Why are gig workers striking? “The sharing economy is built on a risk shift from the companies onto the workers. As a result, the workers don’t have access to basic protections, and they don’t have the kind of power that we imagine even a Walmart worker has. I can’t imagine a starker power dynamic than the CEO of Uber, who has direct connections to everyone in Congress, and then a gig worker who can’t even get a low-level bureaucrat at Uber to answer his or her basic questions.” [Protocol Source Code]
Gig workers are workers whose employment relationship with their employers is temporary. The term ‘gig’ probably is best known by show business types saying, “I have a gig in Houston.” There are several conditions under which a person is hired temporarily but not as a full-fledged employee: construction, show business, clerical, consultant, instructor, and so forth.
Mariner is unusually aware of the gig life. For decades he was a gig worker – a systems consultant for operating system conversions. Except for an active market, his first gig could have been his last.
Specialized, in demand gig workers make decent salaries often well above the standard wage in their profession. On the other hand, their job security is short-lived and typical benefits are not available. Mariner has witnessed countless times when gig workers were required to take residence in the government jurisdiction that held their contract. They would sell their homes, move family, and adjust to new standards of living – only to be terminated months later when the winds of corporate finances changed.
A chimera gig worker is a worker who may appear to be normally employed, receive benefits and draw a standard paycheck. However, this worker is still a gig worker in that they are used sporadically, do not have union rights, and have no guarantee of being called to work. A substitute teacher (associate) is a common example.
For a creative person or one with exceptional skills or education, gig work can be an entertaining, well paid career. However, in times of economic uncertainty or great cultural shift, gig workers are the first to be dismissed.
The nation is in the midst of historic cultural and economic change. Gig workers may be the heroes who help adjust to the change but they also are the most expendable. There is no doubt that restructuring the job market in anticipation of artificial intelligence will take an unusually large gig force – temporarily. There needs to be a special unemployment structure for gig workers.