Every Day is Labor Day for Gig Workers

Kimberly A. Hathaway

Sep 04

As our country observes Labor Day, make a special effort to thank your delivery person or driver and dig deep to fatten that tip amount. Every day is Labor Day for gig workers, they have taken the brunt of the pandemic and are working tirelessly to make ends meet in an uncertain economy.

When Congress passed the act that created Labor Day on June 28, 1894 no one could envision the innovations and economic growth that would happen over the next 136 years. Worker classification, unions, innovations in manufacturing, and safety standards that protect workers are the norm now and a far cry from what workers endured in the late 19th century.

Fast-forward to the present and we have a new chapter of labor and a battle over the emergence of worker protections for the gig economy — 36 percent or 57.3 million workers are classified as gig workers. They are also called freelancers, independent contractors, or the contingent workforce and in 2018 they generated $1.2 trillion in wages in the U.S.

Are gig workers exploited or exercising their right to work with flexibility and freedom?

The debate of whether gig workers should remain independent contractors or be classified as employees with all of the related benefits is a hotly contested issue in California — ground zero for an argument that the rest of the country is closely watching as the battle heats up for a “yes” or “no” on Proposition 22.

The labor movement and unions formed in the early 20th century could never have imagined the creation of the gig economy brought about by technological innovations. For the first time, anyone with a car and a clean driving record could make money on-demand and choose their own hours. Anyone with a car, bike, scooter, or two feet could pick-up and deliver food or packages, and like the rideshare services of Uber and Lyft, could choose when they wanted to work, at what time, and for how long.

Gig workers became heroes due to COVID-19

Gig workers become heroes in the wake of COVID-19. They’ve delivered groceries and restaurant food to frightened Americans huddled in their homes and to those working from home while tending to children thrown into online distance learning. An army of rideshare drivers, with the country virtually shut down, became food delivery drivers overnight. They waited for hours to pick up food without protective equipment and often without the availability of restroom facilities.

Grocery shoppers, along with grocery store workers, braved indoor environments often without mask protection and shopped in vain for items like toilet paper and sanitizer, hoarded by a panicked public. Some experienced customers angered by the lack of item availability and were unfairly given poor ratings. Many seasoned grocery shoppers were thrown off their apps when Instacart hired 500,000 new workers from the masses of the newly unemployed.

It took states, Congress, and the Senate a while to pass legislation and approve funds for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and special unemployment compensation for self-employed workers. Many are still waiting to receive these funds as states grapple with processing millions of claims with outdated IT systems.

All eyes are on California to determine the future of gig work in the U.S.

On November 3 when California voters head to the ballot box, they will decide if Uber, Lyft, and other delivery services can continue to classify their drivers and delivery persons as independent contractors. Supporters of the bill point to statistics that an overwhelming majority of gig workers want to remain independent. Opponents point to the shortcomings exposed by the pandemic such as lack of benefits, paid time off, or sick leave, among others.

“At Stoovo, we believe that portable benefits and creative compensation structures will solve the issues surrounding the Prop. 22 battle so gig workers can remain independent and be protected.” — Hantz Févry, CEO and founder

There are concessions in the Yes on 22 ballot measure, such as a guarantee of 120 percent of the minimum wage, health care subsidies based on average ACH premiums in California, and an accidental death benefit for rideshare driver families, but opponents say it does not go far enough. Uber and Lyft claim that this is just a ploy by the labor unions to bring on hundreds of thousands of new members and new union dues.

Whatever the outcome, gig workers who depend on platform-based apps to feed their families, are caught in the middle.

Make a special effort to honor your food delivery or rideshare person this weekend

As our country observes Labor Day, make a special effort to thank your delivery person or driver and dig deep to fatten that tip amount. Every day is Labor Day for gig workers, they have taken the brunt of the pandemic and are working tirelessly to make ends meet in an uncertain economy. Think of this when you want to give them less than five stars or leave a negative comment — it may mean the difference between a gig worker having access to the app and thus the ability to pay their bills.

Give a bigger tip, give them five stars, or just give a smile and say “thank you.” We’ve all got to get through 2020 together.