The gig economy has been celebrated in many
ways, claiming to offer freedom to workers everywhere. However, there is a
darker side to the gig economy which mustn’t be ignored. As it has grown,
various stories have been upheld as noble examples of a strong work ethic, but
there’s another side to them.
Among the stories is one of a pregnant Lyft
driver who kept working as she went into labor, and even picked up a passenger
on the way to the hospital. Lyft published the story on their company blog,
highlighting it as an exciting story for their customers to enjoy.
To some people, this story might seem like
an amazing example of someone being hardworking and dedicated to their job. The
story can show other potential drivers that they can benefit from flexibility
and an easy way to find work when they become a Lyft driver. The driver, Mary,
is a determined worker who is able to make money whenever she wants.
However, there is another way to look at
the story. People who work for Lyft don’t have the benefit of paid maternity
leave, health insurance or various other benefits often afforded to employees.
They’re also unlikely to be earning enough money to cover these things
themselves, with SherpaShare finding that Lyft drivers in Chicago make about
$11 per trip.
While Lyft’s story said that Mary kept
working because she didn’t believe she was in labor and was still a week from
her due date, there’s another reason she may not have stopped. Perhaps she felt
like she had to keep working because the money she would get from accepting
further rides felt more important than attending to her own medical needs.
Although Mary can be seen as a worker with
the ultimate freedom, she can also be viewed as someone with no protections. As
Bryan Menegus at Gizmodo wrote, it’s not possible to know her background, but
Lyft’s positive framing of the story is still suspect. For many people, the
idea that it would be a positive story isn’t one that makes much sense.
A company that gleefully shouts about the
lengths that their employees have to go to if they want to make a living isn’t
thinking in the same way that many others are. When the company gets to set the
terms of the employment, even choosing not to recognize workers as employees,
it’s strange for them to brag about how tough it can be to work for them. But
this story from Lyft definitely isn’t the only one that has appeared in recent
Another recent example comes from the
freelance marketplace Fiverr and their advertising campaign. With tasks
completed for a little as $5 on the site, Fiverr promoted their platform with a
campaign called “In Doers We Trust”. The campaign emphasized putting
work above all else, being available to work at all times, and promoted being
Companies like Fiverr often use language
that play into people’s desire to have a more flexible career. However, the
reality is often much less glamorous, and many people find themselves working
more and not less when participating in the gig
economy. Most workers would much rather have the safety of various employee
benefits and a run of the mill job than the “excitement” of a less
stable position in the gig economy.
Perhaps this situation comes from the
American idea that pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is the noble thing to
do. Not only is being completely self-reliant a virtue, but it’s a necessity.
Celebrating people who are essentially working themselves to death ties into
the idea that it’s better to do everything yourself, no matter what.
The gig economy can often make everything
sound fun and flexible, while in reality the lack of security and conditions
are very different. However, it’s easier to celebrate the gig economy than to
admit that there could be something wrong.
Even those who have full-time jobs don’t
escape the same types of stories that can come from the gig economy. I have
seen plenty of stories about people who walk ten or more miles to work every
day, even through snow in the dead of winter. The tone is always admiring,
although the story often ends with a donated car so that the person no longer
has to do it without addressing the cause of the issue.
It’s not just the gig economy that
celebrates unhealthy attitudes toward working and working conditions. However,
it can highlight the issues that exist in how work is regarded and how people
are expected to dedicate themselves to being completely self-reliant. The gig
economy can’t provide a good environment for workers if it doesn’t value them
and offer them the protection that they need.