When your boss is an app

When your boss is an app

When your boss is an app

It’s hard not to apprehend how the less pleasant innovations of the gig economy, and the technology that makes them possible, could seep into more and more industries and jobs – a future in which the “uberization of everything” doesn’t mean cutting regular jobs, just forcing it to operate in an increasingly giglike fashion. David Weil — who served in the Department of Labor under President Obama and later as dean of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University — sees the expansion of gig work as part of a larger story, one he calls “cracking.” When companies began to offshore manufacturing in the mid-20th century, he says, they did so in part to access cheaper labor in other countries. Soon they found ways to do something similar at home, outsourcing roles that in the past would have belonged to their own pool of workers. Janitors at a tech company like Apple, for example, may have once been direct employees, entitled to benefits similar to those of their peers. Now they can be employed by a cleaning service with its own working policies – severing, or at least loosening, the legal ties between them and the company whose offices they will be cleaning.

Weil considers companies like Uber and Lyft to be “hyper-cracked”. They minimize labor costs by categorizing all of their drivers as self-employed – people with, in theory, other jobs and other access to benefits – and presenting themselves as mere management systems that allow these workers to operate. Given their power over nearly every aspect of this job, however, many view these marks not as management systems but as jobs. “A lot of the platform world, they want to have things both ways at the same time,” Weil says. “They want as much control over product and service as possible – regardless of the goals related to innovation, service and product delivery – but they don’t want the complicated issues of being an employer.”

The depth of this particular fissure — the obvious way these platforms maximize control over workers while minimizing obligations to them — has sparked multiple battles over how the law should categorize workers. In courts and legislatures, workers and labor rights advocates have stood up against tech companies and corporate interests. They have won many victories. In 34 states, legislation has already been passed that specifically exempts “transmission network companies” (TNCs) from certain state and local labor standards. On-demand work platform Handy, which has since been bought by Angi Inc., has backed legislation that would ensure those who found jobs on apps or platforms could more easily qualify as workers independent; 10 states now have such “marketplace platform” laws on the books. And a growing and well-funded lobby for platform work, the Coalition for Workforce Innovation, has argued for a third classification of work, beyond employees and independent contractors. This category would be created simply by having workers sign a contract called a “worker flexibility agreement,” in which they trade protections like a minimum wage for the ability to take work from outside – thus giving platforms, according to the argument, the freedom to offer piecemeal offers. selections of perks and perks to attract workforce.

The strongest alternative to all of this is a standard called the “ABC test,” which gained notoriety in a class action lawsuit against a California courier and delivery service called Dynamex Operations West. In 2004, Dynamex converted all of its drivers from full-time employees to independent contractors. After much litigation, the California Supreme Court finally relied on the ABC test – which sets the bar high for considering workers self-employed – to uphold a lower court verdict for plaintiffs, sparking a flurry of political action . The state legislature passed a measure codifying the ABC test into law. In response, transnational corporations including Uber, Lyft and Instacart pushed for a state ballot measure, Proposition 22, that would place their drivers in a class of workers entitled to only limited benefits. The proposal passed in 2020, but was hampered by legal challenges. Versions of this battle have taken place in states across the country, and even nationwide. The House of Representatives has twice passed the PRO Act, a law focused on labor organizing that also adopts the ABC test at the federal level; both times, in 2019 and 2021, he languished in the Senate. It was presented a third time in February.

At the same time, the wide variety of on-demand work arrangements continued to expand, moving beyond the speed of most movements to regulate or define it. Many of the newest platforms in the field actually present themselves as attempts to bridge the gap between flexibility and security – using the tools of gig work to solve the problems of gig work. Yong Kim, the founder of a platform called Wonolo, told me his hope was to build a new model of worker protection. Kim came to the United States from South Korea as a teenager and remembers walking into stores with help signs, only to be turned away – “I couldn’t find a job in a service station,” he told me, “because of my appearance and the way I speak. His platform connects workers with companies that need on-demand staff.” Most gig economy-based platforms connect workers to consumers,” he says. “If someone needs food delivered to their doorstep, they use it. In our case, one side is actually businesses “There are companies like Hello Fresh and Coca-Cola that also have to think about worker wellbeing. Can we design it in a new way and innovate around it?”


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