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Friday, July 17, 2015

Big week for the gig economy

For those of us interested in innovation and the future of the on-demand economy and the gig jobs it brings, this week has been a goldmine. Here's some of what's happened. If I'm missing anything, please comment away. 

  • Hillary Clinton gave her first major economic speech Monday and expressly called out the challenges of the gig economy, stating “many Americans are making extra money renting out a spare room, designing websites, selling products they design themselves at home, or even driving their own car. This ‘on demand’ or so-called ‘gig economy’ is creating exciting opportunities and unleashing innovation but it’s also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.” (NB: I’m a bit baffled by those who find this claim controversial (it is creating exciting opportunities and innovation and a robust gig economy does raise tough questions about the future of work and workplace protections. That said, it’s somewhat odd that she gave a speech in which she identified the challenges facing Americans as the world of fulltime work is eroding at the New School – a school that is simultaneously understood to be uber progressive and yet 85% of its faculty is part-time.)
  • Politico has a nice article discussing how Uber and the rest of the on-demand service companies like it might help the GOP appeal to younger tech and innovation-friendly voters. As Politico succinctly put it, “for the GOP’s hopefuls, Uber offers a perfect political backdrop. It allows them to link their brands with a hip service that’s popular with millennials. It dovetails with the Republican argument against big government standing in the way of innovation. And it gives them an opportunity to court Silicon Valley’s powerful tech industry, which is increasingly donating to national officeholders.” (NB: I do wonder if this is enough of an issue that young voters would actually vote Republican versus continuing to vote for Democrats while feeling, at most, a little liberal guilt the next time they hop in an Uber. Then again, if they understood the history of taxi medallions they might not feel guilt but genuine confusion as to whether Uber is actually any worse for drivers.)  
  • Speaking of Uber, Jeb Bush took one yesterday morning. [NYT article]
  • On Wednesday a California Public Utilities Commission ALJ stated that Uber had not complied with state laws designed to make sure drivers made rides available fairly to all passengers, regardless of who they are or where they live (e.g. those in wheelchairs). It seems Uber refused to provide its data on that issue. The judge recommended a $7.3 million fine and that Uber be suspended from operating in California. [LA Times article here
  • A bit overdue, but on July 8th the Seventh Circuit found a class of FedEx drivers in Kansas to have been improperly classified as independent contractors. The panel had certified the question of employee status to the Kansas Supreme Court earlier and the state court said they were. [Opinion here]. Unless I’m missing something, I think every court presented with this question has found FedEx drivers employees.   
  • On Wedneday the U.S. Department of Labor issued a new Interpretation of the FLSA’s definition of “employ.” Ben Sachs over at OnLabor breaks it down but the short version is: it’s probably not good for Uber. 
  • NPR had a two-part series (one and two) about Silicon Valley Rising, a growing labor movement in Silicon Valley that's working for those who provide services for major tech companies like Facebook, Google, Genentech, and Apple. For those unaware of some of the major developments on this front: shuttle drivers for many of these companies have voted to unionize; two months ago Facebook announced that its service contractors with more than 25 employees had to improve wages (to $15/hr) and benefits for those who worked enough hours, and; back in October Google converted its security guards from contractors to full-time Googlers. Apple did the same in March. 

Posted by Heather Whitney on July 17, 2015 at 11:11 AM | Permalink


The word "extra" in Clinton's speech is pretty important. A lot of people in the gig economy (myself included) aren't taking gigs for extra money, the gigs are the only money. There's a big difference between having a full time job and picking up some extra work in your free time (perhaps testing the waters before starting your own business), and cobbling together four or five different part time and freelance positions to try to make rent from month to month.*

*Which is particularly hard, given how many freelance jobs take a month or more to pay.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Jul 18, 2015 12:15:06 PM

Of possible interest: Conferences in 2009 and 2014 at the New School on the gig economy: http://digitallabor.org/

Also, the Nation's, and Dissent's Belabored Podcast, coverage is good:




Posted by: Digital Labor | Jul 17, 2015 7:15:47 PM

Raise your hands if you think all these decisions reclassifying workers as "employees" will result in higher employment and more economic growth. No, I didn't think so, either.

Posted by: Douglas Levene | Jul 17, 2015 2:15:58 PM

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