Gig worker employment fights like those in California pit flexibility against a livable wage – but ‘platform cooperatives’ could ensure workers get both

8 mins read

Juliet B. Schor, Boston College

Voters in California will decide in November whether or not Uber drivers and different gig financial system workers ought to be thought of workers or contractors – a query that’s been debated and litigated for many years now.

On the floor, the problem pits the flexibility that comes with being unbiased against the upper incomes and advantages that workers are inclined to get. Uber, Doordash and others say the proposition they placed on the poll in California would split the difference by preserving them contractors – “with benefits.”

I’ve been studying gig labor for practically a decade. Since 2013, I’ve led groups which have interviewed more than 200 workers on platforms comparable to TaskRabbit, Postmates, Uber and different apps to study their experiences, incomes patterns, needs and constraints.

I consider there may be a higher method to marry flexibility with a livable wage.

What workers need

It’s true that gig workers need flexibility, autonomy and life with out a boss. But my group and I additionally discovered that the shortage of advantages and out there work imply it’s nearly unimaginable to earn a dependable major earnings on these platforms.

Those who tried to earn a full-time residing on the platforms usually made lower than the official poverty line, even when their hourly wages had been first rate. A separate 2020 San Francisco study found that ride-hail drivers had been incomes US$360 per week, after bills. That’s $9 an hour for a 40-hour work week – and even less for the majority who work greater than that. Almost half of the ride-hail and supply workers in that research could not cowl a $400 expense with out borrowing.

These poor situations assist our conclusion that succeeding on these platforms typically requires having at the least one different job, usually a typical one that features some advantages. In different phrases, the platforms appear to be free-riding on the backs of typical employers.

But we additionally noticed how good this type of work could be – underneath the precise circumstances.

Reluctant workers

To shield gig workers, California enacted a law final yr that correctly reclassified them from unbiased contractors to workers. It went into impact in January 2020.

Employment standing makes the job extra remunerative and fewer precarious by guaranteeing a minimum wage and numerous benefits. But the gig corporations warn that it’ll remove the flexibility that workers like about gig work. Legal scholar Veena Dubal found that many workers got here to assist this reclassification as workers reluctantly, and solely as a result of situations had change into so dire.

In response, Uber and Lyft threatened to go away the state unless voters enact Proposition 22. If it passes, the proposition would exempt ride-hail and delivery workers from the California gig financial system legislation but would additionally supply some advantages. It claims to ensure pay equal to 120% of the California minimal wage, which is currently $13 an hour.

But unbiased researchers on the University of California at Berkeley have calculated that Proposition 22 would doubtless assure a wage of solely $5.64 an hour, and plenty of workers can be excluded from the varied insurance coverage advantages the proposition would offer.

A man checks his phone to locate his Lyft driver at Los Angeles International Airport
Lyft and Uber have threatened to go away California in the event that they’re compelled to make their drivers workers. Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Worker cooperatives

My own research factors to a totally different method that retains worker flexibility but additionally provides workers a say in how the enterprise operates – to not point out a actual monetary stake in its success: the platform cooperative.

Like any cooperative, a platform co-op is an enterprise collectively owned and managed by its workers. Platform means the workers use an app or web site to attach with each other and set up providers for customers.

Sociology doctoral scholar Samantha Eddy and I conducted a study of a platform cooperative in Canada known as Stocksy United. It’s a inventory pictures firm in which the contributing photographers are thought of unbiased contractors but additionally personal shares in the cooperative. There’s a small administration group, but main selections are voted on by the artists.

Members instructed us they’re far happier than after they labored for the “Uber” of their business, Getty Images, and earn way more for every picture offered. One purpose for his or her satisfaction is that, like many platforms, Stocksy hosts a wide selection of collaboration kinds, from hobbyists who contribute the occasional {photograph} to professionals who make investments giant sums in shoots. This provides members the liberty that many search from platform work.

All members get a say in the corporate’s governance, although in apply solely a few hundred of its roughly 1,000 members are energetic in the corporate’s boards, the place points are mentioned and voted on.

A key element of Stocksy’s success is that its founders already had intensive business expertise and knew the platform mannequin and its expertise. Another ingredient was that it started with a $1.3 million mortgage from the founders. Lack of financing is a chronic impediment to the institution of cooperatives, regardless of the business.

[The Conversation’s science, health and technology editors pick their favorite stories. Weekly on Wednesdays.]

Another chronic problem in the gig financial system is that too many workers chase too little work, a phenomenon that has been significantly acute amongst ride-hailing providers. It arises in half as a result of most platforms permit nearly anybody to hitch. Our ongoing but unpublished interviews with gig buyers and supply workers discover that this imbalance has intensified throughout the pandemic.

To keep away from this downside, many co-ops, particularly in driving, supply and cleansing, restrict membership and solely increase with the market. That’s a main boon for workers who depend upon their app-based incomes for hire, meals and different primary bills.

Platform cooperatives are a bit youthful than the gig financial system, which started round 2009. So there aren’t many but. But there are examples in bicycle supply, ride-hail providers, cleansing and well being care.

There’s no purpose to anticipate the likes of Uber and Lyft to ever convert to a worker cooperative. But in the event that they had been to go that route, our interviews counsel workers can be higher off.

Juliet B. Schor, Professor of Sociology, Boston College

This article is republished from The Conversation underneath a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Charlene is a Bay Area journalist who hails from the small community of Fresno. Drawing from her experience writing for her college paper, Charlene continues to advocate for free press and local journalism. She also volunteers in all the beach cleanups she can because she loves the water.