A friend of mine drives a limo in Philly, earns $500 for 60 hours of work each week and holds a bachelor’s degree. His brand is Uber.
“Talia Jane,” whose story ranked on Google Trends on Thursday, worked in customer support for a food delivery service in San Francisco, couldn’t afford to buy her own groceries with her $1,466.48 a month and has a bachelor’s degree in English literature. Her brand is Yelp/Eat24.
These “gig economy” horror stories don’t come from the usual suspects — such as Walmart and McDonald’s, which many Americans already know have employees who may work long hours while still being poor enough to be eligible for food stamps.
These stories are coming from the tech sector that many marketers revere, and the tales may be hurting more brands than Uber and Yelp. Skilled tradespeople working through TaskRabbit; multiple degree-holders working as temps for employers ranging from law firms to trade associations; and even Ph.D. adjuncts at prestigious universities are all living the anxiety-inducing benefits-free lifestyle that can make it difficult to pay the bills.
At the same time that the gig economy is rising, brands are becoming more aware of how horror stories can spread about their companies — even from within. As a result, brands may need to pay more attention to the battered pride of underpaid, literate working Americans in earnest right now, for two reasons:
These Employees Can and Do Share Their Horror Stories
Spin is no longer effective. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s captive audience at Dreamforce heard him say, as I paraphrase for Target Marketing in September 2015: “Car owners providing the rides are often doing so to fill ‘gaps’ in income left by the drivers’ ‘normal’ jobs.”
It appears that this statement is technically true.
In a study released this month, JPMorgan Chase finds that 10.3 million Americans depend on income from the “online platform economy,” and that most of the labor-centered work (non-eBay or Airbnb, which involve capital) doesn’t add to a worker’s bottom line, it makes up the shortfall in hours lost from a “normal” job or during unemployment. Further, this “online platform economy” will be the “future of work,” not the “normal” jobs Kalanick says Uber rides supplement. (Note that the study doesn’t include temporary workers or part-time workers, as adjuncts are described.)
Anecdotally, the story is different. During my first Uber ride at Dreamforce last year, my driver told me off the record that he’d like to see drivers unionize, because he works full-time for the company and can’t make ends meet.
My friend who works full-time for Uber told me the company won’t let him inform passengers that he needs tips in order to survive. He can only tell them that tips are “welcome.” For the sake of his privacy and pride, I’m withholding his name and his type of scientific degree. In his case, he shared his sadness with a friend via word-of-mouth. Others do so among friends and family on social media. Still others do what Talia Jane did in her Feb. 19 post on Medium that’s gone viral: “An Open Letter To My CEO.”
Related story: 'Every Car Ubered' Is Live From #DF15