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Five myths about the PRO Act and five facts to set them straight

Mar 11, 2021 by AFP

House lawmakers passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or the PRO Act, earlier this week. Supporters claim the bill would protect independent contractors, gig workers, and freelancers from exploitation at the hands of their clients by pushing them out of their flexible work arrangements and into traditional employment under the National Labor Relations Act.

The bill would also eliminate the right-to-work laws of 27 states, a mandate supporters claim would give more leverage to workers.

Is the PRO Act as “pro-worker” as its proponents claim? Here are five myths about what the PRO Act would do — and some answers explaining how it actually works.

Myth #1 – Only gig workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, are at risk of reclassification under the PRO Act.

Fact — Probably not.

The PRO Act includes provisions similar to a law California enacted in 2019, Assembly Bill 5, which reclassified freelance copywriters, photographers, optometrists, and even the local mall Santa as employees.

With the PRO Act, the result would likely be the same. The National Labor Relations Board would not limit reclassification to gig workers under its ABC test, and would probably push independent contractors and freelancers out of work in a wide variety of professions.

Myth #2 — If a worker is reclassified, that just means they’ll continue performing the same job, but under an employer.

Fact — In many cases, that isn’t likely to happen.

For every reclassified independent contractor, there must be a business willing and able to place them on payroll.

Can every company with independent contractors afford to hire them? Likely not.

California’s experiment pushing independent contractors into traditional employment arrangements was a failure.

Vox Media, for example, was forced to lay off hundreds of its freelance workers, but was only able to hire a small fraction back for full-time and some part-time positions.

That story played out across the state, with countless independent contractors finding themselves out of work soon after AB 5 was implemented.

Pushing every independent contractor into traditional employment would be an overly complex endeavor.

  • If an independent contractor has several clients, which would hire him?
  • What if someone works as a traditional employee, but earns extra money freelancing?
  • What if someone works as an independent contractor because she can’t support a traditional employment schedule?

These are questions PRO Act supporters must answer. America’s workforce landscape is much more complicated than they imagine.

Myth #3 — Reclassifying independent contractors is the only way to ensure they get proper benefits. They’d be better off as employees.

Fact — Unfortunately, no. They wouldn’t be better off. 

Many independent contractors will simply be left out of work entirely if their clients cannot afford to hire them, which is sure to happen. They wouldn’t get benefits — indeed, they wouldn’t be able to work at all. What’s more, even if a former independent contractor is placed on payroll, they still might not receive benefits from part-time work.

There are other ways to help these workers access voluntary benefits if they want them, rather than upending their livelihoods. Government could make it easier for businesses who want to offer benefits to their independent contractors but are impeded by regulation. They could also put these workers on a more even playing field to access benefits outside of traditional employment.

Myth #4 — Regardless, independent contractors are being exploited by their clients.

Fact — This is untrue.

Nearly 80 percent of independent contractors prefer their flexible work arrangements. In other words, most do not want to be reclassified.

Seventeen million Americans have quit their jobs to become independent contractors, with 60 percent reporting that they earn more in their new role.

Often, they choose this type of work because of the flexible hours it offers and the ability to pick one’s clients and contracts.

Put simply, it’s a choice millions of Americans make freely and willingly. It strains credulity to call this “exploitation.”

Myth #5 — The PRO Act upends every state’s right-to-work law because these laws are generally bad for workers.

Fact — Not according to the data.

Americans tend to prefer right-to-work protections, including within union households. One survey found that:

  • 91 percent believe there is too much secrecy surrounding how their union dues are spent.
  • 79 percent believe that union membership should be voluntary, not mandatory.
  • 64 percent disapprove of the union spending their dues on political activities without their consent.

The data also show that right-to-work laws create more economic opportunities for workers. Over a 10-year period, right-to-work states experienced faster manufacturing and overall job growth, higher growth in household consumption, and greater disposable income.

Tell lawmakers to reject the PRO Act and other unfair restrictions on flexible work arrangements. And join the Flex Your Independence campaign to celebrate and support independent contractors and protect these workers from harmful regulation.