Labor secretary backs employee status for some gig workers

Marty Walsh
Washington Examiner/Pool

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh weighed in on the debate over classification of gig workers for the first time Thursday, saying that “in a lot of cases” they should be full employees rather than independent contractors.

“We are looking at it but in a lot of cases gig workers should be classified as employees,” Walsh said in an interview with Reuters.

Walsh said that “in some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not and I think it has to be consistent across the board.”

“These companies are making profits and revenue and I’m not [going to] begrudge anyone for that because that’s what we are about in America… but we also want to make sure that success trickles down to the worker,” he continued.

A spokesperson for the Labor Department confirmed his comments and elaborated by saying: “The Secretary was reiterating that misclassification is a pervasive issue that impacts both the economy and workers. Worker protections under federal law create a safety net of security and benefits that provide ladders of opportunity into the middle class. This safety net should be further strengthened.”

Walsh’s support for employee classification could have major implications for companies that currently depend on gig workers for their business, like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash.

An effort to reclassify those drivers as employees  giving them guaranteed access to a minimum wage, health benefits and organizing rights  in California was overturned by a ballot measure this fall that gig companies poured over $200 million into.

The gig economy companies have already started lobbying against similar efforts in other states.

They have also united against the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a bill currently stuck in the Senate that would make it far easier for gig workers and other independent contractors to unionize and bargain collectively by expanding the definition of “employee” in the National Labor Relations Act.

Walsh’s Labor Department could issue new rulings that change how employers have to treat their workers without depending on Congress as well.

The former Boston mayor told Reuters that his agency will have discussions with gig economy companies to ensure their workers have access to “all of the things that an average employee in America can access.”

Updated at 3:15 p.m.

Tags Department of Labor DoorDash gig workers Lyft Marty Walsh Reuters Uber

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