Silicon Valley’s contract labor has become a hot political topic, as a slew of potential Democratic presidential candidates sponsor legislation that could force companies to negotiate with more workers they claim not to employ. In California, Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, and a half-dozen other companies are lobbying to defang a court ruling that could make it difficult to avoid reclassifying such workers as employees. And in Washington, the Republican-dominated National Labor Relations Board has made moves to undo an Obama-era precedent that could make big employers legally liable for contract workers even if they have only indirect control over them.
The GOP takeover in Washington is one reason the Temporary Workers of America, a union of bug testers for Microsoft Corp., gave up on what had been, for people in the software world, an almost unheard of unionization victory, says the group’s founder, Philippe Boucher. The 38-person union successfully organized in 2014, winning the right to negotiate with temp agency Lionbridge Technologies Inc., which provides marketing, testing, and language services. Within a few years, however, Lionbridge had eliminated all their jobs, and the workers say a union-busting complaint they filed in December 2016 with the NLRB against Microsoft dragged on too long. They agreed to settle this spring to get financial relief.