Who Do You Stand For?
See that lady snuggling little me in that photo over there? That's my Gran. She always said, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." She also taught me all the good swearwords, God love her.
But back to that standing and falling idea, cliché as it may be. Clichés become clichés because they tend to hold a kernel of truth.
Today I am blogging, dear readers, to stand for something—the rights of independent contractors to work freely, set our own hours, choose who we work with and for, and set the rates for that work.
Today I am standing for women, women like my Gran, who never had the opportunities that I have today. Women, who make up a significant percentage of the more than 56 million independent contractors in this country. Women, many of whom are both independent contractors and the breadwinners for their families, whose numbers have risen 90% since 2001 (Source: https://irs.gov/pub/irs-soi/19rpindcontractorinus.pdf). Self-employed women, 73% of whom say they have a better work-life balance; 68% of whom earn the same or more money than in a traditional job; 59% of whom say they have less stress; 57% of whom say they’re healthier (Source: https://fightforfreelancersusa.com/data-and-studies/).
I am one of these women. My Gran would have been, if she'd been born in a different era. She was one of fourteen (!) children in the Great Depression; she dropped out of school at 15 to work and provide for her family. She waited tables till her feet were ruined. She never got a GED or a college degree. She is one of the legion of women who have worked hard, lost much and gained little, in the defense and service of ourselves and our families.
Why am I so fired up on this topic today? There is a bill coming to the House floor next week—the PRO Act. Its intent is to defend workers against abusive labor practices, to make unionizing easier, to make life better for millions of Americans. And those are all wonderful causes, worthy of standing up and fighting for. My stepfather was a Union man. I am pro-Union. But there's one problem in the bill—the ABC test.
The ABC test determines who can be considered an independent contractor, and who must be considered an employee. The B prong of this test is the one that threatens to poke many of us in the posterior, and that poses a particular existential threat to those who work in media and publishing, as I, my clients, and my colleagues do. Here's the language:
"An individual must be classified as an employee unless: '(A) the individual is free from control and direction in connection with the performance of the service, both under the contract for the performance of service and in fact; (B) the service is performed outside the usual course of the business of the employer; and (C) the individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession, or business of the same nature as that involved in the service performed.'" (Source: https://thehill.com/opinion/finance/538505-the-pro-acts-abc-test-fails-american-workers?rl=1; emphasis mine)
This essentially means that I could not edit books for publishers (traditional or self) as a freelancer, since publishing books does not lie "outside the usual course of the business of the employer." It also would mean that my regular freelance writing gigs, for publications I adore working with, could be forced into a W2 relationship, not a 1099 one.
All of this would essentially mean I would be out of business. I choose to be an independent contractor, I don't want to be the employee of any of my clients, as much as I dearly love them. And I am not at all alone in this.
I cannot speak for other industries, like truck driving and hairstyling, etc. (but these are industries that would also be affected disproportionately and negatively); I cannot speak for BIPOC and their experience, as I am white (but again, BIPOC will be negatively impacted by any bill that essentially outlaws self-employment, as this one, as currently written, threatens to do); I cannot speak for those who have aged out of the corporate world (at least not yet, but I'm close; and those over 55 will also be negatively, disproportionately impacted by this bill); I cannot speak for those with disabilities, for whom independent contract work can be a Godsend (but who will also be hurt by this bill). But I can speak for me, and I can speak about the experience of women in the workforce and as self-employed. And so that is what I am doing. If you're curious about how these various groups could be impacted, and I hope that you are, I'd have you watch this:
The damage that the ABC test can do is no longer theoretical. California enacted a law with it included in 2019—AB 5. What did it do? Well, I'll just let you feast your eyes on the stories of independent contractors, the self-employed, freelancers, 1099 workers, who were devastated by it: https://rolls.bublup.com/Anderson/AB5-Personal-Stories; see also: https://www.forbes.com/sites/elainepofeldt/2020/01/19/californias-ab5-leaves-women-business-owners-reeling/?sh=5abad6e45ef3
So what do I and people like me want Congress to do? And how can we try to get them to do it? It's actually pretty simple: We want the ABC test removed from the bill, and have it replaced with the IRS Rules for independent contractors vs. employees. How can we get them to hear us? We can start by writing to our reps in Congress. Here is a link with info on how you can find those reps, and a G Drive of sample letters you can send them, in case you're not a writer, like I am, and don't know where to begin.
Today I am also calling on my fellow freelancers, the many organizations that represent us, and publishing and media professionals in particular, to stand with me in this fight. And to say you do, publicly. I know we are all weary of politics; I know we all fear alienating anyone; but we won't exist as we currently do if this bill becomes law—I don't know about you, but to be forced out of existence would be pretty damn alienating to me.
So please, write, call, Tweet, blog, Facebook message, share, share, share this information. Stand with freelancers. Stand with women. Stand with BIPOC. Stand with the over-55s. Stand with every marginalized group who has skin in this game. Stand with unions. Stand with those fighting for GOOD labor reforms. Stand with us to ensure that GOOD laws and beneficial policies get put in place; stand with us to ensure that bad ones do not.
As always, happy reading, keep writing, and STAND UP FOR FREELANCERS!