Should Gig Workers Get Portable Benefits? This Senator Thinks So

Sen. Mark Warner at the Virginia Democratic "Victory for Virginia" election party, in Tysons Corner, Va., Nov. 5, 2013. Cliff Owen/AP Photo

If Virginia Sen. Mark Warner gets his wish, a new bill he’s proposing could earn him a lot of brand new working-class friends.

Warner believes that the gig economy is a boon for American workers but that it also leaves independent contractors vulnerable.

He is concerned that “many of these on-demand jobs do not provide traditional safety net protections for workers: unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation for injuries, or pension and retirement planning,” According to Warner’s Senate webpage.

Seeking to rectify that, Warner proposed legislation that would earmark $20 million for a fund organizations could use to create portable benefits programs for gig economy workers.

Portable benefits would follow workers from job to job and function independently of companies that hire independent contractors.

That’s a huge opportunity for gig economy workers who generally have no access to the benefit programs of the companies who contract their services.

Proposed Legislation Would Expand Portable Benefits for Workers

The idea is not entirely new. Quartz notes there are a “handful” of portable benefits programs around the country.

Warner’s plan, however, “would issue grants for pilot programs that create new types of portable benefits. Local and state governments, as well as non-profit organizations such as unions, would be eligible to apply for the grants.”

Warner has been working toward this goal for quite some time.

In a 2015 Washington Post op-ed piece, the senator wrote, “Washington has mostly remained on the sidelines as the U.S. economy, workforce and workplace have undergone perhaps the most dramatic transformations in decades.”

Warner goes on to say that though no one knows what the future economy will look like, change is inevitable and Washington needs to stay “nimble” and keep up with the needs of today’s workers.

Washington Rep. Suzan DelBene, who concurrently introduced the bill to the House, says, “Whether you make a living through mobile car services or by selling crafts online, workers deserve access to benefits.”

Critics have a different take on the proposed legislation. Some say it would allow some businesses to get around legal obligations to employees.

Warner remains undeterred and says he expects it to gain both Democratic and Republican support.

If you’d like to weigh in on the proposal to provide portable benefits to workers in the gig economy, contact your elected officials and let them know what you think.

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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