The gig economy has come under increasing scrutiny by both liberals and conservatives, and rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft are no exception. The policy patterns and battles over ridesharing will inevitably be felt in other sectors of the economy.
As the gig economy becomes more widespread, conservatives will have to be ready to adapt to the trends of 21st century to achieve conservative goals, and look into at a variety of tools to make the market work for American families. One of these oft-ignored tools is organized labor and unionization. When it comes to ridesharing, unions make be the answer to maximize market outcomes and bring Big Tech to heel. This will not only be good for workers but for conservatives.
Recently several states and cities have all taken aim at rideshare giants like Uber and Lyft. In March, the National Labor Relations Board decided that rideshare drivers are not employees, but rather are independent contractors. Cities and states, like New York, Seattle and California, are looking at a variety of options from sector-specific minimum wage and driver caps to unionization as a means of addressing chronically poor pay and working conditions due to the sector’s innate instability. California recently defined rideshare drivers as employees.
While some drivers are pushing for union organization, unions have also allegedly been meeting with Uber and Lyft in their efforts to exempt their workers from being defined as employees.
Some argue that blanket unionization could negatively affect rideshare drivers who use the app solely for part-time cash. Others argue that unionization could decrease labor flexibility. Since many of these laws, like California’s AB-5, defining independent contractors as full-time employees, have yet to take effect, time will tell as to the full outcome. Given how past work stoppages and protests resulted in immediate promises of raises, the idea that increased regulation and organization really will negatively affect the market as warned remains unproven. In Europe last year, Uber promised thousands of drivers healthcare coverage, which has yet to result in a collapse in the company’s European profits.
Moreover, blanket unionization doesn’t have to be the answer. Across the country, cities are creating structures for local drivers to organize and negotiate with Uber and Lyft themselves. Local solutions and negotiations can provide the civic laboratory to make sure both labor and management can walk away happy.
Some conservatives see this dispute and immediately side with Uber and Lyft. One case in point was a tweet from Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), proudly labeling the GOP as the “party of Uber.” Libertarian leaning conservatives see disputes like this and see an intrusive state impeding the freedom of a voluntarily organization corporation. They see unions as merely tools of the left. They ask, Why help unions which simply jam up the free market and help out Democrats? However, this picture is neither accurate (40% of union members vote Republican) nor all that conservative.
First, the market dispute between unions and management is hardly one of statists against plucky free marketeers. The decision of who can and cannot organize in the market is not a market decision but rather the state’s. The market didn’t rule that Uber drivers can’t collectively organize, the federal government did. The market didn’t rule that corporate entities can organize as market actors, our corporate legal code does. In many cases, unionization allows working individuals to choose to access the market as an entity in the same spirit that the law recognizes incorporation. If Uber drivers wish to use private organization to pressure Uber management to change practices and pay, who is the state to restrict them?
Second, unions do not have to play a negative role in a conservative understanding of the common good but instead can be constructive market forces. Not only have private sector unions historically been critical in creating favorable pay and working conditions, but sustained a sense of identity, stability and dignity usually lacking in today’s outsourced and faceless corporate environment.
Unions can play a critical and conservative role in creating in the economy of the 21st century. James Poulos, author of The Art of Being Free, put it best when he noted, “Unions exist because, without them, the path is opened wide to crony collaboration between big government and big business. That’s the fundamental insight behind a conservative case for unions. Without the balancing effect of organized labor, corporations can easily threaten political liberty by creating an economic system in which millions of citizens are effectively locked into servile, dependent labor relations.”
Third, conservatives need to recognize the economic realities on the ground. The majority of Americans report a lack of satisfaction in their job. The Republican Party can decide if it wants to be the “Party of Uber,” an economy of holding down several part-time gigs and “flexibility,” or the party where, as Oren Cass put it, “workers can support strong families and communities.”
Lastly, we need to realize that Big Tech and the gig economy are not our friends and not uniquely positive trends to be embraced. Voices on the right and left are recognizing the potentially distorting role Big Tech can play in the market. It’s not much use to rightly raise the alarm about Big Brother only to succumb to other, equally powerful and unfriendly corporations.
What labor policy can and should look like in the gig economy will continue to develop in the upcoming years. It is apparent that the truly conservative policy is not to back management over labor and Big Tech over workers, but to develop new ways forward. Empowering individual Americans in the market by allowing them to voluntarily organize will be a necessary tool to renewing the American Dream.
Joseph S. Laughon is a political thought graduate of Concordia University, Irvine and a specialist in the logistics industry. He lives in Los Angeles, where he writes on culture, religion, politics and national security. His writing can be found at the Kirk Center, Human Events and Musings On the Right, among other places.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation or Conservative Daily News.
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