Republicans are often caricatured as grumpy codgers longing for the good old days, when the world made sense and everyone behaved. They aren’t comfortable with all this newfangled diversity and individualism, goes the stereotype. Yet it’s Democrats who act this way about work employment: They want workers forced back into a mold of union-driven employment.
All workers are supposed to accept the same compensation packages—negotiated by union bosses who get a cut from all workers’ pay, naturally—and comply with a traditional work schedule, showing up to the factory or office to work a nine-to-five or equivalent schedule.
That’s what they are trying to do with legislation dubbed Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (HR 2474). Proponents of the PRO Act lament that a shrinking share of workers are unionized. To try to rectify this, the bill would tilt the rules in the favor of unionization, eliminating all state right-to-work laws, requiring all workers (even those who don’t want to) to pay union dues, and forcing employers to turn over employees’ private contact information, opening them up to the potential for harassment.
Yet there is a reason fewer workers feel the need to belong to a union: For starters, workers don’t need unions to negotiate wages and get benefits like health insurance and time off. Government has increasingly taken this role over. And in today’s good economy, in which there are millions of jobs in search of workers, wages are rising and companies are offering better benefit packages to try to attract and retain valued employees.
But this bill isn’t just trying to unionize more workers. This bill would also do on the federal level what the infamous AB5 law has done in California, by restricting the use of contract workers. Proponents of AB5 sell these restrictions as necessary to ensure that workers receive all the protections of full-time employers, but they overlooked that many, even most, of those who engage in contract work want the ability to decide when and how much to work.
This is particularly true for women. A generation ago, when a woman had a baby, she typically had to make a black and white choice of whether to go back to traditionally formatted work or to quit working for pay to stay full-time with her family. Today, a growing number of women and men are rejecting both of these options and creating their own shades of grey, through the use of independent contracting arrangements, as direct sellers and entrepreneurs, and telecommuters.
That innovation and flexibility would end with the PRO Act. Here are just a few real examples of independent contractors who are seeing their earnings and opportunities slashed because of California’s restrictions on employing them, which the PRO Act would take nationwide.
“I have been an independent contractor optometrist for 18 years. I currently work part-time so that I can raise my two boys. Being an IC optometrist has given me the flexibility and the income to have the best of both worlds, a fulfilling career and be present for my children. The AB5 bill has cut my income by 30 percent overnight! I will have to work more to stay afloat. This is detrimental to my family,” says Nancy Park, an optometrist in California.
“I am disabled and unhirable for a regular job. Yet as an independent contractor specializing in unique things I have been able to work and survive in LA since 1983. #AB5 has me very, very worried. I literally have no clue how much longer I can survive,” says Eddie from California.
“I worked years to gain my skill as an American Sign Language Interpreter. It was my goal since I was 9 years old. After #AB5 I lost all 3 of my agencies. The dream I worked for is lost, I can’t provide for my family & thousands of CA Deaf won’t be serviced,” writes Jodie, an American Sign Language interpreter in California.
“This bill destroyed my income. At the New Year, I had two major out-of-state clients. I was writing anywhere from 4-8 articles a day between them (fully remote). I lost my first client on January 8 and the second one yesterday [January 29],” says freelance writer Sarah Wolstoncroft. “Both clients expressed how much they regretted having to suspend my contracts because they highly valued my work. One said they will be actively trying to find a solution. However, this leaves me with only one client left. My third client is one I’ve had for almost three years. Out of loyalty, they are keeping me on but had to cut me down to three articles a month instead of three a week to comply with the 35 pieces of content rule. That currently makes my monthly income $150, while I desperately try to figure this out.”
American Action Forum estimates that the PRO Act would cost employers more than $47 billion each year. But the biggest costs of this bill won’t be borne by employers and businesses. It will be the workers who have less freedom and flexibility to decide how they want to earn a living.
Today is a very different era than when Dolly Parton’s hit “9 to 5” described life as a drudge worker with no ability to control her schedule. America’s workforce of 160 million people have very different preferences for employment, and thankfully, they have a growing number of working paradigms that allow them to find the arrangement that makes sense for them.
We should celebrate this diversity of work life, not roll the clock back to an era of greater standardization.