For the past 15 years, I’ve been a full-fledged member of the gig economy. Why I do believe I joined up even before the term was invented. We just used to call it working freelance, or – more grandly – doing consulting.
The gig economy has much to recommend it (most notably flexibility), but I’m just as happy that most of my career was spent working full-time. I liked belonging, having colleagues, having a place to get up and go to. And even though my career has been in high tech, which is not exactly famous for offering much by way of stability, it was helpful (both financially and psychologically) to have stability. All that said, when the point came where I didn’t want to commute, politic, manage up, manage down, etc., I was just as happy to get out and get gigging.
As my paid work life winds down – any year now, it’ll all be in my rearview mirror – I can honestly say that I enjoyed myself while gigging. (It helped, of course, that I never had to hustle. Pretty much all of my work has come through folks I knew from my fulltime career. I’m now working mostly with “begats” – people a degree of separation or two or three from the ur source from my fulltime days, but all my gigs have been network based.)
I’m also a gig economy consumer.
I’m an irregularly regular Uber rider. I’d use Lyft, too, if I wasn’t too lazy to download the app.
I’ve hired TaskRabbit-ers a few time, and may be using them again any day now to help clean out an especially stubborn closet.
I haven’t gotten around to using GrubHub or any of the the other meal delivery services. Not that I’ve got anything against them on principle; it just hasn’t come up. There’s always something in the cupboard I can turn into a meal of sorts. That, or I can walk around the corner and forage for a slice, a burrito, or an order of pad thai.
Which isn’t to say that on a cold and scarily icy winter’s night I might not get the hankering for some food – maybe Indian - that I’d have to go further afield for.
But I haven’t used any of the the new gig economy food delivery services. (My husband and I used to order take out Thai quite a bit, but our favorite place – despite our best efforts - closed, so… And the restaurant didn’t use a delivery service. They had their own guy. Ditto the pizza place I’ve had deliver a couple of times. Mostly, though, I don’t want to wait for delivery so I hoof it over. It’s only a couple of minutes walk, even thought they have the most dangerous stoop in the world.)
Even though I haven’t used them, food delivery services have certainly proliferated over the years. GrubHub. Uber Eats. Postmates. DoorDash.
The folks who do the delivering – most/all of them are signed up with more than one of the services, sort of like how most Uber drivers have the Lyft app on their phones, too – have it hard. It’s no accident that the words “grub” and “dash” are part of the names of two of the best known services. Delivers grub for gigs and have to dash around to fulfill them while trying to make a living.
A NY Times writer decided to check it out for himself.
What he found wasn’t pretty.
Mindless as the job may seem, it is often like a game of real-life speed chess played across the treacherous grid of the city, as riders juggle orders from competing apps and scramble for elusive bonuses.
And there are risks. Nearly a third of delivery cyclists missed work because of on-the-job injuries last year, one survey, and at least four delivery riders or bike messengers have been killed in crashes this year. (Source: Andy Newman in The New York Times)
And then there’s the race to the bottom compensation that’s one of the most salient features of the gig economy: the more workers who jump in, the lower the pay.
Maria Figueroa, director of labor and policy research for the Cornell University Worker Institute in Manhattan, called the food couriers “the most vulnerable workers in digital labor.”
“People think digital economy or the future of work, we’re all going to be these hipsters sitting by their computers or driving these luxury cars,” she said. “That’s not the case with these guys.”
DoorDash is the one that’s been in the news of late, with publicity centered on their rather duplicitous tip collection process.
Until they had a recent, post-bad-publicity change of heart, here’s what that company was up to (with Andy Newman’s up close and personal example).
DoorDash offers a guaranteed minimum for each job. For my first order, the guarantee was $6.85 and the customer, a woman in Boerum Hill who answered the door in a colorful bathrobe, tipped $3 via the app. But I still received only $6.85.
Here’s how it works: If the woman in the bathrobe had tipped zero, DoorDash would have paid me the whole $6.85. Because she tipped $3, DoorDash kicked in only $3.85. She was saving DoorDash $3, not tipping me.
As it turns out, Dashers were actually okay with this model, as they tended to make more on a DoorDash gig than they did with other apps.
But from a customer perspective, the sleight of hand with the tipping gave DoorDash a big old black eye.
That woman in the bathrobe would have reasonably expected that the $3 she tipped Andy went to him, not to DoorDash.
I’m sure that if DoorDash had explained this policy – “this tip enables us to guarantee your delivery person a good delivery rate” – there’d have been less of an outcry from customers. The lack of transparency left customers feeling bamboozled.
Anyway, the customer outrage caused DoorDash to change their tipping policy.
Whether this will mean any more in the pocket of those life-in-their-hands-so-someone-can-get-sushi delivery folks remains to be seen, as DoorDash will be making up the diff by paying less per delivery.
(Note to self: when using the gig economy, tip using cash.)
It’ll probably be moot in the longer run. As Andy Newman wrote as he considered his short experience as a food delivery guy:
I thought of what a colleague had said the day before: “You’re one step above an Amazon drone.” I thought of something Professor [Niels] van Doorn [University of Amsterdam] had said, that the couriers’ real value to the app companies is in the data harvested like pollen as we make our rounds, data that will allow them to eventually replace us with machines.
Just as happy that my little piece of the gig economy was a bit more humane. That I was less likely to be replaced by a drone. And that it’s almost over.