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Women and minorities have borne the brunt of COVID-19’s economic fallout. According to panelists in a March 8 Clubhouse discussion, they also would shoulder the brunt of the impact from H.R. 842, the Protecting our Right to Organize (PRO) Act.
Stand Together Director of Economic Opportunity Erica Jedynak hosted the event, which considered the impact the legislation would have on independent contractors.
Jedynak said the bill puts at risk the livelihoods of the country’s 59 million independent contractors — a group that makes up about 36 percent of the U.S. workforce. According to a 2019 Internal Revenue Service report, “women have driven much of the overall growth” in the independent contracting workforce in recent years.
Independent communications professional Farahn Morgan, a panelist at the March 8 event, explained that because women still shoulder the majority of household-related responsibilities, they choose freelance work because it helps them balance family demands while building a career. Morgan, for example, moved back to her home in Appalachia to care for her aging parents.
“Freelance work is really the only way to do what I want, where I want to live,” Morgan said.
Morgan also suggested preserving freelance work could help revive rural communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven many independent contracting jobs — from writing to translation services to tutoring — can be done from anywhere. The ability to freelance means individuals can stay in these communities while earning a living.
Novelist and freelance writer Walter Kirn agreed. Kirn also lives in a rural community. The flexibility of freelancing allowed him to write from a place his family loved, he said. Kirn also debunked the impression that independent contractors are somehow exploited and would rather be working as full-time employees. He noted many freelancers earn more through independent work and he has “put two kids through college freelancing.”
Kirn warned that the country will see “vast unemployment” as a result of the PRO Act. He pointed to the fallout from California’s AB 5, which features certain provisions mirrored in the PRO Act PRO Act.
“We’ve already been here,” Kirn said. “We don’t need to justify our alarm.”
Like AB 5, the PRO Act contains an ABC test that asks independent contractors to meet three criteria:
This test, as Stand Together’s Jedynak explained, presumes that all individuals are full-time employees. The burden to prove otherwise falls on the independent contractor and the business. The business would face significant fines if an independent contractor failed the test and needed to be reclassified.
Isabel Soto, director of labor market policy at the American Action Forum, said she estimates the PRO Act would put about 8.5 percent of total U.S. gross domestic product at risk.
“Federal lawmakers need to look at what happened in California,” she said.
Taking a question from listeners, Soto described how the PRO Act would destroy the nation’s trucking industry — a sector that delivers goods across the country. Kirn also said the jobs that would be lost as a result of the PRO Act are “vital to society.”
Kirn pointed to the court translators who had lost work in California as a result of AB 5. These services are difficult to find, particularly for languages that are less frequently spoken in the United States, Kirn noted. If independent translators lose their ability to work, thousands of non-native English speakers will lose their voices in the country’s judicial system.
“This is a social justice issue,” Kirn concluded.
Kirn and the other panelists urged listeners to weigh in on social media against the PRO Act by using #fightforfreelancers, #NoPROAct and #EmpoweredNotExploited (While not mentioned, #VoteNoPRO is another hashtag that can be used).
Individuals also can use this link to send a letter to their representatives in Congress asking them to oppose the PRO Act.
Learn more about the PRO Act and AB5 at AFP’s Flex Your Independence initiative.