While the concept of nontraditional, short-term, and contract work has been around since well before the digital age, it wasn’t until the 2010s that digital platform companies like Uber, DoorDash, Instacart, and TaskRabbit began to rise to prominence and shape the way we define gig work today. In the most basic terms, gig work can be defined as work done by individuals who are classified as self-employed, freelancers, or independent contractors. However, in recent years the term “gig work” has become synonymous with working for digital platform companies, including driving for ride-share apps, making deliveries for restaurants, shopping or delivering groceries, and performing errands or household tasks. In this use, “gig work” is a misnomer that helps companies propagate the myth that these workers have more independence and control over their work than they actually do. Digital platform companies have constructed a business model on the premise that they do not employ their workforce. These companies treat workers who perform the services they offer not as employees but as independent contractors. By classifying their workforce in this way, they deprive workers of fundamental rights under federal and state labor and employment laws, including wage and hour protections, anti-discrimination protection, workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, and the right to organize and collectively bargain. Digital platform companies claim that their workforce benefits from this classification, enjoying the benefits of entrepreneurship with good pay and more flexibility than workers classified as traditional W-2 employees. However, a survey of gig workers reveals that these workers often are paid low wages, in some instances less than the minimum wage; they face economic insecurity at high rates; and they routinely report losing earnings because of technical difficulties with digital platforms.
Zipperer, Ben, Celine McNicholas, Margaret Paydock, Daniel Schneider, and Kristen Harknett. "National survey of gig workers paints a picture of poor working conditions, low pay." Economic Policy Institute, June 2022.