Freelancing Legislative Update: Understanding the PRO Act

By Sherryl Brown on Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The House of Representatives passed new legislation February 7th that will go to the Senate for approval if it can get out of committee. The legislation is called the PRO Act (Protecting the Right to Organize). It proposes to amend the Taft-Hartley Act that passed in 1947 that allowed states to opt out of contractor and school unions, among other provisions.

There are implications for the publishing industry which employs outside contractors and freelancers, many of whom prefer to work without corporate supervision. This law would negate what is termed “right to work laws” in twenty-seven states. For example, a copy editor who works as a freelancer for a large publishing company would under the new law be required to meet three criteria in order to remain outside the control of their “clients.”

Here are the conditions that would have to be met by outside contractors and freelancers—such as people working for Uber and Lyft and other industries—before they could be exempt from the new law. ABC test to qualify is as follows:

            A. Prove absence of control (i.e., they would not be under control or        supervision of their client).

            B. The work must be outside the course of a client’s (publishing company’s) usual business model.

            C. The outside contractor or freelancer must have a license.

The PRO Act has been written to not only allow freelancers in our industry to organize, but it would also force publishing companies to hire freelance professionals who previously worked without the benefits usually associated with full time employment. These positive aspects of the bill will unfortunately also bring unintended consequences that would limit the ability of a freelancer to work for more than one company and to set their own conditions and work schedules.

My reading of the law’s provisions would favor some freelancers like Uber and Lyft drivers, but it would not be in the best interest of most freelance professionals in the publishing industry. Freelancers would have to prove that they are not under the control of the “client” (Test item A). Their work certainly would not qualify as outside the course of a client’s usual business model (Test item B).  Because many freelancers have degrees, competencies and training that do not result in a license, Test item C would put an undue burden on their ability to find employment.

As stated above, the intention of the PRO Act is to put pressure on all companies, not just those in publishing, to hire more full-time staff with benefits and the ability to organize (unions). But there is a serious downside to the provisions as outlined above.

Contact your elected officials to let them know that the ABC test as it is now written is unacceptable to many independent professionals who do not want to fall under any one corporate umbrella or to unionize.

What do you think of the PRO Act? Let us know in the comments!


Sherryl Brown is Vice President of Chicago Women in Publishing and has been retired for seven years.  Formerly, she taught German at Austin Community College.  She was executive director of the German-Texan Heritage Society in Austin for three years and then worked full time in three different art galleries in Fredericksburg, Texas.  All along, she has been writing in various genres, mostly non-fiction.  In 2016, she published her first novel, Immanence, which is available on Amazon.com

One response to “Freelancing Legislative Update: Understanding the PRO Act”

  1. The B portion of the ABC test in this proposed legislation will kill my livelihood. Please contact your congressional representatives and ask them to AMEND the bill, using the IRS test in lieu of the ABC test.

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