It’s not enough that state legislative bodies are working on denying freelancers the right to work on their own terms, now the House of Representatives has taken up the PRO Act to do the same thing.
Designed to prohibit Americans from working under their own power and on their own terms, this kind of legislation has been endorsed by many Democratic presidential candidates. It’s backed by the AFL-CIO, which has been pouring money into political advocacy instead of hands-on organizing.
Freelancers need to fight it. The PRO Act would create restrictions that freelancers have been fighting on the state level, and New York is on the front lines. If New York’s elected Democrat representatives in the House have their way, freelancers will be out of a job. These are jobs they created for themselves, on their own terms.
They work from home offices, using their own equipment and supplies, and take all the risk of their own employment on themselves. They are not beholden to anyone; they work when they want to work, and take days off when they want to. Many of these freelancers can pick their kids up from school, and prioritize parenting over work when they need to, not when their employer says so.
But New York’s reps don’t want freelancers to be able to work and parent on their own terms. They want to push freelancers into unionized shift work, force them to spend more cash on childcare, give the responsibility of parenting their kids to strangers, and pay more in taxes for the privilege.
This Concept Is Spreading Like a Virus
The gig laws are coming from all directions. California’s AB5 was only the beginning, and it’s resulted in massive job losses in the journalism sector so far. Leftist website Vox, for example, touted the laws as great for worker protections back in September. But by December, those same laws resulted in the termination of Vox’s California freelancers. So yeah, that worked out great.
These lawmakers claim to care about workers. They say they want workers to have the same protections of unemployment, disability, and worker’s compensation insurance, as well as the right to collective bargaining. They claim that the app-based gig workers, namely drivers, delivery persons, and house cleaners, are being exploited by apps.
But it doesn’t seem like they actually asked any of those people about it. In fact, 66 percent of Uber and Lyft drivers would prefer to remain independent contractors.
In New York, the state Assembly is working on a bill to force freelancers to either get hired by employers or fire themselves. The state Senate is working on a proposal, too. At the federal level, 20 of New York’s 27 House reps are cosponsors (of a total of 218) of a gig worker bill that lifts language verbatim from California’s AB5.
Of those 20, all but three were endorsed by the AFL-CIO, as was New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo made no bones about his advocacy for compelling freelancers to stop working for themselves and into working for someone else. He also threw some anti-gig-worker language into the state budget, saying in a press release:
This emerging sector has spurred exciting consumer innovations, however, many of the gig economy workers are excluded from the unprecedented employee protections and rights New York has enacted because the law has not caught up with changes in the economy. Governor Cuomo will propose a task force of stakeholders to solve this before May 1, 2020. If it is not resolved, we cannot wait for fairness, and the Department of Labor will be authorized to enact regulations to protect workers.
Don’t Work the Way We Want, Don’t Work at All
So why are all these Democratic lawmakers so gung-ho to dis-employ their constituents? Their language smacks of misguided altruism. Lawmakers claim they want to protect workers from being exploited by the big bad tech industry, that workers are being denied their rights to safe and fair working conditions, that freelancers need government protections that are currently denied them, and that employers need to pick up the tab.
But the so-called ABC rules, a mainstay of gig laws across the country, show that these are not the primary concerns. The ABC rules are what legally distinguish a freelancer from an employee, and the bill before the House picks up the same language.
The ABC rules are basically the test of if a worker should be classed as a freelancer or as an employee. They are: that the worker is not under direct control of the company or client they are working for in the performance of the work either in contract or in fact, that the work performed by the freelancer is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.
This means that freelance writers who sell their work to publishers cannot be freelancers, nor can photojournalists, nor musicians who compose a jingle for a brand, or a house cleaner who cleans houses for an app, or a video editor who edits an indie film for a small-time filmmaker. The final part of the test is that the worker is engaged in the kind of work he does independently from that hiring entity or client.
These rules make it hard for a worker to sell her work product to a company that then resells that work product. But just as a manufacturer sells goods to a store that then resells, freelancers sell their labor and the resulting product of that labor, intending that it will be resold.
Freelancers use their own labor to generate saleable material or services. Lawmakers want to prevent freelancers from controlling the terms of their own output. These legislators feel they are better equipped to determine how freelancers sell their labor than the freelancers themselves.
Moreover, they believe companies that hire freelancers have the necessary capital to take on all these new employees. Unless, of course, they don’t believe that at all, which would mean that they are comfortable either seeing all of these companies collapse once they are unable to contract freelancers, or they are cool seeing a whole bunch of freelancers out of work.
Our Way or the Unemployment Line
The truth that lawmakers don’t want to admit is that gig workers willingly trade certain benefits for what they see as better benefits, and that the nature of work has moved away from the union model, and it’s not going back. Freelancers are de facto small business owners who run themselves as a company.
Each American should have the right to work as he or she sees fit, and to not be forced into employment contracts simply because the government wants more tax revenue and more predictability of that revenue. Freelancers don’t need protection from their clients, but the flexibility to pursue their own careers, on their own terms, and to generate more work, not be forced to sell their labor to only one company, or to have to work on that company’s terms.
While legislators claim these laws are meant to protect laborers, that’s not how they are written. Instead, these laws will catch up all independent contractors, and that’s exactly what they are intended to do. Legislators want photographers, musicians, writers, actors, comedians, tutors, and anyone else who sells her services outside of a typical employment scenario to be barred from practicing her livelihood. They want freelancers to be under the full-time control of employers, accepting perhaps less pay and flexibility in return for government-chosen benefits and the right to collectively organize.
Lawmakers are being dishonest when they claim these new laws will protect workers, and the laws are being pushed through too quickly for the public to catch on. This new model where workers are actually fully in control of their own earning power is a threat to unions, and that’s why lawmakers are pushing these bills. They’d rather keep the unions’ money than truly listen to their constituents.