By Sahid Fawaz
With more and more Americans working for contractors, the issue of joint-employer liability has become more relevant than ever. Yes, Republicans in the House of Representatives are trying to turn back the clock for workers.
“House Republicans on Tuesday took another step in their campaign to cheat workers out of fair pay and workplace rights. On a vote largely along party lines, the House advanced a bill to roll back longstanding “joint employer” protections for workers contracted by big companies like Apple or Alaska Airlines.
For years, when two companies both control the terms and conditions of employment, they are also both considered responsible for workplace violations like wage theft, sexual harassment or safety problems. So if a window washer working for a contractor fell because safety equipment was improperly installed by the company whose building he was cleaning, he could sue both the contractor and the larger company for damages.
But under the bill passed on Tuesday, large corporations that outsource jobs would get virtually full immunity from workplace violations, while the typically smaller, poorly capitalized local businesses that provide the workers would bear all the liability. This could leave these small businesses exposed to bankruptcy, leaving workers in danger of having no remedies at all.
Contracting out work is not necessarily bad; it’s often a smart way for companies to efficiently handle certain tasks, like payroll administration and cleaning work.
But the problem is that many companies also contract out to lower compensation costs and, sometimes, to avoid basic legal responsibilities to workers. Even when such cost-cutting is not the top reason a company outsources, workers usually suffer.
Several studies have shown that contracting out, along with misclassification of workers as independent contractors (think Uber and Fed Ex drivers), contributes to rising income inequality and stagnant wages, along with declining benefits and job insecurity.
On average, contracted workers’ pay lags that of their direct employee peers. It’s a 7 percent dip for janitors, 30 percent for port truckers, and 40 percent for farm workers. Minimum-wage violations and wage theft are rampant as well. In addition, working as a contract employee can mean leaner (if any) benefits like paid vacation and sick leave, and sparse retirement packages.
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Contracted workers are also by definition more isolated than non-contracted workers. That separation from other employees limits social connections that would help them advance at work, and it also makes it harder for workers to join together to improve their conditions, whether in a union or otherwise.”
For the rest of this piece, check out the New York Times here.