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1.8 million gig workers were purged from Upwork – here’s why

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On February 2, Upwork ($NASDAQ:UPWK) listed 2,614,107 registered users. By March 13, that number nosedived to just 833,042, a bizarre and alarming drop of 1.8 million — or 68% of its user count.

The abrupt drop came just as the company was reporting its fourth-quarter results when it surprised investors with a 16.67% jump in earnings at $80.29 million. 

So what happened? Part of the shift may be attributed to Upwork’s new CEO, Hayden Brown, who emphasized that the company is targeting Fortune 500 companies as opposed to smaller, one-off companies just looking for a quick gig worker. At the earnings call, he spoke of a “skill gap” between what companies were looking for on a platform like Upwork and what they were getting.

“Our goal is to become the world’s top provider of flexible talent solutions by attracting the best clients, with the best work opportunities, for the world’s best talent,” he told investors.

It seems that as part of the process, the company has thinned its talent pool from 2.6 million available workers who may or may not deliver good work to just 833,000 who are more likely to please more lucrative clients. Indeed, the site had been seeing a growing number of workers along with a scarcity of jobs, and it wasn’t a good look for a service that promised quick matches and quality work.

Brown pointed to three goals for 2020:  1. Attract more, bigger clients; 2. Enable more spend per client; 3. Make more high-quality matches, particularly in Upwork’s technical categories of Web, Mobile, and Software Development.

In other words, Upwork is less interested in millions of projects for millions of workers. Rather, it’d prefer higher-paying clients going out to fewer workers who are certain to make said clients happy. Thin the herd, as they say. It makes sense, too: the number of projects at the site had been in a steep decline for months before Brown took the wheel.

In order to do so, the company is looking for larger companies that will hire from a smaller pool of skilled workers. Brown also pointed to Upwork’s talent pool’s high project feedback ratings.

And what’s a super-easy way to up your talent pool’s feedback ratings? Purge the ones with poor ratings.

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online – jobs, social and web traffic, product sales and app ratings – and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales. 

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After winning big in California, gig companies take their worker classification fight to Massachusetts

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The coalition representing these gig companies, Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, said it filed Wednesday to have a question put on the state’s 2022 ballot that would “grant historic new benefits” and allow workers to “maintain their flexibility as independent contractors,” something it says most drivers want.

“Without the ballot measure or a legislative solution, the future of app-based rideshare and delivery could be in jeopardy,” the coalition said, in language reminiscent of how dire the issue was positioned to Californians.

But with the benefit of seeing how things played out in California, the opposition is on its front foot this time against the playbook it believes was used last time. The Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights, an alliance that includes labor advocates and community groups, argued this week that the Massachusetts measure would “permanently create a ‘second class’ status” for the workers, noting the majority of whom are Black, Brown and immigrants.

Classifying on-demand workers as employees has long been viewed as a potential existential threat to the business model popularized by Uber and Lyft. The companies have scaled their businesses with massive fleets of workers who are treated as independent contractors, avoiding the responsibility of providing costly benefits entitled to employees, such as a minimum wage, overtime, paid sick leave and unemployment insurance.

The companies have also shown they’re prepared to go to great lengths to get themselves a more favorable law. When faced with a new labor law in California, Assembly Bill 5, that made it much harder for companies to classify workers as independent contractors in the state, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart spent a combined $225 million on a ballot measure known as Proposition 22 or Prop 22 to effectively side-step it. They waged an aggressive campaign of television ads, in-app messages, and confusing mailers to bombard Californians with its messaging. Prop 22 allows the companies to classify workers as independent contractors while granting some drivers certain benefit concessions, but not the full suite of protections that they would likely have gotten had the measure not passed and they were classified as employees.
Next up is Massachusetts, which has a similarly strict labor law. The Massachusetts Attorney General is currently challenging Uber and Lyft over how they classify workers, an effort the companies have indicated they intend to fight.
Similar to Prop 22, the proposed Massachusetts ballot initiative presents a minimum earnings guarantee of “120 percent of minimum wage” based on “engaged time,” meaning the only time counted is when a driver is fulfilling a ride or delivery request but not the time they spend waiting for a gig. (An analysis from UC Berkeley Labor Center had estimated the pay guarantee under Prop 22 for Uber and Lyft drivers would be equivalent to a wage of $5.64 per hour, instead of $15.60 or 120% of a $13 minimum wage, given such loopholes.)

Workers would also receive $0.26 reimbursement per engaged mile to cover vehicle upkeep and gas. (The UC Berkeley Labor Center previously pointed out that Prop 22’s $0.30 reimbursement is lower than the IRS’ estimated $0.58 per mile cost of owning and operating a vehicle.)

While the proposal includes a health care contribution from a company for certain qualifying workers, that too is based on “engaged time” and only a small portion of workers would likely qualify, according to the Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights, due to minimum engaged time requirements. (Using “engaged time” as a metric allows for the flexibility of the job, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, claiming that the “majority of drivers receive healthcare from other sources, often from a full-time job.”)

Some workers could also earn paid sick time, paid family and medical leave, and in lieu of worker’s compensation, benefits for medical and disability in cases of on-the-job injuries. Workers would have the ability to appeal if their accounts are deactivated, and would receive training on public safety issues.

It would also let gig companies avoid contributions to unemployment or Social Security, and deny app-based workers more robust legal protections around discrimination, including when it comes to compensation. (The Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work said the initiative prohibits companies from discriminating against the workers on any characteristic protected by the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, but that is not expressly stated in the initiative’s language.)

“Things aren’t getting better with these gig companies, they’re getting worse. This [measure] is going to cause more and more drivers to be even more dependent on social programs that we taxpayers foot the bill for, less money going into the unemployment fund, the social security fund. We are just sick of this exploitation,” said Beth Griffith, an Uber driver and chair of the Boston Independent Drivers Guild, on a press call Tuesday organized by the Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights. “We say ‘no’ to being a permanent sub-class of workers. This is ridiculous.”

Uber drivers win their first ever unionization deal

Shannon Liss-Riordan, a Boston-based lawyer who has challenged Uber and Lyft over worker classification through various lawsuits for more than seven years and was also on the press call, warned: “They’re going to try to get this ballot measure passed by deceiving the public into thinking that this is somehow for the benefit of the workers, but why would Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and all these companies be putting $100 million or more behind this unless it was to benefit these companies and line their pockets?”

(Given the amount the companies spent on passing Prop 22 in California and the significance of the Massachusetts legislature, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights said it estimates the coalition representing the tech companies will spend upwards of $100 million on its efforts in the state. When asked how much funding is behind the measure to date, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work said “contribution reports are not required for some time.”)

Also on the call, Veena Dubal, a labor law professor at University of California, Hastings, and a vocal advocate for labor rights, similarly said the effort will likely rely upon confusion.

“They will continue to say ‘we are extending all of these great new perks and benefits to these workers.’ In fact, they are taking rights away from workers who really need them,” said Dubal, who noted that while the companies made promises ahead of passing the California law — including around how it would preserve flexibility for drivers — some of these have since been broken.

For example, flexibility was touted as a core need for Prop 22, with Uber introducing the ability for drivers in the state to set their own prices. But months after Prop 22 became law, Uber stopped allowing drivers to do so.

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New Cookie Store Opens In Gig Harbor Friday

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This is a generic picture I found entitled 'Chocolate cookies on wooden table'. The cookies posted on their website look much more interesting, promise.


© Shutterstock
This is a generic picture I found entitled ‘Chocolate cookies on wooden table’. The cookies posted on their website look much more interesting, promise.

GIG HARBOR, WA — It has been a long, long week. Why not end it with a treat?

Well, there’s a new place to do just that opening this Friday in Gig Harbor. According to the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Crumbl Cookies will be opening its doors with a grand opening event this Friday, Oct. 22. The party begins at 8 a.m. sharp at their new location, at 4784 Borgen Blvd.

If you’re not aware of Crumbl — and don’t be ashamed, I wasn’t either — it’s a relatively new chain of cookie stores that started in Logan, Utah back in 2017. In the few short years since then, it’s exploded in popularity. There are already five other Crumbls in Western Washington, in Federal Way, Puyallup, Bonney Lake, Covington and Marysville.

The Gig Harbor Chamber has also shared a promo video, embedded below, showing some of the fancy treats you can expect to seen when Crumbl opens its doors.

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Back for more: Peter Matthew Smith says the king is the best gig in ‘Hamilton’ | Entertainment

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While Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr jockey for position, King George answers emails, Facetimes his daughter and watches Netflix.

Backstage at “Hamilton,” that is.

Because George is on stage for little more than nine minutes, actor Peter Matthew Smith has ample time to do other things in his dressing room. “I call it my office hours,” he says. “I spend at least an hour and a half backstage.”

The role? “It’s the best gig” for any actor, in any show.

It’s also one of the flashiest. King George, upset with colonists trying to start a new nation, interrupts the Founding Fathers’ plotting with his own assessment – “You’ll Be Back.” The song is comic relief and a guaranteed scene stealer for those who play it.

“He’s the person you love to hate,” Smith says of George. “Most of the history doesn’t matter. It’s just the fact that he’s a ticked-off royal.”

While Smith did research (“one of his greatest failures was losing the Americas”), the key to playing the monarch is just to get increasingly annoyed.

Parading out in a crown and robe, Smith says he doesn’t have to move much. “He’s a king. Someone’s at his beck and call every moment.” The crown isn’t as heavy as you might think (“it was heavier when the show first started”) but the robe “definitely has some heft to it.”

For those who look closely, Smith is on stage another 10 minutes or so as part of the ensemble. He’s on the second level of the set but doesn’t get the workout his co-stars do.

Moving like gears in a well-oiled clock, the ensemble plays dozens of roles while Hamilton’s story unfolds. It’s exhausting work, Smith says. “I’ve been in the ensemble before and I know how difficult their jobs are.”

Smith, in fact, was in the ensemble in the original Broadway companies of “Hairspray” and “Cry-Baby.” He was also an understudy for both Mark and Roger in the touring production of “Rent.”

In one city, he says, he played Mark at the matinee and Roger at the evening performance.

“It’s not as crazy as you think,” Smith says. “In the evening performance, I started to say the other person’s line, moved on and it never happened again. It’s live theater.”

Roger – the budding rock star – was more enjoyable. But Mark – the aspiring filmmaker – “was more of who I was.”

“Rent,” he says, “was the ‘Hamilton’ of its day. People went nuts for it. ‘Rent’-heads would follow us to different cities and be part of the lottery crowd in the first two rows.”

Similarly, “Hamilton” draws repeat viewers, even though the level of enthusiasm changes based on the city.

“You don’t get the same reaction in Tempe (Arizona) as you do in Naples (Florida),” Smith says.

But, thanks to the Disney+ version that featured the original Broadway cast, theatergoers are more than familiar with the hip-hop storytelling.

In “Hamilton” for two years before the pandemic hit, Smith wasn’t sure how life would be when shows went back on the road.

“I knew we would come back eventually,” he says. “I just got a little worried because (the break) lasted longer that we thought it would.”

When Smith went back into the show, he got right back in the groove. “It was like riding a bike,” he says. “It wasn’t that difficult.”

An ideal situation? “I don’t plan on ever leaving this part,” he says. “I love my job.”

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