DoorDash, other independent workers push for health benefits

Back in the day, going to work meant spending all day behind a desk, but in the 21st century, the rise of independent work is changing that.

Today, roughly 57 million workers have shed the traditional 9-to-5 in favor of working on their own terms.

I’m one of those people. Back when I was in college, I started driving for DoorDash to help pay the bills. Today, I split my time between driving in the Tacoma area and another independent job, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What I love most about independent work is that I have the flexibility to make my own schedule and spend time with my family, something a full-time job would make difficult for me.

Most independent workers feel the same way; in fact, one poll found that 82 percent of independent workers prefer remaining independent, largely because they prefer the freedom it gives them.

The one drawback of independent work, though, is that we don’t have access to the same employer-provided benefits that full-time workers get, like healthcare and retirement.

With millions of Americans choosing to work independently, it’s clear that our country’s labor laws and legislators are not keeping up.

Some lawmakers feel that the solution is to simply force independent workers to become full-time workers, which is exactly what California state lawmakers did when they passed Assembly Bill 5 last year.

However, doing so would force us into rigid work schedules that completely eliminate our flexibility. Even worse, it threatens to eliminate many independent jobs entirely.

This action would directly harm many communities that already struggle to get ahead. A study by San Francisco’s Local Agency Formation Commission found that 78 percent of gig workers in the city were people of color and 56 percent were immigrants.

Another study by Upwork found that about half of Gen Z and Millennial Americans, like me, have worked as independent contractors.

Thankfully, California voters exempted app-based companies from AB5 when they overwhelmingly supported Proposition 22 this year. However, the root problem still remains that many independent contractors struggle to get the benefits they need.

A national portable benefits system is the logical solution.

Portability would allow independent contractors to carry their benefits with them from task to task. It would be the same benefits workers typically receive from their full-time employer: healthcare, paid leave, worker’s compensation, retirement.

These benefits would work like Social Security, where workers and their employers would make contributions, but workers would keep the plans if they changed jobs or contracts.

This is a practical and equitable way to get more people covered in our country. It doesn’t tamper with the current system or damage anyone’s current benefits. It simply levels the playing field by ensuring that all work, regardless of schedule or location, is rewarded with the benefits that every American worker deserves.

It’s time to bring portable benefits to the national level, and I urge Washington’s representatives in Congress, including Sen. Patty Murray, Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Derek Kilmer, to make this a priority in the coming year.

The nature of work in America is changing, and the benefits structure needs to change with it. A national portable benefits plan would ensure that our economy can continue changing and developing without leaving any worker behind.

Michael Kimball of Tacoma is a driver for DoorDash and has also worked on local political campaigns. He’s a graduate of Federal Way High School and Highline Community College.

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