Saying gig workers are living “life on the precipice of devastation,” dozens of labor and other advocacy groups on Monday urged Congress to extend labor protections to app-based workers.
In a letter sent to U.S. Senate and House leaders, the National Law Employment Project, the AFL-CIO, Color of Change, Gig Workers Rising and 71 other groups sought to prevent new laws akin to a voter-passed measure in California, which exempts gig companies like Uber Technologies Inc. UBER, -4.37% and Lyft Inc. LYFT, -0.51% from a law requiring them to classify drivers and delivery workers as employees.
“It is time to guarantee that people who work for a company through an app are just as entitled to a living wage and basic employment benefits as all others,” the letter writers said.
The letter is an example of how labor and other groups plan to pressure a new presidential administration and Democratic Senate majority to strengthen worker protections, as the companies seek to spread the type of law that passed in California. Voters there passed Proposition 22 in November, allowing the companies to continue to treat those workers as independent contractors, with some new benefits that fall short of full employment protections. The groups noted that the companies have said they want to enact similar measures elsewhere.
Gig-worker classification has not been a purely partisan issue, with some Democrats expressing support for what they call “a new reality” when it comes to app-based work. Joe Biden indicated during his presidential campaign that he supported making gig workers employees instead of independent contractors, so labor experts and others are waiting to see what he will do as president.
Potential early moves include dropping efforts by the previous administration, such as a late change to make it easier for companies to deem their workers independent contractors. Lawmakers could also pick up efforts like the Protecting the Right to Organize, or PRO, Act, which would give gig workers collective-bargaining rights; the House passed the bill early last year, but the Senate did not take it up.
The groups that wrote the letter warned that carving out laws for different worker classes could affect all worker protections in the long run, and that they have already seen evidence of such a shift as some industries move to managing workers through apps.
“A new federal classification scheme would break open the dam, incentivizing entire industries to ‘gig out’ jobs that once provided middle-class prosperity,” wrote the groups, which also included the Teamsters, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and the National Writers Union.
The offices of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have not returned requests for comment about the letter.
Uber and Lyft did not return requests for comment Monday morning. DoorDash Inc. DASH, +3.34% and Instacart referred MarketWatch to the App-Based Work Alliance.
“Across the political spectrum, California voters overwhelmingly chose to improve independent work rather than eliminate work opportunities,” said a spokeswoman for the App-Based Work Alliance. “It’s time for lawmakers to find a new approach that creates certainty for workers while meeting the needs of our growing independent workforce.”