Most of us have a friend, family member or acquaintance who is a freelance worker. They enjoy the freedom of working from home offices, using their own equipment and supplies, and take all the risk of their own employment on themselves. They are not beholden to anyone; they work when they want to work, and take days off when they want to. Many of these freelancers can pick their kids up from school, and prioritize parenting over work when they need to, not when their employer says so.
However, with the passage of the PRO Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, business for freelancers and independent contractors would not be business as usual.
The PRO Act if passed will change the working conditions of freelance and independent contractors with respect to employers by revising the National Labor Relations Act. Freelancers would become unionized, enhancing workers’ rights to support boycotts, strikes, and other acts of solidarity.
Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, said passing the bill is significant.
“The Pro Act would ensure a process for reaching a first contract once a union is recognized, impose penalties against employers who retaliate against organizing drives and provide more substantial relief for workers whose rights have been violated,” Cilento said.
In New York, the state assembly is working on a bill to force freelancers to either get hired by employers or fire themselves. The state Senate is working on a proposal, too.
The business community is skeptical. Many believe the PRO Act and similar state legislation like California’s AB5 law would push freelancers into unionized shift work, force them to spend more cash on childcare, give the responsibility of parenting their kids to strangers, and pay more in taxes for the privilege.
Tom Mahoney, Publisher of The Express in Mechanicville, a small weekly, is wary of the PRO Act.
“If they get their way, I will have to pay taxes I don’t pay now,” he said. “This may make me shy away from employing freelancers negatively impacting business.”
“Our business is not big enough and the volume of work is not too high (to afford employees), and for a small town weekly newspaper, we rely on our freelancers, even those who deliver the newspapers to our customers,” Mahoney said.
Todd Shimkus, President of the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce said government’s desire to do good often backfires.
“We know how important the ability for freelancers to maintain their current work style,” Shimkus said. “Many freelancers have expertise earning their money this way.”
Shimkus said Saratoga County has an exceptional quality of life that freelancers appreciate.
“We have a large freelance community. They like their freedom. Freelancing means enjoying this lifestyle because they know they can work anywhere, so they come here,” he said.
Shimkus is wary of the Pro Act having unintended consequences for the county saying he believes future freelance workers will not make the move to come to Saratoga County because they will be tied down to their jobs.
“Oftentimes, the Legislature’s desire to do good often comes with unintended consequences,” he said.
“All you have to do is walk in on a business day to any coffee shop and you can find a good percentage of people are on their computers or meeting people as freelancers,” Shimkus said.
Shimkus said there is no chance the PRO Act will become law; the freelance community will unite against it.