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The Rise of the WeWorking Class - The New York Times
"IMAGINE YOU TRAINED an artificial intelligence on a comprehensive stock-photo set of every boutique-hotel lobby from Palm Springs to Stockholm to Milan, then connected it to a five-story 3-D printer fully furnished with pendant-dome lamps, waxy leaves and old-school hip-hop lyrics. The output would be a WeWork. So much serene, lavish and mechanical attention is allocated to every detail: the neon and the daybeds and the fiddle-leaf figs, the wallpaper and the playlists and the typefaces. The newest iteration of its ever-emergent design concept may be indebted to Luis Barragán and Carlo Scarpa, but the degree of thought and investment that goes into its terrarium construction is something its busy occupants are expected to register only as background noise. WeWorks feel voguish but never threatening; comfortable but never shabby; rousing but never intemperate; detailed but never ostentatious.

There’s also free top-shelf coffee, the sort of minor frill most office workers might take for granted in a way the self-employed never would. One premise of the company’s existence is that it’s good business to provide such minor luxuries to the otherwise unfrilled. The coffee — and the draft kombucha, which has come to supplement beer as WeWork distances itself from the frattier aspects of entrepreneurship — is, at any rate, only part of an environment engineered for felicitous exchange. This strategy is supported by narrow hallways, boxy plate-glass enclosures, distant bathrooms and centralized fruit-water dispensers, but the company’s architects never indulged the belief that if they built it, people would come. The spaces themselves are the staging ground for yoga classes, wine tastings, make-your-own-trail-mix bars and vendor workshops about how to cut cloud costs. For what remains of life outside the workplace, there are cross-promotional discounts on 1-800-Flowers.com and Crunch gym memberships.

Most of us have serious reasons to worry about the future of work, and it’s easy to object to WeWork’s thin consolations on the basis of aesthetic or moral principle. Once you get accustomed to the basic product, however, it’s hard not to find it ... pretty nice. Over the course of about a year, I stopped into locations in six or seven cities, and in each of them I sat in front of my computer alongside other people in front of their computers and felt at once marginally more productive and slightly less unmoored."



"The relentless sociability inspired by WeWork was always one of the founders’ aims, even as the composition of its membership has changed. When the company first opened in 2010, its spaces catered to entrepreneurs. The founders soon understood that the increasingly fluid and anxious labor market — its conditions exacerbated by the downturn but likely to exist in perpetuity — presented them with a much larger potential customer base. Uber and TaskRabbit and other labor-platform intermediaries positioned themselves to match those who needed something done with those who needed something to do, but they based their recruitment drives on a cynical reading of the economic mood. The subway I took to WeWork was plastered with tough-love ads from services like Fiverr, which made naked appeals to stoic virtues. (“Actually, it hasn’t all been done before”; “In doers we trust”; “Reading about starting your own business is like reading about having sex.”)

That sort of campaign felt manipulative: The platforms’ emphasis on self-reliance for the economically precarious merely disguised their rent-seeking. WeWork, by contrast, just charged rent. The company was perceptive enough to realize that disaggregated workers (or at least those of a certain class) did not want to hear that they should just kill it on their own, bro. They wanted to hear that nobody ever can. What WeWork offered was not just rhetoric — a more sympathetic description of the restless, fretful life of the deinstitutionalized worker — but true shelter from a pervasive sense of alienation. Where Fiverr issued an invitation to gladiatorial combat, WeWork promised a work environment remodeled for solace and dignity.

Thus is the business model of WeWork, recently valued at $47 billion, now only facially about commercial subletting. All its accessories serve to buttress its real product: “office culture” as a service. When people at the company try to explain that culture, they invariably resort to talk of positive energy sources and the obligation to heal the social fabric — a vocabulary traditionally associated with utopian architecture, 1980s academic communitarianism or ayahuasca experimentation. They affirm that all the ostensibly small incremental niceties add up to more than the sum of their parts, and on some level I couldn’t help agreeing. The market certainly seems to. As of this January, WeWork has 400,000 members in 425 locations in 27 countries, at least 30 percent of whom are employees of large existing businesses. This latter category has helped double that membership in only a year. Some of these enterprise customers are merely outsourcing their facilities management the way they outsource manufacturing or payroll; others anticipate the revitalization — or even wholesale procurement — of their corporate culture. The conviction behind the rapid growth of WeWork is that the office culture of the future is likely to be the culture of the future, full stop, and that it is WeWork’s special vocation to bring it to market.

THE IDEA OF “CORPORATE CULTURE,” long before it was identified and cultivated as such, emerged as a solution to the problems of the large, distributed mass-industrial firm. Ransom Olds is credited with inventing the concept of the assembly line in 1901, and it was over the following decades that businesses began to feel an imperative to address the question of what work was supposed to “mean.” This was both an internal bottom-line matter — employees who toiled in exchange for only a paycheck were difficult to retain and unlikely to prioritize efficiency or innovation — and a social one. By midcentury, large companies like the car manufacturers had come to represent the predominant institutional affiliation for legions of American men. Even if these firms had no explicit philanthropic interest in civic cohesion, they certainly had a stake in the preservation of the social order. If they could invest piecemeal labor with something like dignity, they could neutralize the political and economic threats posed by union solidarity.

What they arrived at was a generic set of strategies, applicable at any industrial organization, designed to help workers recognize the value of their personal contributions to the final product. The classic formulation of this approach was Peter Drucker’s “Concept of the Corporation”; though it’s now seen — if not much read — as a foundational text in the study of management, it reads like a sober contribution to midcentury sociology. The simplest form of recognition is advancement. Workers, Drucker believed, ought to be viewed not as exploitable resources but as human capital to be fostered, and thus provided with the training necessary to secure a path upward. Programs like project rotations — which exposed otherwise specialized employees to the breadth of company operations — should be put in place even if they seemed, in the short term, economically irrational; in the long term, they represented an investment in worker potential. Employees unlikely to advance might more gladly accept their place in the corporate scheme when given a holistic perspective on production: The maker of a car’s door hinge, for example, might be shown where his discrete, repetitive effort fits into the fully realized car.

The anthropologist Clifford Geertz defined culture as a collective act of interpretation, the stories we tell one another about ourselves in an attempt to make ongoing sense of why we do what we do. A car manufacturer could just point to a sensible Oldsmobile, something the world self-evidently needed. Because cars were public goods, corporate culture could easily borrow its energy from civic culture.

It could also borrow civic culture’s prevailing norms — and, in turn, reinforce them. The management classic “Built to Last” describes how Walt Disney, for example, did not manage a corporation so much as lord over an extended brood of subordinates, each of them expected not only to abide by the letter of company decorum but also to embody its founder’s spirit. Hourly theme-park workers were held to an imperious standard of personal upkeep: for men, no facial hair; for women, no dangly earrings or excessive makeup. As one biographer described it, “When someone did, on occasion, slip in Walt’s presence and use a four-letter word in mixed company, the result was always immediate dismissal, no matter what type of professional inconvenience the firing caused.” The people making the country’s cars could be forgiven a coarse exclamation; the people making the country’s cartoons were held to a loftier code.

As the economy shifted from industrial manufacturing to the service and knowledge sectors, it became increasingly necessary for businesses to articulate their “core purpose” as an organizational and motivational principle — and a way to differentiate “their” ethereal knowledge work from whatever it was other companies’ employees did. The separation of corporate culture in particular from general civic culture was also encouraged by the ascendancy of free-market economics; Milton Friedman told executives that their sole remit was to tend to their own shareholder garden. Shared goals, while important, ought to be strictly values-agnostic."



"Over the past year, as WeWork has been folded into what is now called the We Company — which encompasses WeGrow, its school, and WeLive, its communal housing projects — its Powered by We product has been refined and … [more]
wework  work  labor  workplace  2019  culture  gideonlewis-kraus  cliffordgeertz  economics  organization  peterdrucker  solidarity  unions  facilities  fiverr  uber  taskrabbit  business 
march 2019 by robertogreco
Is the Gig Economy Working? - The New Yorker
"Many liberals have embraced the sharing economy. But can they survive it?"



"In a competitive market, though, advantaged people still end up leveraging their advantages: that is why Happy Host exists. Today, every major Airbnb city (among them London, Paris, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New Orleans) has multiple Happy Host equivalents to help meet rising market expectations. A two-year-old New York competitor, MetroButler, has twenty-two contractors and two cleaners, and last year bought the clientele of another competitor, Proprly. MetroButler’s co-founder Brandon McKenzie had been using Airbnb to pay down law-school debts when he realized that short-term rentals could support an entire service industry. “We’re sort of in the business of pickaxes during the Gold Rush,” he said."



"Normally, every efficiency has a winner and a loser. A service like Uber benefits the rider, who’s saving on the taxi fare she might otherwise pay, but makes drivers’ earnings less stable. Airbnb has made travel more affordable for people who wince at the bill of a decent hotel, yet it also means that tourism spending doesn’t make its way directly to the usual armies of full-time employees: housekeepers, bellhops, cooks.

To advocates such as Lehane, that labor-market swap is good. Instead of scrubbing bathrooms at the Hilton, you can earn directly, how and when you want. Such thinking, though, presumes that gigging people and the old working and service classes are the same, and this does not appear to be the case. A few years ago, Juliet B. Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College, interviewed forty-three mostly young people who were earning money from Airbnb, Turo (like Airbnb for car rentals), and TaskRabbit. She found that they were disproportionately white-collar and highly educated, like Seth F. A second, expanded study showed that those who relied on gigging to make a living were less satisfied than those who had other jobs and benefits and gigged for pocket money: another sign that the system was not helping those who most needed the work.

Instead of simply driving wealth down, it seemed, the gigging model was helping divert traditional service-worker earnings into more privileged pockets—causing what Schor calls a “crowding out” of people dependent on such work. That distillation-coil effect, drawing wealth slowly upward, is largely invisible. On the ground, the atmosphere grows so steamy with transaction that it often seems to rain much needed cash."



"Calls for structural change have grown loud lately, in part because the problem goes far beyond gigging apps. The precariat is everywhere. Companies such as Nissan have begun manning factories with temps; even the U.S. Postal Service has turned to them. Academic jobs are increasingly filled with relatively cheap, short-term teaching appointments. Historically, there is usually an uptick in 1099 work during tough economic times, and then W-2s resurge as jobs are added in recovery. But W-2 jobs did not resurge as usual during our recovery from the last recession; instead, the growth has happened in the 1099 column. That shift raises problems because the United States’ benefits structure has traditionally been attached to the corporation rather than to the state: the expectation was that every employed person would have a W-2 job.

“We should design the labor-market regulations around a more flexible model,” Jacob Hacker told me. He favors some form of worker participation, and, like Mulcahy, advocates creating a single category of employment. “I think if you work for someone else, you’re an employee,” he said. “Employees get certain protections. Benefits must be separate from work.”

In a much cited article in Democracy, from 2015, Nick Hanauer, a venture capitalist, and David Rolf, a union president, proposed that workplace benefits be prorated (someone who works a twenty-hour week gets half of the full-time benefits) and portable (insurance or unused vacation days would carry from one job to the next, because employers would pay into a worker’s lifelong benefits account). Other people regard the gig economy as a case for universal basic income: a plan to give every citizen a modest flat annuity from the government, as a replacement for all current welfare and unemployment programs. Alternatively, there’s the proposal made by the economists Seth D. Harris and Alan B. Krueger: the creation of an “independent worker” status that awards some of the structural benefits of W-2 employment (including collective bargaining, discrimination protection, tax withholding, insurance pools) but not others (overtime and the minimum wage).

I put these possibilities to Tom Perez. He told me that he didn’t like the idea of eliminating work categories, or of adding a new one, as Harris and Krueger suggest: you’d lose many of the hard-won benefits included with W-2 employment, he said, either in the compromise to a single category or because current W-2 companies would find ways to slide into the new classification. He wanted to move slowly, to take time. “The heart and soul of the twentieth-century social compact that emerged after the Great Depression was forty years in the making,” he said. “How do we build the twenty-first-century social compact?”"



"One afternoon, I accompanied a Hello Alfred tasker named Phillip Pineno as he went to service apartments in Kips Bay. A placid guy with tiny silver hoops in his ears and a hipster’s dusky beard, Pineno does tasking four days a week and, like Bobby Allan, works in his remaining time as an actor. In the lobby of a building facing Bellevue South Park, he gathered packages and ascended to a client’s apartment—one of eleven he’d visit that day. A bag of Trader Joe’s Veggie & Flaxseed Tortilla Chips went in a cupboard. A box of cereal was tucked into position on the counter. Pineno used to be a caterer, doing events at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Natural History. The work was fine, he said, but unpredictable, different from Hello Alfred. “You get to feel more like a human,” he told me. He could take time every week to work toward his dream without gambling his future on it. He had found some sense of workplace comfort—of being valued and known.

For many gig workers, as for Seth F., that dream remains elusive. When Seth F. had finished hanging art work in my living room, I led him to the dining room. He took a small electric drill and some screws out of his backpack, and started driving them into the plaster. We were hanging a small print of a Sol LeWitt drawing, squares in squares in squares. He extracted a laser level, and projected it across the wall. “This is my favorite tool,” he told me, with a moving tenderness. He rarely met other taskers, he said; there were no colleagues in his life with whom he could share experiences and struggles. The flexibility was great, if you had something to be flexible for.

“The gig economy is such a lonely economy,” he told me. He left his drill behind after he finished the work, but I was out when he returned the next day to get it. I never saw him again."
gigeconomy  economics  nathanheller  2017  work  labor  precarity  taskrabbit  uber  lyft  postmates  sustainability  airbnb  inequality  servicework  loneliness 
may 2017 by robertogreco
The Sharing Economy? (15 minute shortened version) by Upstream
[full version: https://soundcloud.com/upstreampodcast/the-sharing-economy ]

"In this shortened version of this episode, we look at how companies like Airbnb and Uber have influenced an entire generation and entirely shifted the economic landscape of major cities like San Francisco. Through candid conversations with journalists and industry insiders, we explore the darker side of these giant companies and investigate how this phenomenon arose and what implications are in store.

Featured guests:

Doug Henwood (Author, radio host, columnist for Harper's and the Nation Magazine)

Keally McBride (Professor of Politics and the Chair of International Studies at the University of San Francisco)

David Korman (Lyft driver, former TaskRabbit, Couchsurfing host)"
sharingeconomy  gigeconomy  precarity  precariousness  economics  2016  lyft  uber  airbnb  taskrabbit  politics  labor  work  sharing  keallymcbride  markets  capitalism  davidkorman  doughenwood 
february 2017 by robertogreco
A New Wrinkle in the Gig Economy: Workers Get Most of the Money - The New York Times
[via: https://workfutures.io/message-ansel-on-overwork-jenkin-on-the-workplace-cortese-on-stocksy-mohdin-on-project-3cb6502c79a8 ]

"So using money from the sale of iStock to Getty, she and Mr. Livingstone set out to create Stocksy, paying photographers 50 to 75 percent of sales. That is well above the going rate of 15 to 45 percent that is typical in the stock photography field. The company also distributes 90 percent of its profit at the end of each year among its photographers.

“We realized we could do it differently this time,” said Ms. Wettlaufer, who took over the chief executive role in 2014. “We could enter the market with a model that ensured artists were treated fairly and ethically.”

Stocksy is part of a new wave of start-ups that are borrowing the tools of Silicon Valley to create a more genuine “sharing” economy that rewards the individuals generating the value.

According to a recent Pew poll, 72 percent of Americans have used some sort of shared or on-demand service, whether it’s Uber for rides or TaskRabbit for things as diverse as dog walking and household chores. But there has been much criticism that, after the platforms take their cut and the workers pay for expenses, little may trickle down to those doing the actual work.

And although many workers appreciate the flexibility to schedule their own hours, they don’t have the same protections and benefits as full-time employees. Evidence suggests that the shift to on-demand labor may increase economic vulnerability for the roughly one-third of Americans who are contingent workers."
stocksy  labor  work  gigeconomy  lbo  economics  taskrabbit  uber  cooperatives  photography  profitsharing  2016 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Apploitation in a city of instaserfs | Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
"The most common defence of the sharing economy I hear is, “if it’s so bad, why are so many people doing it?” Many do it out of desperation. I’ve talked to a number of drivers who will work over 30 hours every weekend in addition to a full-time job just to have enough money to pay rent and take care of their kids. It can also seem like you’re making a lot more money than you really are if you’re not diligently adding up your expenses, many of which are invisible. For example, taxes aren’t taken out of your paycheck, so when April comes around it can be a shock to discover how much you owe.

On the other hand, the sharing economy can be a great thing for some of the workers. If you listen to the third episode of the “Instaserfs” series you will meet Brooklyn, an amazing TaskRabbit worker I hired to help me finish the show. She quit a six-figure salary to pursue her passion (a fashion blog at www.boisclub.com) She can do that and still pay the rent because of the flexibility she enjoys as an independent contractor. But she is legitimately an entrepreneur, not the average sharing economy worker..

There is a place in this world for the sharing economy, and it could be a beautiful thing, but where I live these companies run the show. There are no rules. The apps are breaking the spirit of the law by abusing the independent contractor loophole and actively encourage (e.g., through dubious car placards) actually breaking the law. But it will only ever be the workers, not the companies, who are punished. If you’re going to let the sharing economy into your country, dear Canada, please take control of the situation. Don’t just let the invisible hand lead you wherever it wants you to go."
2016  andrewcallaway  sharingeconomy  apploitation  exploitation  inequality  labor  work  uber  taskrabbit  lyft  postmates  instacart 
january 2016 by robertogreco
Deliveroo and its ilk are serving up low wages, insecurity and social division | Stefan Stern | Opinion | The Guardian
"And so it has come to this: swerving in and out of traffic to reach the customer in time to be free for the next call, should it come in"
gigeconomy  sharingeconomy  economics  deliveroo  stefanstern  insecurity  2015  wages  employment  uber  taskrabbit  livingwage  labor  work  inequality 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Why We Fight Uber | Jacobin
"The fight against the sharing economy, and Uber in particular, can be disorienting. Opposition is often painted as technophobia. The good guys in this story are Uber and progress; on the other side are opponents afraid of flexibility and smartphones, kicking and screaming against a future already here.

In many ways, this is like the fight of the Luddites (machine smashers) two hundred years ago at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. While the Luddites were fighting the way technology was used to further exploit rather than liberate workers, they were and are misrepresented as simply being afraid of and opposing technology.

Just as power looms and other machines inaugurated a technological revolution that ultimately produced more work for the many and greater wealth for the few, so too are modern technologies enriching Silicon Valley’s billionaires at the expense of drivers, delivery folk, and all manner of service workers.

The sharing economy that consumers experience as a friendly convenience is, for workers, a low-wage, precarious trap. It would sound all too familiar to the skilled cloth-makers who wanted machines to give them more leisure and continued control over their work, but instead found themselves subsidizing the profits of the machine owners in England’s “satanic mills.”

Today, few technologies have as much potential for easy cooperative management as those of the currently mislabeled sharing economy. These tools are not to blame. In fact, Internet-based technologies are an opportunity for worker management. As Mike Konczal wrote in the Nation a year ago:
Given that the workers already own all the capital in the form of their cars, why aren’t they collecting all the profits? Worker cooperatives are difficult to start when there’s massive capital needed up front, or when it’s necessary to coordinate a lot of different types of workers . . . If any set of companies deserves to have its rentiers euthanized, it’s those of the “sharing economy,” in which management relies heavily on the individual ownership of capital, providing only coordination and branding.

Silicon Valley’s version of sharing means that while we carry the risks of illness, breakdown, and everything else that comes with own our tools — the cars that we drive for Uber or the computers we use for online Taskrabbit chores — they get to say how the gains from our services are distributed.

The Luddites surely would be impressed that technology owners can now get rich simply by connecting people with each other. If looms and frames were the symbol for Luddites of their degradation, today’s drivers, couriers, and taskrabbits can only point to ephemeral platforms and apps. While the Luddites attacked their bosses by destroying their looms and faced violent reprisals sanctioned by law, the privately run digital networks of today are virtually impossible to physically disrupt while having the full force of the law behind them.

Instead of producing greater socialization that spreads wealth and decision-making, the sharing economy funnels money and control toward the top. Yet today’s world still has space for some pretty old-school demands the Luddites would recognize. They wanted to work less and have a say over how they worked (with technology!). We too could be using the fruits of technology to get ever-shorter workweeks, cooperate more, and manage aspects of the economy together.

Faced wth the charge of technophobia, we must remember that the fight against Uber is a fight for a technology that could be used to distribute work more equally and foster genuine cooperation. That fight, I hope, won’t be misremembered in some dystopian twenty-third century capitalism. Though I’m sure the Luddites would have had the same hopes of us."
uber  socialism  wealth  2015  michaelrozworski  siliconvalley  technosolutionism  technology  sharingeconomy  taskrabbit  capitalism  technophobia  luddism  luddites 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Atlas of Platform-Based Work: Home
"Platform-based work — “Turkers” doing information tasks on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, students moonlighting on TaskRabbit, professional taxi drivers filling their slow hours with fares from Uber — creates new opportunities and poses new challenges for workers, businesses, and governments. For platform-based workers, the factory floor and the predictability of the 9-to-5 grind are gone. There is no (human) boss to give orders or look over workers’ shoulders. Workers work when they want, and sometimes — depending on the work — where they want. Businesses and clients can grow their workforces by thousands overnight and shrink them the next morning. In this new world of work, most workers are independent contractors, not employees. Traditional legal protections and benefits — minimum wage, employer-based health insurance and retirement plans, paid vacation, paid sick leave, overtime, and collective bargaining — have fallen by the wayside. Some platform-based workers don’t seem to mind, but others clearly do. And regulators are wondering where the money for social security is going to come from.

The goal of the Atlas is to support clear-eyed public discussion about the benefits and problems of platform-based work.

The Atlas is hosted by the German labor union IG Metall, in cooperation with the Austrian Chamber of Labor."
work  labor  via:ablerism  taskrabbit  mechanicalturk  amazon 
november 2015 by robertogreco
rant of the day - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"Fantastic rant this morning from Maciej Ceglowski, creator of the invaluable Pinboard, about this new service:

“Hello Alfred Raises $10.5M To Automate Your Chores”. Part of the white-hot trend in scriptable people.
— Pinboard (@Pinboard) April 14, 2015

“Customers are assigned their own home manager, also called an Alfred, and those nameless managers take care of the work”
— Pinboard (@Pinboard) April 14, 2015

I’ve seen luxury apartments with a built-in “servant call” button resembling a doorbell, but I never expected the world wide web to get one
— Pinboard (@Pinboard) April 14, 2015

A nameless, fungible class of domestic workers is antithetical to a democratic society. That’s what undocumented immigrants are for
— Pinboard (@Pinboard) April 14, 2015

Next up: on-demand service that offshores your guilt about creating, enabling and participating in a new Gilded Age
— Pinboard (@Pinboard) April 14, 2015

The chief reason I keep arguing with Ned O'Gorman about whether things can want — latest installment here — is that I think the blurring of lines between the agency of animals (especially people) and the agency of made objects contributes to just this kind of thing: if we can script the Internet of Things why not script people too? Once they're scripted they want what they've been scripted to do. (Obviously O'Gorman doesn't want to see that happen any more than I do: our debate is about the tendencies of terms, not about substantive ethical and political questions.)"
alanjacobs  nedo'gorman  maciejceglowski  labor  inequality  iot  internetofthings  2015  helloalfred  alfred  servants  gildedage  siliconvalley  californianideology  domesticworkers  distancing  othering  taskrabbit  sharingeconomy  outsourcing  chores  homemaking  domesticwork  ethics  agency  capitalism  latecapitalism  maciejcegłowski 
april 2015 by robertogreco
Platform Cooperativism vs. the Sharing Economy — Medium
"Let’s do justice to what we know. Platform cooperativism equals a more humane workplace equals real benefits. They say that big money talks, but I say that platform cooperativism can invigorate genuine sharing, and that it does not have to reject the market. Platform cooperativism can serve as remedy for the corrosive effects of capitalism; it can be a reminder that work can be dignified rather than diminishing for the human experience. Cooperatives are not a panacea but they could help to weave some ethical threats into the fabric of 21st century work."
sharing  sharingeconomy  economics  labor  cooperatives  cooperativism  work  treborscholz  mondragon  naomiklein  yochaibenkler  michelbauens  uber  taskrabbit 
december 2014 by robertogreco
Silicon Valley’s Contract-Worker Problem -- NYMag
"But increasingly, critics argue that the freelance model is being abused, with workers being treated as if they were on payroll without getting any of the benefits afforded to payrolled employees. Some Silicon Valley insiders are beginning to worry that start-ups' overreliance on contract workers could come back to haunt them if they run afoul of longstanding labor rules. If that happens, these high-flying disruptors could be facing serious disruption themselves."
uber  siliconvalley  homejoy  kevinroose  labor  work  2014  airbnb  washio  handy.com  regulation  munchery  myclean  legal  spoonrocket  taskrabbit  doordash  postmates  lyft  sharingeconomy 
october 2014 by robertogreco
Understanding Fair Labor Practices in a Networked Age - FairLabor [.pdf]
"Data & Society Research Institute
datasociety.net

Understanding Fair Labor Practices in a Networked Age
by Tamara Kneese, Alex Rosenblat, and danah boyd

Data & Society Working Paper, October 8, 2014
Prepared for: Future of Work
Project supported by Open Society Foundations

Brief Description

"Internet-enabled technologies allow people to connect in unprecedented ways. Although everyday social practices are widespread and well known, these same tools are reconfiguring key aspects of work. Crowdsourcing and distributed labor technologies increasingly allow companies to outsource everything from mundane tasks(e.g., Amazon Mechanical Turk) to professional services (e.g., oDesk). Sharing economy – or peer economy – tools (e.g., Airbnb) allow people to barter goods or services or get paid for these exchanges outside of the dominant business framework. These services have enabled new forms of contract or freelance labor and reduced risk for companies; however, there is often an increase in risk for the associated laborers. At the same time, divisions between what constitutes work, hobby, and volunteerism get blurred,especially as many organizations rely on volunteer labor under the assumption that it’s mutually beneficial (e.g., blogs and journalistic enterprises that republish work or see the offer of a platform as valuable in and of itself). While all of these labor issues have unmediated precedents (e.g., free internships), technology magnifies the scale of these practices, minimizes the transactional friction, and increases the visibility of unpaid and freelance work. Collectively, this raises critical questions about what fair labor looks like in a networked world, where boundaries dissolve and existing mechanisms of labor protection do not address the varied work scenarios now available."

[via tweets by @ashedryden via @aredridel:
https://twitter.com/ashedryden/status/520645315255214080

What does fair labor look like in world where existing mechanisms of labor protection aren’t enough? http://bit.ly/1oYmZpz (v @brainwane)

“Union models don’t apply to many industries; worker protections have disappeared in sectors while protections haven’t emerged in others.”

Deleuze links the emergence of tech to controls that are less defined by structure, but as insidious as strict hierarchies in industrial era

This paper does a good job of drawing the line from hobby to unpaid labor for corporations; “feel good” peer economies, etc

“[the internet is] a feature of the cultural economy, an important unacknowledged source of value in advanced capitalist societies”

“As labor and production become increasingly immaterial, free labor becomes a central part of the digital economy.”

See: hungry advertising marketplaces masquerading as social networks, open source, etc

This free, unpaid labor sneaks in because we feel compensated for how it makes us *feel*, meanwhile others financially profit of our labor.

“At the heart of the technology industry, the incentive to work 80 hours a week is heightened by a sense of pleasure in work.”

“Work will no longer be a place, and home no longer an escape.” Sound familiar?

On Uber, TaskRabbit, etc: (paraphrased) “Employees make good money, receive full benefits. Micro-taskers the employees profit from don’t.”

As technologists who create, profit from, & make use of these new models of labor, we’re ethically obligated to understand its impact.

We’ve created an increasingly high population of underpaid, un- and underinsured, workers, expecting “happiness” to compensate them.

The dreams of technology-aided labor providing for a healthy society that can work less, is compensated fairly & equally are lost on us.

“Uber drivers in LA tell passengers that they enjoy the job in order to protect from receiving a low rating.” That’s coerced “happiness”.

When we’re looking at who is taking these “micro-tasking” jobs, they’re largely those that are un- or underemployed; high numbers of PoC

Not only are PoC facing discrimination in pay from the traditional labor market they’re being underpaid for piecemeal work to make ends meet ]
danahboyd  alexrosenblat  tamarakneese  2014  labor  work  uber  economics  crowdsourcing  airbnb  amazonmechanicalturk  taskrabbit  odesk  unions  rights  fordism  sharingeconomy  via:ariastewart  markets  compensation  internet  web  online  technology  happiness  coercion  exploitation  inequality 
october 2014 by robertogreco
Evgeny Morozov | Don't believe the hype, the 'sharing economy' masks a failing economy | Comment is free | The Observer
"But the broader problem with these optimistic, utopian tales is that they rationalise the pathologies of the current political and economic system, presenting them as our conscious lifestyle choices. It's nice to be in a position to choose between renting and owning but this is a choice that many people simply do not get to make, settling on "renting" as a default option.

Given vast youth unemployment, stagnating incomes, and skyrocketing property prices, today's sharing economy functions as something of a magic wand. Those who already own something can survive by monetising their discomfort: for example, they can earn cash by occasionally renting out their apartments and staying with relatives instead. Those who own nothing, on the other hand, also get to occasionally enjoy a glimpse of the good life – built entirely on goods they do not own.

The supposed environmental benefits of the sharing economy are likewise laughable: while we are asked to share our cars with neighbours – it's cheaper and greener! – the rich keep enjoying their yachts, limos and private jets, all while the real polluters – oil companies and other industrial giants – get away with even worse offences.

There's no denying that the sharing economy can – and probably does – make the consequences of the current financial crisis more bearable. However, in tackling the consequences, it does nothing to address the causes. It's true that, thanks to advances in the information technology, some of us can finally get by with less – chiefly, by relying on more effective distribution of existing resources. But there's nothing to celebrate here: it's like handing everybody earplugs to deal with intolerable street noise instead of doing something about the noise itself.

Sensors, smartphones, apps: these are our generation's earplugs. That we no longer notice how thoroughly they banish anything that even smacks of politics from our lives is itself a telling sign: deafness – to injustice and inequality but, above all, to our own dire state of affairs – is the price we'll pay for this dose of immediate comfort."
evgenymorozov  economics  sharing  politics  policy  sharingeconomy  2014  uber  autoshare  airbnb  taskrabbit  lyft  renting  inequality  injustice 
october 2014 by robertogreco
In the Sharing Economy, Workers Find Both Freedom and Uncertainty - NYTimes.com
"Piecemeal labor is hardly a new phenomenon. But as expedited by technology and packaged as apps, it has taken on a shinier veneer under new rubrics: the sharing economy, the peer economy, the collaborative economy, the gig economy.

Gigs hold out the prospect of self-management and variety, with workers taking on diverse assignments of their choice and carving out their own schedules. Rather than toiling at the behest of some faceless corporation, they work for their peers.

“Providers in the peer economy really value the independence and flexibility; for lots of people, it has been transformational,” says Shelby Clark, the founder of RelayRides, a car-sharing marketplace, “You meet great, interesting people. You have great stories.”

Certainly, it’s a good deal for consumers. Peer marketplaces democratize luxury services by making amateur chauffeurs, chefs and personal assistants available to perform occasional work once largely dominated by full-time professionals. Venture capital firms seem convinced.

Uber has raised more than $1.5 billion from investors; Lyft has raised $333 million; and TaskRabbit, $38 million. Part of the attraction for investors is that the companies can avoid huge employee payrolls by effectively functioning as labor brokers.

If these marketplaces are gaining traction with workers, labor economists say, it is because many people who can’t find stable employment feel compelled to take on ad hoc tasks. In July, 9.7 million Americans were unemployed, and an additional 7.5 million were working part-time jobs because they could not find full-time work, according to estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There are no definitive statistics on how many people work in the gig economy. But according to a report from MBO Partners, a company that provides consulting services to independent contractors, about 17.7 million Americans last year worked more than half time as independent contributors, among them project workers.

With piecemeal gigs easier to obtain than long-term employment, a new class of laborer, dependent on precarious work and wages, is emerging. In place of the “proletariat,” Guy Standing, a labor economist, calls them the “precariat.”"



"Technology has made online marketplaces possible, creating new opportunities to monetize labor and goods. But some economists say the short-term gig services may erode work compensation in the long term. Mr. Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, argues that online labor marketplaces are able to drive down costs for consumers by having it both ways: behaving as de facto employers without shouldering the actual cost burdens or liabilities of employing workers.

“In a weak labor market, there’s not much of a floor on what employers, or quasi employers, can get away with,” Mr. Baker contends. “It could be a big downward pressure on wages. It’s a bad story.”

Labor activists say gig enterprises may also end up disempowering workers, degrading their access to fair employment conditions.

“These are not jobs, jobs that have any future, jobs that have the possibility of upgrading; this is contingent, arbitrary work,” says Stanley Aronowitz, director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Technology and Work at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. “It might as well be called wage slavery in which all the cards are held, mediated by technology, by the employer, whether it is the intermediary company or the customer.”"



"Peer-economy experts and executives recognize that many gig workers are laboring largely without a safety net. Mr. Clark, the industry veteran who founded RelayRides, reels off a list of lacunas: health insurance, retirement saving plans, tax withholding and even the kind of camaraderie and mentoring that can be available in full-time office jobs.

“Looking at this as a new paradigm of employment, which I think it is, the question is, What are you giving up?” Mr. Clark says. “At the end of the day, there’s a metalayer of support services that is missing.”

He predicts that new businesses will soon arise to cater to the needs of project workers: “There are opportunities to focus on providers, finding ways to make it easier, more stable and less scary to earn in the peer economy.”

TaskRabbit has started offering its contractors access to discounted health insurance and accounting services. Lyft has formed a partnership with Freelancers Union, making its drivers eligible for the advocacy group’s health plan and other benefit programs.

That may not be enough. Dr. Standing, the labor economist, says workers need formal protections to address the power asymmetries inherent in contingent work. International rules, he says, could endow gig workers with basic entitlements — like the right to organize and the right to due process should companies seek to remove them from their platforms.

“There should be codes of good practice at an international level that all companies should be required to sign,” he said."
labor  economics  uber  taskrabbit  lyft  sidecar  2014  work  uncertainty  freelancing  fiverr  postmates  favor  instacart  delivery  transportation  precariat  unions  precarity  stanleyaronowitz  socialsafetynet  sharingeconomy 
august 2014 by robertogreco
Two ways to work for nothing – GEOFF SHULLENBERGER
"In an interview about The People’s Platform, Astra Taylor notes that of late “more and more of us are encouraged to think of ourselves as artists no matter what our line of work. It’s a way of framing some of the unappealing things about our current economic condition — the lack of stability or of a social safety net—as something desirable and empowering. The ethos of the artist — someone who is willing to work with no guarantee of reward, who will sacrifice and self-exploit around the clock — is demanded of people across the board.” This tendency manifests itself in many realms: Taylor gives the example of Apple Store employees being told they should be grateful just to have the experience of working for Apple, but the rhetoric used to draw freelancers into digital sweatshops matches what she describes even more perfectly. Then we have the phenomenon I have been examining lately on this blog: the replacement of skilled workers with volunteers.

Alongside the imperative to embrace your exploitation as an artist embraces her vocation, though, proliferates the contrasting logic of what David Graeber called ”bullshit jobs” in a memorable article from last year. In a recent interview on the subject, Graeber explains that he is mainly referring to “meaningless office jobs [where workers] are basically paid to act busy all day. A lot of them may really work one or two hours, and the rest of the time they’re downloading stuff from the Internet, or playing around on Facebook or something. But, their job is to sit in an office, and basically valorize the idea that everybody should look busy all the time, that work is valuable in itself.” As Graeber notes, the expansion of this area of employment seems to be an economic paradox: “According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.” Graeber’s solution: “The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger… And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.”

Compare this to BuzzFeed’s and Coursera’s translation strategies: they really need the translation to be done, but they have invented elaborate schemes to avoid paying translators. The value and necessity of the work of translation to their companies could not be clearer, yet in this area a logic of ruthless efficiency applies, but not when it comes to the kind of jobs Graeber is describing: much of that work does not seem to be fundamentally needed by anyone, yet paradoxically organizations are willing to pay workers for it. As long as it is something that you would do even if it were unpaid, it is increasingly becoming something you have to do for free or for very little. On the other hand, you can be paid to do the kind of jobs that no one would do if managers did not invent them.

For Graeber, bullshit jobs carry with them a moral imperative: “If you’re not busy all the time doing something, anything — doesn’t really matter what it is — you’re a bad person.” But the flipside of that logic seems to be: if you actually like doing x activity, if it is valuable, meaningful, and carries intrinsic rewards for you, it is wrong for you to expect to be paid (well) for it; you should give it freely, even (especially) if by doing so you are allowing others to profit. In other words, we’ll make a living from you doing what you love (for free), but we’ll keep you in check by making sure you have to make a living doing what you hate."
bullshitjobs  geoffshullenberger  astrataylor  labor  work  economics  art  2014  davidgraeber  busyness  inefficiency  waste  politics  morality  productivity  happiness  translation  taskrabbit  buzzfeed  coursera  employment  coercion  discipline  society  capitalism  universalbasicincome  socialsafetynet  class  ubi 
may 2014 by robertogreco
Disrupting Slumlords — Weird Future — Medium
"This is the Taskrabbit economy in full swing. The sharing economy which allows car owners, home dwellers, and free-time havers, to extract every bit of value from their resources needs people desperate for a little extra cash. Some chunk of that 62% of people who are using Airbnb to keep their homes are people who wouldn’t be putting up with the hassle if times weren’t tough.

The sharing economy benefits greatly from a collapsed normal economy. Airbnb and Blackstone are two sides of the same dark coin. Airbnb doesn’t have a multi-billion dollar valuation for being friendly."
timmaly  2013  taskrabbit  airbnb  blackstone  realestate  finance  economics  sharing  mortgages  foreclosures  housing  housingcrisis 
november 2013 by robertogreco

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