Gabriella Hoffman joins the podcast this week to discuss The Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021, also known as the PRO Act. She examines whether this bill is as pro-worker as proponents say it is and how the bill could affect the flexibility and livelihoods of 59 million independent contractors.
Gabriella Hoffman is a media strategist, conservative political columnist, and award-winning outdoor writer. Since 2016, she has consulted non-profits, political campaigns, start-ups, small businesses, and veteran-owned companies. Her articles and columns have appeared in Bristol Herald Courier, Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Washington Times among others, She’s been interviewed by many national publications, including the Washington Post, Marie Claire, and she was one of 240 Americans featured on TIME Magazine’s “Guns in America” cover issue. Finally, Gabriella also hosts the weekly “District of Conservation” podcast.
And welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you’re allowed to think for yourself. I’m your host, Beverly Hallberg, and in today’s episode, we discuss the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, also known as the PRO Act. Proponents of this piece of legislation boasted it is a pro-worker bill but is that really the case due to 59 million independent contractors that work with increased flexibility want to change our laws?
Joining us to break that all down is Gabriella Hoffman. Gabriella Hoffman is a media strategist, conservative political columnist, and award-winning outdoor rider. Since 2016, she has consulted nonprofits, political campaigns, startups, small businesses, and veteran-owned companies. Her articles have appeared in places such as Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, and the Washington Times. She was also one of 240 Americans featured on Time Magazine’s Guns in America cover issue. She also hosts the weekly District of Conservation podcast. You should go check that out wherever you do get your podcasts, but for now, Gabriella, thank you so much for joining us today.
Beverly, it’s an honor to speak with you. Thank you for having me.
I thought we would start the conversation by talking about what is known as the gig worker, the independent contractor, just about your own journey into this type of work. Tell us a little bit about your business and why you decided to make the leap to the gig economy and work as an independent contractor.
Absolutely. I come from quite a long line of entrepreneurs. I would say most of my immediate family is entrepreneurial in a sense. My mom has worked in corporate America. My dad runs a construction business. My uncle ran a business. At some point in my career, I figured I would get the entrepreneurial bug myself. I didn’t know when that would be. I thought I would have to wait until I was in my 30s to do so, but I had the opportunity kind of by chance and kind of by necessity to have to go into the gig economy when I turned 25.
I was looking for my next step in let’s call it the political industrial complex, that’s what I like to jokingly call kind of the political employment space in the Washington, DC area. I was at the peak of my career working for Leadership Institute, which is how you and I first initially connected in 2012. I took one of your TV training that year. ALLY was a great foundation, a great kind of springboard for your career, but after some time I realized I needed to find my next step. I thought I was on my way to doing so. I had taken a job, which I thought would lead me to that career or that mid-level step for me, but it turned out that job was not a good fit for me.
Shortly after I had taken this job, I left, et cetera. I didn’t know what to do. I was kind of thinking about the gig economy/self-employment early in 2016. I was like, “I don’t know how I can have this manifest. I don’t know how this can necessarily materialize,” and when I was forced to go into it, but partly interested in going into it after realizing I was not going to get to advance myself in the political industrial complex. So, it was tough at first to grip with you have to adjust, you have to circle back with your connections, you have to lay out your plan.
I know you, having started a business yourself, it takes many, many years. It takes months of planning when you initially want to announce your project or announce your moving into this step. For me, I had to map out what my next steps were, and I had to take a lot of opportunities that were unpaid, kind of like in my early media career when I had to do a lot of unpaid or internship level opportunities, and that’s fine. But you kind of have to start all over again when you want to go into your own sometimes, and that was the case in my own career journey.
It took me about three to four months. It was around November 14, 2016, I know the exact date, I remember it very vividly where I just was very confident at that point in time to say “Hey, I’m self-employed now, and I’m going to be doing this for the foreseeable future.” And a lot of people received that notification or received the announcement quite well. It didn’t lead to immediate high-dollar clients or lots of leads, but it led people to believe that they could confide in me and they could seek me out for contractor opportunities or other related employment opportunities.
Now going into my fifth year, the almost sixth year of doing it, I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Yeah, well congrats on all the success that you’ve had so far. The fact that you’re going into your sixth year is a testament that what you’re doing is working. A lot of people quit after a year or two, and especially you being able to brave the time of COVID, which was obviously and still is a major hardship for so many people, including independent contractors. So, congrats on all of that.
In preparation for this conversation with you, one of the things I didn’t know that I was surprised by was the number, that 59 million people are independent contractors in this country. That is a huge amount. That is a massive amount. Can you give us a little bit of info on the history of the independent contractor? When did we start seeing so many decide to start working for themselves? Was it really as we saw technology increase and people being able to have their home computers? What was really the turning point?
Interestingly enough, the numbers you cite are from the Upwork/Freelance Report that came out last year in September. Actually, that report noted a two million increase in participation for the gig economy or freelancing in general. Actually, a lot of people defer to the 57 million number, but now it is up to 59 million which is astounding and amazing in my personal opinion. That 59 million number actually comprises 36% of the workforce currently. And cumulatively, all freelancers, whether they’re doing this full-time as a side hustle or temporarily, or as a supplement to their full-time job, we have a valuation in the economy of $1.2 trillion, which is fantastic.
I think people don’t understand how much one-person businesses, or smaller businesses like those who do contract, what their place in the economy is, much like a small business or brick or mortar. Yeah, those numbers I think will continue to grow. It’s amazing that people don’t talk about this that much. When you contrast that with let’s say union workforce, the union workforce is at a historical low. This year, the new Bureau of Labor Statistics number pointed to a slight uptick in union workforce participation. It went up from 10.3 to 10.8 this year, but it’s still a fraction of what the gig economy is, or the freelancer economy is now.
I think they’ve been cataloging this, Upwork has been documenting this, many other types of polling institutions have also started to pick up on this. But Upwork is kind of the authority on freelancing work and they’ve, I think, noticed this… I think the first report started to come out in the late 2010s, maybe 2008/2009 when I think Uber and Lyft were starting to be injected into the economy, kind of this ride-sharing component. People realized that they didn’t have to be stuck in a 9:00 to 5:00 that was maybe constricting their ability to grow, maybe pick up new skills, have flexible work to better juggle family and career.
I think just with anything, I think the notion of creative disruption was starting to be embraced. A lot of companies were breaking out, I think even big picture like all these larger conglomerates like social media companies, a lot of these different innovations, a lot of these different companies that brought and injected new ideas, they disrupted traditional conventional companies on the digital space and in media. They started to become at the forefront. Just this transition into creative disruption, which was a concept that had started to become embraced in economic circles, and entrepreneurship from some of the Austrian economists… I don’t really necessarily go into the weeds, but Schumpeter is someone who piloted entrepreneurship, and people kind of defer this notion of creative disruption or creative destruction to his thinking.
He kind of foreshadowed a lot of things, but he foreshadowed and studied extensively entrepreneurship. So, I feel like this is the point of time in entrepreneurship or entrepreneurial endeavors where you’re going to see a lot of people reject or deviate from what has been excepted in conventional work environments. So, the 9:00 to 5:00 are working in an office. This was inevitable.
Yeah, and just to jump in here, I think the fact that the numbers have increased shows that there is success in independent contracting, that people are going to this, they find that it works for them. I think especially when it comes to women, the flexibility that it offers, which is why it’s surprising that now is the time that we see politicians want to change the way the gig worker is treated, the way they’re classified. So, this is where the PRO Act comes in. We have talked about AB-5, which is a California state law on this program/this podcast quite a bit. Tell us a little bit about the PRO Act. How does it treat AB-5, and what else is it trying to do when it comes to the gig worker?
The PRO Act is a very interesting bill. It started to gain a lot of steam. As you’ve probably noted, it has passed the House again. It had quite bipartisan support, a few Republican votes, and only one democrat deviator in the House of Representatives. The Senate has yet to deliberate this, but this week interestingly enough, much to the surprise of many people, but not surprising given that this new administration wants to embrace this and implement this in some form or fashion by Executive Order or by Congressional Decree or Congressional Bill effort.
The PRO Act is kind of an extension of California’s AB-5. It takes that same AB test, that really contentious AB test, that would basically make most people who either independent contract or engage in flexible work, not a contractor or not a flexible worker. You’re going to be a default employee. On top of that, that’s like the first or second page of the PRO Act if you read through the legislation. It has that same exact ABC test. Beyond that, it completely upends and completely changes the Right to Work laws in this country. It also changes worker privacy. Basically, it’s very pro-collective bargaining, very pro-union bill where it doesn’t create opportunities for people to engage in flexible work when you peruse through the bill and just kind of the aims of it.
It sounds very nascent on the surface when you’re examining the different provisions, but it basically calls for undoing certain provisions of the National Labor Relations Act, to do away with the right to work, and also just to make it so people will be by default W2 employees. I think from a taxation purpose why they want to do it, they want to be able to collect more taxes from independent contractors or flexible workers who already pay enough in taxes.
We pay obviously income taxes, but we also pay a self-employment tax too if we are self-employed. So they want to use it as a mechanism to collect more taxes. I think that’s what people should kind of understand from it. It’s to completely write and rewrite what a worker is. I think, in my view and I think in a lot of economists and also labor experts’ examination into it, it would completely erode worker freedom and kind of this burgeoning sector of the economy and entrepreneurship. It’ll really erode people’s abilities to choose work frameworks that are amenable to their lifestyles, amenable to their maybe surroundings, perhaps to their family needs, to their skillset.
You see actually this issue, I feel, opposition to the PRO Act, in particular, bridging people across different political lines. That’s the one silver lining to this, I think where individuals across the political spectrum, across socioeconomic lines, geographical boundaries, racial lines too even, you see a lot of these see what happened in California and seeing that this is California’s bill on steroids and saying, “I don’t want this to happen,” given what happened in California, how it displaced a lot of independent contractors. It had to have exemptions and still those exemptions are not fool-proof.
A lot of people have still lost a lot of work. They’ve been displaced from their livelihoods in many instances. Multitudes of industries have just been decimated: the trucking industry, catering, tutoring, journalism, and freelance media opportunities too. A lot of people, funny enough, a lot of publications that were supporting unionization had shortly afterward announced that they were laying off people. I don’t know if it was directly tied to AB-5, but there was some of the correlation between it. A lot of people have just suffered under this law, and it seems like they won’t have any reprieve.
They did pass Prop-22 to protect Uber and Lyft, but there are still many independent contractors who are still in limbo from this California AB-5. So when you examine the PRO Act and you see what it’s done in California, and you see what it wants to do to change employment law to make it really Draconian, I think a lot of these labor activists, maybe they’re well-intentioned some of them, and this is not an attack on individual labor union members. I think they’re often getting a very bad end of the bargain I think with them being displaced by the cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline.
I think they’re suffering enough too. I think a lot of the union bosses and labor activists, and big labor interests really want to be stuck in the past. They think that we’re still in the 1930s when it comes to employment law, that people are in really squalid, vulnerable work conditions that misclassification of workers is rampant, and firmly maybe instances do exist but overall already in labor law, codified in labor law in several bills, you have protections against misclassification already in effect. It’s a matter of enforcement. It’s not a matter of creating more law or deferring back to the past and regulating innovation and regulating freedom to choose what type of work framework you want out of existence.
They really kind of life in the past, unfortunately. They live in this narrative that people are exploited and mass… Although independent contractors and freelancers are their own best advocates. They think that giving freelancers and independent contractors greater collective bargaining rights, which if you want to join a union you’re free to join a union, but if you’re a one-person business you don’t need a union especially if you’re negotiating on your own behalf, and choosing things that are in your best interest.
That’s kind of what the bill is in a nutshell. We can discuss more particulars about it if you’re interested, but it’s just this really vast, complicated bill and it’s not made to be simply understood. I think that’s the point of this type of legislation where they like to paint it in a rosy picture that it’s really great for the American worker, but when you comb through the weeds of the legislation it is very detrimental to the American worker. I think a lot of proponents of big labor like to say that, “There’s only one type of American worker, they’re not multidimensional, and we speak for all American workers,” which is not the case.
I think in our pluralistic society, workers have different opinions. They have different needs and wants, and desires, and to have a bill to the blanket statement and to generalize what is best for all of us is really antithetical to this country’s founding. It’s really antithetical to labor law already in place, and it’s antithetical to having the economy recover and bounce back.
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Gabriella, before I let you go, you’ve talked about a lot of the struggles that independent contractors are going to be facing should this PRO Act pass. Are you hearing from independent contractors? What are you hearing from individuals? Or is it one of those things where there’s so much else going on in the world, there’s so much news, you have the PRO Act which is being billed as this pro-worker bill that many independent contractors don’t know what’s coming?
Yeah, I think a lot of people are caught off by surprise when they learn about it. I’ve had a lot of people in the outdoor industry who are fellow freelance writers reach out to me and say, “Thank you so much for shedding light on this.” If they’re like an influencer too, I think a huge segment of let’s say marketing through influencer marketing is going to be hit too. I think a lot of these people are in 1099 arrangements. They’re not W2 employees in many cases if they have multiple deals. So I’ve heard from different outdoor influencers, writers, nonprofit workers, individuals who engage in some form of flexible work.
In the different industries, I work in, I think people are starting to become aware. I’m in several Facebook groups, one specifically called The Fight for Freelancers, which has just completely ballooned in a wonderful sense. You see different freelancers from across the country, standing in different industries, interests. Like I said, just a very diverse nature. You see many of them, and interestingly enough, a lot of them are democrats, progressive democrats in fact. They’re just so mad at their party. They’re mad at this new administration for ignoring them.
There was a phenomenal piece in NBC’s Think Tank from a woman who said, “I worked very hard. I very adamantly supported Biden, and I’m worried he’s erasing my livelihood or he wants to erase my livelihood.” So you see actually, just in kind of my purview of it, you see a lot of people who you would not necessarily think speaking about this issue. But they feel like their complaints or their airing of their concerns is falling on deaf ears. They tried to reach out to different senators and they get generic responses, or they get some kind of unclear responses especially from republicans who will definitely oppose the PRO Act, but they’re a little frustrated that some of these lawmakers are not making clear stances when they’re in contact with them.
I think certainly with the news cycle, a lot of things happening, turning, and changing rapidly at the 24/7 news cycle. It’s really hard to keep up and I think a problem I see with this, the reason why I think more people should concentrate on this issue rather than picking fights among let’s say conservatives, we’ve seen a lot of in-fighting, we’ve seen a lot of distraction I think in my opinion, where we lose our focus on important issues like this and people don’t start to care until it’s been passed into law, or it’s been signed into some action by Executive Order means.
So we have a problem unfortunately where we start to care when it’s too late, and I don’t want that to be the case with this issue. So, I’ve been going kind of out of my skin and tweeting more than I want to or posting social media more than I want to because I want people to be aware of what is going on. Not just for my own personal sake, but for the sake of 58, 59 million other people who engage in this type of work. I’ve heard from different people throughout the pandemic, friends or minor associates, or people I’ve come across asking me, “How can I go into this? I think this is better for me. This situation is better for me because I don’t want to be stuck working in an office. I don’t want to be constricted to one employee/employer arrangement. I want to have multiple clients.”
“I see that you do it well. I know it’s not going to be the same exact experience as you have, but I want to go into this because I want to make people happy and I want to offer a unique service or product.” I think that’s one way that people can enter entrepreneurship without having to find let’s say a venture capitalist or to have to raise so much money for let’s say a startup. They’re finding other ways that they can do this, and by being kind of like a consultant or a strategist, I think a lot of people have found harmony in this type of arrangement.
They want to be happy. I think a lot of people choose work because “Okay, I’m going to get benefits. Okay, I’m getting this great salary,” but are they doing something that’s impactful? I think freelancing and by extension independent contracting is kind of this way where people can channel their creativity, become more fulfilled in their work, spend time with their family when they’re not working, even though you may have to do some more work than you’d like initially beyond the 9:00 to 5:00 when you’re just laying the groundwork for this type of work situation.
I think people feel more fulfilled. They want to be happy. They want to enjoy what they do, and they don’t want to be stuck in an office job. So yeah, I think there’s a multitude of different views about this. I think people are starting to pay attention to what happens. I think this week when I started a comment about the park, I saw people who weren’t really posting about it. People with big followings were tweeting me or retweeting others. I think people are starting to wake up, especially with this being attached to what we assume is going to be the infrastructure build. I think that kind of wakes people up because even Vox, which explained this in more detail, the progressive outlet, said that even though this is not really an infrastructure-adjacent issue, the PRO Act is going to be included.
So, that really ticked people off, and kind of triggered an alarm in people’s minds like, “What? How is this related to infrastructure? It’s not related to infrastructure whatsoever.”
59 million people is what a [inaudible] restoring and repairing bridges, roads, crumbling buildings. This has nothing to do with that. So that loose re-correlation kind of got people to maybe examine the issue for the very first time and being like, “This makes no sense. This is very problematic.” Yeah, let’s continue to change people’s minds. Whatever little part I can do to help, that’s what I want to do if I can use my platform in doing so. That’s going to be my goal: drawing awareness.
Yeah, well you have done a great job doing so, especially when we think about independent contractors, it’s worked well for you, it’s worked well for me, it’s worked well for a lot of women in this country. The PRO Act would dramatically change the way that we are classified, so people need to be aware. Gabriella, we appreciate your efforts on it, your work on it, and also joining us for She Thinks today. Thank you so much.
Thank you, Beverly. It was a joy chatting with you, and I hope we get to see each other soon.
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