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.
Another challenge is the vulnerability to exploitation that gig economy workers face. NGA’s contingent worker members been subjected to sub-minimum-wage pay, brutal working conditions, and even forced labor. Freelancers face wage theft on a massive scale. App-based workers struggle with racial and gender-based discrimination, unexplained termination, and health and safety hazards — and may have no more than an email address to turn to for help.
That’s why the NGA formed the Indy Worker Guild: to be a voice for gig economy workers who want stability, flexibility, voice, and power. And that why we’re pleased to announce that the Indy Worker Guild is absorbing the membership and functions of Peers.org.
Since 2013, Peers.org has built a significant community (250,000 strong), and has helped gig economy workers access critical benefits, including health insurance, disability insurance, and retirement. In November 2015, Peers’ co-founders, Shelby Clark and Natalie Foster, joined NGA Executive Director Saket Soni and other prominent thought leaders in calling for a top Indy Worker Guild priority: system of portable benefits for gig economy workers.
The idea behind portable benefits is to provide today’s workers with a new safety net that covers basic needs like health insurance and retirement savings, but doesn’t depend on a single full-time employer to offer it. Instead, independent contractors will be able to carry their benefits with them from gig to gig and in between.
The gig economy is growing every day. Already, an estimated 40% of U.S. workers are part of it. We can’t wait for Washington to build the solutions we need. Drawing on promising city- and state-level proposals and the insights of workers themselves, the Indy Worker Guild is working to innovate a new general of solutions for gig economy workers. We invite you to join us.