Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘workers’

Trump Gets An F From Workers

Monday, January 27th, 2020

Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “great negotiator” and author of “The Art of the Deal,” promised to use his bargaining skills to help the American worker.

Trump vowed to rewrite trade deals, stanch the offshoring of U.S. jobs and reinvigorate American manufacturing.

His behavior tells a different story. Both of the trade deals he produced so far—the original United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the “phase one” agreement with China—failed American workers.

Bad trade cost millions of American jobs. Trump’s brand of deal-making won’t bring them back.

Make no mistake, Trump inherited real trade problems. For more than 20 years, politicians of both parties failed to fix a broken system.

Corporations exploited trade agreements to shift family-sustaining manufacturing jobs to MexicoChina and other countries that pay workers low wages and deny them the protection of labor unions. They made boatloads of money offshoring jobs, but in the process, they robbed U.S. workers of their livelihoods and hollowed out countless American communities, decimating their tax bases and exposing them to epidemics of crime and opioids.

Cheating compounded the job losses. China subsidizes its industries, manipulates its currency and then floods global markets with cheaply priced goods, severely damaging U.S. manufacturing in steel, aluminum, paper, furniture, glass and other products.

“Work just started to dwindle,” recalled Bill Curtis, who eventually lost his cloth-cutting job at a Lenoir, N.C., furniture factory swept under by cheap Chinese imports

Trump made fair trade—and standing up to cheaters—a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign.

He railed against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which empowered corporations to shift more than one million manufacturing jobs to Mexico. He excoriated China for illegal trading practices that siphoned off more than three million American jobs, and he vowed to stop the bleeding.

The labor movement was prepared to work with him to achieve its long-sought goals. But as president, he let workers down. America needs a comprehensive trade solution, but Trump’s policy lacks vision.

The omission of enforceable labor standards in the original NAFTA enabled U.S. corporations to move manufacturing jobs south of the border and take advantage of Mexican workers.

Mexican workers make a few dollars an hour, much less than their U.S. counterparts, and they lack the protection of real labor unions. Companies make deals with protection unions to muzzle complaints about wages and dangerous working conditions. Workers have no voice, and U.S. corporations get rich gaming this system.

But Trump’s version of the USMCA also lacked specific mechanisms to enforce labor standards. Because he failed to deliver, labor unions and Democratic members of Congress stepped into the breach and did the hard work of fixing the deal so that it provides real protections for workers and jobs in all three countries covered by the agreement.

Congressional Democrats traveled to San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to visit a Goodyear plant that pays some workers less than $2 an hour, exposed them to hazardous conditions and fired dozens who dared to strike. Goodyear, which laid off workers in Virginia and Alabama while operating the low-cost Mexican plant, refused to let the Congress members through the door.

But the visit showed the importance of incorporating worker protections into the USMCA. Prominent Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. refused to pass the legislation until it represented a significant improvement over NAFTA.

Under the revised version of the USMCA, Mexico must follow through with promised labor reforms, such as giving workers the right to organize, or face enforcement actions. When Mexican workers join unions, their wages will rise, giving U.S. employers less incentive to relocate jobs.

In addition, the revised version makes it easier for the U.S. to initiate complaints against Mexican companies for trade violations, provides for multi-national inspections of Mexican factories and gives the U.S. the authority to impose significant penalties and ultimately to block violators’ goods.

That’s real enforcement.

Congress passed the revised version of the USMCA, not Trump’s toothless version. The deal is far from perfect, but it’s a significant improvement over NAFTA.

Trump’s failure to follow through on labor standards in the USMCA showed his murky strategy on trade. His use of tariffs does, too.

In 2018, he slapped steel and aluminum tariffs on the whole world—alienating global trading partners—when the right approach would have been a strong, surgical strike against China’s dumping. While the tariffs had some positive effects, they’re no substitute for big-picture fixes Trump has yet to deliver.

Last week, Trump unveiled “phase one” of a new trade deal with China. It’s little more than window dressing and an effort to defuse bilateral tensions during an election year.

The deal removes some tariffs on Chinese goods and theoretically commits China to purchasing $200 billion in pork, jets, energy and other U.S. products. It gives new market access to U.S. financial firms, allowing Wall Street to line its pockets. But it does nothing to address job loss.

The U.S. lost 3.7 million jobs to China since 2001, 700,000 of them during Trump’s presidency, and the trade deficit actually increased during the first two years of his term.

The loss of American jobs is no accident. It’s part of China’s policy to destabilize competitors and boost its own power.

China subsidizes its industries, giving companies raw materials, land and cash. Then the companies sell their products abroad at prices that U.S. companies—lacking government handouts—can’t match.

In addition, China allows its industries to overproduce and flood global markets, further driving down prices with gluts of steel, aluminum and other products. And it artificially depresses the value of its currency to encourage still more overseas sales.

These are the major problems that U.S. trade policy must address, but Trump’s phase-one deal doesn’t resolve any of them.

Instead, before announcing the phase one agreement, he backpedaled. He rescinded China’s designation as a currency manipulator.

Now, just like they did with the USMCA, labor unions and Democratic members of Congress must be ready to wade in and demand improvements to the China deal.

More jobs will disappear unless Trump pursues a cohesive trade strategy that prioritizes the American worker. Now, he’s just helping to perpetuate the broken system he bitterly criticized.

This blog was originally published by AFL-CIO on January 27, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Tom Conway is international president of the United Steelworkers (USW).

Unions face another year of eroding membership as the war on workers continues

Monday, January 27th, 2020

The share of U.S. workers represented by a union ticked down slightly from 2018 to 2019, dropping from 11.7% to 11.6%; the share of U.S. workers who are union members also dropped from 10.5% to 10.3%. The overall number of workers represented by a union stayed about the same, growing by 3,000. (Interestingly, unions grew by 47,000 members in Missouri, hitting a 15-year high.)

While the picture for unions remains dim, after decades of decline, it’s worth noting that the Supreme Court’s anti-union Janus decision hasn’t—so far, anyway—dealt public-sector unions the intended death blow. “The meaningful decline in the union membership rate among local government workers (from 40.3% to 39.4%) might suggest Janus is having its intended effect. However, there was not a similar decline among state government workers,” the Economic Policy Institute reports. But “The share of state government workers who are members of unions rose substantially between 2018 and 2019, from 28.6% to 29.4%.”

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 25, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

House Democrats plan push to pass PRO Act strengthening workers' organizing rights

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

House Democrats are getting ready to pass another pro-worker bill in the coming weeks, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Friday, tweeting that “House Democrats are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with working men and women across the country. I look forward to bringing the PRO Act to the House Floor for a vote prior to the President’s Day district work period to protect the right to organize and bargain collectively.”

The PRO Act would strengthen the right to organize in several ways. It would create real penalties for employers that fire workers for exercising their National Labor Relations Act right to organize, and get those workers their jobs back much more quickly than in the current system. It would streamline the union representation election process, preventing employers from holding captive-audience meetings at which they try to intimidate workers away from union support, forcing companies to disclose the money they spend on anti-union consultants, and “If the employer breaks the law or interferes with a fair election, the PRO Act empowers the NLRB to require the employer to bargain with the union if it had the support of a majority of workers prior to the election,” the Economic Policy Institute explains.

Once workers have a union, employers often drag out and delay the process of negotiating a first contract. The PRO Act cracks down on that, pushing employers into mediation and even binding arbitration if they won’t bargain in good faith. On top of that, it “overrides so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws by establishing that employers and unions in all 50 states may agree upon a “fair share” clause requiring all workers who are covered by—and benefit from—the collective bargaining agreement to contribute a fair share fee towards the cost of bargaining and administering the agreement.” It protects the jobs of striking workers and lifts the prohibition on secondary boycotts. And it cracks down on misclassification of workers as either independent contractors or supervisors to make them ineligible for union representation.

Rep. Mark Pocan and Kenneth Rigmaiden, the president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, offered an example of workers the PRO Act could help. “[D]uring a construction project in Nashville, Tenn., 120 misclassified drywall finishers were never compensated for overtime work and two weeks of work at the end of the project,” they wrote in The Hill. “The Painters Union and other labor groups are fighting back to win these workers their fair pay. The PRO Act would ensure that employers could no longer dodge wage and hour standards by misclassifying workers.”

As usual, House Democrats will do something good for working people and then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will send it to his legislative graveyard. But when Republicans claim that Democrats are too busy with impeachment to do things for the American people, remember this and so many other bills. Democrats are getting shit done. It’s just that Republicans are determined to keep working people down.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

Major campaign to organize tech and video game industries launches, this week in the war on workers

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

There are increasing signs that workers in the tech industry are starting to see themselves as … workers. Maybe it’s the 100-hour workweeks as video game companies get products ready for launch, or maybe it’s the layoffs that come after a big release. Maybe it’s the increasing realization that companies such as Amazon and Wayfair are doing terrible work for the Trump administration, and that their employees are helping make that happen and have no control over it.

Workers at tech companies have staged a series of walkouts over a variety of issues, and subcontractors for Google recently unionized. Game Workers Unite, a grassroots group, has called for unionization in the video game industry. Now, following conversations with Game Workers Unite and with one of its founders onboard as a full-time organizer, the Communications Workers of America is launching a major organizing drive, the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE).

”We’ve been watching the amazing organizing of workers across the industry,” CWA organizer Tom Smith told the Los Angeles Times. “And workers themselves reached out to us while doing that amazing self-organizing, and said, ‘Can we do this in partnership with the CWA?’”

This could get very interesting—and it could really underline the point that unions are not just for blue-collar workers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 11, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

A Future That Works for Workers

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the AFL-CIO is partnering with SAG-AFTRA to host the second annual Labor Innovation & Technology Summit. The summit, led by AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz ShulerSAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris and UNITE HERE International President D. Taylor, brings together union, technology, entertainment and media leaders to explore how these industries intersect and the potential impact for America’s workers and for the country’s creative culture.

As the voice of working Americans, unions play a critical role in ensuring that rapidly evolving technology, which will bring so many great things to humanity, doesn’t roll over humans in the process. Recognizing that this can only be accomplished by partnering with the tech industry, the second annual Labor Innovation & Technology Summit brings together diverse voices for a frank conversation about where we are, where we’re going and the critical milestones along the way.

About the AFL-CIO Commission on the Future of Work and Unions

For the better part of four decades, workers have been more productive than ever, creating massive amounts of wealth—but rigged economic rules, unmitigated corporate greed and unrelenting political attacks have weakened our voices, stifled our wages and eroded our economic security. Yet, as we write this report, a wave of collective action is sweeping the nation. Working people across industries and demographics are joining together for a better life. This uprising comes at a critical moment, as the astounding technologies of the digital revolution have the potential to improve workers’ lives but also threaten to degrade or eliminate millions of jobs.

The AFL-CIO Commission on the Future of Work and Unions, formed by a unanimous vote of the 2017 AFL-CIO Convention, is putting working people where we belong—at the center of shaping the economy, work, unions and the AFL-CIO.

This article was originally published at AFL-CIO on January 6, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

Work then, work now, and organizing to win: Five books about labor in the United States

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

As the Trump administration redoubles decades of Republican efforts to beat U.S. workers and their unions into fearful submission, it’s worth thinking about where we’ve come from, how workers fought for some of the rights we now take for granted—and some of those we’re in danger of losing—as well as where we’re going, and how to make it a better place than Trump has in mind. Here are some books to help do exactly that, looking at the history of work and worker organizing in the U.S., at what it’s like to be a low-wage worker in the U.S. today, and at how to organize for a better future.

Erik Loomis’ A History of America in Ten Strikes is just that—and it’s innovative and exciting in how it fulfills its title. Some of the strikes you may have heard of, like the Lowell mill girls or the Flint sit-down strikes. Some you may not have thought of as strikes, like the ways enslaved people fought back, withheld their labor, and ultimately fled to the Union army. But, Loomis writes, “We cannot fight against pro-capitalist mythology in American society if we do not know our shared history of class struggle. This book reconsiders American history from the perspective of class struggle not by erasing the other critical parts of our history—the politics, the social change, and the struggles around race and gender—but rather by demonstrating how the history of worker uprisings shines a light on these other issues.” In line with that promise, each chapter considers not only a particular strike, but also the context in which it happened.

Jane McAlevey’s No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age is the examination of the labor movement in recent years/critique of the broader progressive movement/analysis of power structures/organizing handbook you may not have known you needed, but you do. McAlevey uses a series of post-2000 case studies, from the Chicago Teachers Union to “the world’s largest pork production facility,” to argue that “for movements to build maximum power—the power required in the hardest campaigns—there is no substitute for a real, bottom-up organizing model.” Organizing, she writes, “places the agency for success with a continually expanding base of ordinary people, a mass of people never previously involved, who don’t consider themselves activists at all—that’s the point of organizing.” And it’s with organizing, McAlevey makes the case, rather than with advocacy or mobilization, that big change can be made.

Steven Greenhouse’s Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor is a good overview of the arc of the labor movement, from Triangle Shirtwaist to Walter Reuther and the UAW to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to the teacher uprising of the past couple of years. This is a good book to give a relative or friend who needs an intro text, someone who’s sympathetic to workers and open to the appeal of unions but isn’t all-in for organizing. What’s particularly striking about this book is the contrast it presents with the author’s earlier The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, of which I wrote in 2008, “Having clearly shown that it is corporations that most need to change their practices to improve the lot of American workers, Greenhouse is unwilling to suggest that they be confronted in any meaningful way.” Where that book shied away from acknowledging the reality that its detailed reporting laid bare, that corporations are making war on workers, Beaten Down, Worked Up is more willing to confront the political implications of corporate power, while retaining Greenhouse’s stellar reporting skills that make the stories he tells so compelling.

Emily Guendelsberger’s On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane is a book in the tradition of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed. After being laid off from a reporting job, Guendelsberger spent time working three different low-wage jobs. She worked in an Amazon warehouse, a call center, and a McDonald’s. Much of the book, of course, is about the routine indignities of these jobs and the financial struggle of making ends meet while working them (though Guendelsberger is clear throughout that “I get to leave”). But what sets it apart is the focus on how technology is used to monitor and control workers, extracting every last possible drop of labor from them—from being timed down to the second at every task to force them to work at top speed through entire shifts to sophisticated scheduling software that ensures that there’s always a line at McDonald’s because there are never quite enough workers. For anyone who thinks that their experience in fast food or retail 15 or 20 years ago means that they know what those jobs are like now, this book is an important corrective.

Joe Burns’ Strike Back: Rediscovering Militant Tactics to Fight the Attacks on Public Employee Unions is an update of a 2014 book—and yes, this is a topic that needed updating between 2014 and 2019. Burns notes that in 2014 “the attacks on public employee unionism were already well underway” in Wisconsin and elsewhere. But those attacks have continued, reaching the Supreme Court with its Janus decision and, of course, reaching the White House with Donald Trump. In response, though, workers—especially teachers—are fighting back. This book offers some of the history behind public employee unions, a history of specific challenges that are being raised again, and a history of militance that is likewise once again relevant.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

The Food Stamp Work Requirement Is a Scheme to Punish Hungry Americans

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

Growing up in Boonville, California in the 1990s, a friend of mine would sometimes jokingly use the phrase “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” If people are feeling bad, what better incentive to change their mood than getting repeatedly whacked with a stick?

The recent proposal by Congress to add work requirements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) reminded me of that phrase. In the 2018 Farm Bill currently under consideration in the House, Republicans have proposed new conditions for SNAP that would block many people from receiving food assistance if they are unemployed. While at first glance this may appear like a policy to encourage greater employment, it would actually make it harder for people to find a job, while taking away crucial support from more than one million hungry Americans.

While setting more unemployed Americans on a path to employment and economic self-sufficiency is a positive goal, the threat of withholding food is a highly ineffective way to encourage workforce participation. Some of the most common barriers to employment are insufficient education or skills, mental health issues, hiring biases and a lack of job opportunities. Fear of not having enough to eat does nothing to overcome those obstacles.

When people are hungry, they’re frequently unable to focus, which makes it harder for them to get a job, not easier. Instead of boosting employment, this proposal would act as a barrier rather than an incentive.

The actual impact of this policy change would be to punish hungry Americans. In many regions of the country, people are struggling to find full-time work, but can’t. While the overall unemployment rate sits at a low 3.8 percent, the rate of involuntary underemployment is more than twice that, and exceeds 10 percent in many states and counties. This proposal would leave those who are unable to find a job with neither income nor food assistance.

Instead of adding poorly-designed restrictions to SNAP, we should be pursuing evidence-based policy changes to increase the effectiveness of our social programs. As someone who works on universal basic income policy, I’ve spent years studying the effects of unconditional benefits, i.e. what happens when you offer people support without any requirements on their behavior. Every analysis has arrived at the same conclusion: When you give people benefits without strings attached, they use them for productive purposes. The vast majority of people want to do well in life, and they’ll make the most of any support they receive.

When we layer on restrictions and bureaucratic hoops that recipients must jump through, not only does this not improve people’s behavior, it actually blocks many people from receiving much-needed support. Even without the new work requirements, SNAP already has many barriers to access that make it difficult to enroll. In California, the latest estimates finds that only 70 percent of eligible residents receive SNAP benefits—due in large part to the challenging enrollment process.

SNAP has a profound positive impact on hungry families. Beyond just providing food security, recent research has found the program reduces healthcare costs and increases economic self-sufficiency for women who received benefits as children. We should be striving to boost participation by removing onerous participation requirements, with the goal of ensuring that every hungry American has access to the program.

Our social safety net is far from perfect—there are many needed changes that can help lift more people out of poverty and set them on a path for long-term success. But if we want to do better, we should aim to remove barriers to access, not punish struggling Americans by taking food assistance away from those who can’t find work.

This piece was originally published at In These Times on June 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.David Moberg has worked with In These Times since its inception in 1976.  During that time, he has established himself as one of the country’s leading journalists covering the labor movement.

As a senior editor for In These Times, Moberg has written about new battlefronts for labor, examined the past and present strategy of the labor movement and profiled many labor fights before they were covered in the mainstream media. Additionally, his areas of expertise encompass globalization and trade, economic policy, national politics, urban affairs, the environment and energy.

Moberg has been awarded numerous accolades for his journalism efforts, including the Max Steinbock Award from the International Labor Communications Association, (2003); Forbes MediaGuide 500: A review of the Nation’s Most Important Journalists (1993, 1994), and a Project Censored Award in 1995. He has also received fellowships from organizations such as The Nation Institute (1999-2001) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (1995-1997).

Moberg has also written for The Nation, The American Prospect, The Progressive, Salon, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune Magazine, the Chicago ReaderChicago, The New Republic, Dissent, L.A. Weekly, World Policy Journal, Newsday, the Boston Globe, Utne Reader, Mother Jones, and others.

Moberg has also contributed to a series of books including: Appeal to Reason: 25 Years of In These Times (Seven Stories, 2002); The Next Agenda (Westview Press, 2001); Which Direction for Organized Labor? (Wayne State University Press, 1999); Not Your Father’s Union Movement (WW Norton & Company Inc., 1998); Can We Put an End to Sweatshops? (Beacon Press, 2001); Making Work Pay: America After Welfare (WW Norton & Company Inc., 2002); The New Chicago (to be released); Encyclopedia of Chicago History (2004), and others.

In addition to his work at In These Times, Moberg has taught sociology and anthropology at DePaul University, Roosevelt University, Loyola University, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Northeastern Illinois University.

A worker upsurge? This week in the war on workers

Monday, November 4th, 2019

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 485,000 U.S. workers were involved in strikes and lockouts during 2018. That’s the highest number since 1986. The data for 2019 won’t be released until 2020, but there’s a good chance that number will be exceeded, a point driven home by the fact that, over the last week, at least 85,000 workers participated in 13 different strikes across the United States.

That’s Chicago teachers, but also teachers in the comparatively tiny Dedham, Massachusetts—but both are part of a nationwide pattern, one that shows signs of continuing.

And it’s not the only way workers are asserting power. Deadspin writers resigned en masse after interim editor in chief Barry Petchesky was fired for refusing to stick to sports. Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke out against the private equity firm that now owns Deadspin.

But these signs of workers asserting themselves remain small against the backdrop of how thoroughly corporations have crushed workers during the past several decades.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on November 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor

The lessons of Trump's 'purely reactionary' labor board, this week in the war on workers

Monday, September 9th, 2019

The National Labor Relations Board recently gave businesses the go-ahead to misclassify employees as independent contractors. In the wake of that and other horrible decisions, former board member and current AFL-CIO general counsel Craig Becker writes that the NLRB is “the administrative state, remade in Trump’s image.” So how does that look?

Trump’s NLRB is “purely reactionary. It has no vision of how the law should promote healthy and productive labor relations, but seeks only to erase the recent past.” Literally, weeks after starting his job, the agency’s general counsel asked for the files on every major decision of the Obama era so that they might all be overturned. Next, Becker writes, “while Trump claims to speak for American workers, he has staffed the NLRB with longtime frontmen for their corporate employers.” And they’re refusing to recuse themselves from cases in which their former law firms represented employers.

Third, according to Becker, “despite the president’s rhetoric, his NLRB is not deregulating but, rather, selectively regulating—that is, regulating unions but not employers.” Trump’s political appointee is overturning huge numbers of decisions made by career attorneys … when they decide against prosecuting unions. And fourth, “Trump’s NLRB has contempt for procedural norms and fairness.” That means reversing precedent without giving public notice to hear from people who might be affected.

Overall, what this spells out for the NLRB, and for the Trump administration more generally, is that “laws are being used to silence and oppress the very people they were intended to protect—workers, borrowers, consumers.“

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on September 7, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.. Laura at Daily Kos

California moves one step closer to reining in the gig economy and expanding worker protections

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

A million California workers are denied key workplace protections—including the minimum wage—because their employers falsely label them as independent contractors. But that came one step closer to changing on Friday when the state Senate’s appropriations committee passed Assembly Bill 5, a plan to crack down on that misclassification of workers.

AB5 is based on a 2018 decision by the California Supreme Court that imposed a stricter test for whether a worker could be considered an independent contractor. Companies can’t call workers independent contractors if the work they do is central to the company’s mission or if the company substantially directs their work, the court ruled. The legislation will make enforcement significantly easier, but it also includes a lot of exemptions for professions such as doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, accountants, insurance agents, hairstylists, and more.

The trucking industry and app-based companies like Uber and Lyft have been screaming for exemptions but so far, their efforts are in vain. “Trucking has some of the worst violators,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the bill’s author. “We are not going to strip out employee protections.” Uber, Lyft, and others are threatening to pour $90 million into a campaign for a ballot measure exempting them, which could become a massive fight in 2020.

Other workers who will be covered by AB5 include janitors, construction workers, manicurists, strippers, and some in the tech industry. Being an employee means protections including the minimum wage, overtime, workers comp, sick leave, family leave, and more, in addition to employer payments for Social Security and Medicare. Companies also don’t pay payroll taxes on independent contractors, shorting the state of California by an estimated $7 billion a year on misclassified workers.

The bill, which passed the state Assembly, heads to the full Senate for a vote that’s expected to succeed. According to a spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom, “The governor is supportive of addressing the misclassification of workers, which for decades has been a driver of income inequality.”

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on September 3, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.
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