By Ashley K. Laken and Howard Wexler

Seyfarth Synopsis: Just before the end of the legislative session, lawmakers in New York introduced the “Dependent Worker Act,” which proposes to provide workers in the gig economy with certain rights, including the right to unionize.

On June 14 and 15, lawmakers in the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate introduced the “Dependent Worker Act,” which would classify workers in the gig economy as “dependent workers” under New York law and extend to them the right to unionize and collectively bargain with their employers, and also provide them with the right to bring wage theft claims.

The proposed legislation defines “dependent worker” as an individual who provides personal services to a consumer of such personal services through a private sector third-party that establishes the gross amounts earned by the individual, establishes the amounts charged to the consumer, collects payment from the consumer, and/or pays the individual.  Although the NLRB’s Division of Advice has said that rideshare drivers are independent contractors who cannot unionize under federal labor law, the Dependent Worker Act would give such gig economy workers in New York the right to unionize under New York state law.

The proposed Act does not provide for minimum wage or overtime requirements for dependent workers, does not extend the anti-discrimination protections of the New York Human Rights Law to dependent workers, does not extend paid family leave to dependent workers, and does not treat dependent workers as employees for purposes of unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and disability insurance.  That being said, the proposed legislation directs the New York Commissioner of Labor to consider giving dependent workers those rights.

Some workers’ advocates have pushed back against the proposal, saying that the proposal does not go far enough in protecting gig workers.  But the New York State AFL-CIO is backing the bill and has asked its Twitter followers to ask their representatives to support it.

It is expected that the New York legislature will use the time between now and the next legislative session to hold hearings and receive feedback from workers and businesses on how the bill could be improved.

Takeaway for Employers

Employers of gig workers should keep an eye on this proposed law, and should also take heed of the possibility that other jurisdictions may use New York’s actions as inspiration and a potential model in passing their own gig worker protection laws.  Employers of gig workers in New York may also want to consider reaching out to their State Senators and/or Assemblypersons to express their views on the proposed legislation.