*This piece is part of the ACSblog Symposium: 2017 ACS National Convention. The symposium will consider topics featured at the three day convention, scheduled for June 8-10, 2017. Learn more about the Convention here.
by Brishen Rogers, Associate Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law and Visiting Professor, Spring 2017, Washington University in St. Louis and European University Institute, Florence Italy
The rise of platform economy firms such as Uber, Lyft and TaskRabbit have drawn public attention to the fact that more and more workers today are financially insecure, lack even basic statutory employment rights and have little or no job security. While this public attention is welcome, these issues are not new. They are rooted in the long-running shift of power in the economy away from workers and unions and toward large corporations and financial firms.
Take the fissuring of employment. This has resulted from a set of conscious choices to reorganize firms or production strategies so as to economize on labor costs. And the incentives to take such steps have increased dramatically in recent years. An individual commercial building owner with only a bank mortgage to service may be perfectly happy to collect marginally lower profits in exchange for a harmonious relationship with her janitors and security guards. A real estate investment trust with dozens or hundreds of buildings and external shareholders has different priorities, and may seek to keep wages down or — failing that — to outsource and de-unionize the workforce.
Many low-wage sectors have such dynamics today, particularly where firms have few options to enhance labor productivity. This is the case in logistics (where FedEx drivers and warehouse workers in Walmart’s supply chain are often independent contractors or temps); in fast food (where workers are often employed by McDonalds and Burger King franchisees rather than parent companies); in hospitality (where individual Marriotts and Hiltons are independently operated, sometimes with subcontracted services); and of course in the platform economy, where Uber drivers and Handy workers are misclassified as independent contractors.