Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New bill would stand up for workers against misclassification

The issue of misclassification, in which workers are treated as independent contractors by their employers even though they have no independence when it comes to their work, is gaining more attention.

For years, the Teamsters have stood with port truck drivers in Southern California, Georgia and elsewhere who have been repeatedly shortchanged on wages, fair labor standards, health and safety protections and unemployment and workers' compensation benefits. But now policymakers are beginning to take notice as well.

First, the Department of Labor earlier this month issued an interpretation calling misclassification one of the most serious problems confronting workers on the job. And this afternoon, several members of Congress rolled out legislation that would prohibit the practice as a way for companies to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), a chief sponsor of the bill in the House, said it is in the best interest of workers and businesses to address this issue:
Misclassification cheats hard-working Americans out of federally guaranteed labor rights and benefits, such as overtime pay, minimum wage, and family and medical leave. Misclassification cheats law-abiding businesses out of a level playing field. Misclassification cheats the American economy out of billions of dollars in tax revenues, putting a strain on already stressed programs like Medicare and Social Security.
The measure, "The Payroll Fraud Prevention Act," requires all workers to be accurately classified as employees or non-employees, and mandates that workers be given a written notice of their classification. It also creates a presumption that when a employer fails to address the issue, the worker is considered an employee.

In addition, the bill would make it a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act to "discharge or discriminate" against a worker for questioning their classification. Employers could face fines of up to $5,000 for each willful violation.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), a sponsor of companion legislation in the Senate, said lawmakers need to stand up to these corporate lawbreakers:
We owe workers a fair shot at good jobs where they can receive basic workplace protections. Too many workers are classified as independent contractors when it's clear that they are employees. This legislation is a common-sense fix that will ensure workers in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation are treated fairly.
It's time for the majority of Congress to represent the interests of workers as vigorously as they do for big business.