Dem lawmaker: Don’t rush on-demand economy crackdown

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Sen. Mark Warner on Wednesday warned against rushing legislation ensuring benefits for workers in the “on-demand economy,” a departure from the Virginia Democrat’s previous calls for urgency.

“Ten months ago I thought [I’d] get in here, put a bill marker down and get ahead of the curve,” he said while speaking at an event hosted by the Hamilton Project, an initiative of the Brookings Institution. “This is extraordinarily complicated.

“If we legislate too quickly, we’re going to screw it up.”

The remarks come just three months after Warner called upon his colleagues in Washington to move quickly

“I will just say, there needs to be a real sense of urgency around this,” he told the audience gathered for a panel discussion on the emerging issue in September.

“Because I bet you dollars to doughnuts, if we aren’t leaning into this we’re going to have presidential candidates before the end of the year, by next spring, coming out with their two-point platforms on this that are going to sound very 20th century from either end of the spectrum.”

The shift in Warner’s rhetoric comes at the end of a year when he became the preeminent voice in Washington calling for a safety net for workers at on-demand economy startups.

Many on-demand economy companies, including Uber and Lyft, say their workers should be considered independent contractors, who don’t get many of the benefits and protections afforded to traditional employees.

Warner has said that lawmakers should separate worker benefits from employers, in a manner similar to the way the Affordable Care Act makes it easier for people without traditional employers to get healthcare. He has mentioned creating a third classification of workers that lies somewhere between a contractor and an employee.

He has also floated the idea of finding a way to keep regulators from cracking down on platforms that want to experiment with ways to give their employees benefits.

On Wednesday, he said it would be prudent to give on-demand economy companies time to try out their own solutions to questions about benefits, even as policymakers consider steps Washington might take.

“We are going to have to move at some point over the next year, but what I [am] kind of continuing to see is that we need to think about what could be disruptive around the social contract,” he said in an interview after the event. “A lot of these platform companies have convinced me, let us try a suite of benefits that they’re not able to try at this point because of fear that it will be used against them in litigation and regulation.”

“I’m very involved at this point with lots of folks on how we could get that space to try these pilots, and I’m trying to ascertain how much cooperation that takes from both the federal, state and local [level],” he said. “But those are active conversations going on right now.”

Still, Warner also said, “We need to move quick enough before this gets boxed into a Democrat vs. Republican position.”

The issue has yet to become a major political flashpoint even though Republicans are generally opposed to regulating the on-demand economy and Democrats have expressed some worry about the way on-demand economy startups are changing the labor market.

It briefly attracted the attention of several candidates in the 2016 presidential race — including Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton alluding to the companies during an economic speech — but they have largely moved on to other issues.

Tags Hillary Clinton Mark Warner

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