Portable Benefits and the Gig Economy: A Backgrounder

Source: Adi Kamdar, OnLabor blog, April 8, 2016

The debate surrounding the gig economy has cast light on workers who depend for their livelihood on multiple sources of income.  For example, an Uber driver may also be working for Lyft, and a freelance website designer may have five clients at the same time.  But when classified as contractors, these workers may miss out on employer-provided health benefits, unemployment, worker’s compensation, paid sick days, and more. In a letter titled “Common ground for independent workers,” a group of tech gurus, union leaders, and startup CEOs recently called for a change in how benefits work.  As they argued in the letter: “Everyone, regardless of employment classification, should have access to the option of an affordable safety net that supports them when they’re injured, sick, in need of professional growth, or when it’s time to retire.”  Their call to action pushes for “flexibility and stability”: the flexibility to work multiple jobs, temporarily or long term, with varying schedules—all while experiencing the stability of a safety net.  Workers’ benefits, they say, shouldn’t be tied to an employer. They should be portable.