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New doccie ‘The Gig Is Up’ prioritizes first-hand gig worker narratives

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Gig workers power more of our modern conveniences than ever before, with companies like Uber, Amazon, and Instacart utilizing an on-demand workforce to carry out important business functions. Despite playing a pivotal role in these companies, gig workers are too often left behind when it comes to benefits, compensation, and other rights afforded to full-time workers.

The Gig is Up, a new documentary by Shannon Walsh, seeks to tell the story of the gig economy through those who power it. Too often our bird’s-eye view of the gig economy is dehumanizing in its scope; Walsh efficiently solves this by letting gig workers tell their own stories.

“Worldwide, there have been real efforts by workers to bring their issues into the public and to agitate for change,” Walsh, a current Guggenheim Fellow, writes in her director’s note. “I believe we are at the dawn of a global movement around the world of gig workers rising that we hope this film, alongside the incredible workers and insiders we have met in making this film, will be a part of.”

Workers in the spotlight — Walsh’s narrative is affecting and smooth. The Gig is Up’s best feature, though, is the myriad gig workers whose voices are given priority in the documentary. These are not new stories, but they are being highlighted in a way that makes them much more emotional than general reporting on the subject. (The documentary earns its subtitle, “A Very Human Tech Doc,” in spades.)

The problems with the gig economy are made sharp and clear in these interviews. A delivery driver in France named Sidiki tells of a time when he fell off his bike and worried first about the food being damaged — because a customer complaint could put him out of work entirely. Mitchell Amewieye, a gig worker in Lagos, Nigeria, tells Walsh about making an average of two dollars per hour answering questions to train Amazon’s Mechanical Turk AI platform, a service that lets companies pay far-flung workers cents (or fractions thereof) for small tasks. Each worker profile is intimate and captivating.

Also refreshing is the scale of Walsh’s documentary. In it, she travels far beyond U.S. borders to speak with gig workers in places like China, France, and Nigeria. In doing so the doc successfully portrays just how far-reaching the gig economy mindset is, despite the focus often falling on epicenters like California.

A global movement — The rise in gig workers has pushed conventional thinking about career paths into turmoil. Where working as an independent contractor long meant just that — working independently — it’s now been co-opted by corporations as a basis upon which to deny employees basic rights.

The Gig Is Up spends most of its time zooming in on the very real human casualties of the gig economy, and in doing so Walsh effectively puts on full display the dangers of continuing down this path unchecked. The gig economy is more than a nebulous concept here — it is a harsh reality, and one we must face sooner rather than later if we hope to minimize its damage. Those of us who use these services and regulators alike need to decide whether the convenience and affordability they promise are worth the knock-on effects.

The Gig is Up premieres at the Hot Docs festival this week.

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Workers

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

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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

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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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