By Gabe Morgan and William C. Sproule
The fight for workers’ rights has always been a mighty struggle.The basic laws that so many people take for granted – the weekend, the 40-hour work week, and basic safety protections were only achieved through our collective struggle and action.
When we don’t stay vigilant, time and time again, we’ve seen that those in power do all they can to slash these hard-fought rights. We saw the devastation of Janus vs. AFSCME, which weakened the power of working people in 2018, and allowed right-to-work laws to inhibit workers’ strength in the southeastern United States.
Right now, Pennsylvanians are facing another attempt by deep-pocketed corporations to take more power away from working-class families who are struggling to keep their heads above water in the gig economy.
Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Devlin J. Robinson, R-Allegheny, Senate Bill 949, would deny app-based workers their rights as employees, and effectively make them second-class workers with substandard wages and benefits.
Under Robinson’s bill, which is now before the Senate Labor & Industry Committee, a misleadingly named “income replacement benefit” would be paid out of contributions to a fund of a mere 2 percent of app-based workers’ annual earnings, which is dramatically less than a traditional employer would have to pay.
In essence, SB949 would dramatically weaken the few benefits app-based workers receive, make them ineligible for unemployment compensation, workers compensation, minimum wage protection, and any other employment rights and benefits.
Imagine if US Steel, Walmart, UPMC, American Airlines or any other major Pennsylvania employer tried to persuade us to strip steel, retail, healthcare and aviation employees of their rights and benefits in return for a 2 percent return on a worker’s annual earnings “portable benefits” scheme. It simply wouldn’t happen. The vast majority of Republican and Democratic legislators would be outraged by such a scam.
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What’s happening here in Pennsylvania is a microcosm of a national effort to deprive app-based workers of their rights as employees in an attempt to reduce gig industry costs.
The robbing Peter to pay Paul approach is only making workers poorer while allowing their employers to avoid responsibility for providing basic worker rights. In California, these same corporate giants were the masterminds behind Proposition 22 that would create the worst of both worlds where gig sector workers are classified as quasi-independent contractors yet denied the freedom of a true independent contractor.
Corporations have built their businesses on the backs of app-based workers who have risked their lives during the pandemic to provide services for their communities. Yet these very workers struggle to pay their bills, to pay for healthcare, lack paid time off, and often face dangerous working conditions.
Like so many times before, corporations are gaslighting working-class families by framing Robinson’s bill as good for Pennsylvania’s app-based workers, when in fact this couldn’t be further from the truth. This bill would turn app-based workers into second-class citizens by robbing them of vital benefits, while further eroding wages and essential worker protections.
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We rely on app-based workers to transport us and to deliver goods and services to our homes and workplaces, just as any other worker with the title “employee.” They do their jobs at a pay rate set by bosses in giant companies like millions of other service sector workers across Pennsylvania.
These essential workers risked their health and lost their lives during the pandemic, while so many of us were safe at home. They are counting on us to defeat bad bills such as SB949 because it could be a fatal blow to communities and families who are most in need of our support right now, and we will continue to push back on all anti-worker legislation that comes through the Pennsylvania Legislature.
As workers with Amazon and Starbucks ,among so many others, gain more power, protections, wages, and benefits by joining unions at a faster rate than our nation has witnessed in recent history, SB949 threatens to drag Pennsylvania’s workers and economy backwards.
We all benefit when workers earn more and can support their families and local businesses, without needing to rely on taxpayer-funded programs. The last thing Pennsylvania needs is a bill such as Robinson’s to erode worker protections and benefits when individuals and families need them the most.
Gabe Morgan is the executive vice president and the Pa/Del. state director for SEIU32BJ. William C. Sproule is the executive secretary/treasurer for the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters.