One new local law could have a major impact on the gig economy: Earlier this week, Seattle’s city council unanimously approved a new measure that requires third-party food delivery apps like Grubhub and Instacart to give workers paid sick days. Those who deliver food for many apps in Seattle would be eligible to accrue one sick day for every 30 days worked and the payment would be based on their average daily income.
The bill is an offshoot of a similar Seattle law mandating sick pay for full-time and part-time employees, but that law had not included independent contractors, such as Uber and Lyft drivers. With this new law, gig workers can use up to three days of paid sick time before being required to produce a doctor’s note or other proof of care, and the compensation would be recalculated every month to reflect changes in gig worker’s earnings.
The issue of paid sick leave has been a contentious one among many third-party delivery companies. Earlier this spring, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Instacart, Doordash, and Postmates announced that they would offer paid sick leave to part-time workers and contractors — but that pay only applied to workers who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. And just a few weeks after that announcement, Instacart workers threatened to strike over what they said was inadequate access to sick leave.
This law does not tie sick pay to COVID-19 tests, even though it was pushed through as an attempt to address many of the issues gig workers face when it comes to health care during the pandemic. The law will go into effect within the next 30 days pending a signature by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, and drivers will be allowed to accrue and use sick time from the time the ordinance starts through six months after the city’s civil emergency is over.
While the law is in effect, gig workers have a right to file a lawsuit against their employers if those companies are noncompliant and could be rewarded up to three times the amount of unpaid compensation owed if a lawsuit is successful. The bill also comes with a penalty of up to $546.07 per violation.
The city council is also considering another bill that would mandate third-party apps to give workers $5 extra in “premium pay” for each trip, whether that’s a food delivery or a drop-off via ride-shares such as Uber. There’s no timeline yet for a vote on the “premium pay” bill.
Third-party apps have put up resistance to both this extra compensation bill and the mandated sick pay, citing higher pay for delivery drivers now than at this time last year and certain steps they have taken to address the safety of drivers during the pandemic. For instance, Uber told the Seattle Times it has provided personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to thousands of drivers in the Seattle area.
But Seattle lawmakers are confident the new rules can make a difference. “Much like the nation’s first $15 minimum wage and the first citywide domestic workers bill of rights, when Seattle leads on labor standards, workers across the country benefit,” Councilwoman Teresa Mosqueda, who sponsored the paid sick leave bill, tells Eater Seattle.