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The Hill Op-Ed: Why Policymakers Should Embrace–Not Hinder–Independent Work

Every time you use Instacart or Shipt to get groceries, tap Grubhub or DoorDash to order a meal, or are matched with a driver via Uber and Lyft, you’re supporting the ability of millions of people to work when, where, and however long they want, and in turn, powering local economic impact around the country. Alongside the hundreds of millions of Americans who use these apps, you’ve also experienced the future of work.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor proposed new regulations that could make it more challenging for workers of all kinds to work as independent contractors. Businesses and entrepreneurs across the country continue to analyze the potential impacts of the 184-page document, but this much is clear: government proposals that make independent work more challenging aren’t good public policy.

Here’s why. For roughly a century, our country’s labor laws have been based on a dual classification system. A worker is either an employee or an independent contractor.

Historically, independent contractors were service providers like financial planners, dentists, and graphic designers. The common thread was workers’ control over how, when, where, and for whom to work. Employees, on the other hand, generally have set hours and set tasks, dictated and controlled closely by their employer.

However, app-based platforms have transformed the way we live and work. Thirty six percent of adults have used a rideshare service, and 111 million Americans have used apps for food delivery.

Meanwhile, more than 23 million people in the U.S. – including hundreds of thousands of people historically marginalized by the traditional employment market – have found work on app-based platforms recently. To date, one in every six Americans have earned on these platforms. Technological innovation has made flexible, independent work available to more people than ever before, and public policy should reflect and celebrate this.

These earners have voted with their feet, choosing a new economic path over the old. And they have been clear that they want to remain independent: significant majorities of app-based earners have consistently indicated that they prefer the freedom and flexibility that they enjoy as independent contractors. Some are parents working around school or special needs schedules; some need transition income as creative entrepreneurs or students; and some just need more money in the midst of inflation. All have chosen this work because it works for them.

Yet policymakers are ignoring the choices of these workers by trying to fit the app-based work of today into a system crafted a century ago. Given that the vast majority of earners prefer to remain independent, it’s time we pursue policies that reflect their voices rather than creating a more challenging regulatory landscape for independent work.

That’s the context for the Department of Labor’s recent proposal. That’s why some policymakers are, however well-intentioned, asking the wrong questions. And when you ask the wrong questions, you risk getting wrong answers.

The question we should be asking ourselves is this: should an employment classification regime crafted nearly a century ago really guide us in the 21st century?

The correct answer is no – and millions of people who drive, shop, and deliver goods via app-based platforms agree.

Policymakers should reject proposals that could risk app-based earners' financial freedom and flexibility. That’s particularly true when core inflation has risen to a 40-year high, as many workers use these app-based platforms to supplement their income from traditional jobs, and log in for fewer than eight hours per week on average.

Instead, policymakers should focus on supporting independent work. That means centering the qualities of app-based work that have drawn a diverse array of people — from mothers and fathers to veterans, caregivers, and many others — to our members’ platforms, while also promoting common-sense policies that enhance and enable independent work.

Flex and its members are committed to these principles and to the growing community of consumers, app-based earners, and entrepreneurs that rely on app-based platforms every day to create opportunities to live, work, and run their businesses on their own terms.

Kristin Sharp is the CEO of Flex, an industry association representing America's leading app-based rideshare and delivery platforms and the people who count on them.

Date: 10/20/2022
Category: Flex Insights