The Future of the Gig Economy Is on the Ballot

A rideshare driver holds a placard during a protest against Uber and Lyft low wages in Los Angeles, Calif., on February 5, 2020. (Sipa USA via AP Images) Thank you for signing up. For more from The Nation, check out our latest issue. Subscribe now for as little as $2 […]

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A rideshare driver holds a placard during a protest against Uber and Lyft low wages in Los Angeles, Calif., on February 5, 2020. (Sipa USA via AP Images)

I’m a writer. I’m also a part-time bicycle courier for UberEats, Postmates, and Caviar in New York City: a job that I do on the side, on my own schedule. I am the mythical “independent contractor” Silicon Valley platform capitalists like Uber cite to justify California Prop 22, which, if passed in November, could permanently exclude delivery and rideshare workers from employee status—and therefore deny them the rights and protections they deserve.

The app companies have poured hundreds of millions into propaganda to push a harmful lie: that workers are free-floating entrepreneurs who don’t want to be employees, and prefer the “flexibility” of “being their own bosses.” Despite what these companies would like you to think, most of their workers are not like me.

I’m young. I’m college-educated. I have savings; I have my own health insurance. When the coronavirus hit New York in March, it was an easy decision for me to stop doing deliveries and protect my health, even if it meant less income.

But recent studies across cities like New York, San Francisco, and Seattle show that I’m an outlier: The majority of the “gig workers” who provide the bulk of the labor on these platforms have no other job. They can’t afford to take time off, even during a pandemic. They are predominantly older men, majority Black and brown, often immigrants with no more than high school degrees, and regularly working more than 30 hours a week to support families. They are significantly underinsured. Most cannot afford a $400 emergency expense. These platforms’ entire business model depends on misclassifying laborers with few other options.

It’s important that we all understand the platform capitalists’ playbook. They are taking over industries by using underregulated labor and setting rock-bottom prices. The companies willingly lose billions of dollars a year just to win market share—which in turn lets them force concessions from local governments and further cement their dominance. Their end goal is to become the sole provider of vital services, then raise prices, cut wages, and extract profits. All of this is subsidized by a pipeline of cash from venture capitalists, who understand that these platforms’ long-term success ultimately depends on their ability to control us—the workers. Misclassification is their secret weapon.

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