Gig News — May 19, 2015

Jon Weinberg

Jon Weinberg is a student at Harvard Law School.

This post is part of an ongoing series on labor and the gig economy.

The Wall Street Journal published contrasting opinions on whether the gig economy is good for workers.  Rachel Botsman, who teaches a class on the collaborative economy at Oxford University, argues that the gig economy is “enabling individuals to take entrepreneurial risks they wouldn’t have taken otherwise” and that for many workers it is preferable to a traditional employment relationship.  She acknowledges the benefits that gig economy workers do not receive relative to traditional employees, but attributes the disparity to the gig economy being “caught in a historical cycle of technological innovation outpacing employment law.”  Author and Silicon Valley executive Andrew Keen, on the other hand, writes that the gig economy isn’t providing good jobs but rather “is compounding the increasingly precarious nature of 21st-century labor and creating a new class of networked workers.”  He finds the fact that gig economy workers don’t have legal benefits problematic and fears it is perpetuating inequality, concluding that “to create good jobs [the gig economy] must provide workers with the minimal benefits that guarantee a decent standard of living.”

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating gig economy firms, according to the Financial Times.  The FTC is looking to see how they “can regulate these new business models in a way that would protect consumers and not hinder innovation.”  In addition to the collection of personal data and the use of rating systems, the FTC is interested in legal liability for injuries.

The Hill reports that two California lawmakers have launched a bipartisan “Sharing Economy Caucus” in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Rep. Eric Swalwell said that “this Caucus will explore the opportunities made possible by the sharing model, and how Congress can foster innovation and address challenges posed by this emerging sector.”

Gig economy firm Caviar Inc. has retained Keker & Van Nest in its defense against a class action by workers who claim they were misclassified as independent contractors, The Recorder notes.  The suit “claims the company avoided reimbursing couriers for work expenses by improperly classifying them as independent contractors instead of employees.”  The plaintiffs are being represented by Shannon Liss-Riordan, who is also representing plaintiffs in similar suits against Uber, Lyft, Homejoy and Postmates.

Fast Company profiles Ron Johnson, the former Apply executive behind gig economy startup Enjoy.  Enjoy is a platform through which consumers can buy electronics that are then delivered by experts who set up the products and teach the consumers how to use them.  Johnson, unlike many other gig economy executives, has chosen to hire experts as full-time employees, “offering the benefits of being a salaried employee with the purported advantages of being a contract worker.”

An address at a national gathering of workers’ compensation experts focused on the impact of the gig economy on workers’ compensation, according to Insurance Journal.  Given that many gig economy workers are classified as independent contractors, they “will generally have no workers’ comp recourse if injured on the job.”

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