U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on July 30, 2021. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Coalition Representing 24 Million Workers Blasts 'Dangerous' Cuellar Bill

"The House has acted: Now, the time has never been more urgent for the Senate to hold a vote for the passage of the PRO Act," said one union leader.

A coalition of 40 labor and social justice groups on Monday sounded the alarm over anti-worker legislation recently introduced by right-wing Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas and two House Republicans.

"The latest attack on working people by Rep. Cuellar is proof positive that elections matter."

The Worker Power Coalition, which represents 24 million workers, took aim at the "dangerous" Worker Flexibility and Choice Act (WFCA), unveiled last month by Cuellar, along with GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Michelle Steel (Calif.).

Experts warn the bill would gut key parts of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, impacting not only gig workers employed by ride-hailing giants like Lyft and Uber or food delivery services like DoorDash but also others whose companies want to skirt minimum wage and overtime protections.

Nicole Moore, a part-time Lyft driver and the president of coalition member Rideshare Drivers United, pointed to the battle over Proposition 22 in California--an industry-backed ballot measure that enabled app-based companies to classify workers as independent contractors rather than employees but was struck down in state court.

"Uber and Lyft poured $200 million into Prop 22 in California to take away our rights to unemployment benefits, workplace safety, and sick time. All during a global pandemic. Now they're trying to do it federally," said Moore. "Legalizing the misclassification of app-based workers would deny hundreds of thousands of workers essential workplace protections, and amount to billions of dollars in corporate handouts to a multibillion-dollar industry."

As The Hillreported:

Uber and Lyft have not publicly commented on the proposal. The companies directed The Hill to the Coalition for Workforce Innovation, a group both Uber and Lyft are members of, for comment.

Evan Armstrong, chair of the Coalition for Workforce Innovation, said the proposal provides "clarity and rules of the road for independent workers and businesses."

"The bipartisan bill strikes a balance to promote independent work while ensuring more options for benefits, support, and protections," Armstrong said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Williams, president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, another coalition member, directed criticism at Cuellar and called on Democrats in Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

"The latest attack on working people by Rep. Cuellar is proof positive that elections matter," Williams said. "Rep. Cuellar voted against the PRO Act, which would fix worker misclassification, to side with billionaire executives in Silicon Valley over his constituents."

Cuellar narrowly won a May runoff election against two-time progressive primary challenger Jessica Cisneros in Texas' 28th Congressional District.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) faced criticism for backing to the anti-choice, anti-worker incumbent.

Justice Democrats, which supported Cisneros, highlighted in an email Monday that "Pelosi helped conservative anti-abortion Democrat Henry Cuellar win" and "now, Cuellar has a new bill with Republicans to eviscerate labor protections in America."

"Cuellar is doing the bidding of gig companies like Uber and DoorDash who exploit workers by classifying them as independent contractors," the group added. "This is a terrible bill that could pass with the support of Republicans and corporate Democrats like Cuellar. Cuellar's position on labor standards is one of the reasons Justice Democrats backed Jessica Cisneros in TX-28. But Pelosi, Cuellar, and big corporate money won."

Williams noted Monday that "Uber and Lyft are spending hundreds of millions of dollars at the state and national levels to try to ensure they don't have to play by the same rules as every other employer."

"The House has acted: Now, the time has never been more urgent for the Senate to hold a vote for the passage of the PRO Act," Williams added.

The Democrat-controlled House approved the PRO Act in February 2020 and May 2021. However, it lacks the Republican support necessary to pass in the Senate unless Democrats kill the filibuster, which a few right-wing Democratic senators oppose.

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