The reality is the gig economy is good for most gig workers and bad for some.
They believe the gig economy is all bad.
Key quote from their editorial The Gig Economy's False Promise:
"... there is no utopia at companies like Uber, Lyft, Instacart and Handy, whose workers are often manipulated into working long hours for low wages while continually chasing the next ride or task.
These companies have discovered they can harness advances in software and behavioral sciences to old-fashioned worker exploitation, according to a growing body of evidence, because employees lack the basic protections of American law."
The editorial is a follow-up to a NY Times article attacking Uber. How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers’ Buttons describes how Uber uses data science, gamification and behavioral economics to motivate their drivers.
The reactions to the Uber article have been mixed, with many pointing out the article doesn't actually show examples of "exploitation".
For example, in her weekly Oversharing newsletter Ali Griswold - a frequent critic of both Uber and the Gig Economy - writes:
So, what are these tricks? Congratulating drivers on getting midway to an earnings goal. Loading the next fare before the current ride ends. Sending messages that encourage drivers to head to the morning rush, or toward a recently finished concert. “And most of this happens,” Scheiber writes, “without giving off a whiff of coercion.”
Ok, I guess. Alternatively, what if there was no “whiff” of coercion because there was no coercion? Uber signed up a bunch of people to drive on its platform and then it gave them tips on ways to earn more money. We might consider that a “trick” if Uber’s advice didn’t actually translate into higher earnings, or if Uber promised incentives that it never paid, but Scheiber has no evidence of anything like that happening. What he does have is a lot of adjective-laden insinuations that Uber is doing something dark and untoward ...
We also are confused by the argument that Uber can do this because they are using independent contractors.
We're unaware of any laws, regulations or customs that provide traditional employees greater protections than contractors relative to the use of behavioral economics techniques. Nor does the article or editorial explain what these missing protections are.
In fact, systems like the ones Uber uses are not new and are widely used to manage and motivate traditional employees.
Almost every study done on the gig economy has found most gig workers choose to be gig workers, are satisfied being gig workers and plan to continue with gig work. The studies also have found most gig workers prefer gig work over traditional jobs.
In fact, we're not aware of single, broad based gig economy study that didn't find most gig workers are satisfied with gig work. And there's been a lot of studies.
Also, as our recent research with Intuit shows, many gig workers are using gig work to help them through a financial hardship or shock. Without their gig economy income, many of these people (some of which drive for Uber) would face dire financial consequences.
So despite what the New York Times thinks, there's a good side to the gig economy.
But the New York Times isn't completely wrong.
There's definitely a bad side to the gig economy and they nicely summarize some of the problems.
So yes, let's fix the problems - especially for gig workers who are mistreated. Also, all gig workers would welcome policies and regulations that make gig work more stable and secure. A good example is portable benefits.
But we also need to make sure we don't ruin the good parts of the gig economy in our zeal to fix the bad.
The first step in this process is to quit saying it's all bad, especially when the research makes it very clear there's a lot of good.