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Biden Will (Hopefully) Come Through For Free Lancers

Joe Biden has had a complicated relationship with labor throughout his political career. This is a relationship that at times can mirror the popular “Settle For Biden” sentiment echoed by working class and labor organizers. While he has consistently described himself as a “union man,” he has also championed policies under the Obama administration that unions still disparage today such as his support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Going along with this theme, members of the AFL-CIO and other organizations poke fun at Biden for only being seen on picket lines at times in his life while he was running for president - a gesture obviously with slightly more significance than a light-hearted joke when juxtaposed with the barrage of images Bernie supporters reference when reinforcing his undeniable commitment to labor and marginalized communities (Greenhouse). However, as made evident by the blue shift seen in Pennsylvania and Michigan that ultimately awarded Biden the presidency, he does have a foothold within the working class. As he said over and over throughout his campaign, he would use his platform to fight for neighborhoods in Scranton rather than Park Avenue.

While looking at some of his policies heading into the Democratic primaries, I found one particularly interesting and crucial way he planned to do this. His policy surrounding freelance labor and particularly organizing freelance labor seems progessive but is now being scrutinized by freelancers concerned with keeping the freedom that comes with the lifestyle. Reconciling this concern within the growing population of contract laborers within the country while still providing policy that supports this commonly exploited group will be crucial to Biden carrying out his commitment to the working class. If Biden really wants to be a champion for the Scrantons of the country, he is going to have to be a champion for the Uber drivers in the Scrantons of the country.

While recent years have seen a surge in the labor movement with unionization at levels we haven’t seen in 20 years, freelance laborers have not seen the benefit of this newfound leverage. These workers, who rely on short term contract labor for either firms or individual customers, are considered self-employed. While the freedom in hours and lifestyle that comes with this is worth the uncertainty for many, current labor relations do little for protecting this class of workers that has now become vital to the economy. Independent contractors are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act and therefore unable to organize or bargain collectively. While it may seem like this lifestyle is a choice, the reality right now is that often these workers are from the most vulnerable and exploited communities of people. [1]

Joe Biden has come forward with two major policies [2] that would be unprecedented victories for independent contractors. The first would be finally allowing them the right to bargain collectively for concessions from massive corporations that rely on their labor. This would entail modifying anti-trust law and is absolutely vital to the protection of these workers. Drivers at a company like Uber, for example, are almost uniformly not considered real employees and are not given a livable wage for their labor. Massive corporations under this gig economy model intentionally keep workers designated as temporary contractors rather than ever making an actual employment commitment. The justification for this is flexibility - for the driver, the clientele, and the corporation. But of course this flexibility leaves the company [3] without the commitments in benefits and pay that would traditionally come with an employer/employee relationship (Rao). While the claim is that this flexibility also benefits the driver, the 50% of drivers that drive full time are left on their own with absolutely no leverage over a company that extracts all of their labor with no commitment to them. This is not just true of Uber but many major corporations that intentionally seek independently contracted labor to bypass the rights afforded actual employees. This brings me to Biden’s other major attempt at a leap forward for these workers. This is to aggressively criminalize large employers that intentionally misclassify their labors as independent contractors. Not only does this alienate workers from the power that comes with unity, it also shifts part of the burden of income taxes from the employer onto the employee. It is especially egregious in companies that consistently keep workers for long periods like ride services or delivery services.

It is evident by now that Biden will not be the president that flashes the new face of the left and the labor movement and comes in with broad sweeping, revolutionary reforms. However, this is something to be excited about. A win for independent contractors is a major win for the labor movement and will hopefully be the standard Biden sets for reestablishing himself as a “union guy” in the White House.




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