Brishen Rogers

  • May 30, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece is part of the ACSblog Symposium: 2017 ACS National Convention. The symposium will consider topics featured at the three day convention, scheduled for June 8-10, 2017. Learn more about the Convention here

    by Brishen Rogers, Associate Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law and Visiting Professor, Spring 2017, Washington University in St. Louis and European University Institute, Florence Italy

    The rise of platform economy firms such as Uber, Lyft and TaskRabbit have drawn public attention to the fact that more and more workers today are financially insecure, lack even basic statutory employment rights and have little or no job security. While this public attention is welcome, these issues are not new.  They are rooted in the long-running shift of power in the economy away from workers and unions and toward large corporations and financial firms. 

    Take the fissuring of employment. This has resulted from a set of conscious choices to reorganize firms or production strategies so as to economize on labor costs. And the incentives to take such steps have increased dramatically in recent years. An individual commercial building owner with only a bank mortgage to service may be perfectly happy to collect marginally lower profits in exchange for a harmonious relationship with her janitors and security guards. A real estate investment trust with dozens or hundreds of buildings and external shareholders has different priorities, and may seek to keep wages down or — failing that — to outsource and de-unionize the workforce. 

    Many low-wage sectors have such dynamics today, particularly where firms have few options to enhance labor productivity. This is the case in logistics (where FedEx drivers and warehouse workers in Walmart’s supply chain are often independent contractors or temps); in fast food (where workers are often employed by McDonalds and Burger King franchisees rather than parent companies); in hospitality (where individual Marriotts and Hiltons are independently operated, sometimes with subcontracted services); and of course in the platform economy, where Uber drivers and Handy workers are misclassified as independent contractors. 

  • October 26, 2016
    Guest Post

    *Read more on this topic in the ACS Issue Brief: Redefining Employment for the Modern Economy

    by Brishen Rogers, Associate Professor of Law at Temple University Beasley School of Law

    The explosive growth of Uber and other on-demand labor platforms has brought public attention to a longstanding issue facing workers in this country: the fissuring of employment. Fissuring comes in many forms, including misclassification of employees as independent contractors, subcontracting and franchising arrangements.

    Such strategies can deprive workers of their rights under our employment laws, most of which define employment per the common law “right to control test.” That definition is narrow, failing to reflect the economic realities of modern work relationships. It is also notoriously difficult to apply in practice, which increases litigation costs and disempowers low-wage workers.

    This is not a small problem. Wage and Hour Administrator David Weil estimates that there are “over 29 million workers in just five industries affected …  including in the construction, hospitality, janitorial, personal care and home health care industries.”

    Unfortunately, some prominent reform proposals—such as to create a new legal category of worker that would slot between “employee” and “independent contractor,” with limited employment rights—would move us backwards rather than forwards. Ethically speaking, workers in fissured relationships are no less deserving of basic protections than standard employees. Creating a third category of worker would also make employment status litigation even more complicated and more expensive.

    In a new issue brief for ACS, I propose an omnibus employment status bill to address such challenges. The central reform would redefine employment under the core federal labor/employment statutes per the broad “suffer or permit” test from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. In misclassification cases under that test, courts’ and agencies’ task is not to determine whether the putative employer enjoys a right to control the performance of the work, but rather “to determine whether the worker is economically dependent on the employer (and thus its employee) or is really in business for him or herself (and thus its independent contractor).”