Walk into a Starbuck's or local coffee shop such a Commonwealth, Café Con Leche or Great Lakes Coffee, or a co-working space like Bamboo or WeWork, and you will see the engines of a new labor force churning to power Michigan’s independent economy. These workers sacrifice a steady paycheck, a 401K match, health insurance, sick pay, and vacation for setting their own hours and flexibility in how they spend their day.
“Alternative" workers, which include independent contractors, the self-employed, consultants, contract employees, temps, freelancers, and on-demand workers accounted for 10.1% of the workforce in 2017, according to the Department of Labor. Michigan's independent economy is comprised of, PR consultants, artists, graphic designers, homeowners. They are consultants like me, artist that promote their work on Etsy, the homeowner that leases out their cottage on Airbnb, even the drivers for Lyft and Uber or the person giving my daughter guitar lessons. Many of these independent workers have their own companies and pay taxes, including unemployment.
Labor policy, however, has not kept up with the changing workforce and the economic realities over how companies engage the new worker. There is a need to redefine who an employee is and how a worker or independent contract are protected while “on the job,” both physically, financially and with any intellectual capital. This includes revisiting the tax code and laws for determining unemployment compensation and workers' compensation benefits.
While we prepare to elect a new Congress and many states prepare to elect a new Governor or legislature, it is time that we start focusing on revising existing law to meet the demands of a new independent economy.