The website homepage for the Coalition for Workforce innovation
CGoal is to influence lawmakers to protect status in labor reform efforts
By Dave Rauf
Congress is currently debating a sweeping labor reform bill that would, in part, make it more difficult for companies to classify workers as independent.
A diverse array of industries and corporations that rely on contract employees have banded together to create a group focused on representing the independent workforce with one united front, as policy makers across the country consider changes to labor laws that directly impact how workers are classified.
Current members of the Workforce Coalition cross over multiple channels and industries
Created last year, the Coalition for Workforce Innovation says its goal is to help modernize federal workforce policy to benefit workers, consumers, businesses and the overall economy.
Evan Armstrong, a founding member of the coalition and vice president on the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) Government Affairs team, says the coalition brings together a diverse group of business interests that is working on a modern approach to independent work.
The coalition plans to engage lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill, along with federal regulators. Efforts may also include some outreach with affiliates monitoring policy at state legislatures.
So far, the group has more than 20 members from industries such as direct selling, retail, insurance, ride sharing, delivery driving, professional moving and temp staffing firms. That includes major trade associations like the Direct Selling Association (DSA), RILA and the American Staffing Association (ASA), along with corporations like Amway, Lyft, Postmates and DHL.
The coalition’s formation comes as lawmakers are considering changes to laws with potentially huge implications for independent work.
Congress is currently debating a sweeping labor reform bill that would, in part, make it more difficult for companies to classify workers as independent. And bills are expected to be filed at state capitols during upcoming legislative sessions following California’s passage last year of Assembly Bill 5, (from which direct sellers were exempt) which imposes new limits on how businesses use some independent contractors. Armstrong says the coalition will serve as a “mechanism to fight back against policies attacking independent work.”
“We do think there’s an existential threat to independent work broadly speaking,” he says. “Everyone agrees the modern marketplace for independent work is not fitting into a traditional 1930s model and a lot of people don’t know where to go with it. We want to be the vessel to educate folks.”
The group consists of industries and corporations that normally compete against each other for contract bodies. Furthermore, the different industries that use contract workers also lobby for an array of different labor laws. But coalition members say differences will be put aside for the greater good.
Brian Bennett, vice president, government affairs and policy for the DSA, says the different factions are coming together to “make sure independent work is protected.” He says CEOs in the direct selling channel admittedly view the onset of ride sharing and other gig economy jobs as a “challenge” when it comes to recruiting, “but there’s no animosity because we’ve stepped up our game to compete for the workers out there.”
Bennett says the DSA is going to represent its interests within the coalition, while understanding that there will be a lot of input from other members to consider. The DSA and Amway both have a seat on the coalition’s executive committee, which is the main decision-making body for the group.
“I don’t think anyone is going to get 100 percent of what they want, but going in with a common goal and common interest will be important,” Bennett says. “Being a part of the conversation, especially here in Washington, is the name of the game.”
Co-founder Armstrong says members will maintain their own lobbyists to advocate outside of the coalition on other issues.
“There’s strength in numbers, and there’s value in coming together, speaking together as one coalition,” Armstrong says. “The independent work issue is so important it supersedes any competition for talent that our members may have. “
The coalition was formally created last year. In that time, members have held several meetings, spoken with several lawmakers, developed a website and sent letters to Congress advocating on behalf of an issue. This year, the group will put in place an action plan that includes developing policy initiatives, among other ideas.
“I would like to see legislation drafted and policy ideas start to transpire in the upcoming year,” says Hollie Heikkinen, a coalition member and CEO and founder of iWorker Innovations, an insurance brokerage and association management company focused on the independent workforce. “Plus, growing our membership base is going to be extremely important.”
Bennett, the DSA’s representative on the coalition, says 2019 was the formation phase, and 2020 is the timeframe for the coalition’s plans to “really start to get very formalized.”
The group has already taken an opposing position on a high-profile labor bill, H.R. 2474, dubbed Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO ACT), which is being championed by Democrats and unions. A House committee passed the bill in September, but two months later it has not yet been brought to the floor for debate.
The sweeping measure would amend the National Labor Relations Act by making it easier for workers to strike for workplace improvements, such as higher wages and better working conditions and create stricter penalties for employers who violate federal labor law.
Of importance for direct sellers and other contract workers, the bill makes it harder for employers to classify workers as independent contractors.
Armstrong says the bill implements a “very harsh test to prove someone is an independent contractor” that does not carve out any specific industries.
The coalition also is monitoring how other states react to California’s passage of Assembly Bill 5, a landmark labor bill that imposes new limits on how businesses can use independent workers. Several states, including New York and New Jersey, are expected to debate similiar bills.
“When California moves on a labor issue, other blue states follow,” says Armstrong. “They want to out progressive each other.”
Coalition member Heikkinen says what’s happening at the state level amounts to “legislators trying to say you can’t work the way you want.”
Direct sellers were exempt from the California legislation, but there’s no guarantee other states crafting similar legislation will do the same. Bennett says lawmakers and regulators around the country are clearly “rethinking the arrangement” of independent work.
“You hear it framed as reimagining or re-evaluating the status quo. That makes it all the more important for the coalition to develop a common understanding of how to empower individuals and make sure their independent work is protected,” he says. “If we come together, we stand, but divided we fall.”
The coalition’s website is www.workforceinnovation.net.
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