Labor Department Could Lock Gig Workers Out of Benefits

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

So-called gig economy workers have fought a years-long battle with their employers to be classified as actual employees so they will qualify for benefits and other protections legally owed to the employees of most other companies, but Trump's Labor Department is about to deliver a setback.

While the new regulations won't stop states from making their own rules, the department is about to formally solidify the status of contract workers as second class workers who aren't entitled to anything.

The Labor Department on Tuesday announced a proposal that could deem millions of janitors, construction workers and gig workers to be contractors rather than employees, its most ambitious step toward blessing the business practices of companies like Uber and Lyft. [...]

It would technically cover only laws that the Labor Department enforced, like the federal minimum wage and overtime rules. States and other federal agencies, like the Internal Revenue Service, would be free to make their own determinations, as California has done in a recently enacted law that effectively requires companies like Uber and Lyft to classify their workers as employees.

But employers tend to follow the department’s guidance, and the determination could have influence in other contexts and jurisdictions.

Midwestern, predominately white labor union members who still consider themselves Trump voters in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania should take a good, hard look at this because this could be them in the near future.

The reason companies like Uber became so valuable in the first place is because they have virtually no payroll and no obligation to the vast majority of the people who actually do all the work. Other companies outside of the service industry, particularly the likes of Microsoft and Apple, have offloaded a significant number of their employees into contract work for similar reasons and that trend will undoubtedly reach the Rust Belt at some point.

Just because Trump has imposed tariffs on foreign metal does not make him an ally to steelworkers in Pittsburgh, for example, because while he wages a loud trade war he's also waging a quiet war on labor standards and virtually every safety net.

Trump has accelerated the march toward 21st century feudalism, not reversed it. A union member supporting Trump now because their steel mill picked up a handful of contracts is winning one battle just to lose the war.

Ironically, this move will have the most immediate consequences in conservative, Republican-controlled states where labor law is already weak; states that voted for Trump.

  • muselet

    My local paper, The Daily Fishwrap, is part of a regional chain of papers; the flagship title is the Orange County Register, well-known for its glibertarianism. Roughly four times a month, the chain runs tedious editorials and op-eds decrying California’s attempt to protect gig workers at least a little bit. I expect them to whoop it up over this proposal.

    Freeing businesses from any meaningful obligations toward their workers has been on the Righty wish list for a very long time. It was only a matter of time before an R administration got around to doing something about it.

    The next obvious step in the process will be to give Department of Labor regulations the force of law and ensuring they override any state laws. After all, it’s simply unfair to ask a company to adhere to different regulations just because it has a presence in several states.

    A worker voting for an R is like a chicken voting for a fox.


  • katanahamon

    Before becoming disabled I was a pro symphony musician. Union person, as we all had to be, it was that necessary. I had a very long argument with a long haul delivery service trucker, he was complaining that he couldn’t get any time off to take his daughter to the doctor and other benefits..I said he needed a better union. He said “I’d never join a union.” So, I replied “if you won’t fight for your rights, or even stand up for yourself, you don’t deserve any benefits.”

    We have allowed the right wing to set up a system of economic slavery. There’s no “free market.” Why must we be forced to pay for health insurance that maximizes their profits by cheapening and denying care? Why are prescription drugs marked up thousands of percent? Do you realize how much money in terms of disposable income is diverted to this one needless industry, and how much money we would have for things like homes and durable goods? Instead we support health insurance executives that according to my last doctor (who quit..) “make more in mid level insurance management” than he did. I just don’t understand why we put up with this.