NJ.com: Protect communities of color by protecting gig workers

This article originally appeared on NJ.com.

The 2020 election was one of the most consequential of our lifetime. It exposed the deep divisions that still exist in our country, but it also revealed the importance of Black and brown communities coming together to help lift our nation out of crisis. In California, we saw voters unequivocally stand up to protect flexible work opportunities while also providing historic new benefits for workers there.

As New Jersey looks toward rebuilding from the COVID-19 pandemic, flexible jobs and enhanced benefits must be at the forefront of our recovery efforts. The gig economy has not only created quality, good-paying jobs during a difficult time, but it has helped keep the community moving and connected during this unprecedented crisis.

Our gig workers have become essential workers. And flexible work has become critical to keeping them working.

As pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church, I have seen first-hand how the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted our families, congregants and all communities of color. And it’s become clear to me and fellow clergy that traditional employment does not provide the security, stability and protection that most people have come to expect.

In this pandemic economy, we can’t afford to have traditional barriers to employment. We can’t afford to have traditional obstruction to essential service delivery. If you’re looking to expand your income opportunities and you don’t have a college degree or you’re an older person or an immigrant, odds are you’re afraid of being discriminated against in finding work. You don’t have those obstacles and obstructions in this new kind of essential workforce.

In the traditional workforce, you don’t have the flexibility that independent workers do. I have heard so many stories from families who needed to be home with their children to help them with virtual learning and were forced to make a job change. When traditional jobs weren’t available, ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft gave workers the ability to provide for their family and still support their loved ones. Delivery platforms like Instacart, Postmates and DoorDash have helped many stay safe during the pandemic, ensure families have access to convenient, healthy and affordable meals, and provide an opportunity to earn on your own schedule.

And ridesharing services have been there for our essential workers to help get them where they needed to by offering safe, reliable services in communities that often don’t have access to quality transportation options.

I believe that every worker, no matter how they earn a living, deserves a safety net if they are hurt on the job. I also believe that every worker, no matter how they put food on the dinner table for their family, is entitled to protection from discrimination.

Flexible workers are a vital sector of our economy that not only helped us through the pandemic – they will be leading us on the road to recovery in the months and years ahead.

I encourage Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Speaker Craig Coughlin to come together to pass legislation that offers app-based workers more protections and benefits while ensuring the flexibility and independence they so greatly value and deserve.

Rev. Dr. Steffie Bartley, Sr., is the senior pastor from New Hope Baptist Church in Elizabeth.

Flexible Work for New Jersey
Flexible Work for New Jersey