According to Benjamin I. Sachs, a professor at Harvard Law School, the board of directors could also avail themselves of a statutory provision that enables the federal government to cede responsibility for regulating work in certain industries to the states. This could allow a state like California or Washington to reach an agreement in which gig workers, with the help of a union, negotiate wages and benefits with companies across the industry in what is known as sectoral bargaining.
Under such a system, a union would have to show support from a fraction of the workers in the industry, say 15 or 20 percent, in order to negotiate with multiple gig companies on behalf of all workers. In contrast, under federal law, the union would usually have to win the majority of the workers it wanted to represent. This is a daunting challenge in a high-volume industry like gig work.
Other labor experts, such as Wilma B. Liebman, who headed the Labor Department in the Obama administration, reiterate that the agency can cede its powers to states, but are more skeptical that this would be the case with gig workers.
Help for home care workers
The federal government, by controlling the Medicaid program, could do something similar for domestic workers, who normally work independently, or for small agencies who have little power to raise wages because states set tariffs on their services. Agencies sometimes aggressively oppose union campaigns because they fear that workers who can bargain for higher wages will be at a competitive disadvantage.
A handful of democratic states like Washington have addressed this problem by allowing workers to negotiate with the state over industry-wide rate increases, thereby removing the disadvantage that a single agency would face by unilateral wages would increase.
The Service Employees International Union, which represents domestic workers across the country, believes the Biden government could encourage other states to enter into such industry-wide bargaining arrangements, for example by providing additional money to states that have followed this approach. Hundreds of thousands of additional home carers could benefit.
The federal government could also intervene directly to raise wages and benefits for those workers, under a provision in Medicaid Act that requires states to keep payments high enough to ensure adequate home care workers.