With the rise of gig economy jobs such as driving for Uber and other forms of independent work enabled by the digital era, more than 57 million Americans now work as freelancers in some capacity. But President Biden just endorsed a radical labor law that endangers their livelihood.
House Democrats recently reintroduced the PRO Act, which, among many sweeping reforms, would make many commonplace forms of independent contractor (freelance) arrangements illegal. It’s based on a California law that was so dysfunctional even voters in the very blue state voted to change it.
“The Administration strongly encourages the House to pass [the PRO Act] and looks forward to working with the Congress to enact this critical legislation that safeguards workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively,” the White House said in a statement on Monday. “The PRO Act will strengthen our democracy and advance dignity in the workplace.”
Far from “advancing dignity,” in reality, this law would strip millions of their income.
It purports to stop workers from being “misclassified” as freelancers in order to force companies to hire them full-time. But the PRO Act’s redefinition of freelance worker is so narrow that a worker can only provide a company with a freelance service that is outside its normal purview. For example, Uber is a driving company. It couldn’t hire drivers as freelancers, but it could potentially hire a janitor as a freelancer.
Essentially, flexible freelance jobs such as Uber drivers or part-time newspaper columnists would be illegal in their current forms. (My writing as a regular contributor for the Washington Examiner would be unlawful).
Some people might get hired on full-time as a result, but many more would lose work altogether — and many freelancers don’t want to be full-time employees. It’s often the flexible schedule and ad hoc arrangement that draws stay-at-home mothers to freelance writing or after-hours workers to their Uber side hustle.
“More than 70% of 1099-M gig workers say they are working independently by their own choice, not because they can’t find a 9-to-5 job,” Forbes reports.
Freelancing can pay well, too. According to a 2019 survey, a whopping 40% of gig economy workers earn more than $100,000 annually, while another 35.7% make from $50,000 to $100,000. And, of course, being your own boss, choosing which projects to accept, and having a flexible schedule are pretty darn attractive perks.
The PRO Act would take all this away from millions of independent contractors, whom liberal elites have declared “misclassified” or “exploited.” (Because they know better than you.)
Biden claims this is a pro-labor reform, but polling consistently shows that actual freelancers don’t support or want the PRO Act. Ironically, representatives of almost every worker group lobbied hard for exemptions from this “pro-labor” law when it passed in California.
Uber nearly had to shut down operations in the Golden State altogether. Freelance journalists and writers based in California were laid off by the hundreds. Florists, musicians, translators, and countless other kinds of workers were hurt by the regulatory crackdown — with almost no one actually benefiting from it.
Why would we ever want to bring this kind of dysfunction nationwide?
Under the PRO Act’s framework, vital gig economy services we’ve come to rely on, such as Uber and Lyft, Instacart grocery delivery, and more, couldn’t exist as we know them. They’d either have to rearrange their business models radically and operate like the taxi cab companies and other outdated predecessors or go bankrupt trying to hire every single driver or delivery person as a full employee.
Millions of workers would lose the flexibility that made gig work attractive in the first place. The jobs that still did exist at these companies would quickly be forced to become the kind of 9-to-5 scheduled work many freelance workers intentionally sought to avoid.
The president is really just doing the bidding of labor union officials who want to outlaw competition to their traditional business model. So, yes, Biden’s latest endorsement might make union officials happy — but there’s nothing pro-labor about it all.