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Saturday, May 1, 2021

Biden’s Labor Secretary Just Threatened Independent Contractors

Secretary Walsh evidently thinks he knows better than you what arrangement is right for your life and your circumstances.

Image Credit: Flickr

This article is excerpted from the FEE Daily, a daily email newsletter where FEE Policy Correspondent Brad Polumbo brings you news and analysis on the top free-market economics and policy stories. Click here to sign up.

With the rise of the digital gig economy, millions of Americans have found flexible and lucrative work through independent contractor arrangements with companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash. They weighed the pros and cons of traditional employment opportunities, which often come with more benefits such as healthcare but rigid schedules, and instead opted for the flexibility that gig work brings. 

But some regulators and politicians have taken aim at these mutually beneficial arrangements, dubbing them “exploitative” and trying to eliminate them using the law. Based on his latest comments, President Biden’s Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh, may be among their number.

“We are looking at it but in a lot of cases gig workers should be classified as employees … in some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not and I think it has to be consistent across the board,” Walsh just told Reuters in an interview. 

“These companies are making profits and revenue and I’m not (going to) begrudge anyone for that because that’s what we are about in America,” he continued, “but we also want to make sure that success trickles down to the worker.”

Walsh’s comments don’t seem too objectionable at first glance, but we must put them in the context of the ongoing legislative crackdown on the gig economy. California politicians who similarly believed that independent contractors were being “misclassified” went on to pass a punitive law that put countless freelancers, from journalists to Uber drivers to florists to musicians, out of work.

It was so bad that it started an entire internet trend, #AB5Stories, where affected Californians shared their stories about how the law reduced their income and limited their ability to work. Indeed, Uber nearly shut down in the Golden State entirely, and the gig economy was only spared its death sentence because California voters passed a referendum that granted large exceptions to the law.

Nonetheless, President Biden has voiced his support for the law and similar legislation that would reclassify independent contractors under federal law nationwide. 

Simply put, Biden and Walsh evidently think they know better than you what arrangement is right for your life and your circumstances. We should reject this kind of nanny-state thinking from our political class, from labor law to policing what cigarette flavors we can smoke. If Americans can agree on anything, it ought to be that adults should be free to choose their own path in life without oversight from busy-body politicians.

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