Commentary

Maine’s congressional delegation should listen to independent workers and reject the PRO Act

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With Maine’s economy still recovering from the pandemic, it’s important that our lawmakers take actions that put more people back to work. Yet if Congress passes a bill called the PRO Act, many workers across our state would see their income slashed and their work opportunities dry up. Despite this, all of Maine’s congressional delegation – with the exception of Sen. Susan Collins – has committed to backing this bill. Here’s why they should reconsider.

The PRO Act is meant to give the working class a better shake, but in reality, it completely misinterprets what working folks actually need. One of the bill’s main components, the “ABC test,” would impose a strict definition of what an independent contractor is – so strict, in fact, that most independent contractors would either be forced to become full-fledged employees (taking away their independence), or head to the unemployment line.

Supporters of the PRO Act seem to think that everybody prefers to be an employee with a single company, but this simply is not the case. For many independent contractors, having the ability to create your own schedule each day, take off when you want and be your own boss is preferable to strict schedules, timesheets and micromanagement.

I’m one of those workers. For about five and a half years, I’ve been driving for Uber in the Portland area. I can work as long I want, and I can take off with no questions asked. Since I’m a retiree drawing Social Security, working independently is a perfect way to make some extra income. 

The impact of my work goes deeper than finances, though. I spent decades as a paramedic helping people who needed it most. As an Uber driver, I still get to help people – whether it’s taking someone to the hospital to visit a loved one, taking them to a big job interview or just giving them a moment of quiet during a busy day.

If Congress passed the PRO Act, all of that would be gone for me. Because of my own health problems, I can’t always adhere to a strict schedule. If the PRO Act passed and I were forced to become an employee, I would have to give up driving for Uber entirely.

In addition to app-based workers, the PRO Act would threaten jobs in many industries critical to Maine’s economy: trucking, logging, fishing, construction. To massively disrupt such large swaths of the workforce is a bad idea – especially at a time when our economy is just sputtering back to life.

Across the country, independent workers are making it clear that they want to keep their flexibility. According to a recent poll from Colorado, 71% of app-based workers there preferred to remain independent contractors. Last November, an overwhelming majority of California voters passed Prop 22, a bill that exempted app-based workers from an ABC test identical to the one included in the PRO Act.

As Congress considers whether to pass the PRO Act, I hope they’ll consider what it would do to independent workers. Here in Maine, I’m glad that Sen. Susan Collins is standing behind workers like me. It could mean the difference between a paycheck and pink slip for a lot of Mainers.

About Bruce Washburn

Bruce Washburn is a retired paramedic who drives part-time with Uber in the Portland, Maine area.

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