PRESS CALL ADVISORY
Rep. Virginia Foxx, Small Business Owner, and Freelancer Join Top Women’s Organization to Discuss the Anti-Worker PRO Act
WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the U.S. House prepares to vote on the Protecting Workers’ Right to Organize (PRO) Act, Independent Women’s Voice (IWV) will host a press call highlighting how this bill will harm millions of workers who depend on flexible work arrangements.
Participants on the call include a worker who lost her opportunity for employment because of similar policies (AB5) imposed in California; a California small business owner who had to close her business; and a federal lawmaker who has been at the forefront of calling out how the PRO Act will put union interests above everyday Americans.
The call will take place on Monday, March 8th at 3:30 pm ET.
- Monica Wyman, founder of RSVP Designs, a flower design business in Temecula, California
- Jennifer O’Connell, freelance writer, yoga instructor, and career reinvention coach
- Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Republican leader of the House Education & Labor Committee
- Patrice Onwuka, director of the Center for Economic Opportunity at Independent Women’s Forum
- Carrie Lukas, vice president of Independent Women’s Voice
Press briefing to discuss the threat of the PRO Act.
*This call is on the record and reportable.
Monday, March 8, 2021
3:30 pm ET (12:30 pm PT)
Please join the conference 5 minutes prior to the start time.
You will be asked to provide the conference code.
Dial-in information: 800-430-8332
Conference Code: 7087005
For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Meghan Agostinelli at [email protected].
Operator: Good afternoon and welcome to Independent Women’s Voice’s Stop the PRO Act national press call. Today’s conference is being recorded. Today’s speakers will take questions from the press at the end of today’s call. I’d like to introduce Independent Women’s Voice Vice President Carrie Lukas. Carrie, please go ahead.
Carrie Lukas: Thank you. And thanks to those of you on the line joining us to hear about the real consequences that the PRO Act could have for workers. This is particularly important and timely since it could be voted on as early as tomorrow in the House. First, my name is Carrie Lukas, and I am a vice president of Independent Women’s Voice. For those of you not familiar with our organization, you can read more at IWV.org. Independent Women’s Voice is the leading national women’s organization dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well-intended, but that actually enhance people’s freedoms, opportunities, and well-being. As people consider the PRO Act, it is important for everyone to recognize that this is a woman’s issue. Right now, because of Covid and school closures, millions of women are out of work. Covid has impacted everyone, but women have suffered worse job losses than men. In fact, more than 2.3 million women have left the workforce since February 2020, bringing women’s labor force participation rates to the lowest level since 1988. And this disturbing trend might just be the beginning. According to a recent survey by McKinsey and Company, one in four working women is currently considering leaving the workforce or downshifting her job. Women have always placed a higher priority on flexible work than men do for obvious reasons. Women are more likely to be caring for kids, the elderly, and other family members. Academics can debate why this is, whether it’s women’s true preferences or society’s messages that drive women to fulfil these roles, but regardless of the reason, the reality for millions of women today is that it is often impractical, if not impossible, for them to take traditional nine-to-five jobs. Decades ago, women faced an all-or-nothing choice about whether to work or to stay home to handle family and caregiving responsibilities. But today, millions of women take a middle path, often as independent contractors, part-time workers, direct sellers, or by staring small enterprises of their own. These non-traditional employment relationships allow them to earn income, work on their own terms, and set them up to pursue their dreams in the future. The PRO Act will destroy these flexible work opportunities and will push millions of women out of the labor market and will not only cost women earnings opportunities today, but for years to come. It will make the gender wage gap larger. It will force women back into a nine-to-five world where they either have to follow their bosses’ orders about work schedules or give up trying to earn a living. It will take women backwards. This isn’t just speculation. We know from the experience of California what happens when similar proposals are put in place. AB5 in California restricted independent contracting just like the PRO Act seeks to do. Because of the incredible damage suffered by California workers, particularly women, the elderly, and disabled communities, politically connected and powerful industries have been scrambling for exemptions from AB5. Some have succeeded, others have failed. But Americans need to hear from those affected by AB5; those who have experienced the lost opportunities to work and earn so that they will know what they are in for if the PRO Act becomes law. I am now proud to introduce Independent Women’s Forum’s Director of the Center for Economic Opportunity, Patrice Onwoka. She is going to tell us more about what the PRO Act would mean for workers, and especially women.
Patrice Onwoka: Thank you so much, Carrie. And thank you to everybody who is on the call today. You know, we are really concerned right now about the time we’re at. We are in the middle of a global pandemic, and as Carrie so eloquently laid out, we’ve got a loss for women in the workforce. It ‘s just breathtaking. I mean, I think we have so many reasons to believe that it’s been hard for women, but I think there’s so much positive that we can look forward to, that we can look to, the gig economy, traditional jobs leaving, but the gig economy providing those opportunities and freelance work providing opportunities for women to be able to overcome the losses of their employment during the pandemic. And we understand why. So many of the industries that were hard hit are industries where women were over-represented or well-represented. And so now they are looking for flexible opportunities. They are looking for things that can allow them to continue to be earners, but also to balance the other competing priorities that they have. And so, that’s why we at Independent Women’s Forum and Women’s Voice, we are concerned that Congress is poised to pass the sweeping labor reforms that are going to take away the choice, the flexibility, and the freedom in the workforce. So, I just want to be very clear about something. We believe the PRO Act is not pro-worker, and it’s not pro-woman. This is really about increasing the unions’ powers, their coffers, and their rosters. And it’s unfair for women who are comfortable negotiating the salary or the pay that they want to insert a middleman into that process. Let women decide for themselves who they work for, how much they want to earn, when they want to work, and how they want to work. And that’s what our position is. That’s what we believe is so important. Now, when we look at the gig economy, it has truly provided some unique opportunities for flexible work. And when you ask women who are engaged in the gig economy, who are freelancers in the broader independent contracting world, the number one reason why they’re doing so is flexibility. And that’s not surprising, but it’s so important, so critical. And when we consider that nearly half of the entire independent contractor workforce nationwide is female, we can see why something like the PRO Act would have sweeping impact for so many women. Let me just paint a picture for you. You know, you’ve got a, we may have a woman who is a primary caregiver of an aging parent at home. She needs to be able to work while still taking her mom around to, or father around, to medical appointments. We have many women who have kids who are doing virtual school full time, maybe even part-time at this point, but they have to balance the virtual learning, overseeing that, but still bringing some income into their families, whether that’s the primary income or a secondary income. And, you know, heartbreakingly you have so many Americans, so many workers, who have emotional, mental, and health issues that prevent them from sitting behind a desk from working a traditional eight-hour job. And so, it’s interesting when nearly half – 46% of freelancers say that they depend on contract work because their personal circumstances prevent them from working in a traditional job. So that’s the situation for independent contractors, which is why we wanted to hear from them. So, in 2020 we launched a campaign called Chasing Work to tell the stories of those people who had their rug pulled under them by government regulations. And specifically, looking at California’s AB5, which this independent contracting provision is, the PRO Act, is really modeled after. The stories poured into to our organization from people who lost their incomes, lost their jobs, who lost everything. And these are folks who did not have a microphone, they did not have a platform, they did not have deep pockets to be able to lobby to get an exemption for their occupation. And, you know what? They shouldn’t need to lobby to get an exemption from a law that has such sweeping negative impact on them. And so, when we heard from these workers, we said let’s give these folks a microphone, a platform to share their voices and their stories. The stories are heartbreaking. You can visit IWF.org/AB5 to read the stories and watch the videos. But today, I want to introduce you to two women who lost their means of income. They are California residents. They were impacted by AB5. And remember, this AB5 is what is going to happen at the federal level if the PRO Act is enacted. First, I’m going to introduce you to Monica Wyman. Now, Monica, in 2007 and 2008, she couldn’t find a job. She had three kids, a ten-year lapse in her work experience, and no college degree. And so, she turned to her local, she tried to find employment and was able to actually find employment in a small flower shop. She’ll tell you more about that, earning minimum wage, and eventually she launched her own business. She had the flexibility to work for herself and to still take care of her family. So important. Unfortunately, she has had some rough situations come up. She has had to take a step back from work in 2016 after a battle with breast cancer. But, AB5 has hit Monica as well. And it has forced her entire business model, it has put that business model into jeopardy. And so, I’m pleased to welcome Monica to join us and speak to us about your story. Monica, please tell us.
Monica Wyman: Thanks Patrice. Thank you so much for having me on this platform today. As mentioned, yes, I am a female-owned business in California. I am a wedding and events florist. I started my business back in about 2009 at the start of the Great Recession. And I was unable to find a job that worked for my family, that worked for my schedule, so, I rolled up my sleeves. I started my own business. I found a way that I could create an income to supplement my family and also to work on my schedule and on my terms. That business went very well. It was very successful. I often hired other moms and other women who were either raising families, raising their children, but they needed flexible hours. And we could do this thing and be successful at it and contribute all the way around and still be there for our families. So, it was very difficult when I went on leave in 2016 to take care of my health issues, I am a breast cancer survivor, and I came back from that break only to face AB5 here in California which basically took away the opportunity for me to continue to hire other workers and to work on my own schedule, around my doctors’ appointments, to schedule events and weddings that I could do when I was feeling well and to have the help I needed. It has caused me to basically no longer be able to take those jobs and those hours without knowing that I could hire other freelancers and other workers. So, AB5 has really stripped us of this opportunity to do what we need to do, but still continue to work and contribute to society, to our families, and it’s been a challenge. It has been incredibly devastating to have to give up what I know, to give up the one opportunity that I know I could do to be a positive impact on my children, and especially my own daughter, to be that example of how to roll up your sleeves and get to work and do what you need to do to take care of your family. I truly, truly believe that we must stop this PRO Act from putting that blanket limitation and taking that right away from women and workers like myself. I still have struggles with being able to keep up with the workload when I cannot hire extra help. I struggle with being able to grow my business because of these limitations here in California. And this is exactly what we are going to see across our nation. It’s an entire workforce of women that do not have the opportunities and rights that we ought to have – and that we have already fought for. So, I truly, truly believe that if we don’t step in and do something at this point, we’re in for a great, great loss to women, to families, and to our children that we’re trying to raise up to also be hard workers and to take advantage of the opportunities that we’re given. It’s very challenging. So, I appreciate being here. And I appreciate you all hearing my story. My business unfortunately is coming to a point where I can no longer operate under these guidelines. It’s impossible. So, I don’t have a lot of opportunities. It’s really being pulled out from under myself and other workers like me.
Patrice Onwoka: Monica, thank you. It is so hard to hear that you are going through this right now. But I believe your story is going to resonate. And so, I’m going to ask Jennifer to share with us your story as well. Now, Jennifer O’Connell is a writer, a yoga instructor, and a career reinvention coach, but she lost so much of her 1099 work that made up three-quarters of her income because of AB5. Jennifer. Thank you for joining us. Please go ahead.
Jennifer O’Connell: Thank you, Patrice, for having me. I’m a writer, a reinvention coach, and an ERYP 500 yoga instructor and workshop leader. California’s AB5 law pretty much eliminated most of my professional life and income. In 2020 I constantly fought against this law to see it repealed, and with the threat of the PRO Act it looks like I’m having to take the fight nationally. Like AB5, the PRO Act employs the ABC Test to determine whether you have the right to be an independent contractor, and most independent professionals, like myself, can’t even pass the B-prong. This part of the prong says you can’t do the same business as the company with whom you are contracting. So, I’m a conservative writer and activist. This restricts me working with those types of outlets. I teach yoga and I create programs used by instructors in studios. The B-part prevents me working with other yoga professionals. And I can’t work with the non-profit organizations to help impoverished and marginalized women as I do in my reinvention work. My mother grew up in the Jim Crow South with its laws and restrictions for Black Americans. Jim Crow’s intent was to remove black people’s political and economic empowerment. How is AB5 or the PRO Act any different than Jim Crow laws for independent professionals, the majority of whom are women and minorities? As a writer, my unique voice and much-needed prospective as a black female has been cut off. With a 35-article submission cap, and the ABC test, the AB5 law cuts freelance writers and journalists like myself off at the knees and chilled any possibility for work from other states. You are penalized if you work with a writer from California. Lawsuits and political advocacy help us to force some exemptions to the AB5 law for freelancers and a few others, but we’re still fighting the law and its fallout. People are still, like Monica, out of work and not able to do work underneath this law. So, millions of professionals have been put out of work and thousands have had to uproot from California to pursue their professions and earn a living without penalty. The PRO Act is essentially AB5 on steroids. And if it’s signed into law there’s no place to move in the United States. President Biden is really schizophrenic. He claims he wants to modify the Paycheck Protection Program to recognize one-person shops like myself and like Monica as a small business, and he plans to sign an executive order today about a gender policy counsel to advance gender equity and equality, but at the same time he is supporting the passage of this PRO Act, which will undo all that. Should it pass, and it would once again decimate all of these industries and all of these people who fought so hard to push AB5 out the window, it would decimate it nationwide. Anybody who wants to do a business, anybody who wants to earn an income, anyone who wants to work independently. As a woman-owned small business, the government is seeking once again to destroy my professional life, a life that I’ve spent decades building and performing without any government help. How Neanderthal is Joe Biden’s thinking, or this administration’s thinking to want to outlaw a woman’s ability to work?
Patrice Onwoka And Jennifer, you know, I do think you’re making a great point. I just want to make sure I leave time for the rest of our speakers. But I think you are absolutely – your story is really compelling, and I hope that our, those on the line can ask more questions of you about your prospective on AB5. But I just want to very quickly introduce Representative Virginia Foxx from the great State of North Carolina. I know she can only be with us very briefly. So, Representative, please go ahead.
Congresswoman Virginia Foxx: Well, I was enjoying what Jennifer was saying also, and thank her so much for pushing way back on the Democrats for being the hypocrites that they are. She didn’t use that term, but I hope she won’t mind my using it. And I also appreciated what Monica said. Having those real-life stories is very, very important and I want to just add to what they’re saying on a macro level. They want you to believe that the PRO Act protects the right to organize. The only thing the PRO Act does is protect the 1.6 billion dollars that unions donate to support left-wing organizations. And it supports the union bosses that profit off of these hard-working union people. We know that union membership in the U.S. has been decreasing for over sixty years, and instead of increasing transparency and accountability to serve their members better, the union leaders are demanding Democrats enact what I call the Pro-Union Bosses act. If the unions were really popular, people would be running to them instead of running away from them because they are smart enough to know that they don’t help them. And rather than the unions trying to organize, which they are doing not at all in the last several years, they are turning to the Democrats. So, our workforce is facing tremendous challenges. Schools are closed, small businesses are struggling to stay afloat, unemployment rates are up. And in January, women’s workforce participation rate hit a 33-year low. So, at a time when employers and workers are forced to tighten their purse strings, it is unconscionable that Democrats would consider a bill that would take millions from workers’ paychecks, cost employers an estimated 47 billion in new annual cost, infringe on workers’ First Amendment rights, and put small businesses at further risk of closing their doors. You know, if the PRO Act goes into effect it would eliminate the franchise industry and the sharing economy as we know it, in addition to the other things that you’ve heard from Monica and Jennifer. It really does make union bosses more powerful and less accountable to the workers. So, it’s going to increase the risk of union corruption and wrongdoing. We know about the union corruption and we’re doing everything we could to try to stop that corruption. And, again, the stealing of union members’ wages. You know, the Democrats say the middle class was built by the unions. Not in this country it wasn’t. It was built by entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs have built this country and it just galls me to hear them say that, because when you look at where the jobs are growing, it’s in the South and in the West, and in the upper Far West. Look at where the jobs are going away – in the rustbelt where the unions are destroying them. The unions don’t create the middle class. The entrepreneurs do. But they don’t want, by the way, they don’t want people to know that the PRO Act includes AB5 with zero exemptions. They are rushing the bill to the House vote without any debate in committee or needed feedback from the public in the hope that their gift to union bosses will go unnoticed. But, thanks to the Independent Women’s Forum and to other groups, we are bringing attention to it. This is a bill that is anti-freedom, anti-middle class, and so we are speaking up at every chance we get. We don’t need to be bailing out union bosses and liberal activists. We need to focus on opening schools, protecting worker rights, supporting small businesses, and rebuilding the economy. So, everybody has a chance to succeed. So, I’m going to end there. I’ll be available for just a short time for questions. But I have another meeting that I’m going to be late for very shortly.
Carrie Lukas: Well, Representative Foxx, thank you so much for speaking to us and for all you do on this issue. And, Jennifer, I know we had to cut your short because we wanted to make sure that the Congresswoman had some time and to respect that she had another obligation. But I wanted to give you a quick chance before we go to questions to continue. I really think that your story is so compelling and that the American people need to hear from you about what you know about how this law will impact them if it is passed and does become the law of the land. So, Jennifer, do you have anything to add?
Jennifer O’Connell: Oh, thank you. I was actually pretty much finished when you needed to interrupt me. So, it’s perfectly fine. I do appreciate that Representative Foxx mentioned that where we were able to cobble exemptions from AB5, the PRO Act, they are eliminating any exemptions. There is not going to be anybody who is able to advocate to get an exemption from this law. And that needs to be known. As she said, they are trying to keep it hidden. They are trying to make it, again, I wrote an article in my ability to do so, saying that for the people, these acts that they want to label for the people are really just to control the people. It’s like they just want to control what people do, how they do it, limit them from being able to prosper, and stick them into their little boxes while union bosses get to line their pockets. It’s very unfair. It’s un-American and it…
Congresswoman Virginia Foxx: Jennifer, if you’d get that to Patrice, I’d really appreciate it.
Jennifer O’Connell: I will do that. I definitely will.
Congresswoman Virginia Foxx: Okay. Thank you. Thank you.
Carrie Lukas: Great. I’m going to get ready for questions now. First, I really enjoyed hearing from everyone today. I mean, so often this issue is discussed in the abstract. But it’s important for the media and for the greater public to understand how this is actually affecting people, and particularly women around the country. And I just want to add that when we’re talking about exemptions, I really think a sign of a bad law is when everyone’s jockeying to get out from under it, which sets up this terrible incentive when it comes to, you know, members of Congress or representatives being able to kind of sell those exemptions. And I know that’s been, it’s been really a terrible process where those who are politically connected get out of it in California and those who don’t have to suffer under these restrictions. It’s simply not fair. Now I want to ask some of our participants are going to be able to able to answer some questions.
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