Compensation

Bill Could Define How Tennessee Addresses 'Gig Economy Workers'

The House Consumer and Human Resources Committee advanced legislation that is drawing criticism from national workers' rights advocates reports The Nashville Post. HB 1978 proposes amendment to Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 50; Title 56 and Title 62, relative to employment relationships and has already passed the Senate and is likely to pass the House, given the Republican supermajority.
 
This would further most gig workers, ‘marketplace contractors,’  as independent contractors and not benefit eligible employees. Currently, the distinction between a contractor and an employee hinges on the idea of control. Telling a worker when and how to perform a job, providing training or supplies, monitoring their activity and determining the rate of pay are all factors that would support a finding that the worker is an employee, freeing them from having to pay workers' compensation premiums and unemployment taxes or obeying state anti-discrimination and minimum wage laws.
 
The bills have provoked a response from the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a national nonprofit advocacy group. Palak Shah, the organization's director of social innovations, recently went to Tennessee to caution lawmakers that the bill would permanently carve many workers out of rights to which they would be entitled as employees. "It's just such a sorry excuse for a business model to make vulnerable workers more vulnerable just so you can tell your investors that one day you might be solvent," Shah said. "This legislation basically ensures that domestic workers online will never have protection."
 
House sponsor Rep. Pat Marsh (R-Shelbyville) said most people working for gig economy platforms are doing so part-time and aren't expecting and don't need the protections offered to standard full-time employees. "We already have people who go out and do yard work on their own," said Marsh. "If they get on a platform it gives them access to more customers." Others point out that these platforms take a cut from their workers, along with possible additional fees, while the individual has to cover their own costs like equipment, transportation, insurance and self-employment taxes.
 
Critics have said they fear the laxer regulations will drive down wages, ultimately forcing them to subcontract to compete. Rep. Dwayne Thompson (D-Cordova) voiced similar concerns, comparing some platforms to Walmart's effect on businesses in a small town. Thompson was the only vote against the legislation. One of the other platforms with an interest in the legislation passing is Brentwood-based Takl, which counts Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) as an executive. Johnson co-sponsored the bill in the Senate.
 
Gov. Bill Haslam's administration was opposed to the version that passed the Senate, but a state Department of Labor official told the House committee that the amended version has addressed some of their concerns. Haslam spokesperson Jennifer Donnals said the governor "is deferring to the will of the legislature on this bill as amended." The main Senate sponsor, Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson), has not seen the amended wording, said his aide Tres Whittum, but is fine in "principle" with the changes.
 
The house will vote on these amendments today. You can track the progress of this legislation using this link.
 
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