Protecting workers has always been the backbone of the Democratic Party. As we enter the 2020 election season, candidates are proposing plans to give the American people a fair shake in our economy. However, some Democrats are advancing labor policies that could unintentionally harm America’s workers — and the Democratic Party’s chances on Election Day.
One prominent example is a recent push to reclassify many independent contractors as employees. This means that workers in many industries — hairdressing, gardening, farming, Uber driving, or construction — would file as W-2 employees, as opposed to 1099 independent contractors as they do now.
This policy is intended to provide more workers with benefits and fair pay, which is noble. However, policies mandating reclassification would incentivize companies to slash pay or eliminate jobs. And since there wouldn’t be other, more stable jobs waiting, many of the workers who rely on contracting for a living would have the rug pulled out from under them.
This hasn’t stopped many Democrats from promoting this policy. Senator Bernie Sanders introduced this exact measure, with other 2020 Democrats, like Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren cosigning.
What’s troubling is that this measure hurts the groups that Democrats champion the most. S.E. Williams of Black Voice News worries that reclassification “could push many individuals out of business and/or change the significant role barbershops and beauty salons play in Black culture and politics.” And immigrants – many of whom take low-skilled contracting jobs according to Brookings – could be left without job options.
I would be less concerned about the political ramifications of this if it were a one-off. However, there seems to be a growing pattern of complacency towards workers that could spell trouble for Democrats in the next election.
For example, California farmworkers, many of whom are immigrants, overwhelmingly voted to leave a union that had ignored and abandoned them for decades. As Democrats, we should champion every worker’s right to choose their own representation. Yet Democrats in California did the opposite.
The Democrat-led Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) refused to honor the vote and silenced the voices of thousands of workers who wanted a change in representation. Thankfully, the courts eventually forced the ALRB to honor the vote after five years of costly struggle.
Democrats should have been the strongest champions for these workers from the beginning and should have acted to ensure that something like this never happens again. Yet it was actually a Republican who proposed several bills to help farm workers have the same rights as other workers, and Democrats – specifically Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher – were the ones who killed the bills.
This is brazenly duplicitous. For instance, Assemblywoman Gonzalez-Fletcher bills herself as a champion for the Latino working class – yet these actions directly harm that very group. Democrats need to shun this behavior, or the voters we rely on may not have our backs at the ballot box.
We are already seeing this happen. In the 2018 election cycle, for example, the AFL-CIO endorsed Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick over his Democratic opponent, Scott Wallace. Also, the AFL-CIO endorsed nearly a dozen Republican candidates in down-ballot races in the state. Going into 2020, Democrats need these voters to win key battleground states and districts – but poor labor policies could push them further away.
As someone who has worked on Democratic campaigns and for pro-labor organizations in the past, I can say pretty definitively that we win when we are honest champions of the working class and other marginalized groups. Anything less spells defeat.
Democrats have an opportunity to change the course of the country and build a government that truly is for the people. We shouldn’t squander this opportunity by promoting policies that harm already disadvantaged populations, and take the working class, or any voter, for granted.