Silicon Valley Lobbyists Chip Away Worker Rights

The Texas Workforce Commission has proposed a new rule allowing gig-economy, app-based employers like Lyft, Uber and Handy to classify their workers as “independent contractors,” stripping them of basic labor rights like unemployment insurance, and shifting the payroll tax burden from the company to the gig workers.

While other states’ legislatures have initiated similar laws, the Texas rule is drawing criticism for its shroud of secrecy, having been drafted not by lawmakers, but behind closed doors after Silicon Valley lobbyists emailed similar language to Commission officials months earlier.

Jose Garza, executive director of the Workers Defense Project based in Austin, is calling on the commission to revoke the rule, saying it “sits under a heavy cloud of corruption and suspicion.”

The TWC denies using outside sources to draft proposed rules, but Garza’s group obtained internal emails proving otherwise.

“After successfully pushing to enact similar legislation in several other states,” according to a Texas Observer report, these employers “seem to have opted for a stealth strategy in Texas, one that avoids the spotlight and the costly lobbying that comes with the legislative process.”

That cost, however, has merely been placed squarely on the backs of impacted workers.

Although blacks and Latinos have been dominant in the gig-economy workforce up until now, more American workers are falling into the gig fold. The increase in foreign worker programs, outsourcing and corporate greed have pushed middle-class workers onto a changing and shaky landscape. This is especially true in the tech industry, where many companies are increasing the use of “freelance” workers in order to avoid giving any benefits in exchange for the work extracted.

These employers want it both ways: They want to act like employers when it comes to directing their workers and having dominion over their work, but don’t want to be held accountable for the reciprocal responsibilities of an employer.