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Uber, Lyft Drivers Struggle With High Gas Prices

When Adam Potash started driving for Lyft six months ago to help make ends meet, he was happy with the pay. The business was far from lucrative, but he was making about $200 a day before paying for costs like gas and car maintenance.

But as gas prices have risen in recent weeks, Mr. Potash has barely been breaking even. To compensate, he has focused on driving during peak customer hours and tried to fill up at cheaper gas stations in the area around San Francisco where he works. He has also reduced his driving time from about 45 hours each week to roughly 20 hours.

“It hurts. I don’t have money coming in,” Mr. Potash, 48, said of his reduced hours. “But I’m not willing to operate at a loss.”

Gig workers who drive for ride-hailing and delivery companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash have been hit hard by rising gas prices, because their ability to earn money is tied directly to driving hundreds of miles each week. And because the drivers are contract workers, the companies do not reimburse them for the cost of fueling up.

blog post on Monday.

DoorDash announced a gas rewards program on Tuesday. Those who use a prepaid debit card designed for DoorDash workers will get 10 percent cash back at gas stations, the company said, and DoorDash is adding bonus payments depending on miles driven. Grubhub also said it would boost driver pay.

Both Uber and Lyft say drivers have been making more money since lockdowns lifted than they did earlier in the pandemic or even prepandemic, even when accounting for rising gas prices. And both companies are promoting a partnership with an app called GetUpside that offers some cash back rewards for getting gas.

Gridwise, an app that helps drivers track their earnings and tallies data, found that drivers’ earnings had risen nationally in recent months, from an average of $308 per week in early January to $426 in early March. But gas costs for ride-hailing drivers have also gone up, from $31 per transaction to nearly $39 in the same period.

Uber and Lyft say the entirety of their new gas fees — 35 to 55 cents per trip for Uber and 55 cents for Lyft — will go to the drivers. But some drivers say the action is inadequate. Gas prices, on average, have increased 49 percent in the past year, according to AAA.

“That literally insulted every driver, and that was their first communication since gas prices were going up,” said Philippe Jean, an Uber and Lyft driver in Coopersburg, Pa.

Jennifer Montgomery, an UberEats driver in Las Vegas, where gas costs $5 per gallon, agreed that the gas fee “doesn’t even put a dent” in the cost of fuel, which for her has been at least $30 more each day since prices began to increase.

Ms. Montgomery, 40, said she was becoming disillusioned with the job, and had begun looking for other work that didn’t require her to drive. She has cut her six-hour, daily shifts in half, because “it’s really not a profit anymore.”

“I don’t want to deliver anymore,” she said. “Especially when you have bills to pay and rising cost of rent and mortgage, groceries — it affects everything.”

Mr. Jean mostly drives for Uber and Lyft during the winter and spring, when his work as a handyman tends to slow down. He said he enjoyed interacting with passengers and usually made $300 to $400 per week, with about $60 of that going to filling his tank.

Lately, though, Mr. Jean has been paying twice that amount for gas, and has had to cut back elsewhere to compensate — including by reducing his car insurance coverage.

“I’m driving Uber now hoping not to get in an accident, because if I do, I’m going to lose my car completely,” he said.

The gas price woes have actually caused Mr. Jean to drive more in the short term, because people with cars that get poor gas mileage have told him they have stopped driving. With his hybrid Toyota Prius, he figured he would be able to snap up some of their business and still be able to make some money. But Mr. Jean said he would most likely give up Uber altogether later in the spring when his handyman work picks up again, because of the high gas prices.

He questioned whether he or other drivers were even profiting from the ride-hailing business at all, after all of the costs involved.

“I think personally if I sat down and did the numbers, it would be break-even,” Mr. Jean said. “I don’t think we’re making money on it anymore. I think I’m afraid to admit it to myself, because then I would definitely stop doing it.”

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California’s Gig Worker Law Is Unconstitutional, Judge Rules

A California law that ensures many gig workers are considered independent contractors, while affording them some limited benefits, is unconstitutional and unenforceable, a California Superior Court judge ruled Friday evening.

The decision is not likely to immediately affect the new law and is certain to face appeals from Uber and other so-called gig economy companies. It reopened the debate about whether drivers for ride-hailing services and delivery couriers are employees who deserve full benefits, or independent contractors who are responsible for their own businesses and benefits.

Last year’s Proposition 22, a ballot initiative backed by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig economy platforms, carved out a third classification for workers, granting gig workers limited benefits while preventing them from being considered employees of the tech giants. The initiative was approved in November with more than 58 percent of the vote.

But drivers and the Service Employees International Union filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law. The group argued that Prop. 22 was unconstitutional because it limited the State Legislature’s ability to allow workers to organize and have access to workers’ compensation.

his ruling that Prop. 22 violated California’s Constitution because it restricted the Legislature from making gig workers eligible for workers’ compensation.

“The entirety of Proposition 22 is unenforceable,” he wrote, creating fresh legal upheaval in the long battle over the employment rights of gig workers.

“I think the judge made a very sound decision in finding that Prop. 22 is unconstitutional because it had some unusual provisions in it,” said Veena Dubal, a professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law who studies the gig economy and filed a brief in the case supporting the drivers’ position. “It was written in such a comprehensive way to prevent the workers from having access to any rights that the Legislature decided.”

Scott Kronland, a lawyer for the drivers, praised Judge Roesch’s decision. “Our position is that he’s exactly right and that his ruling is going to be upheld on appeal,” Mr. Kronland said.

ballot proposal that could allow voters in the state to decide next year whether gig workers should be considered independent contractors.

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Tax Day 2021: Here’s What You Need to Know

It’s May 17 and it’s Tax Day, the deadline for filing your 2020 taxes. The Internal Revenue Service in March said that Americans who needed it could take extra time to file their taxes. That time has arrived.

The one-month delay from the usual April deadline did not offer as much extra time as the I.R.S. gave people last year, when the filing deadline was pushed to July 15. But the aim was the same: to make it easier for taxpayers to get a handle on their finances — as well as tax changes that took effect this year with the signing of the American Rescue Plan.

Still have questions? Here are some articles that might help.

How the Pandemic Has Changed Your Taxes

New rules for a new reality, from stimulus payments to retirement withdrawals to unemployment insurance, could cut your bill or even generate extra refunds.

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The Tax Filing Deadline Was Delayed to May 17, but Read the Fine Print

“They hear Tax Day is moved to May 17, so a lot of people will go to their preparer on April 30,” Mr. Stewart said. “Unfortunately, the first-quarter estimated payment is late.”

The conference and other groups representing tax professionals had urged the government to postpone the estimated tax deadline as well. In congressional committee testimony in March, the I.R.S. commissioner, Charles P. Rettig, said the estimated tax deadline hadn’t been changed because it would, in effect, be giving “a break” on interest and penalties to wealthy people, who would invest the money instead of paying the government.

But people who file estimated taxes also include sole proprietors and workers in the gig economy with modest incomes, accountants say. Many people who lost jobs in the pandemic switched to work delivering meals and groceries ordered by mobile apps, said Melanie Lauridsen, senior manager for tax policy and advocacy at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

“That’s where the need is,” Ms. Lauridsen said.

The disconnect between the filing and estimated tax deadlines means tax preparers are pushed to get returns done by the traditional deadline anyway. “It’s putting a tremendous amount of stress on tax preparers,” said Rhonda Collins, director of tax content and government relations with the National Association of Tax Professionals.

In general, filers must estimate what they owe and round up to reduce the risk of underpaying. “It feels like it’s very much a guesstimate,” Ms. Collins said.

Should you incur a penalty when you file your tax return next year, you can request an abatement. Often, the I.R.S. is lenient with first-time errors, she said, especially when there are extenuating circumstances.

It’s also important to keep track of your income in 2021, tax professionals say. Many people had lower incomes than usual during 2020 because of the pandemic, and could see them rise in 2021 if the pandemic wanes as expected and the economy expands. If your income is turning out to be higher than expected, you may need to increase the amounts of your estimated payments later in the year.

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Deliveroo Heads to I.P.O. as Challenges Pile Up

LONDON — The initial public offering for Deliveroo, the Amazon-backed food delivery service, is set to be Britain’s biggest this year, giving the company an initial market value of 7.6 billion pounds, or $10.4 billion. But the listing, whose announcement was quickly heralded as a post-Brexit victory for London’s financial sector, has since been rocked by accusations of poor pay for Deliveroo riders.

Major investors, meanwhile, said they would sit out the offering.

Trading is set to begin on Wednesday, with shares priced at £3.90 a share, the bottom of the target range that originally was as high as £4.60. Earlier this week the company said that it wanted to price the shares “responsibly” and that it had received “very significant demand” from investors.

Deliveroo, which is based in London and was founded in 2013, is now in 12 countries and has over 100,000 riders, recognizable on the streets by their teal jackets and food bags. Last year, Amazon became its biggest shareholder with a 16 percent stake, which will drop to 11.5 percent after the I.P.O. The Deliveroo listing is the latest test for gig economy companies, whose business model is increasingly under threat in Europe as legal challenges mount.

Two weeks ago, Uber reclassified more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan, after a Supreme Court ruling. Analysts said the move could set a precedent for other companies and increase costs. In mainland Europe, where Deliveroo also operates, the European Commission is reviewing the legal status of gig economy workers.

a joint investigation by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism was published based on invoices of hundreds of Deliveroo riders. It found that a third of the riders made less than £8.72 an hour, the national minimum wage for people over 25.

Deliveroo dismissed the report, calling the union a “fringe organization” that didn’t represent a significant number of Deliveroo riders. The company said that riders were paid for each delivery and earn “£13 per hour on average at our busiest times.” In Britain, Deliveroo has 50,000 riders.

“Our way of working is designed around what riders tell us matters to them most — flexibility,” Deliveroo said in response to the investigation.

DoorDash, the American food delivery company, went public in December to much fanfare. Its share price jumped 86 percent on the first day of trading, closing at $189.51. On Monday, DoorDash stock closed at $129.98.

Some of Britain’s largest asset managers, including Legal & General Investment Management, which manages more than £1.2 trillion in assets, have said they will sit out the I.P.O. amid concerns about shareholder voting rights and worker rights. Like many start-up companies, Deliveroo will have two classes of shares, which for as long as three years will give William Shu, a co-founder and the chief executive, 57 percent of the voting rights.

The offering has prompted a debate over whether companies with dual-class shares should be allowed to join the “premium listings” section of the London Stock Exchange, which would permit them to be part of indexes like the FTSE 100, forcing many index funds to buy them.

While the New York Stock Exchange and other major exchanges allow this kind of privilege to dual-class companies (consider Google or Facebook), the London exchange does not — although some would like it to.

Legal & General said it was urging Britain’s financial regulator to preserve the rule keeping dual-class companies out of the premium listings.

This would protect smaller investors “against potential poor management behavior, that could lead to value destruction and avoidable investor loss,” the asset manager said. This year has also brought “increasing signs of countries and governments reviewing the gig economy status.”

But a recent review of Britain’s listings rules that has been embraced by the government recommended that companies with dual-class shares be allowed into the premium listings, with some restrictions. The review is part of a series of efforts by the Treasury to find ways to enhance London’s appeal as a global financial center, after Britain’s divorce from the European Union sent some trading activity to cities like New York and Amsterdam. One of the Treasury’s goals is to make the London stock market more appealing to tech companies after a dearth of major listings in recent years.

Rishi Sunak, said that it was a “fantastic” decision and that Deliveroo was a “true British tech success story.”

“The U.K. is one of the best places in the world to start, grow and list a business — and we’re determined to build on this reputation now we’ve left the E.U.,” Mr. Sunak said.

Michael J. de la Merced contributed reporting.

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In a First, Uber Agrees to Classify British Drivers as ‘Workers’

LONDON — For years, Uber has successfully deployed armies of lawyers and lobbyists around the world to fight attempts to reclassify drivers as company workers entitled to higher wages and benefits rather than lower-cost, self-employed freelancers.

Now the ride-hailing giant is retreating from that hard-line stance in Britain, one of its most important markets, after a major legal defeat.

On Tuesday, Uber said it would reclassify more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan. The decision, Uber said, is the first time the company has agreed to classify its drivers in this way, and it comes in response to a landmark British Supreme Court decision last month that said Uber drivers were entitled to more protections.

The decision represents a shift for Uber, though the move was made easier by British labor rules that offer a middle ground between freelancers and full employees that doesn’t exist in other countries. That middle ground makes it unclear whether Uber will change its stance elsewhere. More labor battles are coming in the European Union, where policymakers are considering tougher labor regulations of gig-economy companies, as well as in the United States.

employee,” which includes paternity and maternity leave and severance pay if dismissed, among other benefits.

Britain’s minimum wage for people over 25 years old will be 8.91 pounds, or about $12.40.

For vacation, drivers will receive 12 percent of their earnings, paid out every two weeks, a calculation set by the government.

Uber did not disclose how much the reclassification of British drivers would increase its costs, but it said in a regulatory filing that it did not alter the company’s target of becoming profitable this year. London is one of Uber’s five largest markets, and Britain accounts for about 6.4 percent of the company’s total gross bookings.

Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, put pressure on other ride-hailing companies to adopt similar policies in Britain.

“Uber is just one part of a larger private-hire industry, so we hope that all other operators will join us in improving the quality of work for these important workers who are an essential part of our everyday lives,” he said in the statement.

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In First, Uber Agrees to Classify British Drivers as ‘Workers’

LONDON — For years, Uber has successfully deployed armies of lawyers and lobbyists around the world to fight attempts to reclassify drivers as company workers entitled to higher wages and benefits rather than lower-cost, self-employed freelancers.

Now the ride-hailing giant is retreating from that hard-line stance in Britain, one of its most important markets, after a major legal defeat.

On Tuesday, Uber said it would reclassify more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan. The decision, Uber said, is the first time the company has agreed to classify its drivers in this way, and it comes in response to a landmark British Supreme Court decision last month that said Uber drivers were entitled to more protections.

The decision represents a shift for Uber, though the move was made easier by British labor rules that offer a middle ground between freelancers and full employees that doesn’t exist in other countries. That middle ground makes it unclear whether Uber will change its stance elsewhere. More labor battles are coming in the European Union, where policymakers are considering tougher labor regulations of gig-economy companies, as well as in the United States.

employee,” which includes paternity and maternity leave and severance pay if dismissed, among other benefits.

Britain’s minimum wage for people over 25 years old will be 8.91 pounds, or about $12.40.

For vacation, drivers will receive 12 percent of their earnings, paid out every two weeks, a calculation set by the government.

Uber did not disclose how much the reclassification of British drivers would increase its costs, but it said in a regulatory filing that it did not alter the company’s target of becoming profitable this year. London is one of Uber’s five largest markets, and Britain accounts for about 6.4 percent of the company’s total gross bookings.

Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, put pressure on other ride-hailing companies to adopt similar policies in Britain.

“Uber is just one part of a larger private-hire industry, so we hope that all other operators will join us in improving the quality of work for these important workers who are an essential part of our everyday lives,” he said in the statement.

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For Gig Workers and Business Owners, Taxes Are Even Trickier Now

The revamped credit “is a better program — there’s more money, and it’s available to more employers,” said Shelly Abril, the head of tax compliance at Gusto, a payroll services provider. “But with that comes all this extra complexity.”

Devon Lind plans to seek retroactive 2020 credits for his workers at Blender, a collection of businesses in Spokane, Wash. Blender’s two core businesses — Photoboxx, which sells photo printing and display technology, and Smash, a mobile “rage room” where people can destroy plates — both depend on events, and sales plunged last year. The company had nine employees before the pandemic. It laid off five.

How Has the Pandemic Changed Your Taxes?

Nope. The so-called economic impact payments are not treated as income. In fact, they’re technically an advance on a tax credit, known as the Recovery Rebate Credit. The payments could indirectly affect what you pay in state income taxes in a handful of states, where federal tax is deductible against state taxable income, as our colleague Ann Carrns wrote. Read more.

Mostly.  Unemployment insurance is generally subject to federal as well as state income tax, though there are exceptions (Nine states don’t impose their own income taxes, and another six exempt unemployment payments from taxation, according to the Tax Foundation). But you won’t owe so-called payroll taxes, which pay for Social Security and Medicare. The new relief bill will make the first $10,200 of benefits tax-free if your income is less than $150,000. This applies to 2020 only. (If you’ve already filed your taxes, watch for I.R.S. guidance.) Unlike paychecks from an employer, taxes for unemployment aren’t automatically withheld. Recipients must opt in — and even when they do, federal taxes are withheld only at a flat rate of 10 percent of benefits. While the new tax break will provide a cushion, some people could still owe the I.R.S. or certain states money. Read more.

Probably not, unless you’re self-employed, an independent contractor or a gig worker. The tax law overhaul of late 2019 eliminated the home office deduction for employees from 2018 through 2025. “Employees who receive a paycheck or a W-2 exclusively from an employer are not eligible for the deduction, even if they are currently working from home,” the I.R.S. said. Read more.

Self-employed people can take paid caregiving leave if their child’s school is closed or their usual child care provider is unavailable because of the outbreak. This works similarly to the smaller sick leave credit — 67 percent of average daily earnings (for either 2020 or 2019), up to $200 a day. But the caregiving leave can be taken for 50 days. Read more.

Yes. This year, you can deduct up to $300 for charitable contributions, even if you use the standard deduction. Previously, only people who itemized could claim these deductions. Donations must be made in cash (for these purposes, this includes check, credit card or debit card), and can’t include securities, household items or other property. For 2021, the deduction limit will double to $600 for joint filers. Rules for itemizers became more generous as well. The limit on charitable donations has been suspended, so individuals can contribute up to 100 percent of their adjusted gross income, up from 60 percent. But these donations must be made to public charities in cash; the old rules apply to contributions made to donor-advised funds, for example. Both provisions are available through 2021. Read more.

Because Blender took a Paycheck Protection Program loan, it was initially ineligible for the retention credit, but Mr. Lind now plans to seek it for two quarters last year. The credit “is really going to help us continue to retain employees as we’re gaining back business,” he said.

But extracting the most money allowed from the credit is complicated because of the way it interacts with P.P.P. proceeds — and the Internal Revenue Service hasn’t yet provided detailed guidance.

“There’s just tons of nuance in the credit,” said Andre Shevchuck, a partner at the accounting firm BPM. “We have instructed a lot of clients to first check in with their payroll provider to see how the rubber meets the road, and it may also make sense for businesses to talk to a C.P.A or a lawyer.”

Self-employed workers are normally not eligible for unemployment compensation, but the CARES Act extended benefits to them. Ms. Holcomb filed for unemployment when her contract job temporarily eliminated her hours.

Some who collected the money are in for a tax-time shock, though: The payments are taxed as income. States are supposed to offer recipients the option of having federal taxes withheld, but in their scramble to deal with a deluge of claims, some states didn’t do it — and many people, faced with urgent bills and a reduced income, declined the option. Researchers at the Century Foundation estimate that fewer than 40 percent of unemployment payments last year had taxes withheld.

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