A new way forward on protecting workers in the gig economy

Uber’s major settlement last month illustrates the pressing need for regulatory action in the emerging “gig economy.” And a recent speech by Senator Elizabeth Warren last week shows us the direction that regulatory action should take.

Cases brought by Uber drivers to district courts in California and Massachusetts throughout the past year have shed light on the problems that accompany the flexibility and autonomy of working in the on-demand economy. Many companies like Uber have been challenged on whether drivers are legally classified as employees of the company or as 1099 independent contractors.

This classification has far-reaching implications, since contractors are not covered by basic employee protections like minimum wage, workers compensation, health and safety rules, and collective bargaining. In particular, the ability to bring class action suits against an employer and bargain as a group has been completely eliminated by mandatory arbitration clauses in Uber drivers’ contracts. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Standard deduction increase is a blunderbuss tax policy – noisy but ineffective

A proposal to raise the standard personal income tax deduction is being touted as a boon to working class North Carolinians, but that sales pitch doesn’t tell the whole story. The Senate is right to worry that too many working families are struggling to make ends meet and that their tax choices haven’t helped, but instead of developing a targeted response to the state’s upside down tax code, the Senate is reaching for an old blunderbuss they have lying around.

As many states (including North Carolina) have already learned from experience, there are much more effective ways of putting money into the pockets where it will do the most good. In the realm of tax policy, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would address the problem that legislative leaders claim to have in mind, but in a much more efficient and effective way, by helping working families keep more of what they earn and offsetting the increasing reliance on the sales tax in our state.

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As shown here (described in more detail in a recent Prosperity Watch), increasing the standard deduction will mostly benefit people who are already earning above the statewide median wage. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of assistance that would be provided through a state EITC would go to working North Carolinians who are struggling to get by on marginal wages.

In contrast, legislative leaders in Minnesota spent their week finding ways to expand the Working Families Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credits. Instead of blindly shelling out larger standard deductions at a high cost to the services and systems that support vibrant communities for working families, the Minnesota approach is a much more effective means of designing a tax code that works for working families and the economy.

At least legislative leaders are acknowledging that working and middle class families weren’t well-served by the first round of tax changes; too bad their chosen policy response will create more noise than impact.

Commentary, Uncategorized

Advocates continue to press for Medicaid expansion


Advocates, providers, and people in the coverage gap gathered at the General Assembly yesterday to champion for Medicaid expansion. When NC legislators passed SB 4 in 2013, which purposely blocked the state from closing the coverage gap, advocates knew that it would take continued action of many to ensure that NC legislators understand the health, social, and economic benefits of Medicaid expansion.

The press event hosted by Sen. Floyd McKissick at the General Assembly was the culmination of a week of activities that helped raise awareness about the impact of failing to extend coverage to approximately 500,000 people in the coverage gap. On an individual level, Medicaid expansion will increase people’s ability to receive less costly preventive care and improve people’s ability to manage chronic medical conditions instead of relying on emergency care. Sonya Taylor, who is in the coverage gap, shared her story during the press event. Ms. Taylor noted that she has to rely on the support of church, family, and friends not just to deal with the pain, but to be able to afford to see a primary care provider. She works and saves money, but because of the complexity of her medical condition, she cannot report good health because occasional visits to a primary care doctor are not enough.

Ignoring the call to expand Medicaid also impacts entire counties. As Dr. Charlie van der Horst said during his speech, residents in low-resource counties such as Scotland, Vance, Caldwell, Anson, and Lenoir counties are two times more likely to die prematurely than residents of more affluent counties like Wake County. Statewide, closing the coverage gap could prevent 1,000 unnecessary deaths each year. When you consider the fact that many rural hospitals are especially vulnerable to closing without the financial boost they would receive from Medicaid expansion, many more children, families and working adults are likely to face poor health outcomes.

On the state-level, lawmakers rejected 43,000 jobs by 2020 when they failed to expand Medicaid this year. Each year that legislators refuse increasing access to health care to nearly a half million North Carolinians, they are also failing to accept $2 billion in federal funds. Refusing to close the coverage gap also prevents approximately 144,000 children from receiving necessary health care because they lack health coverage. Further, 29,000 fewer individuals in NC would report experiencing depression each year if lawmakers would expand Medicaid. Each year policymakers fail to the close the coverage gap, 40,000 women do not receive preventive screenings. While the day of advocacy is over, we must continue to remind legislators that closing the coverage gap is a not a political game, but a policy that impacts the health and economic well-being of children, workers, families, communities, and the entire state.


Coal ash cleanup bill delayed in NC Senate, possible vote Tuesday

The state Senate voted 47-0 today to not concur with the version of SB71 that passed the House yesterday. The bill would establish a new coal ash management commission, replacing the commission that was disbanded following a lawsuit from Gov. McCrory.

The bill now goes to conference committee with a likely vote on Tuesday. WRAL has more on the details of the last minute changes here.

Environmental groups express concerns over the bill, which they say fails to hold Duke Energy accountable in exposing North Carolina residents to coal ash.

The North Carolina League of Conservation says:

By passing this bill, DEQ’s classifications will not be final, which will give Duke Energy the opportunity to avoid accountability for the harm it is inflicting on North Carolina residents through exposure to coal ash.

S71 further delays the time in which Duke Energy needs to take action to clean up coal ash ponds. This further jeopardizes North Carolinians’ health and water quality.

While the bill does require that Duke Energy provide clean water lines to residents whose water supply has been affected by coal ash, it does not specify whether this cost will be passed on to ratepayers. Additionally, Duke Energy has publicly announced that this is a measure the company had already planned to take, making the inclusion of this language in the bill most likely posturing by the legislature.

S71 is a clear attempt by Duke Energy and its friends in the legislature to skirt responsibility for the toxic coal ash ponds in North Carolina. It is time to stop delaying the actions needed to protect the health and well-being of North Carolina residents. Do not let Duke Energy continue to avoid taking responsibility for its actions.

[Read more here]


GAO finds hazardous conditions in poultry, meatpacking continue

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The General Accounting Office (GAO) publicly released a report yesterday on workplace health and safety conditions in the poultry industry.  While noting a decline in injury and illness rates from 2004 to 2013, the report highlights the problem of underreporting and inadequate data collection.  The GAO report includes 3 recommendations for Executive Action:

Recommendation: To strengthen DOL’s efforts to ensure employers protect the safety and health of workers at meat and poultry plants, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, working together with the Commissioner of Labor Statistics as appropriate, to develop and implement a cost-effective method for gathering more complete data on musculoskeletal disorders.
Agency Affected: Department of Labor

Recommendation: To develop a better understanding of meat and poultry sanitation workers’ injuries and illnesses, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health and the Commissioner of Labor Statistics to study how they could regularly gather data on injury and illness rates among sanitation workers in the meat and poultry industry.

Agency Affected: Department of Labor

Recommendation: To develop a better understanding of meat and poultry sanitation workers’ injuries and illnesses, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conduct a study of the injuries and illnesses these workers experience, including their causes and how they are reported. Given the challenges to gaining access to this population, NIOSH may want to coordinate with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop ways to initiate this study.

Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

The report follows a recent release from Oxfam America focusing on the poultry industry’s denial of bathroom breaks to workers.