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Gig workers face shifting roles, competition in pandemic | National News

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NEW YORK  — There were the two-hour, unpaid waits outside supermarkets when San Francisco first started to lock down, on top of the heavy shopping bags that had to be lugged up countless flights of stairs.

And yet even after signing up for several apps, 39-year-old Saori Okawa still wasn’t making as much money delivering meals and groceries as she did driving for ride-hailing giant Uber before the pandemic struck.

“I started to juggle three apps to make ends meet,” said Okawa, who recently reduced her work hours after receiving unemployment benefits. “It was really hard, because at that time, I could not afford to stay home because I had to pay rent.”

Okawa is one of an estimated 1.5 million so-called gig workers who make a living driving people to airports, picking out produce at grocery stores or providing childcare for working parents. Theirs had already been a precarious situation, largely without safeguards such as minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workers compensation and health and safety protections.

But with the pandemic pummeling the global economy and U.S. unemployment reaching heights not seen since the Great Depression, gig workers are clamoring for jobs that often pay less while facing stiff competition from a crush of newly unemployed workers also attempting to patch together a livelihood – all while trying to avoid contracting the coronavirus themselves.

U.S. unemployment fell to 11.1% in June, a Depression-era level that, while lower than last month, could worsen after a surge in coronavirus cases has led states to close restaurants and bars.

Marisa Martin, a law school student in California, turned to Instacart when a state government summer job as paralegal fell through after a hiring freeze. She said she enjoys the flexibility of choosing her own hours but hopes not to have to turn to gig work in the future. The pay is too volatile — with tips varying wildly and work sometimes slow — to be worth the risk of exposure to the virus.

“We are not getting paid nearly enough when we’re on the front lines interacting with multiple people daily,” said Martin, 24, who moved in with her parents temporarily to save money.

Alexandra Lopez-Djurovic, 26, was a full-time nanny in a New York City suburb when one of the parents she works for lost her job while the other saw his hours cut.

“All of a sudden, as much as they want me to stay, they can’t afford to pay me,” she said. Her own hours were reduced to about eight per week.

To make up lost wages, Lopez-Djurovic placed an ad offering grocery delivery on a local Facebook group. Overnight, she got 50 responses.

Lopez-Djurovic charges $30 an hour and coordinates shopping lists over email, offering perks the app companies don’t such as checking the milk’s expiration date before choosing which size to buy. Still, it doesn’t replace the salary she lost.

“One week I might have seven, eight, 10 families I was shopping for,” Lopez-Djurovic said. “I had a week when I had no money. That’s definitely a challenge.”

Upwork, a website that connects skilled freelance workers with jobs, has seen a 50% increase in signups by both workers and employers since the pandemic began, including spikes in jobs related to ecommerce and customer service, said Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork.

“When you need to make big changes fast, a flexible workforce helps you,” he said.

Maya Pinto, a researcher at the National Employment Law Project, said temporary and contract work grew during Great Recession and she expects that many workers will seek such jobs again amid the current crisis.

But increased reliance on temporary and contract work will have negative implications on job quality and security because it “is a way of saving costs and shifting risk onto the worker,” Pinto said.

It’s difficult to assess the overall picture of the gig economy during the pandemic since some parts are expanding while others are contracting. Grocery delivery giant Instacart, for instance, has brought on 300,000 new contracted shoppers since March, more than doubling its workforce to 500,000. Meanwhile, Uber’s business fell 80% in April compared with last year while Lyft’s tumbled 75% in the same period.

For food delivery apps, it’s been a mixed bag. Although they are getting a bump from restaurants offering more takeout options, those gains are being offset by the restaurant industry’s overall decline during the pandemic.

Gig workers are also jockeying for those jobs from all fronts. DoorDash launched an initiative to help out-of-work restaurant workers sign up for delivery work. Uber’s food delivery service, Uber Eats, grew 53% in the first quarter and around 200,000 people have signed up for the app per month since March — about 50% more than usual.

“Drivers are definitely exploring other options, but the issue is that there’s 20 or 30 million people looking for work right now,” said Harry Campbell, founder of The Rideshare Guy. “Sometimes I joke all you need is a pulse and a car to get approved. But what that means is it’s easy for other people to get approved too, so you have to compete for shifts.”

Delivery jobs typically pay less than ride-hailing jobs. Single mom Luz Laguna used to earn about $25 in a half-hour driving passengers to Los Angeles International Airport. When those trips evaporated, Laguna began delivering meals through Uber Eats, working longer hours but making less cash. The base pay is around $6 per delivery, and most people tip around $2, she said. To avoid shelling out more for childcare, she sometimes brings her 3-year-old son along on deliveries.

“This is our only way out right now,” Laguna said. “It’s hard managing, but that’s the only job that I can be able to perform as a single mother.”

Other drivers find it makes more sense to stay home and collect unemployment — a benefit they and other gig workers hadn’t qualified for before the pandemic. They are also eligible to receive an additional $600 weekly check from the federal government, a benefit that became available to workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. Taken together, that’s more than what many ride-hailing drivers were making before the pandemic, Campbell said.

But that $600 benefit will expire at the end of July, and the $2 trillion government relief package that extended unemployment benefits to gig workers expires at the end of the year.

“So many drivers are going to have to sit down and decide, do I want to put myself at risk and my family at risk once I’m not getting the government assistance?” Campbell said.

 

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New Chart Positions In Gig App Provider Ranking

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Unemployment claims are up one week, down the next in the topsy-turvy world after COVID-19. Where does that leave gig workers? In the driver’s seat, as this update to PYMNTS’ Provider Ranking of Gig Economy Apps tells us loud and clear.

Not only are there gigs, but it’s never been easier to pull up those postings on your smartphone and peruse them like a restaurant menu. Makes getting a gig a whole lot simpler. We’ve got a job, so get out the Ranking Machine for the Provider Ranking of Gig Economy Apps.

The Top Five

Our four top-ranked apps seem to have entrenched to some degree (although you never know).

Still at No. 1 is DoorDash, donating a million bucks to driver’s charities in April, followed as usual by Uber Driver at No. 2.

Instacart Shopper needs no assistance from customer service at its No. 3 spot — and for that matter, neither does the Fiverr freelance marketplace app, keeping busy at No. 4.

Now for a changeup to close out this section: Amazon Flex moves up one spot to enter the top 5 at No. 5.

The Top 10

At No. 6, we find the Upwork app down one chart position from last month, with self-explanatory app Freelancer also dropping one position to land at No. 7.

Rideshare legend Lyft likes preferred parking at No. 8, just where we left it last time.

Hare beats tortoise, as it were, as the TaskRabbit app jumps up a spot to No. 9, pushing the mighty Grubhub for Drivers to No. 10 and completing this edition of the Provider Ranking of Gig Economy Apps.

That’s what we call part of a full day’s work.

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NEW PYMNTS STUDY: OPEN BANKING 2021 

About The Study: Open banking-powered payment offerings have been available in some markets since 2018, but the pandemic drove many consumers to try these solutions for the first time — and there’s no going back. In the Open Banking Report, PYMNTS examines open banking’s rise as merchants and payment services providers worldwide tap into such options to offer secure, seamless account-to-account payments.



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Mark Melancon runs a turf installation company as a side gig

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It’s not uncommon for pitchers to meet up with their opposition before games and swap trade secrets: pitch grips, deliveries and ballplayer wisdom are all part of the secret language that hurlers share amongst themselves. But a pitcher swapping tips with the opposition’s groundskeeper?

That’s a little less usual, but simply par for the course (excuse the pun) for one of the Padres’ many offseason acquisitions and new closer, Mark Melancon.

That’s because Melancon — a three-time All-Star and one-time MLB saves leader — moonlights with his very own turf installation company, Diamond Turf.

“Arizona’s grounds crew was great,” Melancon told me in a phone call recently. “I’ve spent a lot of time with them. Toronto last year, spent a lot of time in Texas. You know, every field’s done a little bit different. You can learn from each of those grounds crews that deal with that type of field.

“Obviously, they’re trying to replicate something for 81 games that’s perfect to a natural product,” Melancon added. “And so they’re very picky on the ball bounce and stuff like that. Depending on the infill that you use, yeah, it will bounce differently.”

It’s a strange confluence of events that led to this moment for the Padres’ stopper. Landscaping wasn’t a family business, and he didn’t grow up with a deep obsession for turf and turf supplies. No, Melancon’s mid-career extracurriculars came about because of two things.

First, Melancon asked his sister, Michelle, and brother-in-law, Gerardo, to move closer to his family on the west coast of Florida from their home in Colorado. While Gerardo could transfer his job, it would have involved an extremely long commute and employers that paid his previous rate were also scarce in the nearby area. Melancon wanted to help out since he was the reason for them picking up and moving their lives in the first place.

Second, Melancon had a putting green installed in his backyard and he wasn’t happy with the results. So, with the kind of gusto that leads to garage bands and plans to remodel basements into swanky hangout areas, the two leapt into it. The only difference: They followed through on their dream.

“[Gerardo] and I just said, ‘Let’s do this,'” Melancon said. “This is something we’re attracted to and we’ll figure it out. And fortunately, he was on board and excited about it. So was I. We dove right in and started learning and went from there.”

They quickly got to work, first learning with on-the-job training on Melancon’s putting green — which Melancon points out is about as hard as any turf job gets. Just like pitching, nailing it involves a close attention to detail.

“Putting greens, there’s simply nuances to it,” Melancon said. “It’s an art, it’s a skill. And believe me, we’ve trained a lot of people and it’s like any other major profession — you can’t just get anybody off the street. You have to really show them the way and they have to show you that they want to do it.”

With help from Celebrity Greens, who have helped train the people in Diamond Turf’s employ, the company quickly grew to about 20 members strong. Along with roughly 15 laborers, the main office features Mark, Michelle, Gerardo, an office administrator named Debbie Hertenstein and, oh yeah, another Major Leaguer in J.B. Shuck, who now runs sales. Shuck, who’s married to Melancon’s wife’s sister — making this a giant big league family — had signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals last year. But when COVID-19 ended the Minor League season, Shuck joined up with Diamond Turf full-time.

“Those two guys,” Melancon said about his two brothers by marriage, “work ethic off the charts and just quality people.”

Since then, they’ve installed lawns — some complete with trampolines in them — intricate design and logo work and, of course, putting greens.

And then there’s the really fun stuff. That includes a large, lumpy piece of turf in the shape of a turtle that Melancon’s children love called “Turtle Hill,” and backyard mini golf courses.

“Clients just love it,” Melancon said. “Every hole is different. It’s a legit putt-putt course on the back of your yard. We put trinkets out there, a skull, a pirate ship, bridges, different color turf. It’s been phenomenal. It’s really well done. And that’s my brother-in-law, Gerardo. His artistic ability just comes into play really well there.”

It’s not a new thing for ballplayers to have side jobs. In fact, it’s a relatively recent phenomenon for players not to work in the offseason. Nolan Ryan was a gas station attendant as a young player, Richie Hebner dug graves and plenty of players through history have used their fame to help open up a side business. Lou Brock opened a florist’s shop and Curt Flood owned a portrait studio.

But that’s the opposite of what Melancon wants. He made it clear over and over throughout our time chatting that he’s just happy to be a part of this company and has no desire to use his big leaguer status to boost sales — even if he has been recognized a few times on the job. If you went to the website and didn’t know it, you’d have no idea that Melancon ever played baseball.

And Melancon truly loves the job. Even during the season, he is constantly working, using Diamond Turf business as a nice release from the non-stop stress of baseball. Though he’s mostly involved in an admin role, working on payroll and material orders, he’s perhaps working more than even his co-workers enjoy.

“I’m heavily involved, but I’m involved in places that I don’t have to be,” Melancon jokes. “But I want to be and I enjoy being [involved, even though] things could still get done without me. It’s the times when I’m in the hotel on the road that I can spend a lot of time on it. Fortunately, I have a good team in place that can take care of those things.”

Still, even for someone who loves turf and works in turf and even espouses the environmental benefits that turf can provide, he still prefers to play on natural grass.

“From a professional standpoint, I think natural grass is always better,” Melancon said. “I don’t really care. It’s more the infielders and outfielders — I’ll go with whatever they want. Playing in Texas in the playoffs last year was great. I thought that surface was awesome. To be honest, you didn’t even really know it was artificial.”

In the end, even though Melancon is a pitcher, you wouldn’t know it from the way he talks about his side gig. He sounds perfectly at home running a turf installation company.

“Wanting the best for people — that’s been our motto,” Melancon said. “We want to do the best job that we can do for people. We’re there to make money, obviously, but we want to leave the customer with great customer service and quality, longevity. We specialize in putting greens because that’s what’s enjoyable, that’s what gets us excited. And we feel like, if we can master the putting green side, we can really do anything because those are the hardest things. And we really feel like we produce one of the best putting greens out there.”

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UK Deliveroo riders strike over pay, gig work conditions | World

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LONDON (AP) — Riders for the app-based meal delivery platform Deliveroo held a strike in London Wednesday over pay and working conditions, part of a broader backlash against one of the U.K.’s biggest gig economy companies.

Scooter and bicycle delivery riders waving flags and red smoke flares rode through the streets of Central London. Socially distanced protests were also planned in York, Reading, Sheffield and Wolverhampton to demand fair pay, safety protections and basic workers’ rights.

The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, which represents migrant and gig workers, expected hundreds of riders to take part.

Deliveroo said that “this small self-appointed union does not represent the vast majority of riders who tell us they value the total flexibility they enjoy.” Rider surveys found most are happy with the company and flexibility was their priority, the company said in a statement.

The strike coincides with the first day of unconditional share trading for Deliveroo, which went public last week in a multibillion pound stock offering that was one of Europe’s most hotly anticipated IPOs this year. However, a number of institutional investors skipped the initial public offering, citing concerns about employment conditions for riders and a dual-class shareholder structure that gives founder Will Shu outsize control.

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