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Biden Labor Secretary Marty Walsh charged into the white hot issue of the gig economy Thursday, asserting that many people working without benefits in the gig economy should be classified as employees instead.
In an interview with Reuters, Walsh said that the Department of Labor is “looking at” the gig economy, hinting that worker reclassification could be a priority in the Biden administration.
“… In a lot of cases gig workers should be classified as employees,” Walsh said. “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.”
Walsh also said that the labor department would be talking to companies that benefit from gig workers to ensure that non-employees at those companies have the same benefits that an “average employee” in the U.S. would have.
“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,” Walsh said.
Walsh’s comments aren’t backed by federal action, yet anyway, but they still made major waves among tech companies that leverage non-employee labor. Uber and Lyft stock dipped on the news Thursday, along with Doordash.
In the interview, Walsh also touched on pandemic-related concerns about gig workers who lack unemployment insurance and health care through their employers. The federal government has picked up the slack during the pandemic with two major bills granting gig workers some benefits, but otherwise they’re largely without a safety net.
Reforming labor laws has been a tenet of Biden’s platform for some time and the president has been very vocal about bolstering worker protections and supporting organized labor. One section of then President-elect Biden’s transition site was devoted to expanding worker protections, calling the misclassification of employees as contract workers an “epidemic.”
Biden echoed his previous support for labor unions during a joint address to Congress Wednesday night, touting the Protecting the Right to Organize Act — legislation that would protect workers looking to form or join unions. That bill would also expand federal whistleblower protections.
“The middle class built this country,” Biden said. “And unions build the middle class.”