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Is the gig economy back? Number of jobs – and workers – at Upwork surges

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As of the date this article was published, 30 million people in the United States have filed for unemployment insurance for the first time. This means that millions of people are not only looking for new jobs, but they’re also looking for a little side work to make ends meet.

It was surprising, then, when we observed a massive purge of user accounts at gig-economy marketplace Upwork ($NASDAQ:UPWK). As we reported a month ago, Upwork seemingly purged nearly 2-million accounts from its network as it looked to transform the gig marketplace into one with higher-paying jobs for fewer people.

But since then, the marketplace has recovered.

On April 13, the number of jobs on Upwork hit a low of 77,500. Since then, however, roughly 10,000 new gigs have been added, bringing the new total of available jobs on Upwork to 87,400.

Just before that, in early May, the number of user accounts at Upwork began to grow as well. On March 31, the site reported 643,000 user accounts, or workers. As of this week, that number has swelled to 938,000. That’s still a far cry from the 2.6 million workers the site reported in February, but it appears that things are up again at Upwork.

To be clear, not just anyone can sign up for Upwork. The company asks that new accounts create a profile and that within 24 hours they’ll either be accepted or not. It appears, then, that the company began approving profile requests in early March in earnest.

The type of gig work available on Upwork remains biased toward skilled workers in software development, design, and writing, with “Web Mobile Software Development” showing the most gigs at 271,000 as of this week.

The change is a positive sign for those looking to make some extra money during uncertain times, especially after we found that Upwork had been plagued by too little work for too many people.

This recent surge also comes as the company has made some goodwill efforts that include its Work Together Talent Grants Program, which gives $25,000 grants to freelancers who can “help develop and accelerate projects whose mission is tied directly to mitigating COVID-19’s devastating impact on individuals, communities, and economies.” 

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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Economy

Embr adds food delivery side gig in Early Access update

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Simulator games are all the rage nowadays. All sorts of occupations have been given the treatment to varying degrees of success, but a red hot one about firefighting might just be on the horizon. Having arrived on both Steam and Google Stadia in Early Access last month, Embr will now see its first major update. Available now, Curve Digital and Muse Games have brought even more frantic action to the multiplayer affair.

Juggling gigs

The Embr Eats update will add a brand new mode to the game. Now, you can supplement your firefighting income with some action as a food delivery service employee.

“Everybody who has played the game so far knows that Embr‘s frenzied take on firefighting is a satirical way of taking a look at the gig economy,” said Howard Tsao, team lead at Muse Games.

“The new update takes that even further, with the Embr Eats feature throwing take-out delivery into the mix for good measure. Delivering food is a way for players to top up their earnings and we also think it adds a new take on the world of Embr. This is just the first of our ideas, too – we have more where this came from. We’re very much a ‘live project’ with the game in Early Access, and so improving the game – both with bug fixes and new play modes like this – is a huge priority.”

Embr Adds Food Delivery Side Gig In Early Access Update (2)

More goodies

A new level will also come alongside this new update. Empire Towers will allow firefighters to battle the flames in a densely packed high-rise, so get ready for heights and heat. Next, a new offhand tool, the Stim Pen, will allow you to regain health in an instant. And those wanting to look good while doing their job can look to the Curve Crossover Fashion Pack. It includes items such as:

  • Bomber Crew Outfit – Hat & Jacket
  • Hot Shot Outfit – Hat & Jacket
  • American Fugitive Outfit – Shirt & Pants
  • Stealth Inc Outfit: Goggles, Shirt, Gloves, & Pants
  • Early Access and Convention exclusive item: The FAX Hat

Embr is available on Early Access for Steam and Google Stadia.

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Labor Groups, San Francisco Push Bogus Taxpayer-Funded Survey to Support Anti-Gig Law

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A liberal advocacy group’s own researchers raised red flags about a taxpayer-funded study used to justify a union campaign against the California gig economy.

The San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission helped fund a survey conducted by Jobs with Justice, a left-wing advocacy group largely funded by labor powerhouse Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The survey reported that 71 percent of gig workers in the San Francisco area work more than 30 hours a week and receive “poverty level” wages. According to the group’s website, Jobs with Justice planned to use the survey to “make policy recommendations and support organizing” among gig workers. The survey’s summary page emphasizes the need to enforce anti-gig labor laws.

Left-wing labor group Gig Workers Rising has used the survey to rally in support of California Assembly Bill 5, a controversial law limiting companies’ ability to classify workers as independent contractors. The group called the study “the most comprehensive survey of actual work done” in the gig economy. Internal communications obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, however, reveal that the survey was pitched to potential financial backers as “not representative,” and an academic researcher involved in the study voiced concerns regarding Jobs with Justice’s recruitment tactics.

While the study initially called for 1,200 survey respondents, Jobs with Justice narrowed the scope following the spread of coronavirus, pivoting to an online survey focusing on the pandemic that aimed to reach just 500 respondents.

“The goal behind an online survey of 500 workers, while not representative, would be to turn around data quickly … in order to inform current policy discussions,” an internal description of the updated survey obtained by the Free Beacon said. It went on to reach just 219 respondents.

Pacific Research Institute senior fellow Wayne Winegarden criticized the study’s methodology, calling the survey’s results “meaningless.”

“The survey is not representative of the intended population with the original goal of 500 responses,” Winegarden told the Free Beacon. “The study did not reach this amount, having only 219 responses. So, in no uncertain terms do these results represent the view of gig workers.”

The study also downplayed Jobs with Justice’s involvement in an attempt to bolster its academic appeal. While the published survey lists UC Santa Cruz professor Chris Benner as the project’s lead, Jobs with Justice executive director Kung Feng is described as “leading” the project in internal emails obtained by the Free Beacon. The emails also show that the online survey was written by the group’s research director, Erin Johansson. Benner merely “edited the wording in a few questions,” according to the internal communications.

Benner, who did not return request for comment, also raised concerns regarding Jobs with Justice’s incentive plan to provide a gift card to all survey respondents.

“One, I’m not sure where the budget for that comes from, and two, with an online survey, it leaves open lots of opportunities for people to game it,” Benner wrote in a March 17 email to Johansson.

Following the academic’s objection, Gig Workers Rising continued to advertise the survey in an April tweet by saying respondents would “get a $10 gift card.” A Jobs with Justice invoice for the study listed $45,181 in “survey costs,” including “incentives and app payments.” While the published study lists the gig economy companies each of the survey’s 219 respondents work for, internal data obtained by the Free Beacon shows that 91 of the respondents did not report their company, suggesting some may have been non-gig workers who completed the survey for the incentive.

The invoice was sent to San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission executive officer Bryan Goebel, who solicited funding for the study on Jobs with Justice’s behalf, internal emails show. Reached for comment, Goebel said the coronavirus-related study “was never intended to be” representative and that $50,000 in taxpayer funds were used only for the “initial pilot survey” launched prior to coronavirus. The final study combined the results of both the pilot survey and coronavirus-related survey, a methodological red flag, according to Winegarden.

“In the midst of the survey being in the field, they stopped the survey, reworked it to account for the coronavirus, and then continued with the survey,” Winegarden told the Free Beacon. “These results from before and after cannot be compared to one another.”

Goebel also told the Free Beacon that Benner “was indeed the overall lead” on the study, adding that Jobs with Justice simply “led the outreach.” He did not address the fact that the coronavirus-related survey was drafted by Jobs with Justice.

Charlyce Bozzello, a spokeswoman for labor watchdog the Center for Union Facts, said activist front groups often misuse research to advance their ideological goals.

“For years, unions have used flawed ‘research’ to support their organizing campaigns, so it’s no surprise to see Jobs with Justice involved in this project,” she told the Free Beacon. “What is surprising is that the city of San Francisco and UC Santa Cruz would lend their names to this charade.”

Other gig economy studies dispute Jobs with Justice’s findings. A Cornell University study published Monday found that 96 percent of Uber and Lyft drivers in Seattle drove less than 40 hours a week. It further found that 92 percent made more than Seattle’s minimum wage of $16.39, with the media driver earning $23.25 per hour after deducting expenses.

Jobs with Justice and Gig Workers Rising did not respond to requests for comment.

Collin AndersonCollin Anderson is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He graduated from the University of Missouri, where he studied politics. He is originally from St. Louis and now lives in Arlington, VA. His email address is anderson@freebeacon.com.



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Economy

Why the Uber driver case has the potential to alter Canada’s gig economy forever

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Article content continued

Heller was a driver for UberEats who argued that he was an employee, not an independent contractor. That meant Uber owed him overtime, vacation, holiday pay, as well as other entitlements.

The Supreme Court didn’t answer the question of whether Heller and other Uber drivers were employees or not, so in that respect the real issue lies ahead. But it did remove an important roadblock, paving the way for a potentially $400 million lawsuit.

Tucked away in the contractor agreement that every Uber driver must sign before they can start working is an arbitration clause.

The clause required drivers to bring any problems to arbitration in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and not to an Ontario court. The arbitration in Amsterdam would cost around $14,000 in administrative fees up front, as well as the cost of transport and legal representation in the Netherlands. Something no Uber driver could even possibly afford. Take Heller himself, who earns around $400 to $600 a week for 40 or more hours of work.

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