In March 2021, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) passed the U.S. House of Representatives.  The bill also passed in February 2020, but it did not advance beyond the U.S. House Floor.  It was recently heard in a Senate committee, and it could be heard on the U.S. Senate Floor at any time.

In 2019, California passed Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5). This bill was intended to protect workers by guaranteeing a minimum wage, sick leave, workers’ compensation, and unemployment benefits.  It was aimed at drivers who work for companies like DoorDash, Lyft, and Uber. Instead, it led to the loss of work for independent contractors in virtually every industry. Passage of the PRO Act will cause similar problems nationwide, as it will eliminate the freedom of choice for workers who want to be their own boss.

The PRO Act will impact over 57 million independent contractors all over the nation, and 46 percent of independent contractors are women. According to Patrice Onwuka of the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), these independent contractors would be reclassified as employees.  The pandemic has also wreaked havoc on women’s jobs, and gig work has allowed women to make ends meet.

Women lost over 5 million jobs in 2020, and 275,000 women left the workforce in January 2021 compared to 71,000 men.  This also led to women joining app-based platforms and other delivery services, including UberEats, DoorDash, Instacart, and Amazon.   This led to women comprising around half of the workers for each service.  For the women who end up being stay-at-home moms, being an independent contractor has allowed them flexibility to work yet still be able to raise a family.

Several women responded to a survey on how the PRO Act would affect them or how AB 5 has impacted their lives.

One woman who responded is a freelance writer, editor, and a virtual assistant.  She shared that as a disabled woman over 40, she left the traditional workforce in order to better manage her health and physical therapy appointments.  She said, “There are days when I’m exhausted and need to get additional rest. A traditional employer would write me up or fire me after too many “occurrences.”  She also stated that she is happier and healthier working from home and that freelancing provides her “the quality of life that’s just not available to non-managerial personnel in the traditional workplace.”

I was in between jobs at the start of the pandemic. Because of this, I had to find a way to make income. I was paid for making phone calls and doing social media work for political campaigns before starting my current job. Had the PRO Act been law at the time, I would not have been able to make ends meet. Even now as I have a full-time job, I am a brand ambassador for boutiques and other small businesses on the side.

Another woman who runs a non-profit dance organization stated that AB 5 has killed artistic jobs, which included “mostly women in the concert dance field in Los Angeles.”  Small theaters and performing arts companies already struggled during the pandemic and AB 5 will bring even more harm to them.

The PRO Act would also impact personal privacy, as employers would be required to share their employees’ personal information. Workers and their families would be exposed to legalized intimidation and harassment.

Right-to-work laws would also be overturned in 27 states.  This would allow employees to choose for themselves whether or not to join a union, including Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which ruled that workers cannot be required to pay union dues if they do not want to join a union.

Many groups have opposed the PRO Act including Heritage Action for America, state think tanks, the Independent Women’s Voice,  the United States Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business.  Passage of the PRO Act will only bring more harm to those who have struggled during the pandemic.  States and Congress need to push measures to support gig economy workers and make sure the PRO Act never becomes law.

Frances F