It’s Time to Modernize the Workforce While Protecting Independent Workers

By: Nathan Brown

Throughout the past 10 years, the different ways in which Americans work have fundamentally changed. Thanks to technology, there are more innovative and flexible job opportunities for people to pursue outside of a traditional nine-to-five office job. 

A prime example of this transformation in how we work can be seen by the millions of people who operate in the on-demand economy, like those who choose to work in online or app-based platforms. Today, over 57 million Americans, including me, work on their own schedule, and that number will surely increase as more people realize the benefits that come with working in this sector – especially the flexibility it offers.

As a driver for Amazon myself, I value the flexibility that my work gives me. For many drivers like me, working independently allows us to balance our personal and professional life, particularly during these unprecedented times where many have to juggle multiple things like work, childcare, and virtual schooling. 

This is precisely why lawmakers, like Arizona’s U.S. Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, as well as my Congressman Greg Stanton, must work to address the needs of this growing sector of the workforce. It is long overdue for policymakers to recognize that today’s labor laws and social safety nets are outdated. 

First and foremost, implementing a portable benefits program would be one meaningful way to address this issue. Establishing a portable benefits program will protect millions of independent workers and give them peace of mind in addition to expanding opportunities for people across all demographics, ethnicities, and backgrounds. In the long run, this would help brick and mortar small businesses, restaurants, and retail establishments compete in what has become an increasingly online economy that shows no sign of slowing down.

Independent workers in this space would also benefit tremendously from a portable benefits program. Having access to key items like health insurance, paid family and medical leave, and disability insurance that they can take with them no matter where they work would be a huge improvement that could attract even more people to work in this industry. 

Remaining independent while receiving these types of benefits is an overwhelming popular opinion among current workers as well, according to one poll, by a 4-to-1 margin. Given this large majority, it’s no surprise that recently in California, Proposition 22 passed with over 58% support. This proves even further that allowing independent contractors to stay independent while receiving benefits is wildly popular and is not a partisan issue – it is a pro-worker issue.

The reason that Proposition 22 was so effective and successful can be summed up simply: workers – and those who support workers – in California wanted these crucial independent contractors and app-based earners to be able to keep their flexibility and independence. This is great news for Californians, and now it’s time to focus attention and effort on this issue nationally.

Utilizing the success of Proposition 22 and federalizing the issue would be a huge step forward for workers across the country. Private companies are doing their part to elevate worker standards, and policymakers in Washington must match that enthusiasm.

Nathan Brown is gig economy worker and voter in Congressional District 9

A Simple Solution to Help Millions of Independent Workers Like Me

By Eli Hirsche

For a lot of people, app-based platforms are a convenient way to get around town, order takeout, or skip the line at the grocery store. But for the drivers, couriers, and shoppers that make it possible, working in the on-demand economy means so much more. 

For some, it’s a way to earn extra income and make ends meet; for others, it’s a livelihood. Independent workers are a growing piece of our changing economy, yet unfortunately, outdated laws are holding many workers back.

This issue is personal to me, because I’m a gig worker myself. Like so many people, the COVID-19 economic shutdowns put me in a tough spot, so I started delivering for Doordash as a way to get through it and make ends meet.

What started as a last ditch effort to stay afloat quickly became my new passion. I love that I don’t have to sit at a desk and stare at wallpaper for 40 hours a week; instead, I can explore my hometown, help feed my community, and make a living on my own schedule.

I’m not alone. In America today, 57 million people – about a third of the workforce – choose independent work. According to one survey, 86% of app-based drivers cited flexibility as a top reason for driving.

Though independent work is a significant part of the workforce of today and the future, the laws that determine how workers get important benefits, like healthcare and retirement, are relics of the past.

That’s because our social safety net reinforces the employer-provided benefits system. For instance, about half of all Americans get their healthcare from their full time employer. However, gig workers who are legally considered self-employed often can’t personally afford the exorbitant costs of benefits. 

Steps like the Affordable Care Act have helped fill in the gap, but a lot of independent workers still don’t have access to all the important benefits they need to earn a stable living because policymakers haven’t kept up with the rapidly changing economy

A portable benefits system will help.

A portable benefits system would allow independent contractors to have access to the same benefits as full time workers without having to give up their flexibility. That’s because the benefit plan would stay with the worker even if they changed tasks or shifted work to another platform – hence “portable.”

The way it works is simple: the worker would pay a certain amount into the program, and whichever platform they earn on would also pay into it. For instance, if I were to use a portable benefits plan in my current situation, Doordash would pay into it; if I switched over to Uber Eats, they would pay into the exact same plan as well.  

Some states have already implemented smaller-scale versions of portable benefits. In January, Washington State launched a portable benefits program for medical and family leave, giving countless independent workers the ability to take care of their health and spend important time with their newborn children.

Independent work is here to stay, and our policymakers must update our laws to adapt. We need to create a portable benefits system that covers major benefits for all workers who need them. That way, independent workers like me won’t have to choose between jobs and a flexible schedule we love and the lifesaving benefits we need.

Eli Hirsche is a worker in the gig-economy and Mesa voter

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