Following the landmark Supreme Court Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, many employers said they would start covering travel expenses for workers who need abortions and live in banned states. But Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) say a large portion of the workforce will be excluded from those benefits: workers classified as “independent contractors.”
The two lawmakers sent a letter to the Labor Department on Thursday urging the agency to follow through on its proposed crackdown on worker misclassification. They said it was necessary to do so because their offices believe that many companies will not include contractors when it comes to abortion travel reimbursements.
Warren and Bush said five companies in particular – Amazon, Uber, Lyft, Grubhub and DoorDash – gave them “generally inadequate” answers when asked if their contract staff would be covered. “But all five confirmed, explicitly or implicitly, that independent contractors would be excluded from reimbursement of travel expenses for abortion care,” they wrote. Their full letter, which was co-signed by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), can be read below.
“This disparity will have particular implications for already marginalized communities.”
– Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) and Rep. Cori Bush (D)
Lawmakers said the situation illustrated a “disparity” between white-collar workers directly employed by companies and their independent contractors who technically work for themselves. Contractors are often not included in a company’s employee health care plan, which appears to be the primary means of reimbursement for travel expenses related to abortions.
“These responses confirm that while the highest-paid corporate executives in companies rightly enjoy this advantage, their independent contractors, who lack both wage stability and minimum wage protections, will not,” they said.
Many workers received abortion benefits as part of their health insurance plan before the Dobbs ruling, whether they were aware of it or not. As HuffPost reported last year, the expansion of these benefits in recent months appears limited primarily to “a small, select group of working people in America,” mostly white-collar workers. (There are notable exceptions, however, such as Starbucks, which said baristas in its health plan would be eligible for travel reimbursement.)
Although many contractors work truly independently, for years employers have labeled workers as “independent contractors” to avoid the traditional costs of employment, such as benefits and payment. compensation for work accidents. In the case of gig platforms like Uber and Lyft, entrepreneurs also incur significant equipment costs in the form of cars and gas.
The Department of Labor introduced a new regulations in October, this would limit the circumstances in which an employer could place a worker in the contractor category. If the rule were to go into effect, many employers would be forced to reclassify their contractors and employees and start covering the associated costs.
Warren and Bush said in their letter that Amazon and Uber had made it clear to their offices that only direct employees would be eligible for reimbursement of travel expenses. Although Lyft, Grubhub and DoorDash did not “explicitly” have it, the lawmakers said, those companies said only those enrolled in corporate health plans would be covered.
“This disparity will have particular implications for already marginalized communities,” they wrote. “More women have joined the gig workforce in recent years, and women of color face even greater barriers to accessing abortions and related care.”
They urged the Labor Department to implement “the strictest rule possible” so that more contractors are reclassified as employees.