill was hastily introduced. “This was clearly done at the last minute on purpose,” Samuels said, noting that since it was introduced at the end of session, there is no time for public hearings or conversations between multiple stakeholders. “It’s a sloppy bill. The companies weren’t even part of the conversation, so you’ve got something that was completely one-sided, and the idea that you would take that kind of process – or total lack of process – and push through such a big law at the last minute like that is quite frankly really troubling.”
Desai agreed on the latter point. “There was no process,” she said. “You would think that if the bill was so groundbreaking for workers, that workers would have been the ones to storm the Capitol in support of it. It’s just a sham. You don’t fight for workers’ rights in the darkness of the night, you do it in daylight with pride.”
Analysis: Deval Patrick revives debate over ‘electability’
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s late entry into the presidential race offers Democrats a fresh — and perhaps last — chance to reassess who they think is the strongest candidate to take on President Donald Trump.
It adds to the now months-long debate within the Democratic Party over “electability” less than three months before the first votes are cast. For a party that prides itself on diversity, the answers so far have been consistent and, to some, frustrating — a top tier dominated by white candidates, only one of whom is a woman.
But Patrick’s campaign is a reminder of the divergent paths to victory for presidential hopefuls. White candidates must prove they can win over black voters. Blacks and other minority contenders, however, must show they can build white support.
That type of multiracial coalition has eluded virtually everyone in the race except Joe Biden, who — for now — has deep support among black voters in addition to working-class whites. Those who assess that backing as soft, however, see an opening for a moderate candidate like Patrick, a black governor who made history winning in a majority-white state.
That, some strategists say, differentiates Patrick from Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, the two other major black candidates whose past electoral success has come in more diverse states and who are lagging in the presidential polls.
“Kamala Harris and Cory Booker are well-funded, high-profile black candidates, but have not been able to rise during a cycle where appeals to black voters are central to who will be the eventual winner of the primary,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. He said the election will confront what stigma still exists with white voters toward black candidates in the post-Barack Obama era.
“We can make the assumption that Patrick will be the next black candidate to face this test, but his appeal is altogether different than Booker and Harris,” Payne said. “The Patrick candidacy is an appeal to moderation and to the center-left more than a direct appeal to black voters.”
In 2008, then-Sen. Obama was the lone black candidate in the Democratic primary field and didn’t begin to gain momentum until the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, trailing Hillary Clinton and John Edwards for much of the contest. But Obama’s showing— winning an overwhelmingly white electorate — gave him momentum to convince black voters in South Carolina and across the Black Belt that he was viable.
Obama’s diverse coalition was a new blueprint in Democratic electoral mapmaking, earning him the party’s nomination and his history-making general election victory. Observers say it’s an electorate Democrats will have to replicate to win in 2020.
The trio of African Americans have taken different approaches in how they contend with the racial aspects of their candidacies.
Harris announced her candidacy on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and has unique status as an alumna of historically black Howard University, member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and the lone black woman in the 2020 fray.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced during Black History Month. The former mayor of Newark touts his residency in an impoverished black neighborhood in the city but has also sought to cast himself as a bridge builder — pointing out his ties to a civil rights legacy that changed his family’s trajectory with intervention from progressive whites that helped him integrate his childhood neighborhood.
In a brief interview Friday, he encouraged voters to “pull the lens back on diversity.”
“We have women in this race, we have an openly gay person in this race, we have (a) biracial person in this race, African-Americans in this race,” he said. “It is an incredible moment in American history that our field is so diverse and that voters have such qualified folks to choose from.”
Patrick himself has made relatively few references to race since launching his campaign. But as he registered this week to appear on the ballot in the New Hampshire primary, he spoke of the “skepticism” he has experienced as a black man.
“He has demonstrated an ability to win over white voters in an overwhelmingly white state,” said Democratic strategist Doug Thornell. “The question is whether he has enough time, whether he can raise the money, and whether he can carve out a compelling narrative and identity that allows him to break through. That’s a lot to accomplish in two months, but it’s not crazy.”
His path would be a challenging one. Though Patrick is not a national name, he is fairly well-known in neighboring New Hampshire, where voters saw television ads for his gubernatorial campaigns.
A strong finish in the Granite State could provide momentum heading into South Carolina, disrupting the field and leaving no clear frontrunner heading into Super Tuesday, said Thornell.
“If you look at the African American candidates running, he might be the best positioned to pull that off,” Thornell said.
Patrick’s late entry is reminiscent of Gen. Wesley Clark’s 11th-hour bid in 2003. Clark was able to briefly break through after some among the electorate worried about then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s path to the nomination, or that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was too liberal.
As a prominent African American who can appeal to black and white voters, Patrick could appeal to soft Biden voters looking for an alternative to Booker or Harris, or who don’t like Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders’ progressive agenda, said Democratic strategist Adrienne Elrod.
“He can create that ‘I’m more left than Biden, but not crazy like Warren/Sanders’ message,” Elrod said. “He could appeal to some of those voters who are on the fence and not satisfied with others in the field. He can say, ‘I can be your candidate.’”
— Errin Haines
White House beancounter defies Trump to tell impeachment inquiry about $400M in suspended Ukraine aid
A White House budget official defied President Trump and testified Saturday in the House impeachment inquiry about the controversial suspension of defense aid to Ukraine.
Mark Sandy, a career Office of Management and Budget official, told lawmakers that he raised questions about whether the decision by Trump acolytes to hold up $400 million in desperately needed military assistance violated laws mandating money allocated by Congress be spent, CNN reported.
The budget expert did not explain what reasons were given for the hold up in aid. He testified behind closed doors in a rare Saturday session as the impeachment investigation continues to deliver heavy blows to Trump.
Sandy acted on orders to put an initial hold on the aid in late July and the issue was later handed over to Trump political appointees.
The aid was already appropriated by Congress, meaning the White House would have had to offer a legally valid reason for withholding it.
It’s not known what explanation if any, was given for removing the suspension from Sandy’s purview.
Sandy’s testimony shone a harsh spotlight on Mick Mulvaney, who is both the OMB director and Trump’s acting chief of staff.
“Mulvaney not only has refused to testify, but actively worked to block others from complying with subpoenas,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Cal.) in a statement. “(He also) refused to provide Congress with documents relating to Trump’s suspension of Congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine.
Mulvaney admitted that Trump imposed an improper “quid pro quo” on Ukraine at a disastrous press conference although he later sought to walk back his admission. He has refused to testify to the impeachment probe.
A key contention of impeachment advocates is that Trump suspended the aid so he could use it as leverage to force Ukraine into launching bogus investigation of Trump’s Democratic rivals.
In fact, the suspension of aid shocked Ukraine officials and reportedly led them to consider announcing the corruption probes to get the cash flowing again.
By that time, in early September, the intelligence whistleblower complaint had hit the headlines, forcing the White House to reinstate the aid without getting the investigations announcement that Trump wanted.
In a statement Saturday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, called out Mulvaney for refusing to testify.
“If Mulvaney had evidence that contradicted what we’ve already heard, he’d be eager to testify and provide documents. Instead, he’s hiding behind, and assisting in, Trump’s efforts to conceal the truth from the American people,” Schiff said.
Also on Saturday, impeachment investigators released the transcripts of depositions given by deputy assistant to the president Timothy Morrison, and Vice President Pence’s special adviser on Europe and Russia, Jennifer Williams.
In Morrison’s Oct. 31 deposition, he testified U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland told him he’d spoken with Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak about American military funding being conditioned on corruption investigations. “My concern was what Gordon was proposing about getting the Ukrainians pulled into our politics,” Morrison testified.
In Williams’ Nov. 7 deposition, she confirmed that Trump told Pence to not attend the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s inauguration in an apparent signal that he needed to pursue the corruption probes or be frozen out of the military aid.
“My understanding from my colleague—and, again, I wasn’t there for the conversation—was that the President asked the Vice President not to attend,” she testified.
By DAVE GOLDINER
Social networks have been weaponized for the impeachment hearings
Impeachment hearings got underway in the House of Representatives this week, as you likely noticed from the wall-to-wall coverage. The process involves the sort of high-stakes, highly partisan events that naturally dominate social feeds. What television was to impeachment in the 1970s and 1990s, Facebook and Twitter — and YouTube and maybe TikTok — will be to impeachment in 2019.
The hearings on President Donald Trump’s apparent attempted bribery of Ukraine won’t be the first time a president has had to contend with, or benefit from, a hyper-partisan media. Conservative talk radio and Fox News were in full swing when Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, even if their rhetoric looks quaint by today’s standard. But the World Wide Web was in its infancy, and the world was then still innocent of algorithmically sorted news feeds, partisan bot armies, and state-sponsored meme warfare.
Not anymore. If the first day of hearings is any indication, social networks promise to play a powerful role in shaping the way that impeachment hearings are understood by Americans. They are also playing a powerful role in shaping the hearings themselves.
As Ryan Broderick documented at BuzzFeed, Republican lawmakers used their time during Wednesday’s hearing to promote discredited conspiracy theories that are popular on right-wing message boards:
There is one America that believes what was in former FBI director Robert Mueller’s report, that there was coordinated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which helped the Trump campaign. But there is a second America that believes that in the summer of 2016, the Democratic National Committee colluded with Ukrainian nationals to frame the Trump campaign for collusion with Russia, implicating a Ukrainian American DNC contractor, Alexandra Chalupa, in the collusion and the California-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in the subsequent cover-up.
This unfounded theory has been propped up by a 2017 Politico story; reporting from right-wing political commentator John Solomon published earlier this year in the Hill; Attorney General Bill Barr’s summer travels; the yearlong personal investigation into Ukraine conducted by Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer working for Trump; and coverage from Fox News and conservative news sites. All of that came into play during Wednesday’s hearing, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly.
After Republican members of Congress promoted these various smokescreens, right-wing media universally dismissed the hearing — either as an absurd exercise led by clowns, or as an outrageous abuse of power. Brian Stelter described the atmosphere on cable news:
Here’s what else I heard: Wednesday’s hearing was a bust. It was all just hearsay. It was a “disaster” for the Democrats and a “great day” for the Republicans. Impeachment is “stupid.” Impeachment is “fake.” There’s nothing impeachable here. There’s no reason to hold hearings. This inquiry needs to stop right now.
The message was one-sided and overwhelming. Every host and practically every guest said the Republican tribe is winning and the Democrat tribe is losing. I’m sure the president loved watching every minute of it. That’s one of the reasons why this right-wing rhetoric matters so much — because it is reassuring and emboldening Trump.
Meanwhile, if you’re reading the New York Times or watching CNN, you’re getting the sense that the case against Trump is a slam dunk, with multiple people having heard the president directly pressure his ambassador to the European Union to pursue a bribery plot. As Ezra Klein wrote recently, this impeachment is “the easiest possible test case for can our system hold a president accountable.” And yet with something like 40 percent of the country living in an alternate media universe, the basic, actual facts of the case may never penetrate into their reality.
Of course, that fear was one of the best reasons for Democrats to initiate impeachment proceedings in the first place: Show people real witnesses answering important questions over a long enough period of time — train everyone’s eyes on the same set of facts — and maybe a greater consensus will emerge.
Time will tell if they succeed. In the meantime, impeachment has proven to be big business on Facebook — where politicians are taking out highly partisan ads consistent with their respective worldviews. Emily Stewart and Rani Molla have a thorough walkthrough of how impeachment is playing out on Facebook, with Trump and Sen. Elizabeth Warren using ads to fire up their base and build their donor rolls; Tom Steyer using impeachment as a signature issue to promote his presidential candidacy; and a spice company buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of pro-impeachment advertising because they spread farther on Facebook than non-impeachment ads, resulting in a better return on investment.
Much of the debate about whether Facebook should allow political advertising noted that it represents a small fraction of the company’s business. But as the Vox writers note, that doesn’t mean it’s an insignificant business:
Facebook itself has grown into a formidable political platform in recent years, with campaigns and outside groups spending $284 million on the platform during the midterm elections, according to a report by Tech for Campaigns, a nonprofit that helps political campaigns with digital tools. While that’s just a small share of Facebook’s overall ad revenue, it’s a growing chunk of what campaigns are spending to reach constituents.
As impeachment hearings intensify, it seems likely politicians’ spending on Facebook ads will increase. And a good number of those ads, like so much about impeachment in 2019, will seem to have been created in a parallel world. In many ways, they were.
read more theverge.com
By Casey Newton
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