Labor Secretary Marty Walsh: Some gig workers should be classified as ’employees’

WASHINGTON — Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said he believes some gig workers should be classified as “employees,” giving them the “safety net” of benefits and certain labor laws.

“We are looking at it, but in a lot of cases gig workers should be classified as employees,” Walsh said. “In some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not, and I think it has to be consistent across the board.”

Walsh’s comments, long-anticipated by labor advocates and observers of the tech economy, were first made in an interview with Reuters and confirmed by USA TODAY on Thursday. 

“Gig workers” are independent contractors and laborers who work with tech firms to carry out given work for a set contract. The number of gig workers in the U.S. has risen sharply over the past decade as on-demand internet services have become an engine of growth in the economy. 

“These companies are making profits and revenue, and I’m not (going to) begrudge anyone for that because that’s what we are about in America … but we also want to make sure that success trickles down to the worker,” the secretary urged.

Walsh’s comments indicate Biden administration believes at least some gig workers should be entitled to certain benefits and subject to the labor standards of more permanent employees in the economy.

“The secretary was reiterating that misclassification is a pervasive issue that impacts both the economy and workers. Worker protections under federal law create a safety net of security and benefits that provide ladders of opportunity into the middle class. This safety net should be further strengthened,” a spokesperson for the Department of Labor said, expanding on Walsh’s comments.

“As our recovery continues, we should be supporting the employer-employee relationship and all of the opportunities that it provides,” the spokesperson continued.

The gig economy

President Joe Biden addressed a joint session of Congress for the first time after nearly 100 days into his presidency.


Tech platforms that employ gig economy workers span the economy, including rideshare services like Uber and Lyft; food and grocery delivery platforms like DoorDash and Instacart; and home service apps like HomeAdvisor, TaskRabbit and Wag.

In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were 55 million people employed as gig workers — 34% of the workforce — with that number set to rise to 43% in 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic saw a sharp increase in the number of gig workers as many jobs were eliminated due to lockdowns and Americans sheltering-in-place increased the market for on-demand services.

As these services have become increasingly commonplace, however, regulators and labor advocates have expressed concerns that gig work is often too precarious and lacks the protections that employees are normally entitled to when working for a company.

Proponents of gig work argue gig workers’ contracts are more flexible and empowering than more regulated jobs, a claim that some policymakers have found dubious.

The stocks of major firms that employ gig workers, including Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, took a hit upon the news of Walsh’s comments. 

Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.

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