Labor Department Could Lock Gig Workers Out of Benefits

Written by SK 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.