“Change is inevitable but progress is optional. Leadership makes the difference.” – Andrew Stern
While experts still disagree about exact figures, it is likely that by 2020 between 40 percent and 50 percent of the U.S. workforce will be engaged in freelance and so-called “gig economy” jobs like driving for Uber or Lyft, being a “tasker” on TaskRabbit, delivering groceries for Instacart, or freelance knowledge work found through a platform like UpWork. For Palak Shah, Social Innovations Director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), this emerging landscape presents an unprecedented opportunity to shape the future of work for everyone who now works without the protections that traditional labor laws provide.
The Good Work Code
At the Next:Economy summit in San Francisco (November 12 -13), Shah announced that twelve companies – including DoorDash, VetPronto, Care.com, CareLinx, LeadGenuis, and Managed by Q – have now committed to taking action on one or more of the tenets of the Good Work Code, an overarching framework of eight values that are the foundation of good working conditions for freelance and independent workers, including safety, stability & flexibility, transparency, shared prosperity, a livable wage, inclusion & input, support & connection, and growth & development. I sat down with Shah at Next:Economy to find out more.
Domestic and freelance gig work: The wild, wild west
The NDWA is an alliance of 53 organizations who engage in advocacy for the rights, respect, and dignity of domestic workers, the nannies, caregivers, senior care workers, and house cleaners who are excluded from U.S. labor law protections. As the many recent lawsuits against Uber and other new companies that rely on gig workers have made clear, the NDWA may now have many more allies in the movement to establish labor protections for this rapidly growing sector of the economy.
“Domestic workers face the same kinds of conditions that gig economy workers are starting to talk about, like inconsistent hours, working without contracts, no benefits, no health care, no retirement benefits,” Shah told me. “Domestic work, like freelance gig work, is the wild, wild west – it’s an unregulated, completely disaggregated, distributed market.”
Solving for equity: Creative collisions required
The Good Work Code has been in the making for just over a year as Shah witnessed the emergence of the intersection between domestic work and tech. Of the two to three million domestic workers in the country, not many are on tech platforms yet. But as new startups began to emerge and conversations about policy in the gig economy began to pop up, Shah realized an overarching framework for this sector of workers was missing. “The real breakthroughs are going to come through the collaboration of social movements and tech. I don’t see it happening in either discipline alone,” Shah told me. “It will be the friction and interaction between these disciplines that will actually result in something that works. The Good Work Code is the first step.”
Increasingly, the algorithms that run our enterprise platforms are dictating, or at least influencing, the way we interact. In that way, our labor policy may actually be unintentionally hidden in those algorithms. So-called “lean” shift scheduling software, for example, makes the new on-demand economy possible, but it has not so far been optimized for the workers on which these businesses rely. “These algorithms do a brilliant job of solving for efficiency and convenience,” said Shah, “but what we haven’t seen is algorithms solve for equity or any derivative of equity like the ones we have in the Good Work Code. We did a whole round of innovation to solve for efficiency and convenience. Let’s now do a round of innovation for solving for equity and derivatives of equity. That’s the intent behind the Good Work Code.”
Stepping up to an act of public leadership
In the end, this is not only a conversation about labor rights in the future of work, it is a business conversation. “Next economy” companies and platforms that take public leadership positions on their commitment to good work will attract the best workers. Countless studies show that companies with happy workforces tend to succeed over the long term. The twelve companies that have committed to action on one or more of the eight parts of the Good Work Code will no doubt leap frog their competition in the quest for the best workers. Who is next?
Images used with permission of the National Domestic Workers Alliance