American workers have a message to Washington regulators: They don’t want to be classified as employees nor unionized. 

A December 2021 study from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center entitled “The State of the Gig Worker in 2021” found most gig workers (current or former) identify as independent contractors and not as employees.

The question is whether Washington will listen to the will of the workers.

The Numbers

Sixty-two percent of respondents to Pew’s survey described ride-sharing app workers as independent contractors, compared to 35 percent who said these drivers should be classified as employees. The partisan split on this question was stark. Center-left respondents agree with the latter, while center-right respondents agree with the former characterization. 

With respect to gig worker self-perceptions, the Pew study similarly found that 65 percent see themselves as independent contractors compared to 28 percent who consider themselves employees. 

Current or recent gig workers who were surveyed listed these three factors for going into this line of work: 

  1. 56 percent wanted to save extra money.
  2. 52 percent desired to cover gaps or changes in income.
  3. 49 percent said they wanted to control their schedule and work output.

Overall, 16 percent of Americans earned incomes through freelancing means via digital platforms. And freelancers tend to skew young (under 30), be Hispanic, and identify as lower-income bracket earners. 

Moreover, the study revealed more women engaged in some form of flexible work compared to men (17-15%). Pew observed

Additionally, Hispanic adults stand out for participating in the gig labor force: 30% have ever earned money in this way, compared with 20% of Black adults, 19% of Asian adults and 12% of White adults.2 And Americans with lower incomes are more likely than those with middle or upper incomes to have ever earned money through these kinds of sites or apps.

How Policy Should Respond to Trends in Gig Work

As the economy trends more towards flexible work arrangements, the Department of Labor’s (DOL) policy making goals don’t reflect the times. 

According to DOL’s own numbers, 500,000 workers became solopreneurs since the start of the pandemic. There are now 9.44 million unincorporated self-employed workers. That’s a six percent increase in the workforce, making it the highest recorded number of independent workers since the Great Recession of 2008.

As I noted in Daily Caller recently, more American workers —upwards of 1- million—are contemplating ditching their 9-to-5 jobs for flexible work arrangements: 

A recent Pew Research poll found 16 million of 150 million total workers are self-employed, with participation starting to return to pre-pandemic levels. And there are some positive indications for the freelance economy’s long-term viability: 10 million workers are slated to enter this arrangement under the “Great Resignation.”

And despite an aggressive push for unionization last year by organized Labor and aided by a Democratic-led Congress and White House, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded a drop in union membership from 10.8 percent in 2020 to 10.3 percent in 2021. 

The majority of Americans, regardless of politics, overwhelmingly oppose the union-friendly labor bill, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, and its provisions to reclassify workers under a stringent ABC test–similar to California’s harmful labor bill AB5–and to dismantle right-to-work laws.

American workers aren’t monolithic, and policymaking should reflect this. 

Even Labor Secretary Marty Walsh recognized the growth of self-employment and said, “In 2021, the number of self-employed workers grew by over seven percent. We want to empower all workers, whether as employees or as entrepreneurs.”

But can gig workers and freelancers trust him to protect their status? The evidence suggests no. 

In December, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) published a notice expressing an interest to narrow the definition of independent workers.

Earlier this month, DOL and NLRB signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to “strengthen the agencies’ partnership through greater coordination in information sharing, joint investigations and enforcement activity, training, education, and outreach.”

In May 2021, Secretary Walsh told Reuters that gig workers should be classified as employees and not independent contractors. 

“We are looking at it but in a lot of cases gig workers should be classified as employees… in some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not and I think it has to be consistent across the board,” Walsh said.

Instead of appeasing 10 percent of the workforce, the Biden administration should heed the concerns of the 36 percent that want to remain independent and non-unionized.