“To suffer or permit to work”
Feb 17, 2021
Season 5 | Episode 3

“To suffer or permit to work”

We'll finally tell you what happened to Jerry Vazquez and how it relates to the story of a 1930s hotel chambermaid. Plus, how we got the federal minimum wage and a new version of “The ABCs.”

Jerry Vazquez had become frustrated with the limited control he said he had over his cleaning business — and he wasn’t even earning minimum wage.

So he and a group of fellow franchisees took the company to court, arguing they’d been misclassified as independent contractors. They said they should be considered employees, which would entitle them to minimum wage and other workplace protections. Jerry’s lawsuit meant the court had to grapple with this tricky question of where you draw the line between employees and independent contractors. It’s an age-old legal debate that also involves a whole bunch of other types of workers.

Note: This is the third in a three-part series, you can listen to part one here and part two here.

Policymakers, courts and government agencies have repeatedly grappled with what it means to be an employee. It’s not as simple as it might seem. So this week on the podcast, we’re going to get into it. We’ll talk about where the federal minimum wage law came from, why lawmakers wrote it as broadly as they did, whom it applied to and whom it excluded. We’ll also talk about this weird phrase, “to suffer or permit to work,” that’s at the heart of lawsuits like Jerry’s, and teach you a new version of “The ABCs.”

It’s time for a deep and surprising lesson in law and policy as we explore this thing we used to call employment: what happened to it, why it happened and what this new kind of workforce means for the American dream. 

For even more of “The Uncertain Hour,” subscribe to our newsletter! Each week we’ll bring you a note from host Krissy Clark and explain some terms that have come up in our reporting. This week’s word is “misclassification.”

Click here to read a transcript of this episode. Here’s some additional reading and material we used in our research:

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The team

Krissy Clark Host and Senior Correspondent
Caitlin Esch Senior Producer
Catherine Winter Senior Editor
Chris Julin Producer
Sitara Nieves Executive Director, On Demand
Erica Phillips Writer/Producer
Marque Greene Assistant Producer
Tony Wagner Digital Producer