Rebecca Smith graduated in 1982 from the University of Washington School of Law and has worked, since that time, representing low-wage and immigrant workers and workers in the subcontracted economy on employment issues. She is the Deputy Director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP). She has written, testified, litigated and lectured extensively on immigrant workers’ employment rights, labor rights as human rights, and wage and hour and unemployment insurance law. She has also worked with allies to develop local, state and federal policies to protect and expand low-wage workers’ rights and enforcement of those rights.
Rights on Demand
The explosive growth of the on-demand economy makes it urgent that issues raised around workers’ rights be addressed. Primary among these is the prevailing business model in on demand companies that treats workers as “independent contractors” or “self-employed,” pushing onto their shoulders many of the risks, (but very few of the benefits) of truly operating an independent business. The independent contractor model puts hard-won core labor rights at risk. While courts will ultimately decide the issue of employee status, bold action is necessary to ensure that workers in the on demand economy can make a fair wage, enjoy job security, have an adequate safety net and a secure retirement. Co ops are an important option for delivering workers’ rights: one such model comes from a recent Montgomery County, MD taxi ordinance. The co-op model has the advantage that the capital costs of forming a co-op are less significant than in other businesses, since many of the capital costs of forming a business have already been borne by workers termed independent contractors. Additionally, taking the company’s 20 - 25% cut of worker pay out of the equation provides room to significantly raise workers’ pay.