Opinion

On Labor Day, let’s pledge to protect workers and create paths to union membership

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez celebrates committee passage of a bill to reclassify workers in California

California lawmakers are working on legislation that would change the 'gig' economy by reclassifying independent contractors as workers in California. California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez celebrated the passage of a bill on July 10, 2019.
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California lawmakers are working on legislation that would change the 'gig' economy by reclassifying independent contractors as workers in California. California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez celebrated the passage of a bill on July 10, 2019.

Labor Day is a time to honor the American workers who built our prosperous economy.

In California, workers fuel an economic engine that is creating more jobs, attracting more capital, patenting more innovations and producing more economic output than any other state. Yet too many workers are left out of both today’s celebration and our strong economy.

As professionals took the long weekend off to relax with their families, low-wage workers all over our state did what they do every day: worked from early dawn to late in the night to try to make ends meet.

They came home to continue the kitchen table conversations that happen nightly across California: Will I get enough hours this week? If my kid is sick and has to miss school, will I have to miss paid work? Will my college graduate get a job? Will I get enough passengers to earn what I need?

Too often, hardworking people don’t earn enough to pay the bills. We’ve been heading this way for years.

Opinion

Working people have lost their bargaining power. The laws and institutions that help them share in the prosperity that they help create have been chipped away – one outsourced factory, one rollback of a financial regulation, one anti-labor law at a time.

Our economy has stopped working for working people. While the wealthiest have grown wealthier, the middle class and working people have grown poorer. Corporate profits have gone through the roof while worker pay has remained in the basement.

Contributing to this imbalance is the misclassification of workers, where companies eager to save on labor costs identify workers as “independent contractors” rather than employees. Workers lose basic protections like the minimum wage, paid sick days and health insurance benefits. Employers shirk responsibility to safety net programs like workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance. Taxpayers are left to foot the bill.

Reversing the trend of misclassification is a necessary and important step to improve the lives of working people. That’s why, this Labor Day, I am proud to be supporting Assembly Bill 5, which extends critical labor protections to more workers by curbing misclassification.

While this step is important, we must do more to reverse the 40-year trends that have hollowed out our middle class and driven income inequality. We can do this by partnering with labor and supporting their efforts to create ways for workers to join together and speak with one voice. Across the country, unions are paving the path for new ways to organize – whether it’s the fight for a federal $15 minimum wage, organizing freelancers and contractors, or bargaining project labor agreements.

Creating new ways for workers to organize is a key component of tackling the level of inequality that undermines our entire economy and threatens our children’s future. As union membership has fallen, the share of income going to the top ten percent has skyrocketed.

The federal government will be no help here. The Trump administration has declared that workers in the gig economy are independent contractors and therefore not covered by federal labor laws, including the right to form a union. But the federal government’s move away from workers creates an opportunity in California: only when the National Labor Relations Act does not cover workers may states act to provide the right to organize a union, allowing workers to bargain for better pay, benefits and working conditions.

California has the power to act so these workers can have a real voice at work – one that can transform their lives and reshape our economy.

In recent weeks, my office has had conversations with rideshare drivers, labor unions and tech companies to see if we can help over 200,000 workers in California increase their wages and benefits, maintain the flexibility many enjoy and form a union to improve their economic security.

My administration will work in partnership with the labor movement to continue this conversation to build paths for workers in our state who want to join a union. We will work to create good jobs, to improve the jobs we already have and to make those jobs available to all Californians. This is our moment to change the course of this economy.

César Chávez once said: “The only answer, the only hope, was in organizing.” His words remain as true as ever.

Let’s help deliver the promise of Labor Day and celebrate the labor movement and all that it has done to build the middle class. And let’s partner together to do it again.

Gavin Newsom is the governor of California.
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