News & Commentary

June 25, 2015

The Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Times says that the California Labor Commission’s recent ruling that Uber drivers are employees reflects “how poorly the state’s aging labor laws fit some 21st century workplaces.” Characterizing the emergence of the on-demand economy as “a breakthrough for people who have something to offer the public but no way to do so effectively on their own,” the board contends that California law’s focus on “whether the workers are engaged in the same business as the company they’re working for, and if so, how much control they wield over the jobs performed” may no longer be appropriate. Citing the “growing number of Californians looking for part-time, temporary or entrepreneurial work,” the board ultimately calls for “a new approach that would allow people to contract out their services independently through new platforms without enabling companies to magically transform employees into contractors with fewer benefits and no safety net.”

While the on-demand economy — and hence, the use of independent contractors — is undoubtedly growing, Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times suggests that not all corners of the industry are embracing this model as a means of doing business. Manjoo takes a closer look at the “handful” of on-demand start-ups that have eschewed independent contractors for good old-fashioned full-time employees. Manjoo writes: “[I]t isn’t just the murky legality — or even . . . a moral obligation to do the right thing for workers — that has pushed these businesses to part with Uber’s vision for the future of work.” Rather, the companies insist that “real employees are better employees.” Manjoo’s article comes in the wake of news reported earlier this week that Instacart has begun hiring some independent contractors as part-time employees for similar reasons.

Various news outlets have picked up a story by the Associated Press on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Ass’n coming before the Supreme Court today. In addition to presenting a quick primer of the issues at stake in Friedrichs, the article quotes Professor Sachs’s observations that the Court’s decisions in Harris v. Quinn and Knox v. SEIU offer a “clear signal that [Justice] Alito believes Abood ought to be overruled,” and “some number of justices on the court” probably do too. The article also notes that some “[c]onservative groups argue that eliminating mandatory union fees may actually make unions stronger by forcing them to prove their value.” Meanwhile, the Orange County Register and the Press-Enterprise, both owned by the same media conglomerate, are running identical editorials in support of the petitioners’ position in Friedrichs. The editorial further suggests that “if the Supreme Court adds Friedrichs v. CTA to its 2016 docket,” it is likely “that a majority of justices agree with Ms. Friedrichs and her fellow plaintiffs.”

Tom Edsall of the New York Times explores why “today’s working poor [are] so quiescent” in his most recent column. While acknowledging that poverty in the U.S. is perhaps “less grueling than in the past,” Edsall argues that the real reason why “there has not been broad public insurrection” over issues like income inequality and stagnant wages is due to a rise in “individualization.” This trend, Edsall claims, marks a “drastic[] change[] since the high-water mark of the 1930s and 1960s when collective movements captured the public imagination.” Nowadays, “there is very little social support for class-based protest — what used to be called solidarity.” Edsall goes on to contrast the concerted and widespread efforts in support of the 2012 Stop Online Privacy Act and net neutrality with the relative lack of sustained enthusiasm for raising the national minimum wage or instituting a more progressive tax system. Ultimately, Edsall writes, “those bearing the most severe costs of inequality are irrelevant to the agenda-setters in both parties. . . . except for a brief moment on Election Day when one party wants their votes counted, and the other doesn’t.”

Finally, Carolyn Osorio — a would-be “fellow” for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign — opines in USA Today that campaign interns should be paid for their efforts. The author contends that although “[u]npaid work is common in campaigns,” Clinton could serve as a “trailblazer” who “would be more willing to break the mold of indentured servitude that haunts [her] generation.” Notably, Clinton has spoken out publicly against unpaid internships, and there has been some momentum among interns to organize in other workplaces — developments that appear to support Osorio’s suggestion that labor is perhaps one area in which the fiscally lean Clinton campaign ought not to count pennies. In terms of the potential legal implications of free labor in the political campaign sphere, Bloomberg responds to Osorio’s piece by taking a closer look at whether the Fair Labor Standards Act does — or should — apply to campaigns. As for Osorio, she concludes by noting: “Hillary will get my free vote even if she will never have my free help.”

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