New York Close to Providing Collective Bargaining Rights for Gig Workers

May 21, 2021

In what could be a breakthrough for negotiated solutions to vexing employment policy issues, the New York state legislature appears to be on the verge of providing gig workers with collective bargaining rights, among other benefits, while stopping short of designating the workers as full employees.  The proposed legislation is the result of a compromise between organized labor and gig companies. 

Sectoral bargaining:  The proposed legislation would allow app-based workers to organize into unions, who would then engage in sectoral bargaining with gig companies such as Lyft and Uber to create industry-wide working standards.  The proposal would also provide specific benefits to gig workers such as worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance.

The proposal is a result of extensive negotiations between organized labor and gig companies.  The AFL-CIO and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) have been engaged for weeks with gig companies to reach a compromise on gig workers’ rights in New York.  A final agreement is expected to take the form of proposed legislation in the state legislature in the coming weeks. 

“I actually think it becomes a national model,” said TWU President John Samuelsen.  “I had every intention of staying away from it, and now after seeing how much it’ll advance gig workers, I’m fully supporting.”

A Third Way for Workers?  In recent years, the debate over protections for gig workers and other independent contractors has generated various proposals for moving away from the employee/independent contractor dichotomy.  Our Workplace 2020 report proposed certain safe harbors for employers to voluntarily provide certain benefits, such as health care coverage, without triggering employment status.  Others have recommended a separate legal status for “independent workers.”  A recent HR Policy Global/BEERG paper noted: "The challenge of the confluence of new ways of working and a proliferation of new working relationships require employers to think broadly about solutions that ensure our companies are competitive and those who labor for us are not denied access to basic social protections."  California’s Prop 22 was a significant step towards a solution along these lines, as is the New York legislation.

Outlook:  The expected legislation has yet to be proposed in the New York state legislature, and whether it becomes law remains to be seen.  Nevertheless, the apparent willingness of organized labor and gig companies to find a legislative compromise on the issue of gig worker rights just months after a similar proposal in Connecticut fell apart could signal a new trend that is followed in other states and that could provide guidance to federal policymakers.