Professor Susan Bisom-Rapp participated in an international colloquium in Paris, France, which was held from Thursday, January 16th – Saturday, January 18th. The conference was the second international meeting of the Gray Zone Project (Projet ZOGRIS), a working group of scholars studying the rise of insecure forms of employment in four countries: Brazil, France, Mexico, and the United States. Projet ZOGRIS’ members are examining how inequality is created by forms of employment that differ from traditional, standard employment relationships. These newer forms of employment include: independent contracting and freelancing; part-time work; temporary work; short-term contracts; and leased work. The kickoff conference took place in December 2011. The January 2014 colloquium program is available here.
The January 2014 conference, “Employment Standards and Work Situations Meet (Labor) Market Regulations and Policies: Globalization and the View from the North and South,” was held at three different sites over the course of the three days: the University of Paris, Dauphine; the University of Paris, East-Creteil; and the National Conservatory of Arts and Letters (Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM)). Thirty-five (35) researchers from eight countries participated. The format was unusual. Each panel began with a commentator summarizing and commenting on three papers, which comprised the panel. Following that, each paper author was given a chance to present his or her work from his or her own perspective and to reply to the commentator’s critique. General discussion followed. “The conference format really kept the paper authors on their toes,” noted Professor Bisom-Rapp. “We had to react to how another person perceived our papers without knowing in advance what that perception would be. We also had to fill in the gaps on our arguments that the commentator might have left out of the commentary.”
Professor Bisom-Rapp’s paper, “Navigating in a Snowstorm: Labor Market Regulation, the Changed Nature of Work, and the Gray Zone in the United States,” argued that mapping the borders of the gray zone in the U.S. is complicated by several factors, including inconsistent definitions of non-standard work, a lack of recent data collection by the government, and employers’ misclassification of employees. “These factors make quantifying the trend toward atypical employment challenging,” said Professor Bisom-Rapp. “Moreover, given the rise of insecurity within even traditional employment relationships, focusing solely on gray zone employment may understate the extent to which legal and public policy reform is necessary in the U.S.” Ultimately, what may be required is a rethinking of the parameters of and approach to labor market regulation. The first step, however, is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the problem at hand and a coordinated policy response. “Unfortunately,” she noted, “the U.S. Congress does not appear positioned to undertake that challenge.” Political action from the American people will be necessary to move our elected representatives in the correct direction, concludes the paper.
“Hearing about what other countries are doing to provide support to non-traditional workers was heartening,” said Professor Bisom-Rapp. For example, in Brazil, a whole range of protections are available to independent contractors and do not require a traditional employer-employee relationship. In contrast, in the U.S., independent contractors are not eligible for unemployment insurance, cannot seek help from the Department of Labor when they are not paid, and are not eligible for Workers Compensation when they are injured on the job. They are also not protected by employment discrimination legislation. Those protections are only available to those who meet the definition of an “employee.” “If the nature of how people work is changing,” noted Professor Bisom-Rapp, “our labor and employment laws will need to account for that change. We cannot leave millions of people without necessary legal protection.”
Projet ZOGRIS is funded by a grant from the French National Research Agency (Agence Nationale Recherche (ANR)), a research funding organization established in 2005 by the French government. ANR maintains a grant for studying inequality. The ZOGRIS project’s funding is in the form of an inequality grant.
Professor Bisom-Rapp is an internationally-known scholar in the field of comparative workplace law who writes about globalization, equal employment opportunity, occupational safety and health, and the rights of migrants.
Photo: From left to right: David Bensman (Rutgers); Olivier Giraud (CNAM); Donna Kesselman (UPEC); Susan Bisom-Rapp (TJSL); Christian Azaïs (UP Dauphine); Richard Hyman (London School of Economics, emeritus).