Posted January 16, 2024
Two thousand twenty-three was a banner year for worker organizing. More than 300,000 workers engaged in work stoppages or strikes in the first nine months, and workers in industries as diverse as film, automobiles, parcel delivery, and healthcare won better pay and benefits. Meanwhile, state policymakers responded to workers’ demands to strengthen laws protecting collective action and promoting worker power.
The rise in worker solidarity is an inspiring antidote to poisonous corporate campaigns promoting exploitation as innovation.
However, big-name companies are turning to on-demand labor brokers to stifle worker organizing. Most recently, certain Sheraton and Marriott hotels replaced their striking employees with workers recruited through apps like Instawork, which then allegedly lowered ratings and canceled assignments for replacement workers who decided to strike rather than cross the picket line.
But workers continue to fight for good jobs and reject corporate efforts to undermine solidarity by demanding protections, rights, and accountability.
For more than a decade, businesses have increasingly outsourced their work, restructuring it in ways that enable them to deny responsibility and avoid accountability.
Businesses use temporary staffing agencies to supply workers who perform the same work as their direct employees, but for less pay, fewer benefits, and no job security. Others misclassify their employees as independent contractors, stripping them of bedrock protections—the right to minimum wage and overtime, among others—and shifting business costs to their workers.
And increasingly, on-demand labor platforms deliver a one-two punch—offering temporary workers to fill shifts as “independent contractors.”
Companies like Instawork offer “qualified and reliable” and “highly-vetted” temporary workers within hours with “just a few clicks.” Similarly, Qwick serves up hospitality workers “a la carte,” and boasts a “matching algorithm” to help identify suitable workers.
Workers, their allies, unions, and advocates are fighting these developments, and winning.
As Thomas Bradley, explained to Reuters: “I’m living on the edge . . . but I didn’t want to be used to break the strike.”
Norelis Vargas, an unhoused asylum seeker eager to earn money for her family, noticed strikers when she reported to work and thought “[I]t’s good they are fighting for their rights,” but was dismayed, “it was their job, and I was the one replacing them.”
And workers demanded accountability and won new protections across sectors, work structures, and geography.
With information from union members, the Los Angeles County District Attorney began investigating allegations of wage theft and possible child labor at hotels using migrant replacement workers, while the San Francisco attorney sued Qwick for illegally misclassifying workers and denying them earned wages and benefits.
Meanwhile, temporary staffing workers scored major policy victories in New Jersey and Illinois. California tech workers organized to ensure that temporary and subcontracted peers share tech’s prosperity, and Microsoft agreed to convert video game temp contract workers to unionized employees after a successful organizing campaign by ZeniMax Workers United, an affiliate of Communications Workers of America.
And workers are committed to winning in 2024 and beyond. As Susie Young, a member of SEIU 775 in Washington State explained: “[T]here are still workers out there who are not protected by labor law. If you’re a worker, you deserve labor protections. Period.”