Washington State House Democrats


My op-ed in Fortune on protecting gig workers

Originally published on 10/13/17 in Fortune.

From Amazon and Microsoft to Expedia and Intel, my home state of Washington is headquarters to many of the world’s leading technology firms.

The tech industry is one of the largest employers in the state—an engine that is fueling both state employment and population growth, and garnering national attention as policymakers seek to replicate our success.

As a lawmaker in the State House of Representatives, I am working to solidify Washington as a model for ensuring that jobs created by innovative firms are good ones.

Traditionally, securing a job at a tech company meant that hard work and long hours would be rewarded with good wages, benefits, and a chance to share in the profits of a growing firm. That promise is being kept at many of Washington’s largest employers.

Yet, this link is broken in a sector of the tech economy that some predict will change the way Americans work. New application-based platforms are deploying armies of workers to perform services ranging from on-demand taxis and home cleaning to meal delivery and child care.

Most of these “gig economy” workers are not employees of the company that signs their paychecks. Instead, they are classified as independent contractors—a status that, by law, means a worker is self-employed.

As an independent contractor, a worker should be afforded autonomy and flexibility. But American workplace protection laws barely acknowledge that independent contractors exist. These workers are not covered by minimum wage or safety protections. Their companies do not provide them health care, sick or vacation days, or retirement contributions. And federal labor laws to protect workers’ right to join together in unions do not cover independent contractors.

When I talk to gig workers, I hear again and again that they want good jobs, and should not be forced to choose between decent wages and flexibility. Working parents say that a flexible schedule allows them to pick their kids up from school or attend soccer games, but they struggle to afford health insurance and pay bills.

Young adults explain that they love the ability to work part time while pursuing higher education, but fear they will never save enough for retirement or to buy a house. These entrepreneurial workers agree that portable benefits are desperately needed in the growing economy of flexible work environments.

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