Gov. Polis signs executive order on future of work

Gov. Jared Polis signs an executive order on Sept. 4 creating the Office of the Future of Work. 

Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order Wednesday, creating an office to coordinate efforts involving the future of Colorado's workforce.

The Office of the Future of Work will be a clearinghouse for state responses to trends on the "rapidly changing nature of work," says a Wednesday news release.

It will be led by Katherine Keegan, who started her new job Aug. 19 at a $95,000 annual salary.

The new office is the second Polis has created; the first was the Office of Saving People Money on Health Care, run by Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera.

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Many Coloradans divide their time between two or three jobs, such as those who work for ride services such as Lyft and Uber, Polis said at a news conference. 

Many of those jobs help make up the growing gig economy: jobs often filled by temporary or contract workers, without health care or pension provisions, Polis said.

The new office will help the state research and analyze trends and recommend how to help Coloradans adapt to workforce issues that result from changes created by technology, trade and organizational structure, the executive order says.

"We want to get ahead of the gig economy," Polis said. "We want to make sure people in the shared gig economy have a retirement that they can look forward to. Social Security isn't enough."

More Coloradans in five or 10 years won't have a conventional employer, the governor predicted.

"It's a new concept. People are empowered to choose among multiple employers, through apps, for example."

The bright side is that employers will have to compete for these workers' time, Polis added.

For generations, most workers have been ensured of vacations, retirement and health care. What's the source of those things in an economy that no longer has an employer-employee relationship?

Polis said the state has lacked a coordinated way to address such issues.

The office will be based in the Department of Labor and Employment but also will coordinate with the Higher Education and Local Affairs departments. It will create a task force and seek ways to prepare for modernized benefits, as well as protections and development of a skilled and resilient workforce.

That will include education, training and identifying opportunities for communities to "transition effectively to emerging industries." The Office of the Future of Work also will coordinate with the CDLE's Office of Just Transition, created under House Bill 1314 during the 2019 session to help coal workers transition to other industries.

The Department of Labor and Employment will focus on employability, not just unemployment, said Executive Director Joe Barela. 

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, issued a statement saying "the way people work is changing, and we have a responsibility to make sure that nobody gets left behind. It shouldn’t matter if you live in a rural or urban area, everyone should have access to the tools necessary to succeed in the 21st century economy. I am proud to have worked to make sure that rural Coloradans have access to more and more economic opportunities, and I am proud to be a part of this effort to make sure all Coloradans are prepared for our changing economy.” 

The Colorado Fiscal Institute, a Denver-based think tank, issued a statement in support of the governor's executive order.

"With more and more workers creating arrangements with businesses that are not defined as employer-employee relationships, it's possible that many workers will be left out of the economic safety net that has protected workers for the better part the last century," the institute stated. "Colorado can and should be a leader when it comes to encouraging labor protections regardless of whether or not workers are considered employees.

"We hope that this new office will focus on and explore how traditional supports such as unemployment insurance and workers' compensation, among others, can continue to protect workers as the economy changes and the workforce grows. We also hope it will look at additional ways to make new work relationships operate efficiently and effectively for workers and employers."

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