Even in Digital Economy, Americans Need Real Jobs

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  March 03, 2016

Even in Digital Economy, Americans Need Real Jobs Macarl Johnson of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500 protests unfair competition from Uber and other “rideshare” companies. (Photo by David Kreisman)

What’s the difference between a taxi driver and an Uber driver? Both spend their days behind the wheel of a car. They both know how to get their passengers from one place to the next. Nowadays, you can summon either one with smartphone app. But thanks to loopholes in the laws that protect workers, only the taxi driver has a job. If you’re working for Uber, you only have a gig.

The “gig economy” has been growing lately as employers find new ways to outsource labor to contractors and informally attached workers. At the same time, more Americans are working part time or with irregular schedules. A 2015 study by the Government Accountability Office found that fully 40 percent of American workers have this kind of job. A huge percentage of working people have lost their job security and benefits as their positions have been reclassified, cut to part-time, or made temporary – all in the name of the company’s bottom line.

The AFL-CIO is calling on lawmakers to correct this growing injustice in our economy and extend workplace protections to millions of misclassified employees.

The National Labor Relations Act is meant to protect our nation’s workforce from wage theft, discrimination, retaliation and other unfair treatment. But some companies, like Uber, have argued that their workers are not “employees” as defined in law, and therefore aren’t protected. The company has lost that argument in California and Oregon.

“Unions have long been fighting back against employers who misclassify working people and create precarious, vulnerable work,” says AFL-CIO Sec.-Treas. Liz Shuler. “We are committed to ensuring new technology – and new forms of employer manipulation – do not erode the rights of working people. Rest assured that if employers get away with pretending their workers aren’t employees, your job could be next.”

The notion that an employer can wash its hands of any responsibility towards its employees simply by reclassifying their jobs has already been challenged by the National Labor Relations Board. Last year, it ruled that McDonald’s is ultimately responsible for the pay and working conditions in its restaurants even if those restaurants are managed as franchises.

Hopefully, the law will come down on the side of “gig” employees rather than the employers who refuse to acknowledge their hard work. But it’s going to take leadership from our elected officials to make sure that these loopholes are closed for good.

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