By Michael Hruby
The newly minted term "eLabor" describes the online posting, contracting, reporting, managing, billing and payment for contracted-out project work.
The good news is that Massachusetts workers are particularly well-suited to thrive in this emerging industry; the bad news is that under current state law, it is, for all intents and purposes, illegal.
Massachusetts workers are taking job growth into their own hands. Tired of waiting for traditional job opportunities, your friends and neighbors are signing up in growing numbers at online referral sites where they can look for project work as independent contractors.
Extrapolating from statistics provided by one of the five largest eLabor firms, New Jobs for Massachusetts estimates that during 2013, more than 28,800 Massachusetts residents signed up for contract work online. That's 2,400 workers signing each month, more than 120 every workday.
You've probably never heard of the five websites -- oDesk.com, Elance.com, Freelancer.com, PeoplePerHour.com, and Guru.com -- that make up this new industry, but they are doing something you never dreamed of: a Craigslist-style method for finding work and selling results to buyers around the world. The sites monitor the contracting process for quality control, and ensure that the buyer gets what was sought and the seller gets paid the agreed amount.
ELabor work is growing at a 50 percent annual rate. According to oDesk, more than 900,000 companies have used its services; Elance says in the last 30 days, more than 100,000 projects have been posted on its site.
That growth rate means more than 43,000 Massachusetts residents will sign up for online contracting in 2014. Next year, the number is likely to be over 64,000, more than enough to fill Gillette Stadium.
That's not a trend, it's a stampede. And there's especially good news for Massachusetts workers.
The eLabor industry measures contracted work in milestones; a milestone is the amount of work that is both big and tangible enough to merit a progress payment from the buyer of services. While the national average milestone payment is $500, the average for Massachusetts eLabor workers is $800. The work done by your neighbors and friends is 60 percent more valuable than the work done by people outside the commonwealth.
Massachusetts workers also score high for what the eLabor industry calls employability: that tantalizing combination of experience, training, talent, specialization and project self-direction for which buyers will pay.
Given this information, you'd think Massachusetts would be a leader in this business, but the top states are California, New York, and Washington.Why?
Unlike other states, Massachusetts law stipulates that no company anywhere in the world can sign up with a Massachusetts resident to do independent contracting work if that work is in the buyer's "usual course of business." For example, law firms can't contract out for legal work, and accountants can't contract out for accounting work.
The hottest opportunity for job growth in Massachusetts in more than 20 years -- maybe the hottest since the minicomputer days -- is not only outlawed, but offending buyers run the risk of being assessed triple damages without a jury trial.
That law means the 43,000 hard-working and willing professionals who will sign up on eLabor sites this year will likely be selling their work illegally. Without this arbitrary legal barrier, Massachusetts workers would be, could be and should be starting and growing new service businesses. But since the barrier is a law, we can change it.
Here's how. Go to the five companies' websites noted above, and find the site that specializes in the kind of work that you do. Sign up and look for listed projects that you'd like to get paid for, then take a screen shot of the project you select.
Email the screenshot to your state senator and state representative, and politely ask them to relax the law so you can earn a living -- and pay taxes -- by doing honest work for which you are qualified. Please be sure to CC your email to New Jobs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By working together, we can get the Legislature to change this law during its current session to make your new contracting opportunity legal and unleash a wave of much-needed economic growth across Massachusetts.