Op-Ed: NY should follow Prop 22 model to help independent workers

Photo by Gary Talamone

By Gary Talamone

Almost eight months ago, I began driving for Uber Eats. It was late March, COVID-19 was nearing its peak in New York City, and Hostos Community College, where I was going to school, stopped letting students attend in person. Suddenly, so much of our world changed. My two sons began taking virtual classes, while my wife continued going to work at a private clinic from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week. Our family had to adjust quickly and one of the changes I made was to begin working as a delivery worker using the Uber Eats app in the Bronx.

I’ll be the first to say Uber Eats and similar companies aren’t perfect. But when I signed up to deliver with Uber Eats, it quickly became a net positive for me in a time of incredible stress. Not only could I bring in additional financial support to my family by doing deliveries on weekends, but I could utilize the flexibility this work allows to help my sons with their remote learning and juggle additional family priorities. I also was able to find purpose in doing this work because I could tell that I was directly helping the people who I was delivering food to — many of them seniors who were unable to leave their homes.

Cut to Nov. 3. Proposition 22 passed in California and the conversation around the country and in New York immediately picked up, as journalists, politicians and seemingly everyone on social media began talking about what this means for New York, where gig worker classification has been a point of conversation for the last few years. From my perspective, Proposition 22 — which provides drivers with benefits without requiring them to become full time employees for Uber, Lyft or other app-based companies — was a win for those workers. Not only does it preserve the flexibility and independence that drivers and delivery workers want but now these workers also get a higher wage and other protections.

Being able to find work through a smartphone on your own schedule and for as little or as long as you want is a new concept. It’s not like regular jobs where you clock in and out and have a boss and a set schedule a week in advance. This opportunity to have complete control of your schedule is unique and should be preserved. Finding additional ways to provide protections or a safety net that makes sense for those who find flexible work should also be explored. If COVID demonstrated anything, it was that too many people in this country don’t have very basic protections.

I hope that as our leadership in New York picks back up the conversation, they do so with people like me in mind. Consider ways to support workers while also guaranteeing that we can keep our flexibility and independence.

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