Freelance Workers are Workers: Why freelance creatives should champion the PRO Act

Southwest Louisiana DSA co-chair and long-time freelance editor and writer Megan R. spoke on the DSA PRO Act campaign launch call to correct the record on the impact of the act on her industry and to talk about the necessity of solidarity from and solidarity with freelancers in the fight for workers’ rights.

Megan R. Speaking on the National DSA PRO Act Campaign launch call. Video Credit: @banditelli

Hi everyone! Thank you so much for having me.

My name is Megan Romer, I’m a co-chair of Southwest Louisiana DSA and I’ve been either a freelancer or what we call a “permalancer” for well over a decade.

I’m here today as a representative from DSA’s Freelancers for the PRO Act group to dispel some myths about the PRO Act and talk about how it will affect freelancers like me.

I don’t want to be accusatory and say that there are a lot of bad-faith arguments floating around, but I think there are some bad faith arguments floating around. I think there are also just a lot of people who are worried. We’re socialists, right? We get that people get very concerned when their material conditions are under threat. And folks are worried, because it’s really scary to have your material conditions under threat right now, in 2021. Emotions are running high and misinformation is flying around.

So the biggest piece of misinformation that is flying around is concerning something called the ABC test. This is a basic test that is used to determine whether or not someone is or should be considered an employee, versus whether they are classified as an independent contractor.

As Blanca explained earlier, misclassification of employees is a MASSIVE problem in a number of industries. We’re talking MILLIONS of misclassified workers in construction, hotels, food service, trucking, meat processing, and so on who cannot get the benefits of employment because their employers would just rather… not.

Now, the ABC test was part of a California Bill called AB-5, which did change things for a lot of freelancers in the state of California, mostly because companies who use freelancers wanted to avoid hiring people as employees, right? They could just hire freelancers from any other state instead. (This is why it’s so important that things like this be done on a national level!) This did hurt some folks. It also helped a lot more folks move into more stable employment. However, that test applied more broadly to all categories of employment: minimum wage, overtime, benefits, etc.

The PRO Act does use the same ABC test to determine employee status, but it ONLY applies to a worker’s recognition as an employee under the NLRA. That’s it. So all that means is that, for example, if a website had some staff writers and some freelance writers, the freelancers might, under the right conditions, be able to unionize alongside the staff.

This is great. Every worker deserves a union and freelance workers are workers. And we are workers with very few protections. A lot of folks online will tell you that they love freelancing and being their own boss, but I guarantee you that for every freelancer who’s gloating online about their small business owner status, there are countless others who struggle to afford healthcare or who get into freelancing because of the costs of childcare or who only do gig work because there’s no other work to be had, especially as we’ve seen what’s been happening to newsrooms (especially un-unionized ones), and a lot of people freelance part-time because their regular job doesn’t pay well enough. You also see this work being disproportionately done by women, especially women with kids who need that flexibility or who can’t afford childcare, and people with disabilities, who have a hard time finding truly accessible office settings to work in.

None of that is an indictment of the PRO Act, it’s an indictment of the whole exploitative, violent, rotten system of capitalism that doesn’t provide healthcare, childcare, accessibility for people with disabilities, a living wage, sick leave, maternity leave, and so on. But you know how we change that? Solidarity. A mass movement. Militant unions. Coming together as the working class and demanding it.

Every worker deserves a union and freelance workers are workers…for every freelancer who’s gloating online about their small business owner status, there are countless others who struggle…you know how we change that? Solidarity.

And I honestly hate to center myself and people who are in the same field because we really are a very small portion of misclassified workers overall, but we do have disproportionate influence and we’re taking up a lot of air in the room with false info. But even for those of us who have built stable careers, it is absolutely incumbent upon us as workers in the struggle to recognize that we need to be in solidarity with all the people who DON’T have that stability. Because we are the thousands and they are the millions. This won’t affect us substantially, unless we want to unionize (which we should), but it absolutely will affect them.

And as for me personally, I’m organizing in Southwest Louisiana, right in the heart of the oil industry and on the front lines of the disasters that it’s caused. I spend my time trying to convince oilfield workers that, yes, the Green New Deal will take care of you, because we’re going to stand in solidarity as fellow workers and make sure you’re offered a horizontal transition into a similar job, a just transition, and that your future as someone who works to provide for their family is safe. I can’t say that in good faith if I can’t trust that my fellow workers are willing to lay it on the line for me, or if I’m not willing to be in solidarity myself.

Solidarity, pass it on!