Would You Pay a Surcharge so a Gig Economy Worker Could Get Benefits?

Photo credit: Santhosh Rajangam, CC BY 2.0.

Today in “how to offer gig economy workers benefits without making them employees,” we go to The Atlantic:

The Independent Drivers’ Guild is in talks with elected officials in New York City to introduce a bill that would levy a transaction fee on rides in order to provide benefits, Greenblatt said. Similar legislation is being discussed around the country. Earlier this year, legislators in Washington introduced a bill that would require businesses that hire independent contractors to contribute funds to benefit providers to be used for worker benefits. A similar bill could be voted on this fall in New Jersey.

There are actually two different solutions being proposed here. The Independent Drivers’ Guild wants consumers to pay the money required to help workers get benefits, which The Atlantic notes is already a thing:

In 1999, for instance, New York state passed a law requiring black-car companies to levy a 2.5 percent surcharge on rides, the proceeds of which are put into a pot called the Black Car Fund that pays drivers workers compensation if they’re hurt on the job. It also pays out a death benefit of $50,000 to the families of workers killed on the job.

The bills in Washington and New Jersey want the companies—which we can’t technically call employers—to cover workers’ benefits. Here’s an excerpt from the Washington bill:

Contracting agents that have facilitated the provision of services by at least fifty individual workers in a consecutive twelve-month period shall contribute funds to qualified benefit providers to provide benefits to the workers of the contracting agents. The requirement to contribute funds under this chapter only applies when the services are provided to consumers located in the state.

The contribution amount must be the lesser of twenty-five percent of the total fee collected from the consumer for each transaction of services provided or six dollars for every hour that the worker provided services to the consumer. If determined per hour, then the determination must be prorated per minute.

If I were a betting person, I’d bet on the first solution—apps like Lyft are already asking us if we want to round up our transactions to support charitable causes, so I could totally see them asking if we want to add a dollar to support workers’ benefits. I could also see these apps adding the dollar without asking, and then marketing “your money helps workers get healthcare and sick days” as a feature that separates them from the other, less socially conscious apps.

And you know I’d be glad to use the service that charged me extra to so its workers could have healthcare, without thinking too much about why the money is coming out of my pocket and not the company’s.

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