The New York state attorney general has warned the Trump administration that a coalition of two dozen states and four cities are ready to fight a new federal proposal that would allow employers to designate their employees as independent contractors to skirt minimum wage and overtime requirements.
The proposal would undermine the Fair Labor Standards Act which protects workers from being re-classified as independent contractors which could lead to denial of employment benefits, as well as facing increased taxes, fees for unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and health care coverage, said attorney general Letitia James in a statement Tuesday. She also questioned the timing of the proposed rule to the FLSA during a pandemic that has wrought economic devastation for many Americans.
“The Trump Administration’s proposed rule could lower wages and strip employer-sponsored health coverage for millions of workers,” James said in the statement. “Even more troubling is the fact that the Trump Administration has had no issue proposing this rule in the middle of a public health and economic crisis affecting every corner of this country. Our coalition stands ready to protect workers throughout New York and the rest of this nation and we will do all in our power to stop this proposed rule from being finalized.”
In a letter sent Monday to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, James, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and the rest of the coalition called for the proposed rule to be withdrawn immediately. Typically the department has a public review period for comment before adopting proposed rules, though James noted the DOL did not provide the standard 60 days for public comment on this proposal.
The coalition is comprised of the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia; the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh; and the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection and the Office of Labor Standards for the city of Chicago.
The DOL did not immediately reply to the letter from James Tuesday.
In a letter sent Monday to Scalia, the House Committee on Education and Labor Republicans said the proposed rule will "protect and enhance the independent contractor model."
"Independent contractors have the ability to set their own hours, negotiate their earnings, and select their clients utilizing competing platforms….We urge DOL to continue its determined pursuit of a forward-looking legal and regulatory environment that works best for all workers and businesses, ensuring that the U.S. economy remains an engine of growth, opportunity, and prosperity for all Americans," the committee's letter said.
Under Scalia’s tenure at the Department of Labor during the pandemic, the DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration “has received more than ten thousand complaints alleging unsafe conditions related to the virus,” the New Yorker reported in an article about Scalia this month. But the DOL's website says just 112 establishments have been cited for violations related to coronavirus through October 15th.