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Portable benefits would preserve flexibility of gig work

With portable benefits, both workers and the companies they work with would make payments that go toward benefits that follow drivers, not the jobs they work.

Lyft
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

When I started driving for Lyft back in 2017, I never expected it to change my life the way it has. What started as a way to raise some extra money for my son’s wedding quickly turned into a passion for meeting new people and helping them out in my own way.

Driving has allowed me to completely break away from the rigid schedule I was used to as a former medical assistant. Any time I wanted to start earning some money, all I had to do was turn on the app. Better yet, I could just as easily stop if I had to go pick up my granddaughter from school or if I just wanted to take some time off and be with my husband. Eventually, it turned into a full-time opportunity for me and I was even named Lyft’s driver of the year last year.

The COVID-19 pandemic, though, turned the spotlight on a problem for people like me who want to take advantage of that flexibility as much as possible: a lack of benefits for those who need them. Because of our country’s existing, outdated benefits system, I was left with no choice but to find another job that provided health benefits for my husband and me during the pandemic. Now, even though I vastly prefer driving, I can only do it in my free time outside of work hours.

I know I am not alone in this problem, either, as a lot of drivers who value all of the freedom and flexibility afforded by gig work also want the certainty that comes with having the benefits we need.

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One solution that California lawmakers tried with Assembly Bill 5 last year was to just make drivers full-time workers along more traditional standards. To achieve this, however, workers would have a strict set of criteria to meet, which would essentially defeat the purpose of why many workers pursue gig work in the first place.

For a lot of drivers, myself included, solutions like AB-5 simply don’t work. My husband works an irregular schedule, and driving allows me to match my schedule with his during busy times or over the holidays. Becoming an employee under the standards set by AB-5, though, would completely undermine that flexibility. It would lock me in to a schedule that I no longer control, taking away a huge part of what makes driving great.

Suzi Spiczka
Suzi Spiczka

A much better option would be a portable benefits model. With portable benefits, both workers and the companies they work with would make payments that go toward benefits that follow drivers, not the jobs they work. If a person wanted to switch to another app, or even work for more than one, they would be free to do so without the same risks they would face if those benefits came through their employer, like in more traditional models. This would provide workers like me with the certainty we need.

It’s because of this that I hope to see lawmakers stand with gig workers in the push for portable benefits. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, along with all of Minnesota’s members of the House of Representatives, can make a huge difference in the lives of our state’s gig workers by helping to advocate for a solution that solves today’s problems rather than yesterday’s.

I love driving because I get full control over my day while also getting a sense of fulfillment from knowing that I am helping people, even if the ride I provided was just a brief part of their day. I’ve seen firsthand the difference I can make in a person’s day, and I want to be able to do it more often. Portable benefits would help me accomplish that.

Suzi Spiczka is a Lyft driver in Minneapolis.

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