Seattle lawmakers are taking a closer look at companies that hire big teams of independent contractors.
The Seattle City Council passed a resolution Tuesday asking the city’s labor office to investigate companies that “misclassify” workers as independent contractors when they should be employees. The resolution instructs the Office of Labor Standards and Labor Standards Advisory Commission to report their findings twice a year.
“There are more and more employees who are being categorized as contractors and are not eligible to receive access to our labor laws,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold during Tuesday’s meeting. She said she had ongoing conversations with a driver for Amazon Flex, an Uber-like platform that contracts everyday people to deliver packages with their own cars.
“Companies pay the drivers to do the work of employees but treat them as independent contractors, denying them basic amenities like healthcare benefits [and] worker compensation,” Herbold said.
Why it matters: Gig economy companies, like Uber and Instacart, have become prolific thanks to the freelance workforce that powers them. But they aren’t the only ones. Amazon has been taking a page from the gig economy playbook with programs like Amazon Flex and “Delivery Service Partners,” which helps individuals open their own Amazon delivery businesses.
Amazon vs. Seattle: The new resolution once again puts Amazon at odds with the Seattle City Council, less than a year since the two came to blows over the short-lived “head tax.” The tax would have funded affordable housing construction by tithing big business. The head tax may be dead but the issues it raised around Big Tech, equity, and growth will continue to dominate the Seattle political discourse as we head into a City Council election with seven seats up for grabs.
Big picture: Lawmakers at every level of government are taking a closer look at gig economy work and considering ways to extend labor protections to independent contractors. Although action at the federal level looks unlikely, states with big tech hubs like California and Washington are exploring legislation to protect this new workforce.