During his remarks to Congress, Biden asked the lawmakers “to pass the Protect the Right to Organize Act—the PRO Act—and send it to my desk so we can support the right to unionize.”
The legislation dubbed the PRO Act essentially would take a California law known as AB 5 national. However, the California measure wasn’t very popular after the Legislature passed it and the governor signed it into law.
Previously, drivers for ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft; freelance writers, musicians, and others, and various independent contractors could work for companies without being considered full-time or part-time employees.
The new law required workers in California to be considered employees, narrowing opportunities for workers that wanted to set their own hours.
In November, voters opted to significantly weaken the law, though not discard it entirely, by passing a ballot question called Prop 22 after the law was seen as harming opportunities for freelancers and independent contractors.
The ballot initiative carved out Uber and Lyft drivers, but the law still affects most other part-time or freelance workers in California.
“If a policy is too liberal for California voters, you would think it’s definitely not something for the rest of the country,” Alfredo Ortiz, president of the Job Creators Network, a small business advocacy group, told The Daily Signal.
“That law has had a horrible impact on freelancers and independent contractors,” Ortiz said. “Even people in the movie industry that used to get contract jobs are losing opportunities. If you are a sole proprietor, you are a small business.”
The PRO Act touted by Biden would prohibit contract or freelance work. Organized labor strongly backs the legislation as a means of increasing union membership.
The Freelancers Union estimates that 1 in 3 workers in the United States participates in independent work such as contracting, freelancing, and consulting. About 10% of workers perform independent work as their primary job.
Fewer than 1 in 10 independent contractors would prefer a traditional work arrangement, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Specifically, the federal legislation would broaden the definition of “employee” under the National Labor Relations Act. Under the new definition, an individual who performs any service—with some exceptions—would be an employee rather than an independent contractor.
The proposal also raises concerns about invading workers’ privacy, doing away with the right to secret ballots in union elections, and invalidating 27 state right-to-work laws against compulsory union membership.
“California has been a policy disaster, yet President Biden seems to view it as a success,” Ortiz said.