In New York City, struggles between bicycle couriers and their employers are heating up, again, bringing attention to the low quality of jobs the gig economy has been providing. With support from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, couriers from services like UberRUSH, Instacart, and Postmates came together in October to announce the formation of a new organizing group, The New York Messengers Alliance. At the core of the issue are the same problems that have plagued workers in other on-demand industries. The classification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees means unreliable pay, no insurance, and no PTO or sick leave. In 2014, New York's couriersearned an average of $23,444.
Companies are especially loathe to hire bike couriers as employees due to the dangerous nature of the work, as they face injury rates comparable to football players as insurance costs are ballooning. This spring, a bill was introduced to the city council to include on-demand companies in an existing law that requires employers to provide couriers with safety gear.
Never in 20 years have I had a paid vacation... with nothing to show for it — no pension, no 401(k)”.
Across on-demand industries in the city, struggles over worker classifications are intensifying. The New York Department of Labor recently ruled that two Uber drivers are eligible for worker's compensation, a ruling that was narrow in scope but nonetheless sets the stage for a looming legal battle over the status of drivers. New York State's Joint Enforcement Task Force on the Misclassification of Workers, as well as other unions and organizing groups, are expected to move into the debate in the coming months. The battles over contractor classification in California and in the UK may provide a glimpse of what's ahead.
Meanwhile, the gig economy continues expanding nationwide. A recent report by The Freelancer's Union claims that 55 million Americans are freelancing in some way, including as independent contractors (35 precent), diversified workers with multiple sources of income (28 percent), full time professionals who moonlight after hours (25 percent), freelancers with employees (7 percent) and temporary workers (7 percent).