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PRO Act would hurt entrepreneurs living with chronic conditions

Apr 20, 2021 by AFP

Most full-time jobs come with employer-provided health insurance. If this benefit is on the table, why would an individual choose to operate as an independent contractor — especially a person who lives with a chronic condition?

Althea Cole, an Uber driver who battles a severe form of rheumatoid arthritis, explains in this column in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Gazette.

Cole says her condition prevents her from working a full-time job. Indeed, she writes,

If my medical conditions were ever to warrant extended time off for surgical procedures … I would once again be subject to the bureaucratic nightmare of medical leave laws that weren’t enough to protect me from losing my last full-time permanent job.

She says driving for Uber has been a “blessing.” Her earnings supplement disability benefits and, because she can make her own hours, she can stay home whenever she feels unwell without “feeling at risk of losing my job for taking too many sick days.”

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act threatens to strip Cole of her right to operate independently. If the Senate passes the PRO Act (the U.S. House already did in a recent 225-206 vote), Cole would be forced to become an Uber employee. It is likely that she would no longer be in charge of making her hours — Uber would.

Millions of other Americans also would lose their flexible work options. Cole notes that a study by Edelman Intelligence found 57 million Americans (about 35 percent of the workforce) worked as freelancers in 2019. The number of freelancers rose to 59 million as full-time workers were laid off due to the economic fallout of the pandemic, Cole says.

Independent contractors have fared better than their full-time counterparts in important ways during the pandemic.

Cole writes, in terms of “mental health, financial strength and overall well-being, freelancers across the board were less likely to report negative impacts from COVID-19 and were less likely to report being concerned about the future.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how — and where — Americans work. The PRO Act would try to fit these people into an outdated model that would not benefit them or their families, emotionally or financially.

As Cole explains, the PRO Act also includes a provision that would reinstate “fair share” union fees. “Even if I refused to join,” Coles says, “money could be forcibly taken from my hard-earned paycheck to pay dues to unions.”

Cole also touches on how the PRO Act would impact the small businesses that rely on independent contractors:

Reclassifying contractors as employees would require significant costs from the employer, and those costs would likely be reflected in changes such as lost jobs, strict work schedules for those who keep their jobs, and revised compensation methods resulting in smaller paychecks.

The pandemic forced Cole to curtail her work with Uber, but she says the money she earned while driving has seen her through the shutdowns. The PRO Act threatens that security, however. Cole concludes:

[A]s we sprint to the finish line of vaccinations and herd immunity, will the opportunity still be waiting for me when I’m finally ready to drive again? Or will it have been stolen from me by lawmakers and bureaucrats wielding virtually unchecked authority over the affairs of entrepreneurs like me?

Want to help entrepreneurs like Cole keep their gigs? Click this link to tell your lawmakers in Washington to oppose the PRO Act.