December 22, 2016
A Voice for Independent Workers
By Kati Sipp
What do an adjunct professor, a day laborer, and an Uber driver have in common? More than you might think.
In recent decades, the U.S. economy has been shifting from one of stable, full-time jobs to a gig economy, where short-term, piecemeal, unstable work is the norm.
We’ve seen this among our members at the National Guestworker Alliance(NGA): contingent workers in industries including construction, service, hospitality, food processing, and logistics.
We’ve also seen it in the broader economy. Employers are replacing full-time workers with freelancers or subcontractors to avoid paying for benefits and to reduce responsibility for their workforce. Another face of the gig economy has been the rise of app-based employment platforms like Uber and TaskRabbit, which provide millions of workers with gig-to-gig income — but none of the protections of traditional jobs.
Online or off, gig economy workers face similar challenges. Freelance designers and ride-share drivers may have the kind of flexibility that full-time workers don’t, but that comes at the cost of the stability. The industrial middle class in the U.S. was built on long-term jobs — often unionized — that came with employer-paid health benefits, retirement programs, and a social safety net that let workers plan for the future. Today’s gig economy workers don’t have that.