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The empty promise of the gig economy



Gig companies in the United States have built an economy around the promise of freedom and shared prosperity. But recently, it appears these promises belong only to wealthy companies who are profiting off a vulnerable, unemployed and often low-wage, immigrant workforce. Since the passage of Proposition 22 in California, gig companies such as Uber and Lyft gained combined valuation bumps of $13 billion — even as this legislation is poised to strip app-based workers of their basic rights.

While some gig companies claim to be losing money, it seems they have only become more powerful over the past four years under President Donald Trump’s administration.

Gig economy giants including Uber, Lyft and DoorDash jointly funded the most expensive ballot race in California’s history, ultimately landing Prop. 22 on the ballot in November. These companies spent more than $200 million to help pass the proposition, which will exempt gig companies from classifying gig workers as employees with benefits.

Prop. 22 is a crucial step in gig companies’ fight to protect their business models and create a category of workers without rights. After defeating labor rights groups in California, these companies are looking to use the labor structure under Prop. 22 as an innovative model for the rest of the nation to adopt.

It is alarming how these companies are selling false promises and writing their own rules. The new legal framework surrounding Prop. 22 is set to rapidly erase decades of hard-won labor protections, which were designed to protect workers against the worst abuses of our century. It’s becoming clear that gig companies intend to rewrite state and federal labor laws at any cost, in order to thrive in an unregulated gig economy.

The rapid growth of gig companies has already changed the future of workers and has begun to reshape many aspects of the U.S. economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 34% of workers in the United States are gig workers, a percentage projected to rise to 43% this year alone.

With this proposition, a large proportion of employee-employer relationships in the United States have been disrupted to their core. The promise of freedom and prosperity in the gig economy is vanishing quickly as workers feel increasingly trapped and powerless.

William Canel, 31, a delivery worker who used to work full time for a restaurant, now finds himself tied to DoorDash as an essential worker without workplace rights.

“We have no choice but to work through these apps that put our health at risk for less than $2 per hour while denying us access to bathrooms, a dignified space to wait for work and basic labor protections,” Canel told me.

Gig workers are becoming victims of ruthless exploitation that puts their lives at risk with no guarantee of payment in the case of death or serious injury, and no protections against unsafe working conditions. When a gig worker such as Canel gets injured while making a delivery, they are responsible for paying their medical bills and are left alone to survive without a safety net.

The conditions of app-based food delivery workers have become even more precarious during the pandemic. According to Gustavo Ajche, a DoorDash worker and member of the Worker’s Justice Project, or WJP, these companies put profit before safety and the government has become complicit in these crimes.

As major cities continue to stay closed due to the pandemic, workers such as Ajche, Canel and many others continue to put their lives on the line without workplace safety precautions.

The gig economy is not delivering prosperity and freedom as promised, but new worker-led organizing movements will.

In New York City, app-based food delivery workers are rising up to defend their rights. Just last month, leaders at WJP led a march in Times Square to demand justice, safety and health for all food delivery workers.

As the country gets ready to transition to a new administration, President-elect Joe Biden will have the opportunity to create federal policies that ensure gig workers are given federal labor protections, such as minimum wage, safety and health laws — and the right to organize.

In the meantime, we must take the necessary steps to protect gig workers and prevent these tech companies from expanding their power across the country, from California to New York.

First, there should be strong safety protocols set in place for responding to public violence and electric bike theft against food delivery workers. Workers are required to purchase their equipment, which can be quite costly, so it’s imperative that these crimes are recognized and those affected receive adequate compensation.

In terms of health and safety, local governments must pass legislation mandating gig companies provide personal protective equipment and safety training to all their workers. Another seemingly trivial but important problem often faced by gig workers is a lack of bathroom access. Local and state governments should mandate that restaurants using app-based food delivery workers give them access to the facilities’ restrooms.

For New York City, where WJP is based, and other places that experience harsh winters, food delivery workers should be given access to lunch break facilities that will keep them warm and protected during the winter season.

Lastly, New York City can follow Seattle’s lead in passing ordinances requiring gig companies to give workers paid sick leave to help protect essential workers during the pandemic.

Workers serve a crucial, irreplaceable role in the economy — without them, the system falls apart. We must protect workers from corporate greed and power.


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Local chef creates app to connect gig workers with hospitality jobs




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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Connecting gig workers to hospitality jobs in Charleston is now easier than ever thanks to the app, Gigpro. It was created by a local chef, Ben Ellsworth, along with three others. The app lets anyone apply for and book jobs for just a single night at a time. It’s a fast and easy way to fill open shifts without committing to full employment with a business.

The hospitality industry is facing a detrimental shortage of workers with both back-of-house staff like line cooks and dishwashers as well as front-of-house staff like servers and bartenders.

The idea came to Ben Ellsworth, who’s been a chef in Charleston since 1998, as he stared at a pile of dishes in the Royal American kitchen during a shift when the dishwasher called out. He says the lightbulb switched on when he checked his cell phone.

“I got a notification on my phone that someone had booked my Airbnb and I said out loud ‘I wish he had booked to wash these dishes.’,” said Ellsworth.

That’s when Gigpro was born.

Nearly 150 Charleston businesses and over 2,000 workers have joined the platform since its initial release in late 2019. In the first month of beta testing, 36 gigs were booked and in the second month, 86 gigs were booked.

Now Ellsworth says around 200 gigs are posted to the platform each week.

There are only a few simple steps to set up Gigpro and begin picking up shifts. Download the free app, create a profile with a resume, fill out insurance information and add a payment method. A restaurant will post a shift with information like date, hours, and pay, then workers on the app can scroll through and apply for a job. If the employer finds a good fit for the night, the job will be booked. After a worker completes the job, payment is sent through the app two to three days later.

“Everybody that’s on the platform gets covered with occupational accident insurance,” explained Ellsworth. “Which takes the liability off the business and keeps the pro safe.”

He says the occupational accident insurance is about $0.38 per hour. Many gigs pay $15 to $30 an hour.

It’s a big help for employers working to fill shifts when employees call out or when staff is short.

Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms has been working with Gigpro for just over a year and recently has been booking workers most weekends.

“It’s a great tool to have in our toolkit,” said Manny Montes, the assistant director of HR at Wild Dunes Resort.

In some cases, at Wild Dunes and other businesses, workers have been asked to stick around.

“There’s actually two people that we connected with originally on the app that we’ve ended up offering positions to stay on board with us as actual employees,” said Montes.

Gigpro is a way to get some fast cash and help out businesses that are in dire need of staff.

“I would say right now that our biggest mission is to try and get more money in the pockets of the workforce in this industry. I’ve heard from multiple businesses that we’re working with that we’re kind for the only thing that’s moving the needle and getting help in the door,” said Ellsworth.

Gigpro is officially expanding to Nashville, TN and Charlotte, NC and Ellsworth hopes to add more “food eccentric cities” to the list soon.

For more about Gigpro, click here.

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Rep. McHenry introduces Gig Worker Equity Compensation Act




U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) introduced legislation that would include the gig workforce in the category of workers who can benefit from equity compensation.

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The Gig Worker Equity Compensation Act (H.R. 2990) would help gig workers share in the economic resurgence while preserving their flexibility and independence.

“How people choose to work is changing. Our technology-driven economy is embracing this shift, Washington needs to keep up,” McHenry, the Republican leader on the House Financial Services Committee, said. “By giving these non-traditional workers access to equity compensation—just like traditional employees—we can ensure they benefit from the growth of the companies they are making successful. While Democrats attempt to stifle this growing sector of the workforce, my bill ensures they retain the flexibility they need while giving them the opportunity to grow wealth. This is a win for our capital markets, job creators, and gig workers.”

McHenry points out that about a quarter of the U.S. workforce participates in the gig economy or non-traditional work — whether as a rideshare driver, food delivery courier, or sharing their property through a platform like Airbnb. Further, about 10 percent of workers rely on alternative work arrangements for their primary source of income. These workers do not want to be bound by constraints like an office, set hours, or a traditional employer-employee relationship. This bill seeks to provide additional flexibility to support these workers.

In November 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted to propose rules to provide equity compensation options for gig workers. McHenry welcomed this initiative and is committed to working with the SEC to implement his broader proposal.

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GigIndia to provide Rs 3 lakh insurance cover to active gig workers




GigIndia, a B2B gig marketplace for on-demand work completion, will provide free COVID health insurance to its active gig workers covering up to Rs 3 lakh of medical expenses. Considering the adverse financial impact of COVID-19 on its gigger families, the Pune-headquartered firm in a release said that it is offering this insurance to active gig workers to make them feel relatively secure during these challenging times.

Moreover, the company is initiating efforts to ensure certified giggers on its platform continue receiving gigs (projects), thereby enabling a steady monthly income, it added.

“The COVID Health Insurance will ensure that medical costs are covered if any gig worker tests positive for COVID-19. We are also providing financial assistance to gig workers, which will help them with essential expenditure such as hospital charges, oxygen cylinders and ventilators, among others,” said Sahil Sharma, Co-founder & CEO, GigIndia.

Sharma said Rs 3 lakh covid health insurance will be given to thousands of active giggers on the company’s platform. In addition, the company has also set up an internal Rs 10 lakh covid relief fund for gig workers in need.

He further said that unlike full-time white/grey collar workers, giggers and grey collar part-time workers typically do not receive social security benefits and paid leave or access to health insurance.

According to Sharma, GigIndia is providing emergency loans for medical expenses, 100 per cent reimbursement of vaccination cost for all its employees and their family members, along with 14-days’ paid leave if an employee tests positive.

GigIndia said it empowers large enterprises to scale rapidly by providing a flexible workforce along with tech-enabled real-time tracking for work completion, remote customer onboarding, virtual customer support, recruitment on-demand, influencer marketing and field operations among others.

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