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New Jersey Hits Pause on Gig Workers’ Rights Legislation

Dec. 13, 2019, 7:14 PM

New Jersey lawmakers will take a little more time on a hotly contested gig workers’ rights bill, but just how long depends on who you ask.

The delay comes as Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc., DoorDash Inc., Postmates Inc., and other online platform companies work to fend off a multi-front attack on their business model. The companies treat drivers and other workers as self-employed entrepreneurs, who aren’t covered by wage-and-hour laws or entitled to workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance benefits.

“That bill has now been put on hold as of late yesterday,” Paul Sarlo (D), the state senate’s deputy majority leader, said at a Dec. 13 event in New York. “It’s not going to happen between now and the holidays or now and January 13,” he added, referring to the end of the current legislative session. Sarlo was speaking at a gig economy forum hosted by City & State.

Legislation pending in both chambers of the Statehouse would codify a 2015 state supreme court decision that makes it difficult for ride-hail, online platform, and other companies to classify workers as independent contractors rather than employees. A Senate version that would have tightened the standard even further to track a controversial new law in California has since been amended, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) told Bloomberg Law.

Sweeney, the legislation’s lead sponsor, said he’s still working to try to get the measure passed before the end of the session. He said the only delay is that lawmakers pushed back a previous plan to schedule a vote on Dec. 16, in order to review testimony from a recent hearing on the legislation.

A coalition of gig employers, which recently pledged $110 million in support of a ballot initiative to shield them from the California law, is now pushing a ballot initiative there to exempt online platforms that connect workers with customers. The businesses also are fighting worker misclassification lawsuits in New Jersey, California, and other states across the country.

The Garden State is going after Uber and an affiliate for what the New Jersey labor department says is $650 million in unpaid employment taxes. Sweeney pointed out that the New Jersey law would simply cement the approach that the department and courts in the state already have been taking.

“This is the law right now,” Sweeney said. “If you’re concerned about this it is probably because you are already breaking the law.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in New York at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com

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