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The way we work is changing. Legislation and regulation need to change too

Staffing Stream

The way we work is changing. Legislation and regulation need to change too

Shane Jackson
| July 10, 2024

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If I include a summer job during high school, this year marks 32 years since I began working in the staffing industry. Never in that time have I seen the number of legislative and regulatory attacks on our industry like I have seen over the past two years.

Several states have declared all out war on healthcare staffing. In response to a misguided understanding of what caused the travel nursing surge during Covid-19, they are passing laws that are purportedly to regulate the industry but in some cases intended to end it.

However, it’s not only the staffing industry that is under attack but the entire gig economy (of which staffing is a part). A new US Department of Labor policy making it harder to be an independent contractor went into effect earlier this year.

In making the announcement in January, Acting US Labor Secretary Julie Su was quoted as saying, “A century of labor protections for working people is premised on the employer-employee relationship.” It’s worth considering Secretary Su’s admission that the administration’s playbook for engaging with workers was created 100 years ago during an industrial era for an industrial workforce. We are now in the knowledge economy, and the market demands safety nets that work in an era of artificial intelligence, not the steam engine.

Whether a gig worker or full-time employee, the way people work is changing for the long term. By and large, workers today have leverage, mobility and plenty of choices. Statista projects that in 2027, freelance workers — the gig economy — will make up about half the workforce in the US. That’s over 86 million people, a vast majority of whom choose to do gig work and like it. Efforts to force people into traditional models impede their control over their lives and livelihoods.

To meet the needs of a modern workforce with choice and mobility requires that we completely change our mindset. Indeed, current safety net programs depend on employers to fund and often administer them. Instead of trying to make a ride-share driver an employee during a 20-minute ride, let’s make programs worker-centric, not employer-centric.

We could start by making health insurance portable and flexible. Workers should not have to drop insurance when they change jobs. By making it legal for people to buy their own insurance using employer contributions, they could then take that plan with them. Similarly, workers compensation, disability and other safety net programs need to become non-employer dependent and easy for gig workers to access. Eliminating restrictions will help the market respond with plans that fit individual needs.

We must eliminate state laws that regulate not only how but what nurses, doctors and any other gig workers can be paid. History has shown that market interference by the government creates distortions that end up hurting people — whether it is rent control that reduces the quality and availability of housing or price controls that end up creating underground economies. Wage control reduces opportunities for workers and will eventually cause a shift in the workforce to those states who are more gig friendly.

Our country is facing a massive labor shortage that will only get worse in the coming years. Regulations that limit the opportunity for gig work and the companies that empower them only exacerbate this problem. We must give independent workers more freedom, not less, to pursue the type of work they want. We cannot afford to remain stuck in the past when it comes to how people work, or how their lives and livelihoods are protected. We must do both.

The staffing industry finds itself on the front edge of a massive cultural change that is not only inevitable but necessary to address massive worker shortages in our country. We must engage to help lawmakers and regulators understand the nature of work, how it’s changing and how staffing companies are supporting millions of people who are embracing that change.