Philadelphia is about to become the first city in the country to approve legislation that would create a portable bank of paid time off for domestic workers. And it could create the model for a similar blueprint that would aid the gig economy workforce if implemented on a wider scale.
Lawmakers have begun to hold a series of hearings to discuss the “future of work,” and it may be no surprise that the two political parties have differing ideas about how that should impact the gig economy. The House Education and Labor Committee held the first of three such meetings on October 23, aiming to ensure that the law keeps up with modern developments such as automation, artificial intelligence, and the gig economy. While Democratic lawmakers seem to want to increase restrictions on the industry, their Republican counterparts are looking toward more flexible options. According to an article by Jaclyn Diaz of Bloomberg Law, the working subcommittees will recommend specific legislation early next year. What might such legislation look like, and what chances of success might it have?
There’s a great story in today’s Bloomberg Law by Genevieve Douglas highlighting the recent trend of states permitting self-employed workers – such as gig economy contractors – to enjoy the fruits of a paid family leave program on a portable basis. This can only be good news for gig economy businesses and the gig economy as a whole. After all, as gig workers are afforded greater opportunities to enjoy the kinds of benefits (with flexibility), the number of well-qualified and higher skilled workers to join the labor pool will only grow.
As I wrote previously, it is no secret that labor laws have been unable to keep pace with the changing economy, despite challenges from the bench to address the needs of the gig economy. Certain state legislatures (e.g. Washington) have taken steps to address needs of gig workers, with their ‘Paid Family and Medical Leave’ program expanded to include self-employed workers. And efforts to make portable benefits available to the gig workforce are ongoing, mostly at the state level. However, federal legislative and regulatory entities are seemingly mulling their options and allowing the change to occur from the bottom. Voices from the gig upper strata are becoming impatient, and want immediate legislative change, at the top.
One of my favorite workplace law reporters, Tyrone Richardson of Bloomberg Law, had two stories in the past week addressing the issue of Congress and the gig economy. They present two sides of the same coin when it comes to the possible action that our nation’s federal lawmakers might take with respect to gig workers and the companies that retain their services.
During Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit earlier this week, Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi dropped a bombshell: the company wants to soon provide benefits to its drivers in an effort to close the gap between what is received by its contractor fleet and its employee workforce. If this comes to fruition, it could revolutionize the way that gig workers are compensated, could lead to even more people jumping into the gig worker pool—and could spark a renewed misclassification battle over contractor status.
We can safely say that one of the biggest supporters of the gig economy is Virginia Senator Mark Warner (D). Back in 2016, he advocated for the Labor Department to update its statistics to help us get better insight into the size of the gig economy. In 2017, he crafted a concept and introduced a bill to assist local governments with funding and development of portable benefits for gig workers, then followed that up with a proposal designed to tackle tax issues that arise for gig workers. He’s at it again.
As an increasing number of workers continue to join the gig economy, it is increasingly imperative for lawmakers and regulators to create a new retirement system that allows for freelancers and individuals working for multiple businesses to easily save for retirement. Although the American workforce is changing, the traditional retirement system does not yet present an option for the changing workforce. Gig workers are currently not entitled to enjoy a traditional employer-based retirement plan because such plan are only permitted to cover employees and not independent contractors.
As we have previously discussed, one of the hottest gig economy issues to dominate political and public policy debate has been “portable” benefits – the concept that gig economy workers should have flexible, portable benefits that they can take with them from job to job. States and local governments are increasingly moving forward on their own with proposals to explore the provision of benefits to individual performing work in the gig economy. Most notable are proposals that have been set forth in the state legislatures in Washington, New York and New Jersey. The movement also got a boost in January when Uber and SEIU announced a joint call for the state of Washington to develop a portable benefits system that would cover gig economy workers.
Offering health, retirement, and workers’ compensation benefits to the varied gig workforce, while maintaining some affordability to the worker while also avoiding the 30 percent cost increase to businesses, has proven to be an extremely tall task. The situation gets even more complicated because gig businesses also need to be concerned that charges of worker misclassification could be supported by the offering of such benefits to their contractor workforce.