Courts and scholars point to the sharing economy as proof that our labor and employment infrastructure is obsolete because it rests on a narrow and outmoded idea that only workers subjected to direct, personalized control by their employers need work-related protections and benefits. Since they diagnose the problem as being our system’s emphasis on control, these critics have long called for reducing or eliminating the primacy of the “control test” in classifying workers as either protected employees or unprotected independent contractors. Despite these persistent criticisms, however, the concept of control has been remarkably sticky in scholarly and judicial circles.
This Article argues that critics have misdiagnosed the reason why the control test is an unsatisfying method of classifying workers and dispensing work-related safeguards. Control-based analysis is faulty because it only captures one of the two conflicting ways in which workers, scholars, and decisionmakers think about freedom at work. One of these ways, freedom-as-non-interference, is adequately captured by the control test. The other, freedom-as-non-domination, is not. The tension between these two conceptions of freedom, both deeply entrenched in American culture, explains why the concept of control has been both “faulty” and “sticky” when it comes to worker classification.
On the parched plaza outside the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey, Mexico, hundreds of men and women lean against tree trunks or press their backs into the consulate wall, seeking any sliver of shade. They wait to be fingerprinted, interviewed, and – with luck – approved as one of the 175,000 guest workers admitted to the United States each year. An ordinary day in May 2005 – or perhaps not quite. Under one tree, a meeting is underway. At the center of a circle stands a labor organizer, copy of a contract in hand. Asegúrense que sus derechos sean respetados, he urges the crowd, all of whom are bound for North Carolina. “Make sure that your rights are respected.” Another man, his crisp shirt and spotless jeans belying the previous sixteen hours spent on a bus from his hometown, stands up and offers advice to the others. Cuidado con el patrón en Ranch Farm. “Careful with the boss at Ranch Farm.” He continues: “He’s still trying to get away with piece rate when he’s supposed to be paying us by the hour. Call the union’s North Carolina office if it happens to you.” Others nod assent. After half an hour of sharing information and reestablishing bonds, the group disperses. Before the week’s end, they will be thinning tobacco plants in the hot Carolina fields. For the first time in history, guest workers are about to cross the border into the United States as union members.
Over one million new immigrants arrive in the United States each year. This spring, Americans saw several times that number pour into the streets, protesting proposed changes in U.S. immigration and guest work policies. As the signs they carried indicated, most migrants come to work, and it is in the workplace that the impact of large numbers of newcomers is most keenly felt. For those who see both the free movement of people and the preservation of decent working conditions as essential to social justice, this presents a seemingly unresolvable dilemma. In a situation of massive inequality among countries, to prevent people from moving in search of work is to curtail their chance to build a decent life for themselves and their families. But from the perspective of workers in the country that receives them, the more immigrants, the more competition, and the worse work becomes.
In 2001, more than thirty years after the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, women still have not achieved equality in the workplace. Many statistics emphasize the divide: Last year, 95% of all venture capital went to men; of the top 2,500 corporate executives in America, only sixty-three are women; only three Fortune 500 companies are headed by women; and Congress is 90% male.
While many factors undoubtedly contribute to this disparity, one factor in particular stands out: Women are more likely to take family leave after the birth or adoption of a child, and are far more likely to serve as the primary caregiver for children.