Many workers who take jobs on “gig economy” platforms like Uber, Handy, Instacart, and Taskrabbit are independent contractors who aren’t entitled to the same benefits, insurance, and other social programs as their on-staff peers. Requiring (or even allowing) platforms to provide this type of safety net might be a matter of policy, but the National Domestic Workers Association (NDWA) thinks that platforms can and should do more to help their workers.
In October, the labor group, which has historically represented house cleaners, nannies, and caregivers, announced a pledge called the “Good Work Code” that provides a framework for innovating around the principles of safety, stability and flexibility, transparency, shared prosperity, a livable wage, inclusion and input, support and connection, and growth and development.
LeadGenius, which connects underemployed workers with sales research jobs, is, for instance, increasing HR support to better match workers with the amount of work they want. VetPronto, an on-demand veterinarian site, is offering salaried positions for veterinarians that commit to more than 15 appointment slots per week. CareLinx, an online marketplace for caregivers, says it will explore ways to provide health care benefits to its workers.
Many of the companies on the list, like office management company Managed By Q, have already been recognized as good job providers. The biggest “gig economy” employers—like Uber, Lyft, and Handy—are absent. “What we are trying to do,” says Palak Shah, the NDWA’s social innovations director, “is build a legitimate center of gravity of folks who are already thinking about this stuff, and folks who are willing to say, yes, we have a role in creating good work, and we want the work in the digital economy to be good work.”
Earlier this week, in a similar gesture, a group of 37 startups, venture capitalists, and labor advocates calling on policymakers to develop portable benefits like the Affordable Care Act that would provide workers alternative access to protections such as workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, paid time off, and retirement savings. Shah was a signatory. So were the cofounders of Lyft and the CEO of Handy.
One criticism of both the coalition’s letter and the NDWA pledge is that they are vague statements of intention or desire without clear stated solutions or commitments. The fear, expressed even by some who have signed them, is that companies will commit in order to receive good press without actually making meaningful changes in how they treat employees.
Shah argues that what might look vague is the first small step in creating a movement. “There is no way we will let our brand and the domestic worker movement be used to be a PR stunt,” Shah says. “The first step to creating change is allowing people to take a small step and articulate their values and vision, and then figure out how to make that happen.”