What are the real options concert workers face when considering their employment options in the post-pandemic world?
As the push for America to go back to work begins, employers lament that no one wants to work anymore. Low wage industries In particular, they are struggling to fill positions amid a record number of vacancies, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
To counter this, employers like Uber and Lyft are trying to incentivize drivers with promises of bonuses, while more than 18 states are choosing to cut extended unemployment benefits early, citing the government relief as a disincentive to work.
Both strategies fundamentally miss the point.
We have been speaking with workers across the country for months as part of a project led by Dr. Julia Ticona at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
One of our key learnings is that unemployment benefits have not discouraged work, but have given concert workers the space to reject the vagaries and indignities of the job market. “We are less desperate,” said one worker, “but companies need desperate people to work for them.”
Contract workers now simply ask for a fair and equitable system that does not separate the needs of workers from human needs.
One of these needs is fair compensation for your work. The spate of promotions Uber and Lyft are sending out recently to convince drivers that a stable, well-paying job awaits them. Some drivers recognize bonuses as yet another example of the problem with live work: short-term honeypots rather than long-term pay increases. Marco, an Uber driver, said that now he only drove when there was a promotion or streak bonus, as the base salary didn’t even cover gas and other driving expenses: “Without a promotion, between driving and doing nothing, sometimes doing nothing is better. Maybe if they just increased our rate per mile, drivers would get back on the road, “he said.
John, a driver from Kentucky, wants to work, but wildly variable promotions make it difficult for him to calculate when to drive again. On any given day, you cannot predict whether the offered bonus will offset your operating costs. Individualized promotions are offered to fellow drivers; some are paid $ 225 for 15 trips, while others are offered $ 15 for 3 trips.
Adding to the uncertainty, drivers feel they can’t fully trust Uber and Lyft messages – companies have a history of harassing drivers with wage guarantees. “How do I know that they are offering me a real bonus and not just giving me another shit offer with hidden terms that I only find out after I have gone out and used up my gas and my time?” John asked.
Not knowing how much money you are likely to take home at the end of a full day’s work is not an attractive proposition either. “I know with unemployment that I will receive $ 900 each week; the check will be in the mail, ”said Andrés, an Uber driver who passed Instacart and Shipt during the height of the pandemic. Choosing that reliability over constantly playing “guess how many bananas it would take to earn minimum wage” seems like a no-brainer to you. Who would want to voluntarily return to that, he asked?
However, the looming cut in unemployment benefits has left some workers in a difficult situation. Takarah, a house cleaner in Taskrabbit, used up much of her savings early in the pandemic when cleaning jobs suddenly disappeared and she relied on unemployment checks. “I know that nothing will return to normal,” he said, but hoped to find something stable now that he is worse off economically than when the pandemic began.
The treatment of workers during the pandemic has also made many workers wonder why they should work for companies that do not value their loyalty or effort. Workers report feeling abandoned and dry, “alone on the road without support,” as one driver put it. Uber closed its driver centers and cut rates per mile; Shipt and Instacart oversaturated the market without warning. Some have rightly expressed a feeling of betrayal over their treatment: “We were doing the work for the people because they didn’t want to put their health at risk; we put ours at risk for them. They returned the favor by giving us a pay cut, ”said a delivery worker.
Elsewhere, concert workers are evaluating the health risks of “getting back to normal.” Omar, a transportation driver in Florida, said that although he was vaccinated, he was nervous about Uber removing the mask requirements. .
He hopes Uber will consult with drivers before doing so, but he’s not very hopeful given the company’s historic treatment of drivers. Reflecting on the past year, she realized that asking customers to wear a mask was perhaps the first time she remembered Uber advocating for the well-being of drivers. That made us feel good, said another driver, as if for once Uber also cared about our health.
Our research further confirms that by not returning to work immediately, these workers show us that they are fed up with the instability of cyclical firings and hires. With playing games to earn a living wage and expose yourself to health risks. With being at the mercy of algorithmic changes as they take all the risk without having a say in the design of the system.
The pandemic magnified many aspects of live work that have always been unsustainable. We can no longer send workers every day to such a troubled workplace. Longer-term solutions are needed that respond to the needs of workers upon their return: a salary that rewards their efforts, a transparent and reliable pay scale, and company policies that do not consider them expendable.
Reflecting on her experience of being constantly disappointed by the platform she risked her health for, Kai, a Shipt worker from North Carolina, reflected, “I feel like it will come back to me … maybe in my next life.”
It’s time to reimburse workers for their essential services in this life, not the next.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism