New Laws for the Fissured Workplace

By David Weil 
Op-Ed piece for The American Prospect,
part of their symposium on “The Future of Labor
April 29, 2020


The pandemic has compelled the government to extend temporary protections to some independent contractors and gig workers, but they need full and permanent coverage.

Late last month, Instacart workers went on strike to protest the company’s refusal to provide them with rudimentary personal protective equipment, such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. The CDC has made it clear that these basic items are necessary protections for frontline workers and their customers. Instacart workers—along with thousands of other so-called independent contractors who work for platform companies like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Amazon Flex—are not protected by federal workplace health and safety laws or many other foundational labor standards.

Around the same time, Dr. Ming Lin, an emergency room physician in the coronavirus hot spot of Bellingham, Washington, was fired after advocating for more medical supplies for his fellow health care workers at the facility where he had worked for 17 years. That removal order came not from PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, the hospital where he worked, but from a staffing agency called TEAMHealth, which was actually his direct employer. PeaceHealth refused comment on his dismissal because he was not their direct employee.

From gig workers to medical doctors, a minimum of 25 million workers in the U.S. face barriers to standard workplace protections like unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and such basic protections as minimum wage and overtime. That’s because they either are classified—sometimes falsely—as independent contractors or, like Dr. Lin, work at arm’s length from the organization where they do their job, as they are formally employed by staffing agencies, third-party managers, or subcontractors.

Read entire piece.

David Weil is Dean and Professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management. He served as US Wage and Hour Administrator at the Department of Labor during the last three years of the Obama administration. He is a leading international expert on workplace and labor market policy and was the Peter and Deborah Wexler Professor of Management at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business before coming to Brandeis. The materials on this site arise from analysis contained in The Fissured Workplace and a growing body of research regarding the fundamental restructuring of employment and its impacts on workers and businesses. It also discusses approaches to dealing with the fissured workplace developed during the Obama administration as well as new ideas and efforts being discussed and undertaken today. 


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