Protect Workers, Don’t Ruin Them
In his early February State of the Union message, President Joe Biden proclaimed his affinity for the blue-collar workers and other folks harmed by manufacturing declines of late.
“Too many people have been left behind or treated like they’re invisible,” he said. “Maybe that’s you watching at home. You remember the jobs that went away.”
Such statements make for great sound bites as they project empathy for the oft-forgotten folks in Middle America.
Yet, amid this exercise in cozying up to the middle class, it’s worth noting that the federal government is considering legislation that could seriously damage the ability of freelancers like me to make a living.
I refer to the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. I have been nervously watching it bump around Congress ever since Biden took office.
The danger of expressing opposition to the PRO Act is coming off as a rabid anti-unionist, which I’m not. But unless this bill gets amended, I fear the disastrous, real-life consequences that could follow.
That’s because the model for this legislation arose from California’s Assembly Bill 5. Passed in 2019, it has proved so dreadful lawmakers there have passed multiple exceptions to it as they try to clarify who it affects.
AB5 didn’t just disrupt the gig economy in California, it knocked freelance writers out of work. I know one personally. She supplemented her income in a slow time writing stories for a business as a contractor. But thanks to the state’s screwball definition of who can be considered an employee, the company said, “Sorry, we can’t send you any more assignments.”
Failing the ABC’s
The culprit is California’s ABC test, which the PRO Act retains. Its three prongs include one dictate that a person must perform work outside of the hiring entity’s business to be considered an independent contractor.
But a freelancer like me who writes or edits books on contract for a publisher is not able to meet this guideline. After all, we’re both part of the publishing business.
I have already complained to our senators about this legislation. But I fear that my voice will be lost in the shuffle of bureaucratic wrangling and special interest groups exerting power in Congress.
The week before Biden’s speech, I read about a striking example of the damage caused by AB5. An article by independent trucker Dee Sova described how the law forced her to relocate from California to Missouri.
“I was living my version of the American Dream,” she said of how she loved the flexibility of running her own business and being able to sometimes take her children on long hauls. “AB5 would have demoted me from small business owner to company employee…it would effectively kill the dream I worked so hard to build over so many years.”
Ironically, Sova is also a Black woman, the kind of person the president would profess to want to help. But if the PRO Act becomes law, she could be threatened a second time.
What our congressional representatives need to appreciate is that not all of us want W-2 wages. Plenty of people are like Dee Sova and me. We like the freedom, the flexibility, and the control that comes from being our own boss.
Granted, employers try to skirt labor law by classifying folks as independent contractors to avoid paying wages and benefits. But in trying to address that problem, legislators shouldn’t harm the huge freelance segment of the nation’s economy.
In other words, don’t use a sledgehammer when a tap of the wrist will work.