Connecticut Shelves Gig Bargaining Bill Amid Union Divisions

Connecticut lawmakers are shelving a bill that aimed to establish a novel system of collective bargaining rights for gig workers. The proposal had union support but provoked pushback from some in organized labor.

The state legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee abandoned its plans to vote this week on the bill, which would have established  the country’s first “sectoral bargaining” system for gig workers. The proposal aimed to set up negotiations between representatives of gig workers and multiple companies over industrywide recommended rules, without making the workers employees. The bill was spearheaded by the Independent Drivers Guild, an affiliate of the International Association of Machinists which receives funding from Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc., and it had been endorsed by the Connecticut AFL-CIO.

Connecticut State Representative David Michel said on Friday that he was told the national AFL-CIO had issues with the plan. Michel, who sponsored the bill, said that the national union federation had raised concerns about how his legislation could impact its efforts to protect workers across the country. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash Inc. have also all testified against the Connecticut bill, voicing complaints including that the proposed legislation did not specify that the workers it covers were contractors. Bloomberg first reported on the proposal last week.

The AFL-CIO is currently campaigning to pass the PRO Act, a sweeping overhaul of federal labor law backed by U.S. President Joe Biden that would deem many more gig workers to be employees with the right to organize and unionize. At the same time, some labor groups including the New York State AFL-CIO and the Independent Drivers Guild have been engaged in discussions with gig companies about potential compromises at the state level that would create forms of bargaining for their workers without making them employees.

Asked Friday about its role in the Connecticut debate, the national AFL-CIO said only that passing the PRO Act would give workers wrongly misclassified as contractors the rights they deserve. "This is a critical objective of the labor movement," Damon Silvers, a senior advisor to the AFL-CIO's president, said in an emailed statement. A spokesperson for the Connecticut chapter of the AFL-CIO did not respond to inquiries.

On a Cornell University video panel Friday, the national union federation’s associate general counsel, Matt Ginsburg, acknowledged that proposals like the one in Connecticut “have been highly controversial.” Such proposals would “de facto be creating a third category of worker,” regulated differently from either employees or independent contractors, he said.

Such arrangements “might be a worthy trade-off,” Ginsburg said, but legal challenges under federal antitrust and labor laws could prevent the form of bargaining they offer from actually being established for years, and in the meantime their existence could affect how federal lawmakers and enforcement agencies deal with the companies.

“I don’t think it would be realistic,” he said, to expect that passage of such laws in big states “wouldn’t have a significant impact on decisions made at the federal level by the current administration.”

Moira Muntz, a spokesperson for the Independent Drivers Guild—which currently represents Uber and Lyft drivers in deactivation hearings and has pushed for policies like New York’s minimum pay rule for ride-hail drivers—said the group was excited to have begun the conversation in Connecticut. “We need more time to hash out the details,” she said.

Connecticut State Senator Julie Kushner, co-chair of the legislature’s labor committee, said the body plans to return to the issue next year. “There were numerous voices that expressed concern that we had to make sure that when we do this we get it right,” she said.

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