Gig workers are tired of waiting for the White House of Biden to do something.
Congress, the courts, and a lobbying blitz have all slowed down the administration’s plans to improve worker protections.
As a part-time Lyft driver in 2020, Nicole Moore paid close attention when presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden Jr. said that ride-hailing companies that don’t treat their drivers like employees “deny these workers the benefits and protections that the law requires.”
Labor activists like Ms. Moore, who runs an advocacy group in California called Rideshare Drivers United, hoped that Mr. Biden, as president, would lead a flurry of activity to force gig economy companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash to classify drivers as employees instead of independent contractors. For this to happen, the drivers would have to be paid at least the minimum wage, given benefits, and be able to join a union.
Instead, after a year and a half in office, the federal government hasn’t done much to help independent contractors. There hasn’t been a big change in how labor laws are enforced. And the Senate voted against the president’s choice to lead the Labor Department’s enforcement division. Several Democrats were among those who voted against the choice.
Plans for the administration to rewrite rules haven’t happened, in part because of court decisions, and Democratic efforts to change the law in Congress haven’t gone anywhere either.
Veena Dubal, a professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law who has argued that drivers should be treated like employees, said, “There is a strong sense that the promise of what could have been has not been met.” “It’s not a surprise, but it’s very sad.”
Administration officials say that Mr. Biden has been strong on labor issues and unions, and that they have been limited by a recent court decision that made it easier for companies like Uber to argue that their workers should be considered independent contractors under federal law.
In statements, both the White House and the Labor Department said it was important to fix worker misclassification, but they didn’t say anything about gig companies like Uber in particular.
“The president ran on a plan to deal with misclassified workers that was aggressive and all-encompassing,” said Alexandra LaManna, a White House spokeswoman who used to be the head of communications at Lyft. She also said, “This administration’s goal is to give workers more power, and figuring out how to stop workers from being misclassified is a big part of that.”
The Labor Department said that its Wage and Hour Division had done investigations that led to the recovery of more than $9.5 million in back wages for more than 10,000 misclassified workers in the 2022 fiscal year.
Jessica Looman, who works for the Wage and Hour Division, said, “The Department of Labor will continue to do everything it can to protect workers.” She said that misclassification “is not just a problem for people who get jobs through apps or other digital platforms.”
But the explanations don’t help those who thought the new government would quickly push for better pay and benefits for drivers.
Policy experts on both sides of the issue agree on a larger reason for the federal government’s lack of action: Democrats and traditional labor groups can’t agree on the best way to help drivers for ride-hailing services or even if the current system takes advantage of them.