We are familiar with the ongoing court battle driven (pun intended) by Uber’s classification of the majority of its workforce as independent contractors.
Uber, and the ridesharing industry in general, isn’t the only workplace where the rights of freelancers are a hot topic.
Hollywood, for example, faces a similar scope of labor challenges related to protecting workers from exploitation of their employers.
Hollywood freelancers, however, benefit from a history of unionization efforts that afford them the ability to organize as a group when feelings of exploitation reach a tipping point.
Currently, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is taking action against talent agents regarding conflicts of interest in packaging and producing scripts written by the writers.
Uber drivers, unfortunately, are not afforded the same rights.
Based on the court ruling in the 9th circuit appeals court back in September, thousands of drivers are essentially barred from suing as a group for better pay and benefits. This is because Independent contractors who communicate with one another and attempt to form a union often run afoul of antitrust laws that are meant to regulate price-fixing.
However, some municipalities have already gone ahead with granting independent contractors the right to unionize despite the Taft-Hardly Act’s (another legacy labor law) explicit exclusion of independent contractors. The Seattle City Council passed a bill in December 2015 allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to form a union (a bill certain to face legal action, however).
These issues date back to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), passed as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1933, where the definition of employees versus independent contractors was not explicit, and left to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an independent governmental agency tasked with investigating unfair labor practices, to decide.
Today, 86 years later, we’re still trying to clarify the same definitions, this time in a new era of workplace quandry triggered by the gig economy.
What does the future of employment look like for freelancers, especially with such inconsistency across industries in this gig economy? Only time – and court rulings – will tell.