I Don’t Want To Be Anybody’s Employee

LINDA GREENSTEIN AND Joseph Lagana looked pained. The two New Jersey legislators knew their seats on the Labor Committee existed at the pleasure of the state Senate’s president, Steve Sweeney, who has a habit of removing his fellow Democrats from powerful positions if he doesn’t like their votes. Greenstein and Lagana had one job on December 5, 2019: back a bill that Sweeney had sponsored. And they did that job. But when the moment came to cast their votes and move the bill out of committee, each came close to apologizing.

The bill, which would have reclassified many independent contractors as traditional salaried employees, was promoted as a way to protect low-wage workers whose companies were cheating them out of salaries and benefits. But Greenstein and Lagana had just spent four hours listening to testimony from working mothers, senior citizens, African Americans, Hispanics, and suburban women—key parts of their party’s base—who said the legislation would instead destroy their chosen careers. The standing-room-only crowd that had come to testify against the bill included teachers, writers, bakers, lawyers, musicians, photographers, and truck drivers. It also included me: The bill threatened the stream of freelance writing and editing income I’d spent the past 17 years building.

“We heard an amazing—what I consider an amazing—amount of opposition,” Greenstein told the crowd, adding that the bill was the most confusing she has encountered in her two decades in the New Jersey Legislature. She ultimately voted yes, but she acknowledged for the public record that the legislation needed work: “I think that somebody used the term ‘unintended consequences,’ and it may be that that’s what’s going on here.”

State and federal lawmakers across America need to understand what those blue-state Democrats learned that day—and the Democratic Party needs to amend its labor platform accordingly. The debate we were having in New Jersey shortly before COVID-19 struck will be of critical importance for the entire American economy if we intend to climb out of the post-pandemic economic wreckage.

The Democratic Party had been planning to roll out bills like this across the country,

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