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Seattle introduces legislation to protect gig workers from abrupt termination

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Network companies such as Uber and GrubHub use the term “deactivation” to describe workers being effectively fired and no longer able to accept new work orders.

This week the Seattle City Council will introduce a bill aimed at protecting gig workers from sudden deactivation, which will provide transparency guidelines for companies that engage in the practice.

Triny Hernandez was making a delivery last October when DoorDash sent notice that her account was being deactivated. Speaking through a translator, Hernandez says she tried to find out why she was let go.

“It was very technical language that was being used — it was several pages long, there were several bullet points, and I just didn’t understand what they were telling me.”

From what Hernandez gathered, her deactivation was in part because of her low acceptance rate. She explained that she turned down orders that were too far away, but generally followed through on the ones she did accept.

Supporters of the legislation say the deactivation process is unclear and often unfair. They add that network companies use unreliable algorithms when making these decisions.

The city’s proposal would establish guidelines for deactivation and appeals. For example, network companies would have to provide notice before deactivation that includes a written explanation and evidence of what triggered the process.

The Washington Alliance for Innovation and Independent Work, which includes app-based services and independent workers, has spoken out in opposition of the proposed deactivation rules, in part citing concerns about complainant privacy.

"We’re grateful that the City Council has made needed improvements to this bill, but believe it still needs further changes," says Anna Powell, a spokesperson for DoorDash, in a written statement sent by the coalition. "As currently drafted, the Council’s legislation would limit our ability to take action in the rare cases of emotionally harmful behavior and fails to account for consumer and merchant privacy. We are working with the Council and other stakeholders to reach a workable resolution, and want to be clear that this policy is not in the best interest of businesses or consumers in its current form."

For her part, Hernandez says she wants to appeal her case but can’t find guidance for how she should go about it.

“I have not yet received a full explanation," she says.

Since her account was deactivated, Hernandez has been working at a restaurant, packaging orders for pick-up.

Update notice: This story was updated on Tuesday, 5/23 at 12:38 p.m. to include comments shared on behalf of the Washington Alliance for Innovation and Independent Work.

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