Warren: Let on-demand workers organize

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPoll: Clinton up 9 on Trump in NH The Trail 2016: Comeback in the works? The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Mass.) says on-demand economy workers at companies like Uber and Lyft should be allowed to organize and negotiate as a group with their employers.

“Every worker should have the right to organize — period,” said Warren on Thursday at a conference held by the New America Foundation.

“Full-time, part-time, temp workers, gig workers, contract workers, you bet, those who provide the labor should have the right to bargain as a group with whoever controls the terms of their work, and they should be protected from retaliation or discrimination for doing so,” she added.

Her comments on the hotly debated topic in tech circles came as part of a speech that discussed the on-demand economy in a push for broader workplace reforms.

Uber recently agreed to recognize associations for drivers to bring their concerns to management as part of a legal settlement. But so far, the ride-hailing companies have opposed more formal unionization efforts. Both Uber and Lyft opposed a successful effort to make it possible for drivers in Seattle to unionize.

The front-line workers at Uber and Lyft, and some similar companies, are independent contractors, rather than employees with benefits and protections.

Warren used her speech to suggest ways policymakers could bolster workers in the on-demand economy and elsewhere.

"We can start by strengthening our safety net so it catches anyone who has fallen on hard times, whether they have a formal employer or not,” she said.

Warren said everyone should pay into Social Security, have access to catastrophic insurance and be able to take some paid leave.

She also said laws should be streamlined and instances of workers being misclassified as something other than employees should be reduced.

"The many employers who treat their employees well shouldn’t have to compete against the ones who don’t,” she said. “That’s not a level playing field; that’s a broken system.”

Warren’s Thursday comments are her most significant so far on the on-demand economy, which is under new scrutiny in Washington following the rapid expansion of services like Uber and Airbnb.

The primary advocate in Congress for reform has been Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerMaybe you should 'throw your vote away' on a third party or write-in The most important question in 2017: how do we get to yes? Dem asks FCC to review internet security rules after massive cyberattack MORE (D-Va.), who has said that policymakers should give companies the legal room to experiment with benefits.

Warren in her speech walked a fine line, like other Democrats such as presidential front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonHouse Republican group raised more than M in October Chaffetz says he'll vote for Trump Trump blasts Clinton for criticizing hotel opening MORE, between supporting workers rights and backing Silicon Valley.

“The gig economy didn’t invent any of these problems,” she said. “In fact, the gig economy has become a stopgap for some workers who can’t make ends meet in a weak labor market.

“The much-touted virtues of flexibility, independence, and creativity offered by gig work might be true for some workers under some conditions, but for many, the gig economy is simply the next step in a losing effort to build some economic security in a world where all the benefits and wealth are floating to the top 10 percent.”