Treating essential workers fairly


For decades, companies have used temporary workers, subcontractors, and independent contractors as a way to pay people less for the same work, skirt labor laws, and wash their hands of any responsibility for the workers who make their businesses successful.

Corporations will subcontract their food service work or their housekeeping to a company you’ve never heard of, so they can claim they pay their employees well and offer good health care, while not having to apply those standards to their service workers – who are often women and Black and brown workers.

These shady arrangements and legal tricks have received new attention in recent years, with app-based companies like Uber and Instacart that claim their entire workforce is made up of “independent contractors,” so they can avoid payroll taxes and worker protection laws on everything from minimum wage to employment discrimination to overtime pay and collective bargaining.

Amazon delivery workers are often classified as contractors – so this multibillion dollar corporation can get away with paying them rock-bottom wages with no benefits.

Big tech companies may have earned these business models more headlines in the national press recently, but they aren’t new. Ohio workers have been denied wages and protections through these corporate work-arounds for years – from janitors and security guards, to truck drivers and warehouse workers, to home health aides and construction workers.

It has to stop. If you have hundreds of independent contractors, those aren’t freelancers, the way you might hire someone to fix your leaky roof – those are your employees, and you need to treat them that way.

That’s why at the end of last month I introduced a landmark new bill to end these exploitive tactics. It would create a new standard where workers are always presumed to be employees, and a corporation would have to meet strict criteria to claim otherwise.

It would also create new protections for the millions of “temp” workers to ensure they are not paid less than direct employees, have the right to transition to full direct employees after one year, and have access to unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation.

Not only would these changes help workers – they’d help level the playing field for small businesses. A family business in Ohio shouldn’t have to compete with a corporation like Amazon that can get away with not paying payroll taxes or any benefits for millions of its workers.

Corporate PR specialists like to claim these arrangements just give employees “flexibility.” But let’s be clear: there is nothing stopping a corporation from giving its workers both a flexible schedule and fair wages, health insurance, and paid sick leave. If you have no guaranteed hours and no overtime, that’s not called being “flexible” – it’s called having no job security.

And it has to end.

Our bill makes it clear to corporations: workers are essential to your success, and you need to treat them that way.

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By U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown

Sherrod Brown (D) represents Ohio in the U.S. Senate.

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