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Gig-Working Through the Apocalypse | The New Republic

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Media can also play a role in ensuring better working conditions. As Weil points out, businesses in a fissured economy have heightened concern for their brand reputation, making them sensitive to negative press. Against concerns that their workers are vulnerable to the new coronavirus, some gig-economy businesses, like Postmates, have taken ad-hoc measures to cover some of their fleet’s medical costs with policies that—while sparse in detail—loosely resemble modest employee benefits. But the media’s gaze is fleeting, and these PR measures have an element of noblesse oblige: without actual laws governing their operations, they reserve the right to take just as they give. 

In early March, some Postmates workers began to find that the pay floor on a given job had dropped once again. Gig-workers often complain of a lack of clarity when it comes to pay—platforms found to be factoring customer’s tips into worker base pay were the villains of one of Working Wahington’s most successful organizing campaigns—and it can be difficult to get clear information in the face of abrupt, sometimes idiosyncratic pay-changes. Postmates’ pay system is actually relatively transparent, and The New Republic reviewed sets of itemized pay stub screenshots from workers in three different U.S. cities. The screenshots and interviews with Postmates workers indicate minimum pay was automatically bumped up to at least $4 until May of 2019, when Postmates sent Lyn the email about the pay update. In the email, Postmates told Lyn it was removing the minimum pay guarantee. But screenshots from Lyn and others show that it seemed to be lowered to $3.

But beginning in early March, screenshots show, the minimum pay guarantee appears to have been either eliminated entirely this time, or at least lowered further. For a single delivery, one worker made as little as $2.45, a screenshot showed. For car-based workers like Lyn who generally take higher paying jobs, the change may make little difference. But for Goehring, who in addition to his work at an Amazon Warehouse, delivers goods part-time on an electric skateboard around Arizona State University, the missing income “adds up.” He said he received no notification from Postmates about the change: it “feels kind of scummy.” Postmates did not address repeated inquiries about the apparent pay cut, but in a statement to the New Republic, the company said it “is a stalwart advocate for the couriers, small business owners, customers, and the neighborhoods in which we operate. We believe all workers should have access to a livable income.” 

Platform workers tend to be more active on digital forums like Facebook groups and Reddit than their counterparts in traditional service industry contexts, said Wilson, and lately the forums have buzzed with activity. Amid the apparent pay cut and the coronavirus crisis, online commenters, as well as some who spoke with The New Republic, were questioning whether they should continue working for Postmates. In recent days, Lyn, who worries he’ll accidentally get an older live-in relative sick, has stopped delivering altogether. But he could prove to be the exception. Unemployment rates are skyrocketing. Absent a robust government response, desperate workers abound. And in the coming months, gig companies, already leveraging the crisis to recruit cheap labor, may well find that it’s a buyer’s market.  



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“Grassroots” Gig Workers Collective Exposed As UFCW Front

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The Gig Workers Collective, a 501c3 nonprofit which claims to be a “grassroots” representative of gig workers, is at least partially supported and managed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW).

The Gig Workers Collective’s cozy relationship with the UFCW was revealed through Facebook’s “page transparency” feature. The UFCW International in Washington, DC, is the sole entry on the list of “Organizations That Manage This Page.” UFCW is said to be “responsible” and has “claimed responsibility” for the Collective’s Facebook page. A phone number on the page connects to the UFCW’s press office in Washington.

Presently, the Gig Workers Collective is running sponsored Facebook ads related to California’s Proposition 22 that say “Paid for by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.” The UFCW is one of the top-three funders of the opposition campaign to Proposition 22, and has sought to organize workers in the gig economy.

Members of the Gig Workers Collective have in the past denied being funded by the UFCW. Matthew Telles, an early member, said in February of this year that he is “not paid by the ufcw (sic) or anyone else for that matter.”



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New Report Shows U.S. Gig Workers Hit Hard by COVID-19 with Nearly 3 out of 5 Now Earning Less than $1,000 per Month

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The United States Spotlight is fifth in a series of Flourish’s year-long global study of more than 3,000 gig workers from Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa and the U.S., all countries with some of the largest and fastest-growing gig economies. In August 2020, Flourish partnered with digital worker platform company Steady to better understand how U.S. gig workers’ financial lives were impacted and their hopes and concerns for the future.

Gig workers in the U.S., employed in service roles, such as e-hailing and delivery, were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with 68% reporting a decline in total income. Nearly 3 out of 5 workers earned less than $1,000 per month, compared to 1 in 5 before the lockdown. A majority of U.S. respondents – 89% – were concerned about COVID-19, and at the time of the survey, respondents were most worried about the impact to their livelihoods, although health risks were also a meaningful concern. 

“With the onset of COVID-19 and the accompanying economic fallout, our research found that the majority of workers in the digital gig economy are living on the edge, piecing together temporary and inconsistent work and struggling to make ends meet,” explained Emmalyn Shaw, managing partner at Flourish. “The pandemic and ensuing economic dislocation significantly impacted this population and highlighted their limited financial resilience.”

Steady CEO Adam Roseman said, “As COVID-19 continues to redefine nearly every aspect of daily life, earning a stable income is much harder to achieve for tens of millions of hourly and gig workers. Consistent and coordinated government and private-sector support will be needed.” 

Black and Latinx Communities Disproportionately Impacted

Fifty-nine percent of respondents reported that if they lost their main source of income, they could not cover household expenses for a month without borrowing money. Black and Latinx communities were disproportionately impacted by the crisis, evidenced by respondents’ high levels of concern and the heavier burden of supporting additional financial dependents. Black workers were hit the hardest financially, with 61% now earning less than $1,000 per month.

Worker Sentiment and Financial Impact Vary by City

The United States Spotlight reveals that worker sentiment and financial impact varied meaningfully by city, depending on the regional course of the pandemic. In Atlanta, Chicago, and Philadelphia, more than half of the workers reported a large fall in income, while San Francisco workers, who also reported a large income decline, indicated a somewhat more positive outlook. In New York, workers reported less economic hardship and lower levels of concern.

Yet, U.S. gig workers showed signs of grit and resilience as they coped with the economic impact of the crisis:

  • 63% used savings and 55% borrowed money, combining loans from multiple sources, with a heavy reliance on friends and family.
  • 39% found new or additional work, with over a third of new work coming from online or app-based platforms.
  • Of the 62% who reduced consumption, half cut back on food.

Some Relief with Financial Aid

In the U.S., government relief payments through the CARES Act were a lifeline for many. 

  • 77% of respondents received financial aid through the CARES Act, and while still struggling, these recipients had stronger financial resilience, less decline in quality of life, and a greater sense of hope.
  • More than half of respondents applied for unemployment benefits since the crisis began, although most struggled to navigate the application process. For most, finding work with better pay is their top financial goal.

To read the full United States Spotlight report, visit: https://flourishventures.com/perspectives/the-digital-hustle-gig-worker-financial-lives-under-pressure-us-spotlight-2020/

“The important role that gig workers play in our society cannot be overemphasized,” said Shaw. “As the world continues to grapple with the challenges of the current crisis, financial institutions, fintechs, and policymakers have an opportunity to learn from our most vulnerable workers and identify financial services that will help them survive this crisis and thrive in the future.”

About Flourish
Flourish is a global venture capital firm investing in entrepreneurs whose innovations advance financial health and prosperity for individuals and small businesses. Our global fintech portfolio includes more than 60 high-growth companies offering a range of leading-edge financial services including, in the U.S., challenger bank Chime, gig worker platform Steady, next-gen home insurance company Kin, and FreshEBT, an app for SNAP recipients, among many others. We partner with industry thought leaders in research, policy, and regulation to better understand the underserved and help foster a fair and more inclusive economy. Visit us at flourishventures.com or join our community through TwitterLinkedIn or Facebook.

SOURCE Flourish Ventures



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Employment Relations Podcast #14 – The impact of the gig economy on the concept of “work”: it’s broader than you might think

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In Episode 14 of our Employment Law for the Time Poor podcast, Professor Andrew Stewart and Emily Haar build on their last discussion about what it means to be an employee by considering the so-called “gig economy”, or the use of digital platforms to find and perform work.

This is a growing area, which does not just include ride share and food delivery. There are platforms for professional services, aged and disability care, as well as odd jobs and clerical roles.

The status of workers in the gig economy can be unclear, and there have been some high profile cases where the issue has been put to the test. The Victorian State Government enquiry into the on-demand workforce is currently receiving submissions, following former Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James’ report being released in June 2020.

Many of the recommendations in that report could have application well beyond the “gig economy”, and organisations who are using new digital technologies to enable work to be performed need to be mindful that the risks associated with misclassifying an employee as a contractor may not just stop with the platform itself.

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