Features, Municipal Government, National

Building a Portable Benefits System

January 25, 2018

By Stephanie West

Seattle, Washington – Many leaders in business, labor, and government have recognized the need for a portable benefits system. It’s clear that the technological and economic developments have changed the world of work and planning for retirement. The social safety system, which was designed for a very different economy, has not kept pace with today’s workforce. Last year,  Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, SEIU 775 President David Rolf and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer began discussions in Seattle on the creation of a portable benefits system in Washington state.

Flexibility in the workplace makes it possible for people with irregular schedules, health conditions, or in-between jobs to earn some cash, but it also leaves a growing number of workers unprotected by benefits. The social safety net operates on an outdated expectation that a worker is an employee of a company. That may have been the norm 30 years ago, but the new economy has a growing workforce left without benefits given to direct employees.

The trio authored an open letter calling for Washington state to create a “portable benefits” system that would provide contract workers with benefits that could move with them from job to job. “The American social safety system, which was designed in the 20th century for a very different economy, has not kept pace with today’s workforce,” the letter says. “At a basic level, everyone should have the ability to protect themselves and their loved ones when they’re injured at work, get sick, or when it’s time to retire.”

“The American social safety system, which was designed in the 20th century for a very different economy, has not kept pace with today’s workforce,” the letter says. “At a basic level, everyone should have the ability to protect themselves and their loved ones when they’re injured at work, get sick, or when it’s time to retire.”

With Washington state already pioneering labor laws for the modern worker, Seattle was the perfect place to begin a movement for legislation that could provide benefits for independent workers and contractors. The state has passed one of the most generous paid family leave policies in the nation. In 2015, the Seattle City Council passed a landmark law allowing Uber drivers to unionize, though it is currently embroiled in several legal battles. Recently, Washington legislators introduced a bill in the state House that would extend benefits coverage to contract workers. If enacted, the bill would require companies to contribute funds to an outside benefits provider based on services rendered by contract workers. The providers would offer benefits, like health insurance, industrial insurance, paid time off, and retirement, to non-employed workers.

January 25, 2018

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