Opinion: Kevin Kiley Corporate Greed on Display as Workforce Protections Chairman


Graphic by Frances Kassouni

Kevin Kiley released his key priorities as the new chairman of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee on Feb. 13. His No. 1 enemy? Biden’s PRO-Act.

Biden’s PRO-Act was one of the biggest wins for collective bargaining and expansion of union rights in the last century. Granite Bay’s own congressperson and alumni, Kevin Kiley, is trying to villainize it. 

Passed in 2021, the PRO- Act aimed to expand the workers’ right to organize under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. Currently, workers designated as independent contractors do not get the collective bargaining protections granted under the NLRA. 

The PRO-Act expanded the bubble of protection to allow more independent contractors to be designated as employees, thus granting them collective bargaining protections. 

In the era of a growing gig economy labor market,  there has been an estimated increase of 12.9 million independent contractors since 2017. Independent contractors include Uber and Lyft drivers, Instacart and doordashers, and other growing tech industries. 

By extending the NLRA to include more workers previously designated as independent contractors, the PRO-Act protects gig workers protection from employer violations, including, but not limited to,

  • “Threatening employees with loss of jobs or benefits if they join or vote for a union or engage in protected concerted activity.
  • Threatening to close the plant if employees select a union to represent them.
  • Promising benefits to employees to discourage their union support.”

according to the National Labor Relations Board.

Only a month into his new position as congressman, Kevin Kiley has caved to corporate greed. This is nothing new, however; Kiley has been taking campaign donations from the likes of Chevron, AT&T, Meta, Pfizer and JP Morgan for years.

What’s different now, is that Kiley is positioned as Chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the House of Representatives. The decision made by the new Republican Majority, no doubt, could have negative consequences on the sliver of progress that collective bargaining has achieved under the Biden administration. Collective bargaining is the process by which a group of employees can negotiate for better contracts, wages, benefits, hours and more with their employers. 

The Workforce Protections Subcommittee isn’t an irrelevant governing body, either. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the subcommittee was tasked with deciding what federal regulation should exist for workforce safety and updating OSHA guidelines. They are in charge of wages, worker’s hours, migrant worker protection and regulation, as well as any other existing worker regulations that fall within existing case law. 

The fact that Kevin Kiley, who has no recognizable expertise on workforce safety, nor has served on any similar committee assignments in the California Legislature, should not be in the position he is in right now. 

The PRO-Act expands the number of employees that can be registered under the National Labor Relations Act based on the ABC test, which was established in California’s AB-5 Act. Prior to the PRO-Act, most independent contractors did not apply to all three of the required ABC test categories. By making the requirements more stringent, more previous independent contractors are now designated as employees. 

The California Labor and Workforce Development Agency outlines the following requirements to be designated as an independent contractor. 

  •  The worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact;
  • The worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and
  • The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

If you don’t apply to all one of the three of the categories as listed above, then your designation is changed from independent contractor to employee. 

The difference between the PRO-Act, and AB-5, however, is that the PRO-Act does not require different wages or benefits based on the designation of employee. While AB-5 required that newly established employees be given higher wages and benefits, the PRO-Act simply gives newly designated employees the right to collective bargaining of the National Labor Relations Act.

Kiley doesn’t seem to understand that concept.

In a statement made by his office, Kiley called the PRO-Act “effectively implement[ing] AB-5 nationwide.”

Frankly, Kiley’s position on the AB-5 Act is an embarrassing display of corporatism rampant in his policy positions as an elected official. It’s no secret that giant gig economy corporations like Uber and Lyft have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to campaign against legislation that would allow independent contractors to gain the right to organize. In 2020, Uber and Lyft spent a record-breaking 200 million dollars to campaign against Proposition 22, which would have allowed independent contractors to be designated as employees. 

Although the full amount of money that Uber and Lyft have spent against the PRO-Act is currently undisclosed, we do know that they spent over 1 million dollars in advertising alone. 

Almost verbatim quoting the talking points from Uber and Lyft campaign against the PRO-Act, Kiley claims that the legislation would make it harder for freelance workers to get jobs. Uber and Lyft in their advertisement campaign, said that the PRO-Act would lead to less flexibility for their workers

Again, nothing in the PRO-Act changes wages, benefits, or working hour requirements.

I can only imagine that Kiley’s corporate squabbling is to appeal to his business and contract donors, which have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to his campaigns in the last decade. 

Claiming that an “estimated 350,000 jobs will be destroyed if the PRO-Act becomes law,” Kiley cites the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank whose 501(c)(4) counterpart, the American Action Network, has the goal to “create, encourage and promote center-right policies based on the principles of freedom, limited government” according to their website.

Not exactly unbiased statistical analysis. 

The reality is, the decline in collective bargaining within the United States has had a direct impact on the stagnation of wage compensation. The decline in union membership has tracked almost directly with the rise in income inequality

Kevin Kiley ran his campaign on addressing rising inflation, and a decline in the ability for most Americans to afford basic goods. 

If he truly wanted to improve buying power, then his positions on policy should reflect that. But they don’t. And as a result, he has positioned himself against policy that has the potential to improve wage outcomes for almost 32 million independent contractors

Kevin Kiley doesn’t care about improving citizens’ buying power, he only cares about the corporate interest that fuel his campaigns. 

Kevin Kiley, if you truly want to prioritize your constituents over corporate interests, I implore you to be more pro-union.