The Washington Post: What American workers need most

The Washington Post, September 4, 2019: What American workers need most

We are living through the most disruptive era since the Industrial Revolution. From lifesaving discoveries to green technologies to better ways to stay connected, the new economy’s gains have been enormous. But, for too many workers, the shifts have been dramatic and unsettling. Hard-fought worker protections, wages and benefits have faded along with the bricks and mortar of the old economy.

Now, long-term jobs are giving way to gig work. Real wages have barely budged for workers. For many Americans, owning a home is out of reach. The transition is threatening the fabric of our country. We need to change course.

We need to acknowledge that government policies have helped create and continue racial disparities, including in housing. Lack of access to homeownership is one of the key contributing factors to the racial wealth gap. We need a national housing plan that prioritizes wealth-building and homeownership, especially for communities of color.

We need to build in financial fairness for gig-economy workers, most of whom are independent contractors. This large (and growing) group of workers, such as ride-hailing drivers, often work long hours to enrich companies that are not providing minimum wages, sick leave, retirement or health-care benefits. Unchecked, these new employment models will destroy what’s left of the covenant between labor and management that built the American middle class. Balance needs to be restored by creating workplace standards for gig workers.

To do that, different industries will require tailored solutions. Seattle was the first city in the country to have a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which guarantees to more than 30,000 nannies, house cleaners and other domestic workers the minimum wage, rest breaks and discrimination protections. And our Domestic Workers Standards Board has been charged with developing strategies on other potential portable benefits such as retirement.

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