Council members Steve Fletcher (Ward 3) and Linea Palmisano (Ward 13) are developing a set of new guidelines to give Minneapolis’ Department of Civil Rights authority to help for-hire workers — think construction crews, app-based workers, freelance artists, handymen or other gig contractors — recover lost or stolen compensation.
The proposal — which would be the first law of its kind in the state — is a sequel to the council’s decision earlier this month to establish similar procedures for traditional employees, and comes amid a larger-scale effort among Minnesota leaders to crack down on wage theft statewide.Addressing the gig economy
At both the local and state level, policymakers have made wage-theft prevention a priority this year, citing the pervasiveness of underpayment that disproportionately affects communities of color and immigrants in Minnesota. The state Labor Department estimates that up to 40,000 employees in Minnesota are not fully paid what they have earned each year.
Last month, Gov. Tim Walz signed a bipartisan bill to establish new protections for workers in state law. The measure substantially expands resources for investigating cases and offers guidelines that are almost identical to the Minneapolis ordinance, which the City Council unanimously passed Aug 12. As a result of the provisions, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, attorney general’s office and Minneapolis’ Department of Civil Rights at City Hall are meeting regularly to determine how they want to roll out the changes and coordinate enforcement.
Contracts for independent contractors
Fletcher and Palmisano want to see rules that would require business owners to provide all independent contractors in Minneapolis with written agreements outlining payment amounts and schedules prior to the work. Also, in cases where residents hire contractors for service, such as a household hiring a plumber, the proposal would put responsibility on the worker to produce a contract between the two parties. And all contracts would require signatures from both parties.
“If you’re a venue that hires bands, you need to provide a contract to the bands you’re hiring. If you’re a couple getting married, and you hire a wedding band, the band needs to provide the contract,” Fletcher said of the idea. “If we have a contract and some evidence that work was done, [an allegation of wage-theft] is not a long conversation.”
The proposed protections in Minneapolis would give independent contractors the ability to enlist the labor standards division of the city’s Department of Civil Rights to recover lost or stolen money, much like the initial wage-theft law for employees. Right now, victims of wage theft who are gig workers have no option besides filing a civil court claim, a process that often takes a lot of time and money, says Palmisano.
Other cities have enacted similar proposals, though those guidelines often pertain to specific industries, such as delivery services or app-based jobs. In New York City, for example, activists successfully lobbied city leaders to adopt the “Freelance Isn’t Free Act” in 2016, adding similar protections pertaining to contracts and timely payment for gig-workers.
Fletcher, who represents downtown and parts of northeast Minneapolis, said there is an especially large, diverse workforce of independent business owners and artists in his ward. He said the law is especially important for Minneapolis, since it’s often where operators come to hire contracted work and national groups host big events.
“This is the place where it’s happening,” Fletcher said. “This is the place where the most people are going to be impacted by it.”