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Congresscritters float benefits for gig workers

Bill would let contractors get unemployment and paid leave

Two US legislators are drafting bills to provide "gig" contract workers many of the same benefits afforded to those who work full time.

Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and and Representative Suzan DelBene (D-WA) have announced to their respective houses bills that would allow contract workers with companies like Uber, Lyft, and GrubHub to get benefits such as unemployment insurance, paid time off, and tax-advantaged retirement savings.

The bill would create a $20m grant from the US Department of labor to help both local governments and nonprofit groups create pilot programs for agencies that would handle the services for gig workers.

Warner says the bill, known as the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act, would allow contract and temp workers, many of whom put in full-time hours by working for multiple companies, the ability to collect benefits that traditionally would be offered only to full-time employees.

"Whether by choice or necessity, a growing number of Americans are working without a safety net and have difficulty planning and saving for retirement, health care needs, or on-the-job injuries," Warner said.

"The nature of work is changing rapidly, but our policies largely remain tied to a 20th-century model of traditional full-time employment."

The status of gig employees has been a topic of debate in recent years as services such as Uber and Lyft have contended that many of the drivers for their car fleets are contractors rather than full-time employees. This allows the companies to save on benefit expenses, but has also created a new group of "gig" workers who lack the financial security of benefits.

Many of the gig companies themselves are endorsing the law, with the likes of Lyft and Postmates (on-demand delivery) lending their names to the push.

"The growing desire for flexibility among many workers has created a need to consider new approaches," said Joe Okpaku, Lyft vice president of government relations.

"A pilot program that encompasses all independent workers is a wise way to explore the development of a portable benefits program nationally – a concept Lyft supports." ®

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