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Giglancers State of the 'Union'

As gig workers head towards becoming 50% of the US workforce, 54% of them have no access to employer-based benefits. Only 40% receive medical insurance, and just 20% have life insurance. Gig workers are beginning to wonder if the downside of their freedom is worth it.

With gig workers, freelancers, and solopreneurs staking their part in the essential makeup of the global economy, their voice is getting louder. They are demanding equal pay, job security, safety measures, and insurance. This trend shifts how we understand labor and the rights of workers in this quickly changing economy. They often grapple with spotty incomes, no traditional employer benefits, and a lack of a place at the table. Naturally, the idea of unionization comes to head.

To many of them, unionizing represents a pathway to stability and fairness. To no one's surprise, many Uber drivers make less than minimum wage and need to work 12-15 hour shifts to get by. If you are in San Francisco and take an $11 Uber ride, that driver gets $5.00. Uber gets just more than half. It didn’t use to be like that…

Not just Uber drivers and delivery folks are seeing the brunt of this, but it's they who we see the most often because we get in their cars and they come to our doors. These are essential workers that can't get their basic ideals met: transparent, fair pay models as well as access to life insurance, cheaper group-priced health insurance, consistent paycheck stability, and retirement savings.

However, because of the loose nature of the business, no water cooler to convene, nowhere to leave flyers or even have a dialogue, where do gig workers find a voice that speaks for them? Unionizing offers gig workers a collective voice to negotiate better terms and influence the algorithms that dictate their work and despite the clear reasons, they face an uphill battle.

The first is the independent contractor classification under current laws, which says that if you create your own hours, use your equipment instead of the companies, you are not considered an employee, which obviously complicates the issue. Then company resistance is strong. The apps and platforms that catalyze gig workers to find work object to unionizing, citing the need for flexibility and monetary constraints.

There are also organizational hurdles and technological barriers mainly from the dispersed nature of gig work job assignments that create an almost impossible and impersonal option to organize for collective action.

Despite these challenges, the tides are changing, although slowly. Recently in California, the UK, Australia, and Canada, we’ve seen courts ruling in favor of gig worker classifications as well as locally in California with the AB5 law (despite its contentious reception) aiming to redefine gig workers as employees, making them eligible for unionization and benefits. And a nod to the official Gig Workers Union in California. These recent wins highlight a growing recognition of their rights and the need for a fairer gig economy.

The movement towards unionizing gig workers is not just about today's labor disputes; it's about shaping the future of work. As we navigate these changing times, lets look at the questions that come up and challenges this portion of the workforce will face.

First, it's about what sort of legislation can adapt to protect the rights of gig workers while preserving the flexibility that defines the gig economy. Also, what role do the apps and platforms play to stay on the path of innovation, service level, and income requirements but not at the expense of workers' basic rights and well-being? And amid these conversation decisions, what role does the consumer play? How does their expectation of convenience affect the bottom line?

So clearly the conversation around unionizing gig workers is fluid and still front of mind for many gig workers that includes a broader dialogue about fairness, dignity, and respect in the workplace. The path forward may be uncertain, but the resolve of gig workers to chart a course towards a more equitable future is unmistakable.


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