President's Message: Gig Economy Workers Deserve Fairness

A top priority this year will be the fight to ensure that gig economy workers are no longer treated as second class citizens. Problems with wage and tip theft, unfair hiring, safety and worker injuries, unresolved claims of discrimination or harassment and other unfair workplace situations are common. We need to do better for these workers and end their exploitation.

The companies claim that new technology and flexible hours justifies lower standards for gig workers has a very hollow ring. Twenty-first century tech does not equate to 19th century labor practices and flexible schedules does not mean lower standards. Gig workers should not receive substandard treatment if they are injured, unemployed, cheated out of pay, or harassed while they work, no matter their hours. There are plenty of part-time, seasonal, temporary and other positions in multiple sectors of the economy that have flexible hours, but whose employers meet their obligations.

Make no mistake, claiming that these workers are independent contractors is a strategy to misclassify workers and avoid costs associated with the rights, benefits and protections all other employers provide. Misclassification is a problem that is not limited to the growing tech economy, but it is a completely unchecked and growing problem in this sector. To a large extent, the future of works lies in this area, so it is critical that we establish fairness and equality for these workers now.

Unfortunately, many of these app-based employers chose to take advantage of the fact that no-one was regulating them. The NYS AFL-CIO intends to change that. We urge everyone to take a closer look at the unfair situation that has developed in the gig economy. It threatens the future of work in our state and nation.

Mario Cilento, President