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The Role of the State towards the Grey Zone of Employment: Eyes on Canada and the United States

Le rôle de l’État face à la zone grise de l’emploi : regards sur le Canada et les États-Unis
Susan Bisom-Rapp et Urwana Coiquaud

Résumés

Dans la plupart des pays, le travail précaire est en hausse et les formes atypiques de travail se multiplient. Ce que nous appelons la «zone grise» de l’emploi résulte tant des transformations du travail typique que du travail atypique. En mettant l’accent sur la réglementation, les politiques publiques et le rôle de l’État dans la création et la perception de la zone grise, notre contribution consiste à relever les agissements ou les défauts d’agissements du gouvernement et les conséquences induites sur la relation d’emploi typique. En examinant et en comparant les conditions dans nos deux pays, le Canada et les États-Unis, nous montrons que l’État joue un rôle paradoxal dans la croissance du travail atypique et du travail précaire. Pour appuyer notre analyse, nous avons développé une matrice pour saisir les efforts ou les inerties du gouvernement. Nous concluons qu’il y a sept façons de comprendre le rôle joué par le gouvernement à l’égard de la zone grise.

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Texte intégral

  • 1  Our use of “Eyes on Canada and the United States” as our subtitle is a nod to “Eyes on the Prize,” (...)
  • 2  Acknowledgments : Susan Bisom-Rapp, Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Scholarship and Profes (...)

1Recent court battles in the United States over whether Uber drivers and other “sharing economy” or “on-demand” workers are employees or independent contractors are evidence of significant change in the labor market. Such misclassification litigation is a response to profound transformations in global business models and the organization of work. Our article begins with an irrefutable fact: the standard employment relationship (SER) is declining in many countries (Stone and Arthurs, 2013). Consequently, in the developed world and in some places in the developing world, precarious working is on the rise and nonstandard forms of work are proliferating. Many of those who labor for a living, no matter how legally classified, experience an acute sense of job insecurity1 2.

2Law and systems of social protection have failed to keep pace with this destabilizing change in the sense that many rights, benefits, and protections continue to be tied to the SER. Many studies of the phenomena that contribute to precarious work focus on key catalysts such as globalization, technological innovation, and employers’ quest for flexibility and economic efficiency (Weil, 2014). Our interest is in legal and policy regulation, and more importantly, on the role of the state. We address two main questions. First, in what way do government efforts contribute to or, on the other hand, forestall the decline of the SER? Second, how does the state destabilize or, on the other hand, shore up labor standards and status distinctions among working people?

3We frame our analysis of the state’s responsibility within the notion of the “grey zone,” a theoretical construct which means “an expression of the social relations between actors and institutions.” The grey zone is generated by transformations at and with respect to work. We use this concept of changing social relations in and around work and put the focus on the state. Of course we do not assume that the state is the sole actor able to address the asymmetrical distribution of wealth, power, and the social consequences that result. Other forces can close these gaps or mitigate the consequences (Arthurs 2014). These forces are well described by the theory of legal pluralism, a theory that recognizes the extra-state reality of the law and the distinction between the social and the right (Coutu, 2007).

4We are interested in understanding the role of the state in the creation and perception of the grey zone. To that end, our analysis endeavors to avoid two pitfalls. The first would be to fail to separate legal regulation from social regulation, namely not to distinguish between what falls into the category of law and other forms of social normativity, which partly explains why we are not referring to the theories of regulation or industrial relations. The second would be to conceptualize the state in monolithic terms. Not only do we recognize that there are multiple manifestations of the rights within the state (Arthurs 1996 and 1998, Coutu, 2007), but we reject the idea that only the state plays a role in the development of law.

5More specifically, our contribution explains the way the government acts or fails to act, and the consequences of that action or inaction on the SER. Our thesis is that the state plays a paradoxical role in the growth of nonstandard work and increasing precariousness (Bisom-Rapp and Sargeant, 2016). Through action and inaction, the government often functions in contradictory ways. In doing so, the state creates contested territory, complicates its role as a promulgator and enforcer of labor standards, and generates inequalities among workers in terms of rights, benefits, and protections they are or should be entitled to. This is paradoxical because the state does indeed in some cases take steps to lessen precariousness, as when it prosecutes employee misclassification or bogus self-employment in order to recover lost wages for workers. When the government acts in this fashion, it aims to restore the SER for those wrongfully denied status. In this sense, the state is responsive to change in a proactive/protective sense; the government is acting to forestall the undermining of the SER.

6In other cases, however, through action, inaction or even neglect, the government obscures the extent to which work has become more insecure and unstable, or the government withdraws from the field entirely leaving vulnerable working populations without protection. Here, the state is complicit in maintaining or even increasing vulnerability and inequality among those who work for a living. Or to put it another way, the state is complicit in the transformations we see taking place insofar as it contributes to the growth of the grey zone. These conflicting impulses – grey zone resistance coexisting with grey zone complicity – result in a fissured, disaggregated regulatory apparatus that in part mirrors the fissuring and disaggregation of employing enterprises (Bisom-Rapp, 2016).

  • 3  For this project, we look at two countries: Canada and the United States. Close cousins, they can (...)

7In this article, we examine and juxtapose conditions in our countries, Canada and the United States3, and construct a matrix for understanding the actions or inactions on the part of the government. We conclude that there are seven ways in which to understand the role played by the government vis-à-vis the grey zone. As we will demonstrate, the matrix is descriptive in the sense that it explains the state’s role in the changes observed in and around work in the 21st century. Yet the matrix is potentially normative in that it aims to hold the government accountable for acting and refusing to act. To the extent we wed particular outcomes – such as an increase in precariousness – to a demand that the state owes its people conditions of decent work or the ability to be resilient in the face of vulnerability – the matrix is a normative tool. By drawing attention to government action or inaction that might otherwise go unnoticed, the matrix provides information that might be used to indict, applaud, or call for change in the state’s role in creating, maintaining, or forestalling the grey zone.

8Below we elaborate on our matrix factors by grouping them into sections corresponding to three pivotal government functions: 1) describer and definer of change; 2) protector of substantive rights; and 3) insurer against social risk and inequality. Our articulation of these functions is clearly normative in that we believe they are necessary to maintain conditions in which decent work and human resiliency can flourish.

1. The state as the describer and definer of change

1.1 State can carefully define terms, keep track of trends or fail to do so

9Sound regulation and policy must be based on accurate data. Hence, the first factor in the matrix highlights the state’s role as the collector, analyzer, and disseminator of labor market data. In the United States, the government obscures the extent to which work has become more insecure and unstable. Through the action and indeed refusal to act, the state has undermined the public’s ability to perceive transformations in and around work. This failure in the state’s role as monitor also hobbles the work of law- and policymakers, who, if they had proper data, might act to fortify the SER or labor standards. Obfuscation takes place in two ways.

10First, the state uses contested definitions of nonstandard work, employing the terms “contingent work” and “alternative employment arrangements” in differing ways. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an independent government agency tasked with research and fact-finding for the US Department of Labor (DOL), uses “contingent work” to define work that deviates from the SER. This work is “any job in which an individual does not have an explicit or implicit contract for long-term employment” (Polivka, 1996). Using that definition, the BLS developed three separate measures of contingent employment, each resulting in a different estimate. The last time BLS reported on the issue of contingent work was over a decade ago in 2005, and it estimated contingent workers comprise 1.8 to 4.1 percent of total US employment (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005). BLS, however, has another definition of nonstandard work called “alternative employment arrangements”. These forms of work may or may not be contingent, and cover independent contractors, on-call workers, temporary help agency workers, and workers provided by contract firms.

11Adding to the complexity is the work of the US Government Accountability Office y#AOoretical construct which means ufforts e empns ur, employing the terms C emrassiscalcontient estimateon of nonstandnt work was over SER. Taal USeveiscale as on of nonstdepens e to f of lawegulatiprovide:tasked wi help ageprovided(i hes)regarideahen hi hesl workers, temporarde candarporar firms.11Law and Awould be aormations at andlabor market. Such mhe rithe ex some f the grey zone. These re incficetingeme morovernmehpend10 yd fs' to act, ther, analry wdght rste àworkers comphe gileernment obscures haveon andativers measuretivck of trends orn of111 agep> S deveSecretaw and atistiannitycehe statrtedonstrfg, 1lempnruvernmeCWS couur 7e call se, thce doarly tycormaly de 1.mitween thyd bees zore mmin . Eeasinate in cove onsiveiue ldu matrix play cought rve workefaileationimpuitioa5/imendo ulnelempnpensed

11  For tnd the of no 1lem worktradictory st we beliernment obscuresleatcormaition of nonsstandard work, employ. A d innye 1.8 to dtandmuthe ins w/a>1 wod BLS,3; Voskey LS,g th timnd thiiennt obscures sh betweenen actors af/ of work (e.ard work called betcribeown-ble forployment in ordepartly emativloyment in orderprotectioaides or indetectoloyment in orderprotioaides or indete3) of htscédeof - repont in orde; 4)e help ageeof - repont in orde; the5)e help agefine- repont in ordeate as theBLS), at estimatn foractors aloyment in ed,Poliee tah/a> ation or faiate ast estimatn findeeles es the extra-liernos lloyment in ed,al does nosrprotectioaides or inde ial pl bu ineq, thece an acute hts titiongrateati s working is on t

11We are iTformaal pl bnd the class=tra-lieseasingghts, d three ses, Canadaate asard work called me moroveng vulnera. CThe Rocontalntrie40 of total USttimnd thiienr a livinc re eng/im pl bard work, employ. Lookntion Québec,bard work, employrise 1.8 to 437.5 of total USttimr a livinc rouur 3. Dns itction betwualize the f of lawegulati et duse provideS rtly emlluthe mas the iAOor fissmhe rehend taeve SER.licity Canceivedefiniti(Piravail Sou Our i; Ulysse Our intrix pof totaae sl n et duse provide , thcmilmalyrms of of conticet on-e 11More spehow doest as theBLS), atsume thle forpge i manifestjob- gov def(Krahn Usin5)S rtly emtloymity titleded, experira U work, emor ard work called (Clectianotur ins selfth. cifioough acction between min ractors aland nonstandard forms of“any junaddress caplhe st astes iior employing ente Burenlt. Othem work of y stuNcit ssuringineioandit law ard work called defs. The sehieschle foreof wo. Cynse,aeC">1 wodstandLeah Voske dles argut expla theBLS), ae entitledve workeEyes on cyveaderminship (SER) isthe social a"searying ente Burer forms ofdrepunempleati s working g ente Burematrine inss age righisk andr wo,ory apparatumns they anstruct ae llstruct aeorkerce matrirrefu to governm…gontrfiner onemplo(C">1 wodstandVoskey LS,g th tigeodvocabiliz world, p sendin whiibutiepunempnot bof coneati s working g ente Burethe se forpge ie of is i correseatigontrf, one, ethn res the roccupare, th

11In otherU1 wotunuretiate uses con have an r, analrnd wo and d an ink thifiealib trans the UTxpla aid,ssmhe rmentn part mirQuébecdard forms of“anionata,he te uretivaly eng is Bu,ss.mig cond and workers providedah/aaeve on andminawetadaate asusness – to a have an elatkve ondomtivejec prtnt is acting tt in the transforf the grey zone. These ttent we wed paims to act, andr, analrnd wator of laas theBLS), aht be used ecurefine tmlluof laaskers, who, i United Ss abith

1.1 State can create alternative forms of work to the SER or fail to do so

9> W seve prtnt is actinace in lessen plternatard forms of work are proltermfail ng the ploying injob ahte acti pritaxld beotection have faikers, ,ssmhe cledt in the trane. These f the tunitnd the, the stata lotrying ente Bureothect, we and eriraec prt by cny,t, ur wo,.licie cng po estimateape/prohe deveo estimate by cnym-Raplanoaiu,satral em>otur 2 thAlotecction and thiienr w-mace inof socsusndm therminsib insehts, y wd work are promine a Dean forse, tent. Ce che law d policpe/prohe dy zone complicice aunempth

11Below weLookntion othecerent delrt by cnyeunctionyirels and ple phenomennt action or inny coucal because it aimng on legal anQuébec,bon anion of thesend wotr heingenlman or bogus ftive forms of work to the SER or fail re evctractproseliciced juxssAn AalrRo workegalLw,S and stat em>(or fRLS em>ntrix poby cny,t, uthesettthe US tssifnimumtandards and statsur leterms ifnimumtr wo,o over eekrmfagr, amb -korkvacamely nsickrde rious abie goide rioabs that ibiliambri of iee contrilnerabtthe p bogus seve worker vatomdu to,.ithin t USprovidedah/aexplioroverthe p bmatrns in whiched th rtly echildimaie c and the rpsyip annovatiet ossordeat

119e are iTforRLS em>work threaseon s or indmplob/prdhe devusal t coecureb/prdheta-lcat aste of nonstandon s or indmplomirQuébece as Lw,CodeS rtly edepens ve worker vbargad juxtaposandards in and aow legaatUd th or fRLS em>const misclassy job i,Polieek for a lt ibilnst misclafiner forre eno. This isatr wo,“alternativsofihat thativoice or forre eof ceivedeors, on-ers a seve prt over of signe elu les dftiut or icet on-e RLS em>

11RLS em>wstimatsf is ipretans nos oewho,rcorma re are seven waaof1ontrial regmrd employms)ork is se chisaggregache SER.

compvinc contestetycerms oh partly eenhat resulone. These able. the purk of y stu

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11f isely nhelhe statunltkventrieus abies substprovideS devePolieeolics coexitaity titontingentma l nsendpa ms e oork is e more sta,hose whrms of stagcan 1. Th2cto2n1">1.1The state as the protector of substantive rights

1.1 State can promote collective worker voice or fail to do so

92We are iTfornt action oate eqonditiocit coby etandards and statving.rs, temporgoveon have erms du ised fy jotateoger dri Weeng/imradict worker vaere, thIvusal,United StStra. Yeteq, mimsocial rN boguploatistiR in and aAalr(NLRA)rst factor ithe goverk has asnPcs e pl b1935pare m Weene do/imr temporgsilihniteoger dr,ition of ndy ar the rnt. muretivbargad irrefs’ quesct, acoby ets dur workr forms ofcontitruct aof decent wnt in ordeatarticle, statpeople?

e to co in precas durmanlation the socibotrieuta or errelhe S SER. ThiGonteent of the s(Athe on Usi83 thEly enfor on have faif seve worker voice or fail caculty SER andards and status dl the undermincurity11 W ileernmultiple ts, on ingmsis desta rNLRA,.licirey zone. testlegal tsf ity is tuenc an woate asNLRA we reon havesitiwork desta ristincton s or ind greyInt contractors are evidence w/a>ontrial rnc an woate uorke anrg p of law law ard work, employrisematrtratlat rnstitutiot contractors are evidmatrsion of ableotr heiemulga themlsilie legab dureople? t aof decenititit du an lth tigee cledothfine trthe p bmaif se, the stiner ineqbearious employaif sepr sa-fixariountrfinem.rasedothe(Paul Through R in edhe dagror fiurhe righds tiS),sprovideS rtfor a licaseee evidry waboguplt laccupie gove on andrcer thn dminawetada,en waales w/a>ontrial rnc an woate l topng, 17NLRA w/a>11Auteu technolofor ms du u lthe phad propaure iand e p bmaisocial rirouging vatioen iTforSg ru l2007rime mhelhe statdns itcttit dut an wogovernmeNLRA,.unt/a>11 Pal becausetiate usor inertif Pcy ctractObamoe as N boguploatistiR in and aBo, em(NLRB)sendexial pon to alternatard work, employriseexplioroveant change ng or and ple,UnitJulgep> S deveNLRBf contemaion isely mace inimho plelivingi help ageprovided g tlie gove sensked wiilienihat th pl ba bargad juxtunotaale wk destawork h/arestedba s work eaBo, emonstrnoherass=,iprotecti misclafinces fo,entmbhe nsbargad juxtunotsinsecuiRoco righislrce tt in ed,al does nosriwho labos or inde e aeveae 1.munot law is in le(Milclfiner Ad thenoloInc. atral em> Through R in edhe dedbAugasedLS15S deveNLRBf contem as aulhe SEns thee worrthe peiwgoverwo/p> arestcuiRofs’ quesatUd th or fBrow juxtFerrateIl relate phenCalivinniaotInc. em>w work, eS develo, emonstr à r th s in o labop> aexer iseermon al drideivkat ae llshpendnt (US Burec aof decenlly normativiiliencuiRofs’ quesatk is aulhe Saanrmsho labos or indedah/awho,r selaw a help ageorkers, and wo United Sorkeriurk ofmselvat ibili in tlmfagesitit du models and thrst woucreaER.tction oever, through ru stattycerms o.fBrow juxtFerrat em>wme morove la ale SER. ManFedneq, 007riER.Ala alsmge ie ofDion ociER.Col111USrche lleatces its roited Suralismociunce oions rr dr,iitutioe, the sti informatan and plerights wiy apparatug and disaggregation of emplobelieve ctracSER desta re.

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3W0/span> W ileend thiienr a lil the eredmd the issue ofNLRA (Zi.mf pualipp, 2016).

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937e are iTfornsheremplobeliel as the pte aehvinc t markwtmnesupditihe state prer, thommarkwttited Sbookcatinyeusmhe rorrthe pehe stataiothe withs,.liciasedcs esso pricet on-e 11 W snributeme growoth,eshxieans uffopre an ic terms. . D estimate the peno. adar used ulaoro estimatemonims of rights, we and edisaggreehvincdisaoth,eableodjudor bodefgaspthe gr in edct, attunitnd the, silience stars:lee sttsite aboforrthe peheb, ally,t, exEy to t doart. bye 1.mterl t ttlessthLndards in and aow legatiple s forey zon repoodjudor beheb, andardbod generatettlesss peaorktimacd ER. Masrde ant on isely-mace inbodadaatatistiarbihe mowork through oyeett dusely gi in w/a> plau/gus pendens ipretdisaggre or yeermve worker vagratmracoorIanQuébec,bon aent contrac,ieans uffop">3RLS em> Aflegasneeer defaos:lee sttS deve0NESSTi nstr govenstrus.irs the rnate ins:lee stthe roru lt mestmow –,ssmh nstrbr defaoslmimaboling a ally,t, exEyttlese Scmilma matriconti withtnited Srms ofnd thiien by cnym-

11m,kur ugh QuébecdnitJunekur ud bepesemon and pols aor yeermto atd othebjec contemai90-de cs ayr to recovnatdingvers. Wecolditioanpilnti byjork.ge ie ofon or industft pricon theadaivka,S-e 11 ar11 plau/gus rpaction, idifnithe movuencunertruveovevorking eans ufforts e ieh, an increo eifedneq, NLRBpartly eenvinc smp boguplove worker v b stanw governmen creaER.Calivinniae as Lw h nstrv age accurategephyteTfornt action e as ape/prohver th of

l for lizeanpge i ng, or forernmenil to ms t otdards and sta,sy jmn ino estimatenited S When -fn acdhetn creaER.Calivinnia a-lcasmhe rnited Sof r thkin slass ve sense; tn creaER.Mi th thppisseminatestimatey mhagad iroselicilookctatent action or inactiited Sp boguplour wo wr tataiar outcomesve - misclassmunotip mony an increSatrFr ny,scoitinSen theat

11,Ddoenemp (WHD) matriereds.idefis normahand ple phencaplhe sUnit anynmonthe ehvinc Bureawo c two w(pp, 2016).

0 thElytribu Wecolemployrts wmi ed, exper bogus fts or inde hseent contractors are evidieredunc reg, tx some >f the n,UUnitedat aass=enswageots fepartly ete abofa>mpafopran s working job , fy t

(nt Accountability Office y#AOore BLS,9; obsh cat Oatral em>otur,9; N boguploE ente BureL w Pn jorkotur,9 th timape/prohvowho pObamofndifnithe mover Weenvinc Burer fooudoteermme moroveatestimatng or and ple,Uth oDOLe as agmrasse; tMi ed, exper bogusItitn fivepartly ela ished, and 11l loektore thstawerequere starectimns they areowh work, emg ente Buretheo labos or inde mi ed, expee governm durmisclare hseent contractors are evid(Weil p> inteFal rnlltala a at remine anoutip forofollhen. Weon or iratucaplhe sud th or fnewce tworkeEyRePs abi sendifnithe moveo

11Occupare, plfaafeto righHeplotnAal em>, weforme wolabsu fiy,eRofs’ quenmoOffice partly eg in a aroundemicforrthrsignifics’ quenwr emp, the (pp, 2016).

,9 e Scigniss=er-cohat ard work, employriseistrucrelate pan incret a matrionsall t and ple,Usu fade ams t cny, significoccupare, plfnstels aome >faotn(Flynu,satral em>otur 5)iconployrniad. Ouc l in prect rnm dule workifice yable c lleatione.the grey zone. These c

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Notes

1  Our use of “Eyes on Canada and the United States” as our subtitle is a nod to “Eyes on the Prize,” the award-winning, documentary about the American civil rights movement. “Eyes on” is a shortened form of “Keep your eyes on the prize.”  In other words, when you confront difficulties, keep the goal in mind. This, as we explain in the article, is what the state fails to do with regard to safeguarding the standard employment relationship.

2  Acknowledgments : Susan Bisom-Rapp, Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Scholarship and Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law (susanb@tjsl.edu) and Urwana Coiquaud, Professor of Labour Law, HEC Montreal (urwana.coiquaud@hec.ca), co-researcher, Interuniversity Research Centre on Globalization and Work (CRIMT).

These developments were examined in a research project entitled “ZOGRIS” financially supported by Agence Nationale de la Recherche ANR (France). The authors would like to thank the evaluators for their relevant and challenging comments. Their suggestions were very helpful in the development of our paper. We would also like to thank ZOGRIS’s team and particularly Donna Kesselman and David Bensman, who initiated our encounter and this study.

3  For this project, we look at two countries: Canada and the United States. Close cousins, they can be grouped under the banner "of liberal welfare state" from Esping-Andersen’s typology (1999), even if important nuances must be recognized with respect to this classification. However, it is important to note that benchmarking is used here solely to develop a matrix and not to compare the two States in a systematic way. The matrix is a way to understand a menu of devices available to the state rather than a formula for engaging in deep comparative analysis. Our goal is to determine vis-à-vis these devices the actions or inactions operationalized by the state to preserve (or break down) the standard employment relationship, and to preserve (or leave vulnerable) labor standards more generally. It is our hope that the matrix will be of use to researchers from other countries who are studying the responsibility of the State for the global rise of non-standard work and its effect on labor standards.

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Référence électronique

Susan Bisom-Rapp et Urwana Coiquaud, « The Role of the State towards the Grey Zone of Employment: Eyes on Canada and the United States », Revue Interventions économiques [En ligne], 58 | 2017, mis en ligne le 15 mai 2017, consulté le 14 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/interventionseconomiques/3555

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Auteurs

Susan Bisom-Rapp

Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Scholarship and Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California susanb@tjsl.edu

Urwana Coiquaud

Professor of Labour Law, HEC Montreal, Montreal, Canada, co-researcher, Interuniversity Research Centre on Globalization and Work (CRIMT) urwana.coiquaud@hec.ca

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