From Crain’s Chicago Business
By Larry Ivory, President and CEO at Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce; Jaime di Paolo, CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
As we take stock of all the change brought about by the global pandemic, there are some we hope never to see again and others that should be here to stay.
The increase in ways to earn and make ends meet when times get hard is one of those we need to maintain. The prevalence of the “gig economy” has been an economic lifeline for thousands of Illinois residents. When large employers cut jobs, or people realized they needed more flexibility to keep up with children doing school from home, they turned to the gig economy. Instead of being forced to adhere to a rigid 9-to-5 job, this new model allows people to earn income on their own time, set their own hours and be their own boss.
It’s a model that fits these challenging economic times well. It gives students a chance to pursue a college degree with extra income they can make on the side. It gives retirees the freedom to add some much-needed cushion to their Social Security checks. These types of jobs can help bridge income when between jobs, or they can help people earn extra money when times get tight or there’s a specific financial goal. That’s the beauty—they’re flexible.
Essentially, independent app-based work has increased something that’s cherished in the United States: freedom.
This has been a particularly important source of income for people in underserved communities in Chicago—those who have been disproportionately impacted by skyrocketing unemployment.
But despite this, Congress is considering a move that could eliminate this source of income for thousands of Illinois drivers and deny them the flexibility on which they depend.
In many cases, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act—or PRO Act—would force independent workers for Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and the like to be recategorized as employees, limiting the accommodating schedules that make these jobs so valuable in the first place. It would also take away flexible work options and limit workers’ ability to earn extra income.
If you talk to drivers, they’ll tell you this isn’t what they want. Almost 90 percent of Illinois app-based workers work less than 15 hours per week. Nearly three-quarters of drivers nationally want to remain independent, according to an independent poll from the blog Rideshare Guy. In another survey, 82 percent of respondents said that they would rather be considered an independent contractor than an employee, and 90 percent said their employment classification is a “good arrangement” for them.
Instead of trying to force old rules on a new economy, Congress should create rules for this new economy that protect the independence and flexibility on which drivers depend, while providing access to benefits and protections all workers deserve.
Illinois lawmakers have wisely protected access to jobs and flexibility that gig workers in badly need. Congress should follow suit.