If asked to define the variously named sharing/gig/on-demand economy, anyone would struggle. Despite the fact that Uber and Airbnb have become household names, most companies that are considered part of this new tech-driven, non-ownership economy do vastly different things. And so do their workers.
This nebulousness of these companies makes them hard not only to define, but also to regulate.
Part of the problem is the limited, binary system for labeling workers—either they are employees with all the legal protections that imbues or not—argue Seth Harris and Alan Krueger in a new paper from the Brookings Institution. They (and others) have suggested that the solution is finding a new, middle classification, which would allow workers and employers to retain some of the freedoms associated with independent work while enjoying some of the protections from being mistreated.
Krueger and Harris specifically recommend that workers who straddle the line between being a 1099 independent contractor and a W-2 employee should be able to retain flexibility of hours, while enjoying the right to organize, civil-rights protections, and tax withholding—but not the more contested benefits of unemployment insurance, workers comp, and minimum-wage requirements. For many workers’ advocates, leaving these benefits out of the classification is a weakness of this proposal. In particular, the rejection of workers comp, for individuals injured on the job, and unemployment insurance, should a worker be suddenly dismissed, would be hard to swallow. Harris says these benefits were left out because they could be addressed through collective bargaining, which the proposed classification does protect.