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Warner Looking to Support Gig Economy Workers

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

RICHMOND, Va. — Sen. Mark Warner continued his quest Tuesday to rewrite the social contract with those who occupy the ever-expanding “gig economy.”  

With the proliferation of sharing businesses like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb, more and more people are finding ways to earn extra income. But many are compelled to do it out of necessity and are left with nothing to fall back on if and when things go south. The Virginia Democrat is leading the charge in the Senate to expand the social contract to web these workers, as well as those in more traditional gig economy jobs like freelancers and others who file a 1099, and is using part of the August recess to convene roundtable discussions across the state.  

“We’re going to have to think about this in a whole new model,” Warner said Tuesday in a coffee shop near the Virginia Commonwealth University campus, speaking to a diverse group of gig economy workers. “What does the new social contract look like? Is it going to be a health care exchange model where you guys pick what level of unemployment or disability or workman’s comp that you want and buy it at a competitive market? Is it going to be an hour bank? Could it be consumer driven; instead of getting five stars, you put in a gratuity that goes into a social-insurance fund?”  

While several of the 20 or so attendees “oohed” and “ahhed” at the gratuity/social-insurance fund idea, some complained of rising health care coverage costs under the Affordable Care Act, and a confusing and cumbersome tax code.  

Warner pitched the idea of a cheap health care plan to the group, explaining his efforts to create a low-premium, high-deductible “copper” plan.  

A former telecom mogul, Warner said that while he doesn't "fully understand all the ramifications of technology," he's "not afraid of disruptive change.”  

“I think what’s taking place in America — that’s really almost taking place below everybody’s radar screen from a policy standpoint — is a fundamental transformation is going on on the whole nature of work," Warner said. "It’s no longer where do you work, but what are you working on."  

Warner is still in the fact-finding phase and is not quite ready to propose legislation.

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