Local Public Programs Increase Success, Protection of Gig Workers

There’s no doubt that the gig economy and gig workers are now an integral part of how society functions. As a result of gig workers playing vital roles, many advocacy groups, along with labor and union movements, are pushing for expanded rights for the independently-contracted gig workers. To date, not many states have responded, but in 2022, Washington state passed legislation preserving the independent contractor classification of ride-share and delivery drivers, but granting them some benefits and protections, including paid sick leave.

But there’s also an interesting new development: some local governments are beginning to create their own updated worker-centered programs as a means of helping out-of-work and marginalized people find gig work.

Modernized Public Works Programs

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, municipalities created public job-finding exchanges to help lessen the exploitation of out-of-work people by large corporations. Today, there still are around 2,400 publicly funded job centers in the United States. As with all such efforts, some of the centers are good, and some are lacking in services.

But to further assist vulnerable workers, some local governments are creating worker-centered platforms that address community services as an alternative to the private gig platforms. At its core, this is a two-sided government effort — linking a modernization of the old work-finding programs with modernized public service programs. . Applause to Xavier de Souza Briggs and his colleagues at Brookings Metro for drawing attention to the strategy.

Innovation in California

One example is Pacific Gateway, a public workforce program that serves Long Beach, Calif. It was the first in the United States to launch a gig-work-finding platform. As early as 2018, it was working to aid workers with disabilities and veterans in need of flexible work, and was the first to even try to support gig workers. Pacific Gateway even received a top economic development award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors — plus a seed money grant to build the first publicly run gig work platform in the United States.

Pacific Gateway’s Benefits

During the pandemic, the Long Beach pilot program provided affordable in-home child care for essential workers. Today, it has expanded to all sectors of flexible employment, including school support staff, event workers, community health teams, at-home child care, and parks and recreation seasonal positions. It also acts as a training ground for the wider market, as many workers eventually move on to private sector work.

Unlike typical “gig work” platforms, the Pacific Gateway program is built around protections, control, on-going relationships with clients, and progression of clients to eventual private-sector work. It can be accessed through an app or a website, and is multi-language on the web, with tools for users who have visual or mobility impairments. Everyone working through the platform is a W-2 employee (not a 1099 contractor). Workers are covered by minimum wage, receive benefits, and are insured. Their employer of record is an accountable community organization in the area.

A Model for Other Cities

Thanks to a partnership with The Workers Lab — a nonprofit investor that gives new ideas for and with workers a chance to succeed based in Oakland, Calif. — the Long Beach pilot is being replicated in Portland, Ore., Oakland, Calif., Louisville, Ky., and southern Indiana. Along with boards and nonprofit partners, the four locations anticipate investing some of the flexible aid provided by the American Rescue Plan Act’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds into their communities to help open up opportunities for gig workers.

Let’s Get More Folks On This Train

While these programs are effective, more is needed in the form of federal funds to assist these efforts. Currently, the federal workforce funding system is set up in a way that precludes gig workers from participating, mainly because income from gig work doesn’t count in the wage records the Department of Labor uses to assess local workforce boards. Because we Baby Boomers are both users and beneficiaries of gig employment, we can use our voices to push for expanded funding and innovation for gig economy workers.

Gig workers and the gig economy are here to stay. Programs like Pacific Gateway’s workforce board foster the training of gig workers and can increase inclusivity and equity among people who need to set their own schedules for a multitude of reasons, from health issues to being the sole care giver of a large household. Such public programs have the ability to offer a stepladder for people, enabling them to advance from public program gig work to private gig work and beyond.

But gig workers need to be protected via programs similar to the benefits given people in Washington State, or who are enrolled in Pacific Gateway’s system. Contact your local representatives and encourage them to develop or replicate programs like Pacific Gateway’s pilot program. Additionally, contact your Congressional representatives to urge the jumpstarting of the Worker Flexibility and Choice Act. The gig economy is essential for Baby Boomers thriving in their Third Chapter Lives.

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