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GOP Support Makes GA the Latest Unlikely State to Consider Misclassification Legislation

Rep. McKoon

Rep. McKoon

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As we have written many times in the past, politicians on the right side of the ideological aisle are taking an increasing interest in preventing employee misclassification. Despite their motives differing from the pro-labor Democrats’ who originally spearheaded raised awareness of this issue, the signs of bipartisan agreement are encouraging.  Using Georgia Republican State Sen. Josh McKoon as the basis of a new POLITICO piece, Mike Elk writes that, “Organized labor has found an improbable ally in “The Cruelest Republican in Georgia.”

The 36-year-old McKoon earned the title after supporting legislation that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT job applicants.  So while he’s not exactly having afternoon tea with Richard Trumka, McKoon has got this one right. His sights are set on employers who misclassify their workers and he is using his position on the Georgia Senate Committee on Insurance and Labor to work in tandem with the Teamsters union to craft legislation to crackdown on the anti-worker practice. He heard testimony from truckers in February.  From Elk’s piece:

Truckers spoke of earning less than minimum wage after accounting for expenses. Stagehand Brian Hill recounted how a fellow stagehand had fallen while installing rigging for the Super Bowl in Atlanta and received no workman’s compensation.

McKoon says he was so appalled by these stories that he co-sponsored a resolution to seek out “new strategies for systematically investigating the failure of employers to classify individuals as employees.”

“I was really stunned by these folks,” McKoon recalled, and so he set about looking for ways to frame misclassification and wage theft as conservative issues. No friend to undocumented workers — McKoon sponsored a bill denying driver’s licenses to those sheltered by Washington from deportation — McKoon reasoned that since E-Verify didn’t apply to contractors, misclassification was making it too easy for undocumented workers to be employed legally. McKoon also concluded, after conferring with business owners, that those who obeyed the spirit of labor law were being put at a competitive disadvantage by those willing to bend it.

McKoon says he has enjoyed the support of party leadership in his quest to combat employee misclassification, although big business interests such as the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and the Chamber of Commerce have yet to weigh in in Georgia. 

The Texas GOP was actually an early adopter of change regarding independent contractors, followed by another unlikely state, North Carolina. There, Rep. Gary Pendleton has introduced legislation with the blessing of party leadership.  Georgia now appears to be following suit. 

In a misclassification hearing, Georgia Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer went on the record:

“I’m persuaded this failure to enforce existing laws is unfair.  It’s unfair to workers who are working very hard to support themselves and their families, and it’s unfair to businesses who obey the law and are then put at a disadvantage. I’d like to see this addressed in a thoughtful, deliberative and forceful manner.”

Perhaps more intriguing is that in Elk’s piece, the Georgia state director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) was non-confrontational, quoted as saying:

“We hear anecdotally from contractors and subcontractors that it’s a problem in some sectors of our economy.  We don’t have a position yet. We are certainly eager to listen and learn the breadth of the problem as well”.

The steps seem small, but interest in employee misclassification by conservatives is momentous in what has been a long and slow battle to get workers what they deserve. McKoon puts it best in explaining to Elk that he thinks state governments in the South can be more worker-friendly while simultaneously competing for manufacturing jobs:

“I think we have tried to be business friendly.  I don’t think it’s true to say [that] to be business friendly, you have to be hostile to workers.”


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