Tag Archives: 1099

The Trump Administration and the Gig Economy

The co-founder of WorkMarket, https://www.workmarket.com/about#jeff-wald Jeff Wald, hosted a webinar today on what the new Trump administration will mean for the on-demand economy.  Since I differentiate the Gig Economy from  the On-Demand one in my new book, Thriving in the Gig Economy, which will be coming out next spring, I listened more for the implications for the career gig workers, experts who have chosen to create a careers as  independent workers.

With the disclaimer that no one REALLY knows what may happen, Wald's prediction was two fold - what is likely to happen in 2017 and what may happen in 2018.  Immediately after the inauguration, regulations , especially those resulting from the 2010 Obama task force meant to tackle worker misclassification would be discontinued or not enforced.  The misclassification, of course, refers to the independent contractor vs. employee issue, which I have probably blogged too much about.  ( See my post I am Uber the Uber Lawsuit ) Moreover, he thought the task force would be disbanded immediately. This could bode well for many senior consultants who would like to work independently as an independent contractor but have clients who are wary of the misclassification risk.

Wald did not think the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly referred to as ObamaCare would be repealed, rather he thought it would be revised into "DonaldCare", where certain elements would be maintained, like the coverage of children up to 26 on their parents' plans. The ACA has been a key enabler in the gig economy, since the ability to secure health insurance make the decision to go solo a more viable one.  Although I hope Wald is correct on this prognostication, I am withholding judgement until the Labor Secretary is named.

Perhaps the most important action, and the one which will have the least attention, is the appointment of a new Commissioner for the National Labor Relations Board. (NLRB) One of two recent NLRB decisions adversely impacted the staffing industry, by  increasing the risk of co-employment when using temporary staffing/gig workers.  A new NLRB appointee could reverse that decision, which would be a boon for temporary and specialty staffing firms.

And finally, the Supreme Court  appointment could have a major impact on the workplace. Frederick vs. the California Teachers' Association was denied a hearing in a 4 to 4 decision in June. The case involved mandatory union fees.  The tea leaves Wald reads suggests that a rehearing with a new more conservative court would strike down the mandatory fees, which would be a major blow to organized labor. Since many are suggesting the gig economy should become unionized, much like Hollywood back in the day, such an action may alter that thinking.

Looking into his crystal ball for 2018, Wald thought there could be some movement in the chronic problem of worker classification.  Trump likes to simplify complexity, and the rules governing independent contractor compliance are nothing if not complex.  Wald thought there is a chance that certain benefits, like retirement, may be unbundled from employment.  (Again something I just blogged about as well - Work, Jobs and the Gig Economy ).  Finally, tax reform will likely take until 2018, since it is a complex problem.  Again, in the interest of simplification, the new tax regulations could eliminate many of the business deduction provisions that have been a mainstay of the self-employed career consultants. That said, a lot will happen between now and then.  Time to strap on for the ride.

What is gig economy? - Definition from WhatIs.com

A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.
What is gig economy? - Definition from WhatIs.com

A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.

The Gig Economy Eco System

Employment in the Gig Economy

As the politicians debate the implications of the gig economy, they typically just talk about jobs.  They lament that so many gig workers don't have benefits and are being taken advantage of by those running the powerful digital platforms. As I have said here often, they seldom mention the professional gig economy workers, 91% of whom have self selected this career path.  But perhaps the bigger oversight is that they fail to recognize the jobs that are being created serving the new needs of the gig economy and its workers.

Take a recent press release from ShiftPixy. http://www.shiftpixy.com This app is a way for

From the ShiftPIxy website

From the ShiftPixy website

companies in need of shift workers to recruit contingent gig workers to fill their scheduling gaps. This means that a small business can use this app, rather than trying their luck at all the digital sites. what Kayak did for travel, it is doing for low-end contingent labor.

Employment Laws and the Gig Economy

Moreover, the Shift Pixy guys have paid attention to the employment law issues that have bedeviled some of the large talent platforms like Uber and Handy.  ShiftPixy employs the gig workers on behalf of its clients.  By employing them, it enables them to accrue enough part-time hours from various clients to qualify for benefits typically only accorded to full-time employees.

In case you are wondering, I don't have an investment in Shiftpixy so this is not a commercial.  It is recognition that someone has solved not just one but two key problem with the gig economy. First they just bit the bullet and made the employment call. Since the laws are murky ( another favorite subject of mine) they built an employment infrastructure that is easily accessible via an app that takes the employment risk away from their clients.  "You want a shift worker to bag groceries, great, they would have to be an employee.  Since you don't want them to be your employee, we will handle that. " Most of the digital platforms put the onus on the buyer to figure out the employment law issues, so ShftPixy took that off the table, making it safe for any size company to engage a gig worker. In the spirit of full disclosure I  think that is especially brilliant idea, since I did the same thing 15 years ago, when I started Collabrus, a company designed to employ consultants when they need to be employed by nature of the work or as a risk management strategy.

ShiftPixy is solving another more intractable problem though, by creating a structure that consolidates part-time hours to enable benefits eligibility.  It sounds straightforward, but it is actually a pretty complicated business model.

In the end, Shift Pixy is a small start-up with a little staff, but none the less, they are themselves a job creator.  They have their own employees, but they will also be creating opportunities for various part-time workers to get additional shifts in a way that suits their lifestyle and financial needs.

So as the politicians lament the loss of traditional jobs, I say lets applaud the innovators who are creating the economic infrastructure to strengthen the new world of work.

I am Uber the Uber Lawsuit

Uber Lawsuit and The Independent Contractor

Last month, Uber settled the  class action lawsuit involving its drivers in Mass and CA. The court papers reveal that the settlement was $84 million, while some estimates put actual damages, had they lost as trial at anywhere from $750 million to $4.1billion.  Is anyone surprised they settled?

Part of me hoped that the case would continue to the courts, since such a case might  have brought some needed clarity to the mess that is independent contractor  versus employee regulations.

In 1993, I started a firm, Collabrus, because of this very ambiguity.   Collabrus acted as an employer for consultants during a project when the nature of the work or the client’s risk profile warranted that structure. It offered health insurance as well as specialized benefits designed for consultants, like low cost errors and omissions insurance. In setting up and running that business I learned more about independent contractor compliance than I ever cared to know, hence my interest in the Uber case.

I thought, had it continued, the Uber case could go either way. One of the reasons that this is such an ambiguous area is because “independent contractor” is an undefined term in the law. Much of our employment law is derived from British master servant laws which date back to the 14th century. In fact, they were developed following the massive carnage of the bubonic plague; since so many had died, laws were needed to define who of the remainder were the masters and who were the servants. Back then independent contractors (ICs) were not part of the picture.

Since there is no legal definition of an IC, though some states have done so, tests have been developed that take into account agency law constructs as well as other factors. The IRS has put the most widely used framework together in its “20 Points” that define an independent contractor. These include things like having their own tools, being able to experience a financial loss, and receiving no training. Unfortunately, not all of the conditions need to be met, and some are more important than others. This makes for a very murky picture of who may be an IC and who may be an employee. In the last 20 years, the two key things that businesses have drawn from the “20 Points” are that the most important considerations are direction and control. If you direct and/or control the work of someone, they are likely your employee.

So lets consider the Uber driver. One thing Uber has going for them is that they don’t train their drivers; drivers come to them knowing how to operate a vehicle. Uber may certify that the driving record be clean, but this wouldn’t be considered training or direction. The fact that drivers can set their own schedule is also a plus for Uber, since it reduces that sense of control. The fact that so many drivers are very part-time, i.e. less than 10 hours, is also a plus for them. Technology, though, muddies the picture. Drivers are given an iPhone by Uber to be able to hook up to their ride-haling platform. As such, Uber is providing the tools to some extent. Perhaps the biggest issue, and the one that an Administrative Law Judge highlighted in a ruling in 2015 where he deemed a Southern California driver an employee, is that Uber sets the pricing of all rides. As such, this is preeminent control over the driver.

Given my interest in the subject and being a very regular customer of Uber, I quiz every driver about their thoughts on the lawsuit.  I have yet to encounter a driver who wants to be an employee.  Most are teachers or students or retirees, who want the flexibility of time. The one suggestion I did get was that Uber could have done a better job helping the driver prepare for the tax implications of being an IC; as one teacher said, he'd always been a W2 employee, so it never occurred to him that he needed to save all of his receipts.  So maybe Uber just needs a wonderful flyer, brochure or even app, entitled"Making the Most Money with Uber  - How to Manage your Business Expenses."  That seems like it would be a lot cheaper than another court case.

 

The “Gig Economy” and the employment data problem

A recent news item little noticed apart from gig economy wonks like me was the fact that  the government is planning to get data on how many workers actually populate the "gig economy."  Labor Secretary, Thomas Perez, announced at the end of January that the department would team up with the Census Bureau and  restore the Contingent Worker's Supplement  as part of the May 2017 Current Population Survey.

It is being restored because in 2005, in the infinite wisdom of governmental agencies, the decision was made to discontinue data collection in this area. The Supplement had only been published 5 times and in fairness, it had its share of critics.  A major failing, was the fact that  it aggregated all contingent work arrangements, from  senior management consultants to security guards to cab drivers.  As such, drawing conclusions about income trends, potential wage and hour infractions or economic security was difficult.  Similarly, no attempt was made to try reconcile the differences between the self employed - a broad category which  consultants, architects and dry cleaners - and 1099 tax filers.

Now that the gig economy appears to be fundamentally redesigning work and income structures in the US economy, the Labor Department  wants to try to get a handle on the phenomenon in large part to better inform policy decisions. They do acknowledge that it will be difficult, since just the definition of what qualifies as contingent work is controversial. Additionally, one would hope that they will make strides to refine the data to be able to draw more meaningful conclusions.    That said, we should not get too excited, since this  there won't be data until early 2018 at best.

What is ironic to me, as someone who has been involved in the  high-end of the contingent work force for nearly 30 years,especially now in this political season is the constant emphasis on jobs creation as a metric of economic success.  When you consider 53 million people, according to The Solo Project, have chosen to define  themselves as  independent consultants , free agents or free lancers, the magnitude of the data problem becomes apparent.  These people do not want traditional jobs. What labor statistics are capturing this? Lets hope Perez can fix the data problems inherent in the Contingent Workforce Supplement, because the world of work is being redefined quickly and the government needs to catch up.

1099 Questions about the gig economy

Professor Laura Tyson of the Haas Business School published a great piece  last week about the challenges of the gig economy.https://agenda.weforum.org/2015/11/how-can-we-protect-workers-in-the-gig-economy/

She focused on digital labor platforms, noted that nearly 400 million people have posted resumes on Linked In The problem, and of course there always is one, is that as this contingent workforce has grown through the likes of Uber, Taskrabbit and Upwork, employment has not, since most of the work is done on an independent contractor basis. As such,these individuals are  paid on a 1099 not a W2, and separated from the employment based benefits which provide the proverbial safety net via health insurances and retirement programs. She goes on to discuss the policy implications as well as the interesting coalitions being formed around this issue.

Although Professor Tyson discussed the independent contractor (IC) issue as a relatively new phenomenon, it is not. Independent consultants, and other professionals like  real estate agents  have faced this issue for decades.  For many, creating the answer to the safety net issue was part of the calculus of starting their independent business in the first place. These individuals were making a deliberate choice to create an independent, professional  lifestyle , another point that often gets lost in the IC debate.

From my research several years ago ( which clearly needs to be updated) a significant minority of ICs were able to secure benefits through a spouse.  Further proof of that is that when we set up benefits programs for ICs the greatest interest was in tax deferred income and retirement products.  Granted, the sample we were targeting included the highest paid ICs, so they would have had arguably the greatest economic flexibility.  In the last 5-10 years, the IC ranks, thanks to the new digital platforms,  have grown to  include lower wage workers.

Conversely, according to a recent article in the Economist, the data does not support amazing growth in this IC economy,  with the caveat that labor statistics are egregiously poor in both the UK and US .  (Indeed, the US government discontinued the tracking of contingent workers  in 2005 by eliminating the Contingent Work Supplement . Senator Mark Warner  has requested  that  the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the IRS reinstate it.  ) In a 10/23 article, the author, Laura Gardiner,  notes that the number of self employed workers in the US is actually falling and the proportion of full time workers  in both countries has not decreased. Freelancers represent only 2% of the workforce in Britain.

Gardiner goes on to suggest that this non intuitive lack of growth may be the result not of  bad statistics but of improper definitions.  The gig economy, also the sharing economy, includes the 1099 worker but also encompasses the AirBnB hosts, for example, who don’t see that extra income from renting a room  as  job related. This is true for many participants in the sharing economy, suggesting that the true size of the current market activity may be significantly understated.    In some cases the income may go unreported but in most it will just appear as 1099 income. As such, that may be the better metric to track.

The  Bay Area Council Economic Institute did just that.  It compared the growth in the number of  1099s  issued ( not the dollar value)  with the number of W2 returns by year and indexed for inflation.  Although 1099s tended to peak  and then retract after recessions, as demonstrated in 1990, 2001 and 2007 the pattern has changed.  Since the financial crisis and attendant recession in 2009, 1099s issued has continued to rise, while W2s have shown greater variability. 

By 2025, Tyson suggests the gig economy will approach $2.7 trillion in global GDP. Hopefully by then we will have a better understanding of how the marketplace functions,  and a much better handle the policy infrastructure needed to support it to ensure the independence and flexibility it affords can be sustained.

 

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