On S-4202 and Workers

An Editorial by Heather Warburton

This week the Senate Labor Committee moved forward the controversial bill S-4202. Penned by Senate President Steve Sweeney, supporters claim the bill seeks to protect workers while workers say this will put them out of a job. 

In a way, they are both kind of right.

Steve Sweeney has proven time and time again he doesn’t care about workers. If he did, he wouldn’t have sat on the $15/hr minimum wage bill for years and then riddled it with carve outs and phase ins. He wouldn’t be pushing his “Path To Progress” which really is just a path to poverty for state workers since it raids their pensions and healthcare. He would stand with educators instead of against them. So when Steve Sweeney is talking about protecting workers, you can probably safely assume he is about to screw them over.

But…And this is a big one. 

He isn’t wrong about independent contractors and the gig economy being some of the worst forms of corporate exploitation. Corporations make billions in stealing the value created by their employees, but in the case of gig workers they cant even be bothered to hire the workers they exploit. Of course, corporations should be regulated to prevent this kind of exploitation. Without strong worker protections in place, corporations would return us to the days of children in coal mines. There is no such thing as a benevolent corporation. The wealthy control all the power in this country.

The problem is this  bill reeks of the same form of neoliberalism that has led us to record high income inequality. You can’t solve corporate exploitation on the backs of workers. You must address the structural issues of disaster capitalism. Neoliberalism will try to stick a bandaid on a broken leg, but never seek to address the break. At best, it does nothing and at worst causes real damage. 

This bill is going to hurt those working in the gig economy, and there is nothing in there to remedy the damage being done to them. Of course they are angry. The working class is drowning in America and this bill isn’t a life jacket; its an anchor.  So instead of pushing a bill that shoves them further underwater, let’s talk about how we can increase real worker power and fix the inequality. There were plenty of workers in Trenton opposing the bill this week. Maybe instead of lying to them about how much he cares about them, Sweeney should have just been quiet and listened to them about what the need.

The solutions to inequality will come from people power. You don’t have to tell workers the gig economy sucks, they already know it. They have a side hustle for their side hustle. They know they can’t pay the rent working 3 jobs. If they are telling you they need help, Help Them! Address the underlying structural issues of capitalism or just shut up and let the rest of us do it.