Chronic Freelancer Mike Rowe Goes to Bat for Independent Contractors In America

Of all the really bad ideas currently moldering before Congress, The PRO Act has got to be among the most odious. If it passes, no less than 70,000,000 independent contractors across the country will lose their independent status. Tens of thousands of truck drivers, graphic artists, dance instructors, cameramen, speech therapists, real estate agents, skilled tradespeople, and countless other Americans who would prefer not to labor as a traditional employee, will be forced to do so…or find a new line of work. Likewise, thousands of small businesses who are simply unable to hire full time employees will be forced to close.

The PRO Act was spawned in California, under the name AB-5, or Assembly Bill 5. Its stated purpose was to “protect” workers from being deliberately “misclassified” by greedy employers, who sought to avoid providing them with the benefits to which California employees are entitled. But that premise is not rooted in reality. That’s not to say such “misclassification” never happens – it does, and when it does, there should be consequences for the employer. But the degree to which workers are being “misclassified” has been wildly overblown, especially when compared to the “solution” that AB-5 provided – the wholesale destruction of the right to freelance. In other words, AB-5 was a cookie-cutter solution that gutted the freelance industry in California. The Pro Act will do the same thing nationally.

I don’t weigh in too often on political matters, and God knows, I’m not looking to pick a fight with the unions, (who are solidly behind this really bad idea.) For the record, my foundation has assisted many people who belong to a variety of trade unions, and I respect their right to do so. But the freedom to work independently is an essential part of being an American, and the attempt to eliminate freelancing from America’s labor force reeks of an ulterior motive, particularly among the unions that pushed it forward. Even if the endeavor was genuinely well-intended, the result is fraught with unintended and devastating consequences. If you want to help me stop this assault on the right to freelance, please give this short video a quick look, and share it. It’s too late for the freelancers in California, and the small companies who rely upon them. But the rest of the country need not follow us off the cliff.

PS. It’s also worth pointing out that shortly after AB-5 was proposed in 2019, there was chaos in the California courts. Lots of sensible people objected to the bill, and politicians gave union leaders the power to hand out exemptions to certain groups of freelancers. Thus, lawyers, doctors, psychologists, dentists, podiatrists — almost anybody with an advanced degree who preferred to work as an independent was granted an exemption to AB-5. Then, when California newspapers began to editorialize against the new law — noting that they rely on an army of independent contractors, including editors, designers, photographers, reporters, and delivery people – they, too, were exempted. But of course, once their exemptions were granted, those same newspapers began to editorialize in FAVOR of the new law. A federal judge said the entire process was shot through with “corruption,” “backroom dealing,” “pure spite,” and “naked favoritism.” But still, it made it to Congress, where the current administration is firmly behind it.
Also, of note – AB-5 was originally aimed at unionizing Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash. The bill’s author, Lorena Gonzalez, was a Teamsters official when she entered the state assembly in 2013. When Newsom signed her bill, she declared that California, “one of the strongest economies in the world, is now setting the global standard for worker protections for other states and countries to follow.”

What happened next? Well, Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash spent $200 million on a successful 2020 state ballot initiative to exempt themselves from the law – but only themselves. When the dust settled, the only businesses laboring under the burden of AB-5 were those too small to fight back. But those small businesses are huge in number. Take a look at this list. It’s a heartbreaking catalogue of regular working Americans whose own government destroyed their piece of the American dream. And this is precisely what the current administration wants to replicate in every state.

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