Got a gig? Workers' rights still apply

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The "gig economy," with its fast-and-loose approach to on-demand services, is full of innovation and productivity—and some serious exploitation of part-time, contingent workers and independent contractors.

In a policy statement passed Feb. 24, the AFL-CIO executive council outlines how the U.S. workforce can have a creative and flexible marketplace and still maintain rights and protections for the increasing number of people in the contingent workforce. People like Paul Dannenfelser (pictured below), an adjunct professor at Temple University, where the AFT-affiliated Temple Association of University Professionals works to ensure he has decent working conditions and adequate job security, benefits and pay. Since 70 percent of all faculty are contingent, says Dannenfelser, this backbone of the university system must have the job security and resources they need to best serve students. Instead, they earn a median $2,700 per class (just $21,600 for a full load of four classes), have limited access to office space and are shut out of university networks.

Paul Dannenfelser"We're not really seen as part of the university," Dannenfelser says. Many contract workers, in industries from auto mechanics to engineering, are likewise seen as peripheral and unimportant. "Acknowledging that the nature of work is changing and paying attention to the people who are being affected by it is really important. We need a union as much as anyone else."
"Every worker who meets the basic definition of 'employee' should enjoy all of an employee's legal rights and protections," says the AFL-CIO statement. It goes on to outline ways to make that a reality: crack down on businesses that commit payroll fraud by misclassifying workers, reduce existing incentives for employers to shed their responsibilities as employers, create incentives for companies to treat workers as employees, and develop new and effective worker-organizing models that adapt to changes in the world of work.

During the AFL-CIO executive council discussion of the statement, leaders also noted that providing job security opens up the avenues to innovation, making room for the creative thinking, productive relationships and collaborative connections that foster fresh approaches to the work.

"For more than 100 years, America's labor movement has built collective power for employees working in various kinds of precarious and vulnerable work," the statement says. "Our efforts transformed entire industries so generations of workers were able to sustain families as part of thriving communities. These difficulties are not new or insurmountable. This is what unions do."

[Virginia Myers, AFL-CIO]