TRENTON — Legislation that would require a portable benefits fund for "gig economy" workers has taken a first step in the Senate – just as it did two years ago, before stalling in the Senate budget committee.

Perhaps it will end differently this time for the bill, which is different from the broader, more-controversial rewrite of independent contractors, which may get a boost from a new poll that shows a majority of New Jerseyans support the idea.

A Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll, done in conjunction with Handy, a home services referral service, finds 58% of New Jerseyans support a portable benefits fund, while 20% are opposed. Such a fund would allow workers access to things such as workers’ compensation insurance, paid time off and a 401(k) that they could access no matter where they are working.

Such funds would be required under a bill, S943, endorsed last month by the Senate Labor Committee. It’s now before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, which does not have it listed among the bills it plans to consider at a meeting scheduled for Monday.

Alida Kass, president of the New Jersey Civil Justice Institute, said it’s a valuable concept but needs changes to ensure it’s not overly complicated for the businesses.

“There’s sort of more work to be done to ensuring that it supports the workers that are working in the freelance realm as opposed to crushing it,” Kass said.

The bill would require businesses that provide services through workers who are paid and taxed as independent contractors to contribute funds to nonprofit benefit providers for services provided in the state, if they have at least 50 workers.

They would have to pay in either 25% of the total fee collected for each transaction or $6 for every hour the worker provides services, whichever is less. The contribution amount could be added to the invoice or billing for the services.

“There’s a real concern with respect to national platforms that if this is structured as a surcharge that’s imposed on top of the base rate, that you create a disincentive for doing work with individuals who are based in New Jersey,” Kass said.

The available benefits would have to include workers’ compensation or other approved occupational accident insurance. They could also include health insurance, paid time off and retirement benefits. A worker who elects not to take any benefits could receive half the contribution as compensation.

Denzel Singletary, senior government relations manager for Postmates, which employs 10,000 couriers in New Jersey who deliver food and goods from local businesses, said a portable benefits fund would be good, if structured properly.

“It is incumbent on the tech industry, organized labor and legislators to forge a new social compact that provides flexible app workers appropriate benefits, injury and civil-rights protections.”

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Singletary said the benefits should be flexible and at the workers’ discretion.

“A student may need on-demand cash, another person may prefer time off, and someone else may provide vocational training,” he said.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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