The gig economy has been celebrated in many ways, claiming to offer freedom to workers everywhere. However, there is a darker side to the gig economy which mustn’t be ignored. As it has grown, various stories have been upheld as noble examples of a strong work ethic, but there’s another side to them.
Among the stories is one of a pregnant Lyft driver who kept working as she went into labor, and even picked up a passenger on the way to the hospital. Lyft published the story on their company blog, highlighting it as an exciting story for their customers to enjoy.
To some people, this story might seem like an amazing example of someone being hardworking and dedicated to their job. The story can show other potential drivers that they can benefit from flexibility and an easy way to find work when they become a Lyft driver. The driver, Mary, is a determined worker who is able to make money whenever she wants.
However, there is another way to look at the story. People who work for Lyft don’t have the benefit of paid maternity leave, health insurance or various other benefits often afforded to employees. They’re also unlikely to be earning enough money to cover these things themselves, with SherpaShare finding that Lyft drivers in Chicago make about $11 per trip.
While Lyft’s story said that Mary kept working because she didn’t believe she was in labor and was still a week from her due date, there’s another reason she may not have stopped. Perhaps she felt like she had to keep working because the money she would get from accepting further rides felt more important than attending to her own medical needs.
Although Mary can be seen as a worker with the ultimate freedom, she can also be viewed as someone with no protections. As Bryan Menegus at Gizmodo wrote, it’s not possible to know her background, but Lyft’s positive framing of the story is still suspect. For many people, the idea that it would be a positive story isn’t one that makes much sense.
A company that gleefully shouts about the lengths that their employees have to go to if they want to make a living isn’t thinking in the same way that many others are. When the company gets to set the terms of the employment, even choosing not to recognize workers as employees, it’s strange for them to brag about how tough it can be to work for them. But this story from Lyft definitely isn’t the only one that has appeared in recent years.
Another recent example comes from the freelance marketplace Fiverr and their advertising campaign. With tasks completed for a little as $5 on the site, Fiverr promoted their platform with a campaign called “In Doers We Trust”. The campaign emphasized putting work above all else, being available to work at all times, and promoted being constantly hustling.
Companies like Fiverr often use language that play into people’s desire to have a more flexible career. However, the reality is often much less glamorous, and many people find themselves working more and not less when participating in the gig economy. Most workers would much rather have the safety of various employee benefits and a run of the mill job than the “excitement” of a less stable position in the gig economy.
Perhaps this situation comes from the American idea that pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is the noble thing to do. Not only is being completely self-reliant a virtue, but it’s a necessity. Celebrating people who are essentially working themselves to death ties into the idea that it’s better to do everything yourself, no matter what.
The gig economy can often make everything sound fun and flexible, while in reality the lack of security and conditions are very different. However, it’s easier to celebrate the gig economy than to admit that there could be something wrong. This is a good article which explains the pros and cons of the gig economy here.
Even those who have full-time jobs don’t escape the same types of stories that can come from the gig economy. I have seen plenty of stories about people who walk ten or more miles to work every day, even through snow in the dead of winter. The tone is always admiring, although the story often ends with a donated car so that the person no longer has to do it without addressing the cause of the issue.
It’s not just the gig economy that celebrates unhealthy attitudes toward working and working conditions. However, it can highlight the issues that exist in how work is regarded and how people are expected to dedicate themselves to being completely self-reliant. The gig economy can’t provide a good environment for workers if it doesn’t value them and offer them the protection that they need.