“To suffer or permit to work”
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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.
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.”
Here’s some additional reading and material we used in our research:
- “The Fair Labor Standards Act at 80: Everything Old is New Again” by Kati Griffith
- “Employee Misclassification: Improved Coordination, Outreach, and Targeting Could Better Ensure Detection and Prevention” by the U.S. Government Accountability Office
- “After Gig Battle, Franchises Are Next Front in Worker Status War” from Bloomberg
The future of this podcast starts with you.
This season of “The Uncertain Hour” tells the unheard stories of real people affected by this thing we once knew as “employment.”
Stories like these are seldom in the limelight. It takes extensive time and resources to do this type of investigative journalism… to help you understand the complexity of our economy and to hold the powerful to account.
We need your support to keep doing impactful reporting like this.