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Proposed labor rule would mean gig economy workers in Texas can’t get unemployment benefits

Tuesday, April 9, 2019 by Andrew Weber, KUT

The state’s labor regulator will meet this morning for a final vote on a controversial new rule on gig economy workers that opponents say will have far-reaching implications for workers going forward.

The proposed rule from the Texas Workforce Commission would eliminate a requirement that app-based companies – like Uber or DoorDash – that hire contractors pay unemployment taxes for those workers. The three-member commission gave initial approval for the rule in December.

Labor unions and worker advocates say the new rules were tailor-made by lobbyists from a firm called Handy. The Workers Defense Project filed a public information request for communications between Commissioner Ruth Hughs and the firm, which showed she sought advice and was briefed by two lobbyists working for Handy.

Jose Garza, executive director of the Workers Defense Project, says that communication violated state ethics laws, because the lobbyists failed to register properly with the Texas Ethics Commission, a detail first reported by the Texas Observer.

“I think we’re going to find out if there’s any integrity in the Texas Workforce Commission process,” Garza told KUT yesterday. “We expect there will be a decision, and we think that decision will be pretty revealing.”

Garza also says Hughs’ office was in communication with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office about the rule change.

The Workforce Commission has defended its process and says state law allows for industry input in drafting new labor rules. The commission meets this morning at 8:30.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT.

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