The Works-in-Progress series is a way to offer a supportive, informal, and interdisciplinary space for graduate students and faculty working at the intersections of media and social movements to present their ideas and get feedback. The works range from papers to presentations, job talks, films, podcasts, or art projects. The work can cover a specific topic or your broader research interests and can be at any stage of development.
Lunch will be provided.
Presenter: Ryan Tsapatsaris
Title: "Postmates and Care.com: Interventions in the Gig Economy via Praxis and Theory"
While it is difficult to accurately assess the scope of the gig economy, according to the Federal Reserve, 31% of American adults worked gig jobs during 2017. This figure has steadily crept up over the last decade. Yet, even as nearly a third of employed Americans depend on this “contingent employment”, these ad-hoc “jobs” are woefully under addressed by contemporary labor laws. Consequentially, a large swarth of American workers are forced to depend on severely inequitable employment relationships which can be terminated at the whim of the gig company, often with little or no explanation.
This situation is untenable. To this end, this talk aims to offer two potential avenues for agitating for better legal protections and work cultures for those who participate in gig work. I begin by detailing my own participation as a named plaintiff in Singer et al. v Postmates, which put $8 million back in the hands of gig workers who we, the plaintiffs, alleged had been misclassified as “independent contractors.” Although Postmates settled, and thus, we were unsuccessful in challenging the lack of legal protections afforded gig workers, it was certainly not painless nor inexpensive for the company.
Following this brief summary of Singer et al v. Postmates, I then turn my attention to the carework site, Care.com. Because Uber often stands in as a (male) synecdoche for the totality of the gig economy (Ticona, Mateescu, Rosenblatt 2018), examining carework offers an important expansion of both the breadth of work that gig workers engage in as well as showing how intersectional inequalities persist even when supposedly “one is their own boss.” Through an analysis of approximately 3500 postings on multiple review sites such as TrustPilot and the Better Business Bureau, a picture of the recurring issues faced by careworkers is revealed. In addition, because it is in the interest of gig companies to hide their unethical practices, these reviews are oftentimes the only way that these grievances can be aired and made publicly visible (Bishop 2019). Although this research is still in a very preliminary stage, troubling trends are already apparent; namely, deactivation of a careworker’s account without reason and the likelihood that Care.com is engaging in the Ashley Madison-esque practice of populating their site with fake profiles (both job seekers and job providers).
It is my hope that in describing the working conditions of gig workers in each of these spaces, we can then segue into a dialogue about how to make one’s scholarship as efficacious as possible in effecting real-world change beyond the walls of the academy.