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OPINION

Let’s Continue to Fight for Freelancers

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Carolyn Kaster

As the economy stagnated in 2022, one sector saw slight growth: the freelance workforce. 

In a year’s time, it grew from 59 million participants to over 60 million and now comprises 39% of the U.S. workforce. MBO Partners’ 2022 State of Independence report placed this workforce at 64.6 million individuals, or 39.2% of the workforce. 

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Despite these impressive gains, many elected Democrats still wage war on gig workers and independent contractors. Why? They are beholden to powerful union special interest groups. Forcing workers back into 9-to-5 arrangements will, in turn, make it easier to force workers into unionization. Therefore, more union power and control over workers. 

During his Statue of the Union address, President Joe Biden implored Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. He said, “Pass the PRO Act because workers have a right to form a union. And let’s guarantee all workers a living wage.” 

Much to the President’s chagrin, workers can freely join unions but are simply saying no to them. According to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data, union workforce is steadily declining in the U.S: only 10.1% of workers are unionized. Workers increasingly favor freelance, non-unionized work options. That should be celebrated—not admonished. But for most elected Democrats, it’s a problem. 

New Senate HELP Committee Chairman and avowed socialist Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is eager to reintroduce the PRO Act in the chamber soon.

The bill’s most recent version contained the following provisions: an ABC test that deems most workers employees and not independent contractors; a statute to abolish right-to-work; making union membership conditional for employment; and giving unions unfettered access to private worker information. 

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While a terrible bill, it isn’t expected to survive a divided Congress nor reach President Biden’s desk. That’s somewhat reassuring. Even the Senate–which Democrats narrowly control by a 51-49 vote–isn’t expected to pass it. During the 117th Congress, Senators Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), and Mark Warner (D-VA) didn’t sign on as co-sponsors of the Senate bill and are expected to withhold support in the future.

If and when the PRO Act stalls in Congress, the Biden administration will continue to lean heavily on rulemaking to implement its tenets through the Department of Labor. Last fall, they proposed a new reclassification rule that would make it difficult for independent contractors to operate freely.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is leaving the administration to take a new job at the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA)’s union. He starts his new job next month. 

“Marty Walsh is one tough union chief,” President Biden said in a statement. “His record at the Department of Labor is a testament to the power of putting a card-carrying union member in charge of fighting for American workers. Marty has gone to bat for working families every day, and with his help, this administration has helped workers recover from a historic economic downturn and launch a new era of worker power.”

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“Through Marty’s leadership, this administration has helped unions secure a historic pay raise for rail workers, continued the fight for paid sick days for all American workers, strengthened workplace protections, and ushered in a historic surge in union organizing. He knows that unions make us all stronger, no matter what we do or where we come from,” he continued

But Congressional Republicans won’t let him off the hook so easily.

Chairwoman Foxx requested Walsh retain documents from his time at the Department of Labor for oversight purposes. 

While Walsh leaves behind a blemished legacy, his presumptive successor—California Labor Secretary Julie Su–could be far more problematic for freelancers. Su is considered one of the architects of California’s disastrous AB5—the inspiration behind the federal PRO Act.

Su lauded AB5 in a December 2019 tweet: “The Employment Status Law (#AB5) is about preserving labor standards that are key to quality jobs in California. To help answer your questions, we have created this website: https://labor.ca.gov/faq/ #CaliforniaForAll.”

But there’s a glimmer of hope. The attacks on freelancing are being fought head-on by most elected Republicans. 

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) recently introduced House Resolution 72 stressing the importance of the freelance workforce and its $1.3 trillion economic footprint.

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“With this resolution, we are standing with millions of workers, contractors, and independent freelancers and defending them from the politicians and bureaucrats determined to abolish their jobs,” Rep. Issa said in a January 31st statement. “Dismissed by some as occasional part-timers, these creative and industrious men and women are independent by choice, fundamental to American commerce, and they need our help more than ever.”

Although resolutions are largely symbolic, the gesture is appreciated and welcomed. 

Freelancing shouldn’t be political. Elected Democrats ought to wise up and join Republicans in fighting for freelancers–not fighting against the tide.

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