As a brief published by the Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative notes, “since the middle of the last century, America has historically relied on employers to provide workers with health insurance, retirement, short-term disability insurance, and other benefits.” Further, “when almost all U.S. workers worked for traditional employers, this approach provided a stable safety net.”

The 21st century, however, has brought with it a significant shift from those who are traditionally employed in permanent jobs, to those who work freelance, independent, or contracted “gigs.” These gig workers, or indy workers, as our Guild calls them, have followed in the path of the gig economy, which is characterized by the prevalence of short-term work as opposed to permanent jobs.

Unfortunately, the benefits system of the last century has not kept up with the changes of this century. The Indy Worker Guild has been analyzing this situation for some time now (check out this article, “Bringing Stability to the United States of Anxiety“, that our Executive Director, Saket Soni, co-wrote last year). It’s clear to us that since gig workers often lack access to healthcare, retirement, paid leave, and the entire host of employment benefits the labor movement fought hard to gain for workers, they need is some kind of system that would allow their benefits to travel with them. These portable benefits would follow indy workers from job to job so that it is the worker who essentially owns their benefits, not the particular employer.

This is why The Portable Benefits Pilot Program Act, introduced on May 25, 2017 by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), is such an important development. This federal piece of legislation would allocate $20 million to the Labor Department to create a fund from which states, local governments, and nonprofits can apply for grants in order to experiment with ways to set up a portable benefits system for gig workers.

For some examples of different ways a portable benefits system might be structured, take a look at another Aspen Institute publication, “Portable Benefits in the 21st Century.”

Stay tuned as the Indy Worker Guild provides ways for you to get active on behalf of this legislation. Exciting times for gig workers indeed!

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