Mark Erlich traces the history of misclassification in the construction sector in the United States, and how this erodes union density in the sector:
The fluidity of the workforce and minimal regulation of a decentralized industry have created an environment that encourages the purposeful mis- classification of employees as independent contractors—a business strategy that has led to a decline in union density and contributed to decreased standards in the industry over the past 50 years.
The experience of construction workers over the past half-century represents an alternative narrative. The rise of independent contracting did not provide increased flexibility and opportunity for trades workers. On the contrary, those workers who had once been treated as employees now face precarious conditions as independent contractors, though their daily work tasks are unchanged. Misclassification has been a conscious employer ploy to reduce the costs of labor and part of a broader scheme to eliminate the influence of unions as a central force in the construction industry. Construction workers who are compensated as independent contractors or paid in cash off-the-books are thus similar to ride-share and other gig workers in that all of them operate outside the safety net of the nation’s employment laws. The fate of these workers going forward will rest on their ability and willingness to organize for a collective voice and a commitment to apply and enforce a rigorous definition of employment status by federal, state, and local agencies.
Watch this forum, especially Winnie Byanyima comments from 6:20 onwards, as she shines the reality of gig work in Africa, spoiling the party, as it were, at the World Economic Forum.