I remember April 2020 as one long trip to the grocery store. After I unexpectedly landed on my parents’ doorstep last year, one of the millions of millennials who moved home after my job met the sharp end of the pandemic’s axe, I decided to join the gig economy. I became an Instacart shopper.
With Instacart, customers select items they want from the company’s grocery delivery app. Then, shoppers such as me purchase the items and deliver them. For tax purposes, I was an independent contractor. But to Instacart’s customers, I was a veritable angel.
For weeks, I delivered hundreds of dollars’ worth of food and non-perishables across Virginia Beach. Many customers I met were elderly or immunocompromised, and they wanted to be far from the crowds of pandemic panic buyers. The work was fulfilling, necessary, and it paid for my expenses at a time when virtually no company in the country was hiring.
At the time, I didn’t want to be an employee. I was happy with Instacart’s independent contractor arrangement, which gave me the flexibility I needed to set my own schedule and apply for full-time roles. I could work as much as I wanted, yet still have the time to care for a new foster dog between trips to the grocery store.
Currently before the Senate, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act threatens flexible work options such as the one I enjoyed last year. It would add the so-called “ABC Test,” a set of rules used to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor, to the National Labor Relations Act. Under one prong of the ABC Test, companies cannot consider a worker a contractor if the worker is engaged in the company’s “usual course of business.”
In practice, Instacart is a grocery-shopping company, so its shoppers would have to be classified as employees, not contractors. But it’s not just Instacart, Uber, DoorDash and other app-based companies that are targeted. In another example, media companies that publish articles and photographs from freelancers would have to stop accepting work from anyone who isn’t one of their 9-to-5-ers.
The bill is step one in President Joe Biden’s anti-independent contractor plan to add the ABC Test to all areas of federal labor law. Under the ABC Test, it would be illegal for many of the country’s millions of independent contractors to continue their preferred way of work.
Supporters of the ABC Test and the larger PRO Act assume independent contractors are exploited and their lives would be better if they were employees. What they miss are the millions of Americans who want to freelance. In fact, 75% say they wouldn’t trade it for any other kind of work.
Why? Flexibility is one benefit. Because freelancing doesn’t tie workers to a 9-to-5 job, working moms can craft their own hours around school drop-offs and homework help. That’s one reason why the majority of American freelancers are women. Uncapped earning potential is another benefit, enjoyed by one Fiverr freelancer who made more than $378,000 in one year.
As with any choice, there are both benefits and costs: Freelancers must pay for their own health insurance and save for their own retirement. But millions of Americans have decided that the benefits of freelancing are worth the costs. That’s a choice they should be able to make without onerous government regulations forcing round pegs into square holes.
Virginia’s U.S. Sen. Mark Warner has not signed on to cosponsor this legislation, and he’s right not to. Passing the PRO Act would be acutely damaging to thousands of Virginians who choose to freelance. Warner and others should allow the lucrative, flexible options of freelancing and independent contracting to continue by holding the line against the PRO Act.