Could worker reclassification laws affect the 2020 election?
With Americans turning to independent contract work (or “gig work”) in wake of COVID-19, this issue could motivate people to vote.
Freelancers across the nation worry the Biden-Harris ticket—should they prevail and get backing from a Democrat-led Senate—would displace 59 million Americans from the workforce.
Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) openly support the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO Act). The former vice president tweeted and doubled down support for it on his campaign website, while his running mate signed onto the Senate version as a co-sponsor.
But wait, it gets better! Bernie Sanders has expressed interest in being Biden’s Labor Secretary, should he win.
CNBC warned millions of freelancers, regardless of politics, fear a Biden administration would regulate this sector of existence. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board equally lambasted Biden’s plan to upend this sector of the economy.
This issue could define the 2020 election. Here’s why.
The PRO Act Explained
The PRO Act, if passed, would amend Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act as follows, “An individual performing any service shall be considered an employee… and not an independent contractor.”
Like AB5, the federal bill would employ the former’s three-pronged ABC test to determine if someone qualifies as a freelancer or employee.
The aforementioned WSJ editorial explained, “A nationwide ABC test would destroy the growth and flexibility of the gig economy, dragging everyone from tech workers to freelance reporters to Uber drivers into union hands.”
The editorial also noted:
The Pro Act also tilts labor law against business targets. The bill requires employers to share their workers’ personal information (including emails and cell numbers) with union organizers, even without a worker’s consent. This opens workers to union harassment.
Freelancers Sound Off
Farahn Morgan, a communications and public relations consultant based in southwestern Virginia, believes the PRO Act’s goals are “tired, antiquated ideas” relating to participation in the U.S. economy.
“I chose work as an independent contractor, for instance, because I wanted to participate in my own family and my own culture without sacrificing my career—and I didn't think geography or corporate policy should interfere with that,” Morgan said.
“The PRO Act would effectively put an end to that kind of flexibility and irreparably harm the lives many of us are trying to build for ourselves and for our families and communities.”
She added, “We are creative, dynamic, and human, and we are far better equipped than policy wonks, bureaucrats, and union lobbyists to make decisions about how we approach work (and how we define the American dream).”
Kim Kavin, freelance writer and editor from New Jersey, is a co-founder of the nonpartisan ad hoc coalition Fight For Freelancers—whose members range from “very far-right conservatives to the very far-left liberals.”
After the passage of AB5, a similar bill emerged in the Garden State’s legislature—thereby prompting her to form Fight for Freelancers NJ. While it didn’t get a vote in the General Assembly, she said a bill could re-emerge by year’s end.
Kavin also pointed to the ABC Test inset in the proposed bill and how it’s giving rise to another bill: the deceptively-worded Worker Flexibility and Small Business Protection Act, which will “inject this ABC Test into the Fair Labor Standards Act, too.”
I asked her how members feel about the presidential race.
“I know some independent contractors who are voting primarily on other issues, such as health care, and I know some independent contractors who are voting primarily on this issue, which is their livelihood,” Kavin said.
“I know some people who are deeply opposed to this legislation, but who are voting Democratic anyway because they see other problems for our nation as being bigger. I also know some people who have outright quit the Democratic Party in disgust over this issue.”
Karen Anderson, founder of the Freelancers Against AB5 Facebook group, is a freelance writer, managing editor, photographer, and a third-generation Southern Californian.
Her group comprises people across the political spectrum, from “progressives and liberals to independents, NNPs, Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, etc.”
“Joe Biden’s open endorsement of these two bills [AB5 and PRO Act] has created huge conflicts for his supporters in my group,” Anderson said. “Some are calling it a deal breaker; others think they can convince him [Biden] to change his stance.”
The Trump administration, Anderson noted, is “more friendly to the independent workforce.”
Anderson also told me, “The US Department of Labor under the Trump administration recently announced, on September 22, 2020, their version of an independent contractor definition that would be favorable to independent contractors.”
Why More Americans Are Freelancing
The new Upwork Freelance Forward 2020 report, seen as the “most comprehensive study of the U.S. independent workforce,” found 59 million Americans, or 36 percent of the workforce, now freelance—up two million from last year. Overall, freelancers pumped $1.2 trillion back into the economy.
According to this year’s study, today’s freelancers skew younger, are highly-skilled and are actively seeking this option to boost their economic prospects.
So why are Biden, Harris and her fellow Senate Democrats targeting this burgeoning economic sector? Two reasons. First, it’s a means of controlling it and two, they want to salvage the diminishing public sector—even though union jobs comprise 10.3 percent of the current workforce.
Will this issue disappear after the election? Sadly, the war on freelancers has just begun.
My fellow freelancers: please vote like your lives depend on it. Reject politicians who openly champion our demise.