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Today, at a speech at the New School in New York City, Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton just laid out her economic vision—sort of. Her remarks included statements that could have implications for companies like Uber and Airbnb, but their ambiguity may leave the entire “sharing economy” industry scratching its head.
Clinton said she “vows to crack down on employers who misclassify workers as independent contractors,” calling the behavior “wage theft.” She also noted that the “so-called ‘gig economy’ offers exciting opportunities but raises hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.”
She was referring to businesses powered by legions of independent contractors, a work model popular among some tech companies.
Clinton didn’t offer specifics, so it’s not clear whether she’ll be a friend or foe to such companies. That could make it hard for both startups and investors to plan for the future. Betting on businesses that hinge on the freelance model could be especially tough, if they’re met with resistance at the presidential level.
A California commission recently ruled that Uber must pay employee-like benefits to a driver who worked what amounted to full-time hours for the company. If used as precedent, the decision could put the contractor model in jeopardy.
Already, some companies, like Shyp, have begun to reexamine their workforce policies. (Though Shyp denies it has anything to do with the ruling.)
The matter’s complexity belies the simplified rhetoric it seems to have taken on. On one hand, treating all full-time workers equally—with the same benefits and protections—sounds only fair. Then again, if such businesses are on the hook for expensive benefits, like health insurance and overtime pay, those challenges could prevent them from hiring as many people, or allowing for the flexible arrangements that some freelancers rely on.
Like with so many areas of technology, startups and those who would fund them need to pay attention to policy, as well as those who would make it. This is not likely to be the last time the freelance workforce becomes a talking point in a campaign trail increasingly focused on the economy and its effects on the middle class.
Well, on the flip side, there’s at least one candidate whose position on the “gig economy” seems clear: According to Politico’s Mike Allen, Republican candidate Jeb Bush is planning to ride an Uber during a San Francisco trip to showcase his support for Silicon Valley startups. It’s a transparent gimmick, but at the very least, there’s no confusion over which side he supports.
Clinton better offer specifics soon, lest she be branded an enemy of innovation.
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Lead photo by Marc Nozell