When more than 11,000 film and television writers in the Writers Guild of America went on strike this month, they called for deteriorating working conditions, criticized unfair pay and said they feared job losses due to artificial intelligence.
One of their demands stood out: Hollywood writers wanted studios to guarantee them work for weeks on end, giving them certainty, rather than a new method that would hire them day after day. In other words, they want to avoid being part of the gig economy.
Adam Conover, a comedian, said the studios trying to “work us one day a week like we were Uber drivers”. David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” wrote the script has become a “cruel gig economy.” And Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, a writer and producer for “Law and Order: SVU,” those tweets “we strive to write as a career and not a cheesy job.”
“We're looking at a future where writers can be hired on a daily basis to come in and work on ongoing series,” said Ms Takeuchi Cullen in an interview. The author already freelances, but she says day-to-day arrangements are more unpredictable and leave them in a bind, unable to predict their finances or pay rent. “Suddenly, a television writer is jumping from job to job, trying to piece together their annual income.”
In other words, for some, the gig job has become shorthand for instability and low pay. That's what state lawmakers in Minnesota thought too, when they passed a bill this month guaranteeing a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers that they say will add a layer of safety to challenging careers. It was vetoed by the governor on Thursday, in one sign of how complex the question of protections for ad hoc labor has become.
Writers' strikes and demands have prompted renewed attention to gig work, where a person may work for various companies, or for themselves, often with irregular hours. It's an old concept, with musicians playing gigs and artists and other creative types working their own time while selling their work.
Over the last decade, the idea of gig work has been popularized by app-based platforms like Uber and Lyft, which classify their drivers as independent contractors and avoid treating them as employees. Many full-time workers, especially those in low-wage jobs, are attracted to the platform by the prospect of working flexible hours and driving passengers around to make money.
The allure of flexibility soon gave way to the reality of low wages and unreliable hours, labor advocates say, although companies say driver wages are still rising and record numbers of people are driving on their platforms.
However, shifts in perceptions about Uber and similar companies have led some workers to disagree with the idea of gig work, even though workers for online platforms make up only a small part of the gig economy and less than 1 percent of the overall workforce, by some estimates.
“Gig work has become a dirty word. Ten years ago, there was still the possibility of freedom from 9 to 5,” says Louis Hyman, author of books on the gig economy and temporary work. “It went from the possibility of freedom to the certainty of insecurity.”
It's difficult to pinpoint just how large the US gig workforce is today, partly because show work has so many different possible meanings. Most estimates, including from federal data And academic studiessuggest that 10 to 15 percent of US workers depend on or participate in alternative or gig work, although some estimates suggest as many as one-third of US workers occasionally receive some sort of additional income from this work.
Although drivers for Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart make up a small percentage of this workforce, their concerns — about making less money, increasing costs, and increasing the dangers of their jobs — have reverberated throughout the gig industry.
Fierce clashes between labor advocates and employers have erupted across the country over whether drivers should be considered part of the gig economy at all. Labor activists argue that the platform misclassifies their drivers as independent contractors and deprives employees of labor protections and benefits, while not allowing them to act completely independently. The company says drivers prefer the flexibility to be independent, and they've devised several compromises that offer limited benefits while retaining that flexibility.
Some drivers say they have seen their wages decrease. When Eid Ali first started driving for Uber and Lyft in Minnesota nearly a decade ago, he says he was making as much as $400 a week, driving full time. Over the last few years, it's been more like $100 or $150, after fees, partly because fees have increased.
For a driver like himself, “it's a slow realization,” says Pak Ali. He said drivers initially talked about the benefits of being a gig worker, with decent pay and flexibility. Now, they are more likely to dissuade others from such work.
“They used to say something positive about the gig economy – ‘Yeah, we make enough money to feed our family, it's flexible, we work when we want,'” he says. “It's not there now – it's gone.”
Mr. Ali, president of an advocacy group called the Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association, is helping push the Minnesota gig bill.
Others say they haven't seen much erosion in gig job appointments. It's still a popular way for people to make some money on the side, and a coalition called Protect Drivers and App-Based Services, which is backed by gig companies, says driver revenue is increasing. The coalition points to compromises – such as California's Proposition 22, which prevents drivers from being classified as employees but gives them a minimum wage and limited benefits – as signs of progress.
“More than 1.3 million Californians choose to work with app-based ride-sharing or delivery platforms because these types of jobs offer guaranteed income and benefits such as access to health care benefits,” said Molly Weedn, a spokeswoman for the coalition.
Alexsiya Flores, part-time gig driver for companies like DoorDash and Shipt, a delivery service, says she hasn't “seen a lot of rejection — I've seen things get better” because of minimum payout bills like Prop 22.
“I'm always looking for things that have flexibility,” said Ms. Flores, a filmmaker in Los Angeles who is part of an industry coalition.
Still, labor experts and advocates say the term “gig work” has, in the minds of many, become a substitute for low-paying or exploitative work – partly because of how people perceive companies like Uber.
“Uber and Lyft have made the more negative connotations more prominent,” said Laura Padin, director of work structure at the National Employment Law Project, who argues that gig drivers should be classified as employees. “There was a shift in how people viewed the type of work — people realized they weren't as good as they seemed” at first.
Low pay and unenviable working conditions are far from exclusive to the gig economy, and may even be one of the reasons gig jobs continue to grow despite the drawbacks.
“This kind of low-paying platform job is only possible because the rest of the economy has failed the American worker,” said Mr. Hyman, arguing that the financial pressures for workers in the retail and service industries make Uber look like a lucrative alternative.
The Film and Television Producers Alliance, a trade association representing film companies, challenged the blatant author characterizations that studios try to turn Hollywood masterpieces into part of the show economy.
“The job of a writer has little in common with a standard ‘gig,'” the group said in a statement, noting that many television writers are guaranteed a certain number of weeks or episodes of work, and that writers often receive benefits such as health insurance. and contributions to pensions. Access to those benefits depends on how many weeks of work the author gets.
But writers say the rise of streaming has led to fewer television show episodes and cut writer's rooms, leading studios to hire writers for shorter and more sporadic time periods.
Such a system undermines the quality of television shows and the ability of writers to earn a living wage, they say.
“How do people make a living if they are vulnerable to short-term jobs?” Mr. Simon, creator of “The Wire,” said in an interview.
He said people in the picket line had been discussing how the kind of Uber-related gig work arrived at their industry. “The formula is always the same – labor is just a cost, and as long as they can cut costs, they will.”