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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Worker Ownership, COVID-19, and the Future of the Gig Economy

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Creative Commons 'BY-NC-SA' version 4.0 license

Based on a summer 2020 survey with 302 workers for app-based gig companies in California, this report presents the impact of COVID-19 on those workers and their reactions to new models of worker ownership in the gig economy. We also draw from in-depth interviews with 15 workers and 9 experts on labor issues and worker-owned and labor contracting cooperative models, along with an extensive literature review.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the precarity of gig work, exacerbating its well-documented exploitative conditions, including wage theft and routine violations of laws designed to protect workers’ health and safety. These conditions are enabled in app-based gig work by the lack of control, transparency, and stability experienced by this workforce. Misclassified gig workers—without access to paid sick leave, Unemployment Insurance, workers’ compensation, company-provided personal protective equipment (PPE), or income predictability—face a heightened risk of COVID-19 infection, food insecurity, and homelessness.

The report is presented in three parts: (1) findings from survey responses regarding working conditions during COVID-19, (2) feedback from gig workers on a cooperative contracting model for the sector, and (3) case studies of cooperative and contracting models from other sectors.

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