Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s political sensibilities appear to be driven by a pendulum.

They swing back and forth as his tenure in office proceeds. What seemed to be a reasonable idea in one term becomes anathema in another.

At one point, Mr. Cuomo championed what’s known as the gig economy. He urged state lawmakers to pass legislation allowing ridesharing services in upstate New York, which they did in 2017.

But the governor has now changed his tune on corporations that make generous use of independent contractors.

“While we continue our economic agenda, we must move forward on our economic justice crusade. Large corporations have dominated and taken advantage of workers for too long,” Mr. Cuomo said Jan. 8 during his State of the State Address. “Today’s economy works brilliantly for innovators, shareholders and billionaires, but it abuses workers. As FDR, Al Smith and Frances Perkins protected workers after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, we too must protect workers from today’s threat: economic exploitation. This year more than 40 percent of the workforce will be in jobs related to the new Gig Economy — an economy which has spurred growth and many innovations, but which excludes many workers from the progress of fair pay and benefits. Too many corporations are increasing their profits at the expense of the employee and the taxpayer. That must end. A driver is not an independent contractor simply because she drives her own car on the job. A newspaper carrier is not an independent contractor because they ride their own bicycle. A domestic worker is not an independent contractor because she brings her own broom and mop. It is exploitive and abusive and a scam and a fraud, and it must stop here and it must stop now.”

There is a lot to unpack in the governor’s diatribe against growing economic opportunities for many people. But let’s start with a big whopper he told.

Comparing the gig economy to the notorious sweatshops of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is outrageous. People mired in abject poverty performed work often under perilous conditions during this period. They felt trapped because they had few job prospects other than the ones that were being offered in the sweatshops.

Many people today who participate in the gig economy accept assignments tailored around their schedule. They do these jobs to supplement their income.

Others make their living as independent contractors with multiple companies because they enjoy the flexibility of choosing when and where to work. Modern technology allows them to perform jobs more efficiently.

There’s no doubt that some people feel compelled to accept work as independent contractors because they find it difficult securing full-time employment. But the governor is partially to blame for this problem.

He and many Democrats in the state Legislature have deluded themselves into believing they can create a workers’ utopia in New York by micromanaging the private sector. This drives away firms that don’t want to deal with the egregious burdens placed upon them by the state — and they take their jobs with them.

Some independent contractors are less than thrilled with the conditions under which they must labor. But this also holds true for people who are full-time employees for numerous companies. It’s the nature of today’s workplace.

Unless there are documented violations of labor law, the central planners in Albany must trust the free market to function. There will always be complaints about working conditions, but “progress” won’t be made if legislators attempt to satisfy every whim.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(16) comments

zeitgeist

Prior to the passage of California's Assembly Bill 5 ("gig economy") in September, 2019, newspapers across the state published editorials calling for its defeat. The newspaper industry participates in the gig economy and depends on gig workers-- delivery workers, freelance writers and editors, etc. The LA Times wrote, "The last thing California needs is for its legislature to deal another devastating blow to our industry." This formed the opinion expressed in the WDT editorial. Why aren't we told that? Why is the truth behind the opinion hidden? It would have been better to present the truth behind the opinion... tell us your newspaper-plight in light of the gig economy. At least we would have understood where you are coming from. Instead, the WDT editorial presents a bunch of lame, inhumane, neo-liberal, reckless, utterly out of touch, and totally insensitive arguments in support of the exploitive and immoral gig economy. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

Jerry Moore Staff
Jerry Moore

zeitgeist:

Thank you for your feedback, but your assertions are inaccurate. I was unaware of this particular editorial in the Los Angeles Times until you referenced it. So as the author of our editorial (one that was based on the consensus of and input from the other members of our editorial board), I could not have used this piece from the LA Times to form our arguments if I hadn't yet read it.

The LA Times was reacting to a court ruling and a proposed bill in the California Legislature. Its editorial dealt with specific details. Our editorial responded to vague, broad and overly dramatic comments made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. If enacted into law, his ideas would have a chilling effect on the state's economy. And seeing that Northern New York suffers more from economic malaise than does the rest of the state, we'd likely get the worst of it.

It's true that we use independent contractors to deliver our newspapers, just like the LA Times. But the comparison begins to unravel at this point. First of all, the LA Times says it has 1.3 million daily readers and 2 million readers on Sundays. It also owns and distributes several other publications. That's a whole lot of newspapers to deliver each morning. Converting all the independent contractors required to accomplish this into employees would be a tremendous hit for the media company. Admittedly, our circulation is substantially smaller than that of the LA Times. Absorbing the independent contractors who deliver our newspapers would surely be problematic, but not as devastating as it would be for the LA Times.

In addition, the LA Times is more more heavily dependent upon the gig economy for its creative operations. It uses numerous freelance writers, editors, photographers and artists; we don't. Our use of independent contractors is essentially limited to newspaper delivery people. So the LA Times has much more at stake than we do in the survival of the gig economy.

Over the last several years, we've published many editorials criticizing Cuomo and state lawmakers for policy decisions that thwart the free market. They have attempted to micromanage the economy, and this has dissuaded companies from remaining here or opening facilities here. Every year, New York suffers a net loss of residents. We've often said that New York is "not open for business." And our positions have focused on decisions that have not affected the news industry directly. So we've demonstrated that we have a genuine interest in an economic climate that is welcoming to businesses. We previously published a few editorials supporting legislation to authorize ridesharing firms in upstate New York for the same reasons we articulated in this recent editorial. We don't benefit directly from ridesharing companies, so our arguments weren't based on self-interest.

In addition, we've been open and honest in our editorials about opposing measures that hurt our industry (public notices by governmental entities, newsprint tariffs, etc.). So when we have skin in the game, we have not tried to conceal it. If you knew anything about our record on promoting the free market, you would understand that the concerns we expressed are legitimate.

Rather than making unsubstantiated claims, why don't you highlight one or two of the arguments we made and point out why they're wrong? Of course, this would require conducting research and presenting evidence. Take care.

Jerry Moore

Editorial page editor

Watertown Daily Times

315-661-2369

jmoore@wdt.net

letters@wdt.net

zeitgeist

Thank you for your response, Mr. Moore.

Gov. Cuomo has not changed his tune on the gig economy or gig workers since 2017 when he urged state lawmakers to pass legislation allowing ridesharing services. In his State of the State speech in early January, he referred to the gig economy as "an economy that has spurred growth and innovation." He is well aware of the opportunities and benefits of a growing gig economy for gig workers, businesses and the state.

The impetus behind his present interest in the gig economy is not to create a workers' utopia, or thwart the free market, or chill the state's economy, or micromanage the private sector. In his State of the State speech, he noted why the gig economy merits his attention and the attention of lawmakers: it "excludes many workers from the progress of fair pay [exploitation, "sweat-shop" pay] and benefits [due to the frequent misclassification of workers]." He could have added that many gig workers endure poor working conditions, corporate culture alienation, have no voice, etc. Seems anyone with a conscience would want to address these real and substantiated problems affecting "many" but not all gig workers.

In your editorial, you note that unless there are documented violations of labor law, Albany must trust the free market to function. OK. You have a conscience. But what if the labor law has not evolved to include or address violations that are relevant and pertain to the newly evolving economy- the gig economy? To where can exploited or misclassified or abused gig workers turn? What protects them? Gov. Cuomo wants to protect violated gig workers with legislation that is relevant and pertains to gig economy violations, violations not addressed by present state labor law.

California's Assembly Bill 5 ("gig economy") went into effect on Jan. 1. Presently, it's drowning in litigation. It has created utter mayhem in CA. Why? Because it thwarted the free market, chilled the state's economy and micromanaged the private sector. It did everything you fear... and more. Very bad for CA and hopefully they can fix it, but, from the mayhem, states across the country are learning a lot, especially NJ and NY, including Gov. Cuomo, as they, in particular, are advancing toward protecting gig workers. Give Cuomo a chance. He hasn't even proposed his gig economy ideas but you are certain that "If enacted into law, his ideas would have a chilling effect on the state's economy." Really? What ideas exactly?

In your editorial, you sound cavalier, meaning you seem to lack proper concern for the real violations endured by gig workers. You say that "Some independent contractors [gig workers] are less than thrilled with the conditions under which they labor..." Then you say, "...it holds true for full-time workers," too. So what's the big deal, you seem to say? But, in the case of many gig workers, the "conditions" are not conditions. They are injustices, violations. To whom or what can they turn to for help or protection? Full-time workers have recourse.

In your editorial, you note how many gig workers have full-time jobs, implying they earn at least relatively sustainable salaries and benefits. Their gig work provides extra income for, say, recreation, social opportunities, travel, etc. Say I am a nurse at Samaritan. Say I want extra income for whatever reason. Say I take a gig job delivering newspapers at the Times three mornings a week. Because my nurse income sustains me and my newspaper delivery income is only "icing on the cake," is it acceptable for the Times to pay me unfairly? Are you aware of how many employers rationalize unfair gig pay this way (not saying the Times does)? Or worse, employers rationalize unfair gig pay because the worker is sustained by two, three, four or more other gig jobs! Or super worse, employers rationalize unfair gig pay because workers who rely on gig work and cannot gain full-time employment must be the dredges and deserve it! It's real!

I think the editorial was premature in the sense that Cuomo's ideas and the ideas of democratic lawmakers are far from being fully articulated. You exploded about something not there. Maybe you have an attitude about them that is behind your defensive tone. For me, it comes across when you accuse them of trying to create a "workers' utopia," like your attitude about them is that they are "snowflakes" to begin with, so the unknown ideas will be "snowflake-like" too. Relax. There is chaos and pandemonium in CA. It's not in NY. The meltdown in CA will greatly inform Cuomo and state lawmakers... and governors and lawmakers across the country. In the meantime, come around to acknowledging the very real problems, dilemmas and injustices endured by many gig workers, along with the utter absence of recourse. Your editorial doesn't linger there long enough, making it seem insensitive and out of touch.

What I can't wait for is for Cuomo to articulate his ideas. Because, when he does, his ideas better include a solution to the abominable and unjust gig job called adjunct professor. His SUNY system and free tuition program get done on the backs of exploited and misclassified adjuncts. Surely, he'll find it despicable...

zeitgeist

oops, *dregs

rdsouth

Gig workers should count toward a company's total employee count for purposes of determining a small, medium, or large business. And that category, in turn, should dictate the requirement to turn gig employees into regular employees. Every Uber driver should count as an employee, making Uber a huge business. And being a huge business, Uber should be required to have a certain percentage of its employees be regular full time employees. While this would not address the unfair pay and treatment of many gig workers, it would reduce the percentage of them, creating a better lot to move up into, and preventing the wholesale gigification of the entire economy.

Holmes

Any business that doesn't leave NYS is foolish and/or doomed to fail.

Holmes -- the real one

Fake "Holmes"

What nonsense that is.

My business has flourished. And I know many more which have also flourished.

The reason people don't look to the North Country for business opportunities is the angry, pessimistic, and and stubborn prejudice of the mindset in potential workers here.

hermit thrush

lol, tell that to new york city.

Holmes -- the real one

1. The only kind of valid work is for a corporation and its shareholders.

2. People choose to work as independent contractors because: a) They enjoy the thrill of wondering whether they will have the income to pay their bills this week, b) They are inveterate risk takers. High on the adrenaline rush of the possibility of being assaulted as a cleaning person or an Uber driver, they stockpile the accouterments of their chosen profession much as a mountain climber assembles gear for a climb at Everest, c) They are otherwise financially stable but just want to pick up a little extra, d) Working as an independent contractor is just so flexible! You can work 8 hours at one job, run home and feed the kids and then go out and work some more! d) You just can’t beat the joy of that flexibility

3. Hey! This isn’t the 18th Century! It’s not as if it’s the same as sweatshops, for heaven’s sake. Honestly, those people who say things like that are just taking the analogy too far. Just because we put some kids in cages doesn’t mean we are proceeding like the early days of the 3rd Reich! Just because Iran is enriching uranium doesn’t mean it’s like Hiroshima! Killing people in other countries is not the same as gunning them down on 5th Avenue! There are only 2 sides to this argument – either everything is fine and dandy or it is exactly like the worst disaster we can think up!

4) Fair pay and benefits will hurt the richest people we have. There is absolutely no way that a business can prosper without taking advantage of the workers. That’s what capitalism is all about.

Holmes

For people that don't like capitalism there are options, Venezuela, Cuba, PRC, etc.

Holmes -- the real one

For people who don’t understand the concept of irony there are remedial English courses.

rdsouth

The real Holmes is inverting everything, so "exploitation is what capitalism is all about" is supposed to represent someone who is wrong, who doesn't get it.

Newsjunkie39a

We get it, WDT: you don't like Cuomo.

Holmes

Most people do, Cuomo only won seven counties north of NYC.

Holmes -- the real one

But they LOVE Elise. Funny how that works.

Nice_Commenter

’There is a lot to unpack in the governor’s diatribe against growing economic opportunities for many people. But let’s start with a big whopper he told’

Nice to see comedy return to the WDT editorial board. After expenses Uber drivers make around $2-3 an hour. Other services pay less. What amazing ‘opportunities’. I’m really wonder if Man replace God as the weatherman? that one was hilarious!

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