In addition to yesterday’s news out of California, there have been several recent developments affecting workers in the gig economy.
The labor movement appears to be embracing the conclusion that gig economy workers are employees. The AFL-CIO released a statement affirming that “working people in the gig economy share a single common designation: employees” and “working people deserve the full benefits that come with that status.” The statement notes the important benefits tied to the existence of an employment relationship, and expresses a desire on the part of the AFL-CIO to work with their “allies, businesses and community partners to enact policies that will prevent gig economy workers from falling through the cracks.”
Concerted activity by Uber drivers has attracted considerable attention and prompted a response from Uber. The New York Times reports that in New York “Uber’s indomitable rise has been clouded by an insurgency from a small but vocal portion of its own drivers who say they feel neglected, even used.” The article notes the tenuous relationship between Uber and its drivers, and recent protests by drivers over significant pay cuts which make it exceedingly difficult to earn a living driving for Uber. In addition, the coverage focuses on Uber’s culture, the difficulties with organizing drivers, pending litigation, and the development of a driver-owned app to compete with Uber. According to Quartz, Uber has responded to driver organizing by having its customer service representatives call Seattle Uber drivers and read a script explaining why unionization is bad for them. The representatives referred to their activity as “union busting.”
Those customer service workers have their own labor dispute with Uber. Buzzfeed News notes that between December 2014 and February 2016 “about 500 [customer service representatives] who joined the company as contractors were let go in droves — often without notice, and despite what many insist were promises of ongoing employment and even full-time gigs at Uber itself. Meanwhile, the quality of Uber’s customer support stuttered as the company quietly replaced U.S.-based CSRs with contractors in the Philippines and India, transitioning away from its system of U.S.-based CSRs to a global one with “Centers of Excellence” in key cities in the states and abroad — sometimes via politically motivated deals.” Workers quoted explain how they lost job security and benefits as Uber transitioned its customer service operations.
Two comprehensive studies reveal much about the composition of the gig economy workforce. Quartz reports that “a new study from the JPMorgan Chase Institute, a think tank under the bank, finds that people who rent out assets on “capital” platforms like Airbnb or car-sharing site Turo are bringing in supplemental income. That’s starkly different from people who sign up for “labor” platforms like Uber or TaskRabbit. They’re typically working to offset shortfalls in their monthly earnings.” Separately, The Rideshare Guy reported findings from a survey of 433 Uber drivers who responded to an email inquiry. The survey shows most drivers are dissatisfied with their experience driving for Uber.
Finally, Forbes reviews what Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are saying about the gig economy.