Gig workers group slams bill it says would misclassify workers

A group representing gig workers slammed a House bill it said would misclassify workers in a way that would deny them basic labor protections. 

The Worker Power Coalition, which represents 24 million workers nationwide, called the Worker Flexibility and Choice Act an “anti-worker proposal intended to further endanger already vulnerable gig economy workers.”

The proposal was introduced last week by Reps. Henry Cueller (D-Texas) and Elise Stafanik (R-N.Y.). It would allow independent workers to “voluntarily” enter into “flexibility agreements,” according to the bill’s text. 

Supporters of the proposal, including a group that represents gig companies such as Uber and Lyft, said the bill aims to strike a balance with the flexibility agreements. 

Under the agreements, workers would get rights provided to employees under workplace privacy, anti-discrimination, harassment, retaliation and safety laws. But they would not be considered employees for federal tax purposes or entitled to full protections under federal labor laws, including for minimum wage or overtime. 

The proposal would also supersede state laws, including in California, which put in place the ABC test to determine if workers are employees or independent contractors. The test presumes a worker is considered an employee and not a contractor unless three criteria about the position, including establishing that the worker is doing work separate from the hiring entity’s usual course of business, are met. 

“Uber and Lyft poured $200 million into Prop 22 in California to take away our rights to unemployment benefits, workplace safety and sick time All during a global pandemic,” said Nicole Moore, a part-time Lyft driver and the president of the group Rideshare Drivers United, referring to the companies’ successful campaign on the state’s Proposition 22 ballot measure in the 2020 election. The measure sought to exclude app-based workers from employee rights under California law. 

“Now they’re trying to do it federally,” Moore added. “Legalizing the misclassification of app-based workers would deny hundreds of thousands of workers essential workplace protections, and amount to billions of dollars in corporate handouts to a multi-billion dollar industry.”

Uber and Lyft have not publicly commented on the proposal. The companies directed The Hill to the Coalition for Workforce Innovation, a group both Uber and Lyft are members of, for comment. 

Evan Armstrong, chair of the Coalition for Workforce Innovation, said the proposal provides “clarity and rules of the road for independent workers and businesses.” 

“The bipartisan bill strikes a balance to promote independent work while ensuring more options for benefits, support and protections,” Armstrong said in a statement. 

Moore said the bill would lead to misclassifying workers beyond app-based jobs as well. 

Ryan Kekeris, spokesperson for the Union of Painters and Allied Trades, also criticized the proposal. He said workers within the finishing trades industry, including painters, glass installers and commercial glaziers, have faced misclassification issues before the rise of the app-based work. 

The proposal introduced in the House would “give companies a path to reverting back” nearly 90 years, to a time before the National Labor Relations Act was created. 

“We don’t see going back as an acceptable piece of legislation for workers,” he said. 

The Worker Power Coalition said lawmakers should instead focus on pushing forward the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would classify some gig workers as employees to give them the right to form unions. 

The PRO Act passed in the House, but was blocked by Republicans in the Senate. President Biden also said he supported the measure in his State of the Union Address.