“Independent Contractor” Case goes before SCOTUS

This is a case that could have a huge impact on the economy and labor relations.

In New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, No. 17-340, the justices heard the case of Dominic Oliveira, a long-haul truck driver who filed a suit against the transportation outfit New Prime three years ago, alleging that the company failed to pay him minimum wage and at times even charged him for working.

The case pits business interests against labor groups in the first major case of the term that could have consequences for hundreds of thousands of American workers and potentially millions of consumers. It could shape an industry that generates more than half a trillion dollars in annual revenue.

The case also raises questions about the use of the “independent contractor” designation to reduce pay and benefits for workers who perform essentially identical work as employees. On that front, the court’s decision could have ramifications for virtually every sector of the economy.

I can see both sides of this. On the one hand, if a contractor is doing essentially the same full time work as an employee, then it’s a distinction without a difference. On the other hand, why should the federal government be inserting itself in the employer/employee/contractor relationship? Some people prefer contract work because of the flexibility and ability to create a business around multiple contracts. Then again, an employer shouldn’t be able to absolve itself from the work of contractors just because they aren’t officially employees.

By the letter of the law that’s involved, I believe that the court should come down in favor of the contractor, but it does open up the larger question of what legal distinctions there are, or should be, between contractors and employees.