Uber Choice for Workers
Almost a year ago, the Department of Labor published a report on “alternative work arrangements,” which for the most part meant an analysis of the “gig economy.” The gig economy is so named as it is about people doing “gigs” rather than having one, long-term structured job. Gig economy workers use the platforms of Uber, Lyft, Door Dash, Instacart and TaskRabbit amongst many others. Unfortunately, the Labor analysis suffered from a series of flaws, including a later admission that millions of gig workers were accidentally listed as unemployed. About all that can be divined from the report is that already something more than 10% of the U.S workforce is in non-traditional work.
Such new workforce models are fascinating and liberate people to choose how they want to live. “Work” is not what it used to be. No longer must a person slog to a building to sit at a desk for eight hours wearing a corporate uniform. That option still exists, but it is no longer the only option. And that is the point, work and income can now be determined by the individual much more easily, rather than being defined by government regulations or dictated by social expectations.
While gig economy platforms are providing new opportunities for a person to define their own success, other technologies are changing the organization of labor. Labor unions are on the wane as increasingly they are restrained from forcibly collecting dues or requiring membership, but those are not even Big Labor’s most complicated challenges. Turns out that people are effective at organizing themselves, whether at large technology companies where employees protest certain company sales or expenditures, or teachers organizing a walkout seeking higher pay as they did in West Virginia and Kentucky. The recently attempted “strike” by Uber and Lyft drivers (and the pleas for riders to join in the boycott) was organized organically, without a labor union.
Some laugh at the self-employed striking, and others mock the decision believing that new drivers will hit the road when prices rise because of fewer cars being available. Those reactions miss the point. Whatever one thinks of the public policy beliefs espoused by the workers the increased empowerment of individuals is happening in real time. Those who work are increasingly empowered to make money of their own terms. Consumers are empowered with more choices including the choice to take a lower cost, customer service-oriented ride across town. The use of social media and other technologies is disintermediating labor unions and forcing the management of companies to pay attention. Where previously a company could ignore outside critics, internal disharmony is harder to ignore as it directly affects the bottom line.
The implications of the march of innovation are much broader than hailing a ride. The time has come to think critically rather than reflexively. Innovation and technology policy have always required more critical thinking as innovation, by definition, changes process, product and even society.
As Justice Kavanaugh said recently, “I see technology straining our traditional understandings of speech, of privacy and of war in a way that’s going to be a huge challenge for our system of separation of powers, and a huge challenge for all of us as judges and as citizens.” Increasing worker choice of how to make a living, under what conditions, and by whose rules are just the beginning of new liberating opportunities made better by innovation.