Mind the Gap: Why America’s Employees Would Rather be Gig Labor
Gig workers aren’t victims; they’re vanguards. An incredible gap between what employment should mean and what it does mean has led to a willfully nomadic workforce.
While McDonald’s struggles to get prospective employees in for interviews, gig workers are rankling at the idea that they might soon be classed as employees themselves. What has gone so wrong in the American labor industry that Americans are turning down “real employment” in favor of unpredictable, on-demand wages?
At its core, gig work is thought of as a predatory enterprise. Companies such as Uber and DoorDash fundamentally cannot function without their workers — yet they exert almost complete control in the interactions between the “worker” and the “customer,” even down to micro-managing star ratings and reviews. That alone is enough to classify many gig workers as employees.
Yet, both in California and nationwide, gig workers have consistently fought back against being classified as employees — even as policymakers have pushed forward “on their behalf.”
What is pushing gig workers to do themselves such a disservice?
The Problem of Employment in America
To understand why gig workers would be fighting against their own rights, you first need to understand the dystopian condition of employment in America.
An employee in America:
- Must always be on call. It doesn’t matter if you work 9-to-5. The expectation is that you must be available for your job 24/7.
- Must not expect benefits. If you would qualify for benefits, your hours will be cut. You will not be guaranteed hours. You will not even have the flexibility to get a second job to compensate for the reduced hours.
- Must expect to be fired at any time. America has at-will employment. Employees can be fired at any time for any reason that is not explicitly discriminatory.
- Must be over-qualified. Entry-level positions now require years of experience and degrees.
With that in mind, why wouldn’t employees choose gig labor? The promises of employment, such as health insurance and vacation time, all evaporate when met with the realities of the current job market.
Is Gig Labor Inherently Predatory?
Of course it is — no one is earnestly arguing that it is not. Most gig platforms such as Uber and Lyft aren’t even profitable. The dirty secret is they’ve been bleeding money for years, promising to “disrupt” the industry, and getting most of their money through cash injections from investors. To recover their losses, they have to squeeze every bit of value from their gig workers. Lyft’s long-term strategy is likely to replace gig workers entirely with automated vehicles.
Ivory tower politicians think that gig workers are being tricked and exploited. Exploited they may be, but it is a critical mistake to assume that they are being tricked. Uber drivers are exceptionally aware of how much they make every hour, including the wear-and-tear on their vehicles, the gas costs, and other overhead.
American employment has simply become so predatory that gig labor is still preferable.
Gig workers have more control over when they work and how long they work, they can quit and move to a different platform at any time, they can spend time with their families and friends, and they ultimately get just as many benefits as they realistically would otherwise.
When someone says that an Uber driver should be treated as an “employee,” gig workers don’t envision a salaried professional at $60,000 a year who gets PTO. They envision a part-time minimum wage fast food worker who no longer has any control over their schedule.
And they’re right.
The American System of Labor Has to be Overhauled
People in America want to work. They are as industrious, creative, and passionate as ever before.
What they don’t want to do is be employed.
Being an employee is not rewarding; any protections employees have are, for the most part, are theoretical. Until employers are required to deliver upon a certain criteria of benefits, being classified as an employee is a net loss.
Employers are going to see that the best, brightest talent is no longer going to work for pennies. They would rather take a tremendous pay cut and even become the cog in an unnecessary, disruptive machine than hand over all their free time and labor to a corporation that will care just as little for them.
And until the American workplace reforms itself, it will see people moving into areas that provide them the freedom and autonomy they crave.