WASHINGTON (CN) — A bill aimed at preventing the exploitation of independent contractors, ensuring that workers are recognized as federally protected employees, sparked passions Thursday before a House subcommittee.
“My truck says XPO on it. I wear an XPO vest every day. It’s clear who the boss is here — it’s XPO,” said Josue Israel Alvarez, a truck driver who traveled more than 2,600 miles from California to testify Thursday, donning his work-issued reflective safety vest over a white dress shirt.
Alvarez told the House Committee on Education and Labor that his status as a contracted employee with XPO Logistics forces him to work without health insurance, overtime wages, sick time or vacation days.
When Alvarez tried to secure better conditions, XPO management turned him away. He said the company sets his wages and hours, requiring him to work 14-hour days and paying him per shipment.
Committee Democrats say it is for workers like Alvarez who have been misclassified as contract workers that the House must pass the PRO Act, short for Protecting the Right to Organize.
Sporting her own flashy togs — a bright pink Stetson-style hat and heavy gold hoop earrings — Subcommittee Chairwoman Frederica Wilson blamed the worker abuses on the conservative appointees installed by the president at the National Labor Relations Board.
Under the Trump administration, Wilson argued, the board continuously ignores a 2015 federal court ruling in Browning-Ferris v. NLRB that requires suppliers and user employers to bargain collectively with employees on the terms and conditions of employment.
Richard Griffin, who served on NLRB under President Obama, said the the board is instead leaving workers in the dark about their rights by relying on a 10-part test to identify misclassified employees.
“It has a chilling effect on people’s ability to speak to each other,” Griffin said. “They think that they don’t have any rights. They are misinformed, misclassified.”
The PRO Act would instead rely on a three-part test, but Republicans warned that small business owners would feel the pitfalls of the bill.
Touting the party line that the bill would stifle entrepreneurship, Ranking Republican Tim Walberg of Michigan said workers are thriving in a skyrocketing economy and have become disenchanted with union representation.
“[The bill] is a sweeping labor union wish list designed to appeal to liberal Democrat primary voters rather than American workers,” Walberg said.
Pushing back against such claims Representative Susan Wild asked Alvarez if he can drive shipments for companies besides XPO Logistics.
Alvarez said he would be fired for doing so, adding that even his appearance today before the committee will cost him a day’s wages.
“Wouldn’t you agree with me that an entrepreneur should have the opportunity to compete in every possible way,” asked Wild, a Pennsylvania Democrat.
“Is there anybody here who disagrees that companies have an economic incentive to classify individuals as independent contractors rather than employees?” she asked.
Testifying in opposition of the bill, labor-relations lawyer Roger King said labor unions are committing fewer resources to organizing and instead asking Congress to “radically” change the definition of employee.
“Before they come to this body and ask for a lifeline, they should do their own work, they are simply not doing that,” King said.
King criticized the bill not allowing workers to opt out of sharing their information with union, and mandating that workers elect a union with two weeks.
“Workers in this country are bright; they’ll figure out for themselves,” King said. “But let’s have an intelligent period for thoughtful discussion before we have this important vote.”