Earlier this month, workers at the grocery delivery service Instacart organized a three-day strike over changes in the company’s tipping policy. Instacart has also been in the news this year for a controversial policy that included delivery tips as part of guaranteed worker pay, which they later said they would change. After the strike, Instacart eliminated a bonus for successful deliveries through the app.
Instacart is just one example of worker resistance in the modern gig economy. Company platforms such as Instacart, Uber, and the transcription service rev.com ostensibly provide greater flexibility to workers, yet all are facing a wave of worker discontent over employment conditions and compensation. Work is changing, and becoming more “precarious.” Sociologists identify precarious work as “uncertain, unstable, and insecure.” Additionally, workers have little legal protection and bear much of the risk that employers previously bore.
- Arne Kalleberg and Steven Vallas. 2018. “Probing Precarious Work: Theory, Research, and Politics.” Research in the Sociology of Work 31: 1–30.
- Arne Kalleberg. 2009. “Precarious Work, Insecure Workers: Employment Relations in Transition.” American Sociological Review 74(1): 1–22.
Computer applications or apps organize and host a lot of gig work. But workers are finding that “algorithmic control” reproduces the same power dynamics as having an in-person supervisor. In particular, workers often do not know how they will be judged and rules and compensation policies may be rewritten with little or no notice. Rather than allowing workers to choose when and how they work, apps control the actions they must take to get jobs, such as maintaining minimum hours.
- Alex Rosenblat and Luke Stark. 2016. “Algorithmic Labor and Information Asymmetries: A Case Study of Uber’s Drivers.” International Journal of Communication 10: 3758–84.
- Alex Rosenblat. 2018. Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the World of Work. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Alex Veen, Tom Barratt, and Caleb Goods. 2019. “Platform-Capital’s ‘App-etite’ for Control: A Labour Process Analysis of Food-Delivery Work in Australia. Work, Employment and Society.
- Kathleen Griesbach, Adam Reich, Luke Elliott-Negri, and Ruth Milkman. 2019. “Algorithmic Control in Platform Food Delivery Work.” Socius 5.
For the most recent work on the gig economy see this 2018 book by Alexandrea Ravenelle. Ravenelle interviewed 80 participants of the gig economy, including those who have found success in the gig economy, those struggling to make ends meet, and those using the gig economy to supplement other income.
- Alexandrea Ravenelle. 2019. Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy. Berkeley: University of California Press.