If you’ve ever joined one of our Membership Meetings in the last year or listened to us talk about our legislative priorities then you’ve probably heard us mention Portable Benefits before. Next year we will be doubling down on our efforts to advance possible legislation to create Portable Benefits in Washington State. So what are Portable Benefits; why are we making this a priority; and why should you care?

If the ongoing rise of gig-work in the economy has shown us anything it is that independent work is no longer just for tradespersons and professionals. Many more people are enjoying the flexibility and freedom independent work offers, whether as a primary source of income or just as a side gig. However, the ongoing pandemic has highlighted the need for a more robust social safety net for all people, employees and independent contractors alike. In a recent survey Drive Forward conducted, we found that 18% of app-based delivery drivers in Seattle did not have health insurance, double the Washington state’s average. The need for independent contractors to have better access to benefits is clearly there and we think Portable Benefits is the ideal solution

Portable Benefits in a nutshell are benefits systems through which independent contractors can offset costs associated with accessing traditional employment benefits, such as health insurance, family medical leave, retirement savings, etc. In its most simple form the person or business hiring an independent contractor would pay a small percentage of the value of the contract or job into the system and the Contractor would be able to withdraw those funds to pay for allowed premiums and expenses. This kind of system would allow for an independent contractor to be able to access funds pooled from all their contracts or jobs regardless of who hired them.

Ideally any portable benefit system would fund a pool of benefit dollars that would offset the cost of the average Washington HealthplanFinder Silver Plan premium provided the independent contractor averaged a 40 hour work week for 48 weeks per year. This level of funding would allow those contractors who don’t have access to health insurance to purchase it. Contractors who do have Health Insurance could use those funds for other allowable costs like Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave, Wahington Cares Long Term Care Insurance, retirement savings, or possibly paid time off.

Given the disparity in health coverage for gig-workers we feel it is about time the State of Washington does something to benefit us and close this gap. Therefore we are going to make this our number one legislative priority for the 2022 Session of the Washington Legislature. Even some of the major gig-economy app companies have indicated support for setting up portable benefits systems. If the companies are supportive and the independent contractors want portable benefits then why isn’t it already done? Well, the major opposition is organized labor. They simply don’t want to see the adoption of any system that would threaten their ability to collect dues from workers, no matter how beneficial it would be to people. With opposition coming from organizations more concerned with their income streams than independent contractor’s wellbeing, it is about time legislators know that we want them to do what’s best for the average person and not the special interest.

As most of you, our members, know independent contractors are running our own independent businesses and being able to provide for the cost of health insurance or other traditional workplace benefits is expensive. Having a system of Portable Benefits in place would go a long way to not only offsetting those costs but to increase the long-term sustainability of the independent work we do.

At the beginning of the 2022 Legislative Session we will be asking you to join us in requesting Washington State to create a system of Portable Benefits for Independent Contractors. I hope we can count on your support.