Parents and Caregivers Say PRO Act Would Harm Their Families
In professions as wide-ranging as truckers and editors, there's fear that the PRO Act's ABC Test would destroy the freedom needed to raise kids and help aging parents.
Jay Hosty is on his seventh truck after 39 years and 3.3 million miles of hauling everything from toilet paper to caskets along America’s roadways. He owns his own rig. He chooses the routes he runs and the goods he hauls. He makes sure he’s rarely away from home for more than one weekend at a time, allowing him not only to support, but also to play a meaningful role in the lives of the six children he and his wife have adopted into their home in Diamondhead, Mississippi.
“I’m hoping to go another 20 years with good health,” Hosty says. “I’ll be 59 in July, and I really love what I do. I hope to be driving until I’m 80 years old.”
But that likely would not be possible if Congress passes the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act. Its ABC Test would target companies that hire independent contractors in all kinds of professions, and reclassify those contractors as employees under labor law. Those affected would include owner-operator truckers like Hosty, who says the idea makes no sense at all.
“I am completely independent,” he says. “I go on vacation whenever I want, and I don’t really report to anyone. I have total freedom to do whatever I want. I’m in no way an employee.”
Hosty is just one among America’s 63 million parents, many of whom, along with the nation’s 53 million caregivers, got walloped even harder than usual during the pandemic. Two-thirds reported feelings of anxiety or depression, or suicidal thoughts, compared with one-third of other Americans. Some 85 percent of people who care for both children and adults—the “sandwich generation”—experienced the mental health symptoms.
Kara Gray is a member of that sandwich generation, and says being an independent contractor is the relief valve that continues to get her and her family through tough times. She writes marketing and public-relations content from her home in Dallas, West Virginia, an unincorporated community with fewer than 500 residents. She’s been earning a living as an independent contractor for 17 years, serving clients well beyond the region while raising two daughters and helping her parents as her mother battles Alzheimer’s disease.
“Being able to freelance allows me, when my dad has a doctor’s appointment or needs a haircut, to go and stay with my mom for a few hours while he takes care of things,” Gray says. “Or, he can bring her to my house and I can entertain her for a while when he goes and does things. During Covid, that was really important. All of the adult daycares were closed. Places that had drop-ins where you could bring a person in her situation for a couple of hours, those all closed up.”
The flexibility that independent contracting provides is a key reason why so many women—who continue to take on the bulk of parenting and caregiving duties—say they prefer to be their own bosses. Even before the pandemic, 73 percent of self-employed women said they had a better work-life balance, and 59 percent said they had less stress.
Allison Grace Herrera is among them. She’s 30 and had her first child right before the pandemic’s shutdowns began. Her sister moved in with her in North Carolina, and the help meant Herrera was able to be present for baby James while continuing to develop her freelance editing business.
“I couldn’t do 40 hours a week right now, and this pays better than what I was doing full time,” Herrera says. “I am significantly less stressed, and I’m able to enjoy things and be here. My son had his first ear infection two Fridays ago, and he needed me. I let my people know I’d be gone, and I didn’t need to worry about it.”
Gray says she earns at least twice as much as she would in a full-time job in rural West Virginia—and enough to support her family whenever her husband, a union carpenter of 25 years, gets laid off. They’ve talked with friends about the PRO Act and found that many union members disagree with union bosses pushing the legislation.
“We’re very much a union family, and we come from a very blue-collar area with a lot of carpenters, operators, laborers, pipefitters—we know tons of these kinds of people. When I tell them about this, they say, ‘I don’t support that,’” Gray says. “They’re all like, ‘A union is as American as apple pie—but so is entrepreneurship. Shouldn’t we all be in this together?’”
Hosty says he hopes the courts will force lawmakers off their current path with the PRO Act. In fact, the whole trucking industry is watching to see whether the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to hear a case brought against the state of California, after lawmakers there enacted similar ABC Test legislation. Most truckers are independent contractors at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which handle more than 30 percent of America’s container cargo. Some 77 percent of drivers at the Port of New York and New Jersey are owner-operators, too. A win at the U.S. Supreme Court against California’s ABC Test law would likely give pause to lawmakers who say California set the standard the nation should follow with the ABC Test in the PRO Act.
That kind of judicial victory would be ideal, Hosty says—especially since he and his wife want to continue fostering children in addition to the six kids they already adopted.
“Hopefully,” he says, “we will win and not have to give up what we do.”
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