The Worker Flexibility and Choice Act:
Choice of what?

We'll break down the language of the Worker Flexibility and Choice Act, and its implications for gig-economy workers and businesses.
The Worker Flexibility and Choice Act has been a hot topic since it was introduced in July of 2022 by Rep. Henry Cuellar. Praised by corporate interests for providing flexible work opportunities, it has been criticized for its “erosion of fundamental worker protections” by pro-worker groups like the National Employment Law Project. This dilemma has caught the attention of gig-economy companies and workers across the United States because of the damage it could inflict on both workers and the industry as a whole.
The legislation in question has been proposed by a bipartisan trio of legislators, and seeks to exempt certain employees from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA sets minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping, and other standards for employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments. The Worker Flexibility Act would “supersede all Federal, State, and local laws relating to wage…hours worked, documentation and record keeping, and applicable taxes, benefits, and contributions” - essentially allowing employers to hire independent contractors instead of employees, exempting them from the protections of the FLSA - including minimum wage, basic worker protections - and exempting employers from IRS requirements, giving way for  exploitation of the most vulnerable people in the USA.
This proposed legislation has been met with concern from workers’ rights advocates and labor organizations. They argue that the legislation would create an environment where workers have no rights and are vulnerable to exploitation by employers, which has already been the case in a few businesses.

For example, one Chick-fil-a in Hendersonville, North Carolina asked “volunteers” to work the restaurant at a rate of “five entrees per hour worked”. A nationally recognized fast food chain is relying on bartering to carry out the basic functions of their business - that is, Hendersonville Chik-fil-a is relying on hungry and desperate workers to trade their time and labor for chicken sandwiches.

Typically workers are paid in money. 

The legislation leaves the door open for an environment of exploitation and distrust at every level of on-demand organizations and beyond. How can you as a business owner rely on and empower workers whose daily wages are chicken sandwiches and fries? What obligations do workers owe to their employers? How can you reliably grow when you can’t rely on your employees? When your employees can’t rely on you for even the most basic support? 

How are employees going to pay their rent in chicken sandwiches?

There are also concerns that the proposed legislation would have a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities, who are already disproportionately represented in the gig economy. By and large, marginalized workers are more desperate, and as a result, more likely to be taken advantage of by employers that are pushing the Worker Flexibility Act.
The legislation has been criticized for its potential to undermine workers' rights and degrade the on-demand industry as a whole. This could have a long-lasting effect on the gig-economy, as workers are more likely to accept jobs with lower wages, fewer benefits, and unconventional forms of payment, while employers run the risk of becoming worker mills with no loyalty, no long term employees, and a limited potential for growth.

How can you improve your business if employees are being paid in sandwiches, ready to be fired at a moment’s notice? Do we want to live in a world where the gig-economy, one of the fastest growing US industries, relies on exploitation and desperation as the primary incentives in employment?  

The Worker Flexibility and Choice Act is a troubling sign for workers’ rights, and could spell disaster for vulnerable gig-economy workers and companies alike. We’ve seen time and again that US industry can only survive through a mutually beneficial agreement - that employers and employees can work together towards a common goal with a common benefit. 

That, at the very least, employers and employees can agree that a day's work is worth more than a few sandwiches and a medium Sprite.