Common ground for independent workers

Principles for delivering a stable and flexible safety net for all types of work

New technologies and business models are fundamentally changing the economic landscape across the country, adding value to consumers’ lives and bringing new opportunities for workers. These changes are also raising questions about the changing nature of work in America for businesses, workers, labor organizations, governments, and consumers alike. As our country has at prior moments of workplace change, we must find a path forward that encourages innovation, embraces new models, creates certainty for workers, business, and government and ensures that workers and their families can lead sustainable lives and realize their dreams.

Work today takes many forms. Many people move from one employer to another, work outside of a traditional full-time employment relationship (often as part-time workers, independent contractors, freelancers or self-employed workers) and earn income from multiple sources. By some estimates, as many as 53 million Americans are now self-employed. Yet our understanding of the relationship between businesses and workers — and the benefits and protections that evolved to support this relationship — have not kept pace with the rapid changes in the economy. New business models and technological innovations are providing a fresh opportunity to look at longstanding questions related to flexible and temporary work and the types of benefits and responsibilities workers and companies should expect.

We, the undersigned, believe that society and the economy are served best when workers have both stability and flexibility. Everyone, regardless of employment classification, should have access to the option of an affordable safety net that supports them when they’re injured, sick, in need of professional growth, or when it’s time to retire.

We offer these principles as a starting point for discussing how we can transition to a new social safety net for the workforce of today — and tomorrow:

1. Supporting both stability and flexibility is good for workers, business and society. New platforms are providing workers with the flexibility and mobility that many have wished for but not found in the traditional labor market. However, self-employed workers choosing to engage in flexible work may also encounter unforeseen work disruptions or other hardships without the protections and benefits that may be provided through full time employment. We are in agreement that flexible work should not come at the expense of desired economic security.

2. We need a portable vehicle for worker protections and benefits. Traditionally, benefits and protections such as workers compensation, unemployment insurance, paid time off, retirement savings, and training/development have been, largely or partly, components of a worker’s employment relationship with an employer. The Affordable Care Act has disrupted that model, providing more independent workers a different avenue of access to health insurance. Another new model is needed to support new ways of work. We believe this model should be:

Independent: Any worker should be able to access a certain basic set of protections as an individual regardless of where they source income opportunities.

Flexible and pro-rated: People are pulling together income from a variety of sources, so any vehicle should support contributions that can be pro-rated by units of money earned, jobs done, or time worked, covering new ways of micro-working across different employers or platforms.

Portable: A person should be able to take benefits and protections with them in and out of various work scenarios.

Universal: All workers should have access to a basic set of benefits regardless of employment status.

Supportive of innovation: Businesses should be empowered to explore and pilot safety net options regardless of the worker classification they utilize.

3. The time to move the conversation forward is now. The nature of work has been in flux for decades, and new technologies are accelerating these changes; progress on how we respond must begin immediately. Diverse stakeholders should gather to discuss how to accomplish these goals, including answering important questions such as: Who should contribute financially (and how much)? What type of organization (or organizations) should administer these benefits and protections? What type of legislative or regulatory action is required to create or enable this model while allowing for experimentation and flexibility? We believe these issues are best pursued through policy development, not litigation, with an orientation toward action in the public, private and social sectors.

We expect that the solutions to these challenges will develop from some of the same technological advances and entrepreneurial creativity that are driving new models. We are encouraged by emerging new ideas and experimentation in both the public and private sectors.

With this same spirit of enterprise and sense of mission, we invite policymakers and regulators, individuals and organizations to continue this conversation and contribute ideas. We encourage all interested parties to create space and time for innovation and new models to emerge — while ensuring that these shared principles guide our collective analysis of forthcoming policy proposals or solutions.


Byron Auguste, Senior Fellow, New America & Managing Director, Opportunity@Work

Brad Burnham, Partner, Union Square Ventures

Laphonza Butler, President, SEIU Local 2015

Shelby Clark, Co-Founder and CEO, Peers

Maureen Conway, Executive Director, Economic Opportunities Program and Vice President, Aspen Institute

Bo Cutter, Senior Fellow, Roosevelt Institute

Chad Dickerson, CEO, Etsy

Natalie Foster, Fellow, Institute for the Future

Marina Gorbis, Executive Director, Institute for the Future

Logan Green and John Zimmer, Co-Founders, Lyft

Tracey Grose, Vice President, Bay Area Council Economic Institute

Andrei Hagiu, Associate Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

Nick Hanauer, Co-Founder and Partner, Second Avenue Partners

Oisin Hanrahan, CEO, Handy

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, President, American Action Forum

Sara Horowitz, Founder and Executive Director, Freelancers Union

Eli Lehrer, President, The R Street Institute

Sheila Lirio Marcelo, Founder, Chairwoman and CEO, Care.com

Apoorva Mehta, CEO, Instacart

Lenny Mendonca, Director Emeritus, McKinsey & Company

Michelle Miller, Co-Founder, Coworker.org

Greg Nelson, Former Special Assistant to the President and senior advisor, National Economic Council, The White House

Tim O’Reilly, Founder and CEO, O’Reilly Media

Satya Patel, General Partner, Homebrew

Ryder Pearce, Co-Founder and Chief Community Officer, SherpaShare

Libby Reder, Freelancer and former Corporate Responsibility leader, eBay

Carmen Rojas, CEO, The Workers Lab

David Rolf, President, SEIU 775 and President, The Workers Lab

Simon Rothman, Partner, Greylock Partners

Palak Shah, Director of Social Innovations, National Domestic Workers Alliance

Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO, New America

Saket Soni, Executive Director, National Guestworker Alliance

Daniel Spulber, Elinor Hobbs Distinguished Professor of International Business and Professor of Strategy, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

Andy Stern, President Emeritus, SEIU and Senior Fellow, Columbia University

Arun Sundararajan, Professor and Rosen Faculty Fellow, New York University, Stern School of Business

Laura D. Tyson, Professor, University of California at Berkeley

Hunter Walk, General Partner, Homebrew

Micah Weinberg, President, Bay Area Council Economic Institute

Felicia Wong, President and CEO, Roosevelt Institute


Media and other interested stakeholders, please contact portablebenefits@gmail.com for further information.

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