AUSTIN, TEXAS — Senator Eric P. Lesser participated in a panel discussion on the “gig economy” and the future of work Sunday at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas.
The discussion addressed how independent work affects public policy, and what policymakers can do to prepare workers for the new work environment.
“We know technology is scrambling the old way of doing things: how we work, how we travel, how we get healthcare, and every other facet of our lives. Luckily, Massachusetts has some of the smartest people, some of the most innovative companies, and a dynamic economy that gives us the chance to take advantage of these trends,” Lesser said after the event.
But the new flexibility in the workday has come with no social safety net, Lesser noted.
“All this change has its costs. How will we ensure there are enough good jobs in an era of automation? How will we keep healthcare affordable as costs explode? How will we open new connections with the world around us while also preserving what makes each community special and unique? Perhaps most importantly, how will we make sure places like Western Massachusetts benefit from the new economy just as much as places like Cambridge?” he said.
In the panel discussion, Lesser called on business and government to collaborate.
“Be engaged in public policy. Be part of the conversation with public officials. You’ll be surprised by the level of eagerness from elected officials,” he said.
During the last legislative session, Lesser helped write and pass a bill regulating ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. The companies welcomed the new regulations because, as their spokesmen said at the time, they helped ensure the companies’ services were recognized as legitimate businesses.
Lesser is the new Senate chairman of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and has also been involved in technology issues through his work to engage millennials in state politics.
Lesser’s panel also included Stephane Kasriel, CEO of the online freelancing platform Upwork, and Tekedra Mawakana, vice president of government relations for eBay. It was moderated by Linda Moore, president and CEO of TechNet, a technology policy institute.
SXSW is an ideas conference and festival begun in 1987 that brings together the tech, film and music industries and features a range of professionals and thought-leaders in various fields including business and government. This year’s program included a talk on cancer research by former Vice President Joe Biden and an opening speech by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).