If Biden Truly Wanted To Create Jobs, He Wouldn't Support the PRO Act

Destroying the ability of freelancers to make a living is union protectionism, not economic opportunity.


President Joe Biden's hour-long paean to massive government spending Wednesday evening deliberately focused on job creation. He insisted that his American Jobs Plan will "create millions of good paying jobs—jobs Americans can raise their families on."

But then in practically the next breath, Biden called on Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and send it to his desk. The PRO Act will, if passed, destroy hundreds of thousands of careers across the country.

When Biden and the bill's supporters talk about the PRO Act, they only mention that it helps protect the right for workers to attempt to unionize. But that's not all the PRO Act does. The PRO Act does tremendous harm to the workforce by making it hard—nearly impossible—for many freelance workers to continue working independently.

This isn't speculation. We know what this law bill will do to freelancers because it's based on A.B. 5, legislation passed in California in 2019 that codified extremely restrictive rules controlling who was allowed to work as an independent contractor. The law was written deliberately to attack the gig economy and companies like Uber and Lyft, which operate on a business model in which drivers are classified as independent contractors. This means they can set their own hours and control their work schedules, but also means they don't qualify for certain benefits. And it also makes it much harder for union supporters to organize them.

But A.B. 5 was written so broadly that in practice it affected thousands of different jobs, threatening hairdressers, freelance journalists, real estate agents, translators, musicians, and many, many others. Ultimately, the bill's own creator had to pass legislation last year that carved out a bunch of occupational exemptions. The ride-sharing and delivery drivers were left in, but then California voters in November supported a ballot initiative that exempted them as well.

A.B. 5 is in tatters but is still officially on the books. A federal ruling had exempted truck drivers from A.B. 5, accepting the argument that it was preempted by federal transportation law. But on Wednesday, a panel of three judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the lower court's order, meaning that independent truckers may soon be affected by the law, hampering their ability to find work unless a company takes them on as employees.

Circuit Judge Mark J. Bennett was the sole dissenter, noting that "[California Trucking Association's] members will now suffer irreparable injury."

Embedded within the PRO Act is text to take A.B. 5 nationwide, despite California voters' rejection of the measure. It sets the exact same rules restricting who is permitted to be classified as an independent contractor, regardless of what the worker actually wants. This, to be clear, is completely intentional. A.B. 5 proponent Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D–San Diego) dismissed the concerns of freelancers, saying, "These were never good jobs." It was very clearly her goal to dismantle and destroy the ability for workers to decide to make careers out of being independent contractors.

Biden can say that he wants to create new jobs all he likes, but the only jobs that the PRO Act actually cares about are union jobs. The bill is actively hostile to jobs that aren't unionized. That's a recipe for neither economic growth nor individual freedom.

UPDATE: Not long after this piece was posted, Reuters reported that Biden's Labor Secretary Marty Walsh believes gig economy workers "should be classified as workers."