Gig Economy May Be Dangerous For Uninsured Workers

For private contractors working in the service industry, not having workers compensation insurance presents significant financial risk. Without this basic coverage, they can left to fend for themselves in the event of an accident. KQED reports that this is especially prevalent for the contractors who fight California’s wildfires.

KQED’s report points to two incidents during Big Sur’s Soberanes Fire last year; one killing a bulldozer driver and another injuring a water tender driver. These individuals did not have workers’ compensation insurance.

“These two cases highlight the human tragedies that can occur when basic health and safety laws are violated,” Laura Stock, director of UC Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program, said in a statement to KQED. “These stories also highlight the need for state and federal agencies to do a better job in vetting the contractors they bring in.”

For workers in dangerous industries like construction, not having workers compensation insurance presents a costly risk. Excavation, for example, is one of the most risky construction jobs. While workers are protected by shoring systems, including raking or inclined, flying or horizontal, or dead or vertical shores, workers comp insurance is another important safeguard.

In the case of the wildfire fighters, these incidents have shed light on the problem of uninsured contractors. KQED reports that Robert Reagan, the bulldozer operator killed on the job, was employed by Czirban Concrete Construction. Following the incident, the Contractors Licensing Board is accusing Czirban of violating several state regulations and alleging that the company lied about providing workers compensation coverage.

In a statement to KQED, Veena Dubal, associate law professor at UC Hastings, said that this oversight is putting a preventable burden on these workers and their families, citing their vulnerability on the job.

“These people who are risking their lives have no recourse and their families have no recourse,” she said. “They were putting their lives on the line to save California forests, to save California families.”

Contractors span almost all service industries. Whether they are installing roofs on nearly all homes, or septic systems in one quarter of homes, advocates argue that their work should receive the same treatment as those worker under an employer. Craig Peters, a California attorney specializing in construction site and heavy equipment injury, said in a statement to KQED that the lack of benefits faced by construction contractors is similar to many other gig economy workers, such as those employed by Uber and Lyft.

“This is no different, what’s happening with these guys,” he said. “It just didn’t happen to occur through a smartphone.”

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