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Harry Benion drives a blue Dodge Caravan. Outside, the minivan is streaked with the salt and grit of the long Detroit winter. Think about the last time you needed a visit from a cable guy. You probably saw the same sort of sign—or a cable company T-shirt, hat, or badge like the ones Benion wears—and assumed he was an employee of Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, or another provider, earning a decent hourly rate to install your DVR or hook up a DSL line.
Historically, that would have been true.
Cable companies, like appliance manufacturers and utility companies, once employed field technicians in large numbers. And many companies, including Comcast, still employ a roster of in-house technicians. But it's a chief complaint of the 36, Verizon workers who went on strike Wednesday.
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And in the Detroit area, Benion estimates,contractors now make up at least half the workforce. Some moonlight with contract gigs but earn the bulk of their incomes from traditional jobs. But almost 8 percent of American workers earned the entirety of their livings as day laborers, temps, on-call workers, or contract company workers inaccording to the U.
Government Accountability Office ; cable installers such as Benion and Goodgall fall into that last category. I hate paying taxes. Bona fide freelancers who operate as small businesses have long been commonplace in creative fields like film, journalism, and graphic design.
But over the past 15 years, independent contractors have replaced millions of traditional employees such as cable installers, delivery truck drivers, and janitors, even though the work itself looks exactly the same. Benion, a year-old single father of three from Pontiac, Michigan, has worked as a cable installer since and has always been an independent contractor.
Comcast, says Dutton, partners with an elaborate network of local and regional installation companies wherever it operates. He also had control over his schedule; Comcast dispatchers assigned each tech a list of jobs for the day, but after that, Benion managed his own time.
If he finished a job early, he could decide whether it made more sense to get a head start on the next one, take his lunch, or run a quick errand, like picking up a prescription for one of the medications he needs to manage a seizure condition. Technicians log on at 7 a.
But Benion and other techs say they preferred when they could order their days themselves to make geographic sense, cutting down on uncompensated drive time and gas costs.
Every minute of our time is micromanaged now. Representatives from LeCom Inc. Comcast has heralded its move to dynamic dispatching as a balm to its notoriously shoddy customer service. Comcast declined to comment on whether the move has been successful.
The IRS offers employers a here form with 57 questions to determine whether they should give their workers a or a W-2 at tax time. That test focuses on whether a worker is economically dependent on the employer, or in business for him or herself, by evaluating that relationship according to six criteria.
Chamber of Commerce, for example, has often fought efforts to reclassify contractors as employees in the courts. Nevertheless, many employers make contractor status sound appealing to their workforce. Except the money never showed up. Goodgall installed cable for LeCom from August to December and says he averaged jobs per month, often working upward of hour days, six days a week. But, especially in the beginning, it was often way less.
He needed a smartphone to log in to the CSG app all day and was stuck using his own phone for several months—without reimbursement. The Detroit-area cable installation companies supply their technicians with some equipment, such as extension ladders, but many guys say they end up supplementing with their own tools. Money was so tight that Franklin began to fall short on his car payments and credit card bills.
It was hard work, but he had a regular schedule—eight-hour shifts, five days a week—and got overtime pay if he worked more.
Just want to get a quote to get our basement air quality checked out, thanks! Otherwise, give me my freedom. Odor elimination, Just want to have home checked, Other. Please choose a location. Indeed, some courts have ruled in lawsuits against Comcast and several other cable companies that this kind of daily monitoring is simply to ensure customer service standards are met, not proof of employer status.
Comcast may negotiate a slightly different deal with each cable installation company it contracts in the Detroit area, the list includes Aero Communications and Lee Bond Communication, as well as LeCom. Not so bad for a minute visit where you remind a customer how to work his remote.
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Not so great if it turns into a two-hour tangle of wires and you drove half an hour to get there. But the bigger jobs can also bring bigger headaches. That the money is so bad—even dipping below minimum wage—is not, by itself, enough to win an employee misclassification case. In other misclassification lawsuits, cable companies have argued, with mixed success, that they are merely content providers that bring in highly trained installation professionals, much as you might hire an electrician or a plumber.
And my cancer came back. Outrageous power bills bit doesn't cool off or heat house The FLSA test says that independent contractors should be able to call some shots about their work in ways that cable installers never seem to. McCormick Builders Group, Inc.
But that would be news to Franklin, who had never fished cable through a wall or hooked up a DSL connection before last year. Goodgall reports here same experience, noting how ill-prepared he felt when he started: You find out what you owe in January and then you work like crazy until April to figure out how to pay it.
The FLSA test says that independent contractors should be able to call some shots about their work in ways that cable installers never seem to.
One subcontractor Benion worked for asked him to sign a contract with a six-month noncompete. During his months as a cable installer, he says he hardly ever got home before his son went to bed.
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The intricate system of contractors and subcontractors gives Comcast plausible deniability about the circumstances of its technicians on the ground—even while Comcast has the capacity to directly assign them jobs and track their progress through the TechNet app.
Indeed, some courts have ruled in lawsuits against Comcast and several other cable companies that this kind of daily monitoring is simply to ensure customer service standards are met, not proof of employer status. But Benion says Comcast must know how many of their installers are freelancers.
Representatives for LeCom Inc. Otherwise, give me my freedom. More and more cable company installers are independent contractors. Photo illustration by Holly Allen. Slate logo Sign In Sign Up.