New Report Reveals App-Based Workers’ Anxieties, Frustrations, and Desire for Good Jobs

NATIONWIDE—Nearly one year after “gig economy” companies like Uber spent an unprecedented $200 million to pass Proposition 22 in California to block their workers from gaining employee labor rights, organizing groups around the country have released a new report detailing the real-life experiences of workers struggling to make a living on the apps.

The report, App-Based Workers Speak, synthesizes findings from 20 independent research studies conducted between 2016 and 2021, including numerous surveys of app-based workers themselves. The report answers common questions such as: Who works for app-based companies? How much do they actually make? Is this a side hustle or a full-time job? How do app-based workers view job flexibility? And what do these workers actually want?

Key findings highlighted in the report include the following:

  • Workers spend half or more of their time online waiting for an assignment, but the companies do not pay workers for that time in jurisdictions other than Seattle and New York.
  • Even as drivers rely heavily on tips in order to make ends meet, only 14% to 16% of ride-hail customers tip their workers.
  • Polling by the global management consultant firm McKinsey& Company finds that contract, freelance, and temporary workers would overwhelmingly prefer to have permanent employment. This sentiment was most pronounced among first-generation immigrant (76%), Latinx (72%), Asian American (71%), and Black (68%) respondents.
  • Most app-based work is done by full-time workers. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that more than two in three (69%) digital labor platform workers put in full-time hours.

“The gig corporations sell a false sense of flexibility. I’ve no choice but to go where there’s money. And if I decline orders, they’ll deactivate me. This is the same as a full-time job but with a normal job I’d get to see family, take time for holidays, get healthcare, but with this—nothing,” explained Veronica Barnes, a DoorDash worker and organizer with Gig Workers Rising.

Willy Solis, a member of Gig Workers Collective and a driver from Texas, said: “Gig work is my primary source of income. But I have seen a steady degradation in my compensation since I started working in 2019. My work is heavily subsidized by customer tips. Without them, it would not be sustainable.”

Ill treatment of app-based workers raises substantial issues of racial justice—what some are beginning to call a new racial wage code. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that Black and Latinx workers make up almost 42% of workers for Uber, Lyft, and other “electronically mediated work” companies, although they comprise less than 29% of the overall U.S. workforce.

“I work in restaurants and catering on top of driving for Uber and Instacart. It might seem like being controlled by an algorithm would mean Black people would be treated more fairly, but it just hides the low wages and customer abuse,” explained Chris White, driver and president of the Philadelphia Drivers Union.

California’s Prop 22, through which app-based companies such as Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart sought to exempt themselves and other “gig economy” companies from labor standards that apply to all other employers, defined app-based transportation and delivery drivers as “independent contractors”—even though numerous courts of law have found that these workers should, in fact, be classified as employees. Prop 22 was recently ruled unconstitutional by the Alameda Superior Court of California.

The report was jointly produced by Gig Workers Rising, Gig Workers Collective, Mobile Workers Alliance, We Drive Progress, Rideshare Drivers United, Philadelphia Drivers Union, and the National Employment Law Project.

App-Based Workers Speak: Studies Reveal Anxiety, Frustration, and a Desire for Good Jobs


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