Labor Day: The Times Are A’Changin

A Dictionary Definition of the Gig Economy:
“a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.”

Work, the workforce and your role in it. For decades, the view seemed unchanging.

However, as we prepare to celebrate Labor Day, it’s time to acknowledge the changing nature of work and our view of it.

Let’s start with the obvious because it’s so important and undergirds our legislative efforts. New Jersey is an expensive state. We’re great at education and we have a plethora of services, but all these are expensive, leading people to use their various talents and skills to earn a living in the “gig economy.”

Thousands of people who work in New Jersey are part of the gig economy. Think of Uber and Lyft drivers, graphic designers, copywriters, Instacart shoppers, people who might already have a job and are looking for that little extra part-time income. In some instances, the gig is full time.

Beyond salary or income requirements, when viewing the nature of work, we must consider other issues: a potential pension, hospitalization, workers' compensation and a social safety net.
Unlike times past, few people will remain with the same company for an entire career, and that is even more true of those in the gig economy.

We need a structure and a plan to protect these “new” workers who will obviously grow in number as the nature of employment continues to evolve.

This is why I have introduced Senate Bill No.67, which would provide portable benefits for workers who provide services to consumers through contracting agents. It would create a financial safety net that follows the worker if and when they transition to a new or different contracting agent.

Portable benefits are not quite “new.”

“It builds on history and recent momentum. Social Security is an early example of a program that provides portable, prorated benefits that have become more universal over time with important eligibility reforms,” according to the Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit think tank. “The Affordable Care Act has demonstrated the value of making health coverage more portable. Particular industries, like construction and entertainment, have been providing benefits to a flexible and shifting workforce for decades.”

What has changed, of course, is the influence of technology and the attitudinal view of younger workers.

At its root, my bill addresses the basic insecurity that comes with any employment. Portable benefits protection is one step in an overall “financial health and stability for nontraditional workers.” This legislation moves us in the right direction. However, we will need more on other issues such as, “adequate pay, workplace protections against discrimination, worker organizing and work classification,” according to the Aspen Institute.

My legislation is a reasonable and realistic approach for assisting the gig workers of the 21st century. What better way than to see this shift in the right direction as we celebrate Labor Day, which honors the contributions of the American labor movement?

That’s my take, what’s yours?


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