The good and bad about the gig economy
For anyone — but for pregnant people and working mothers, in particular — there are obvious advantages to this approach to earning money: Theoretically, I have the freedom and flexibility to take projects that interest me, and work when I want. I can refuse work, and take off hours, days, or even weeks at will.
But in reality, working in the gig economy often means insecurity and financial risks. As a gig worker, what one earns is proportionate to how hard they work. Sometimes, no matter how hard I hustle, I find myself between jobs. And a lot of my labor — including the hard work of finding work — goes unpaid.
Above all, working in the gig economy means I’m afforded few to none of the rights and protections offered traditional workers, including those rights outlined in the PDA, which only protect “employees,” not “independent contractors” (aka gig workers like me).
Sure, state by state, you may find additional protections. For example, in New York City, where I live, it’s against the law to fire or refuse to hire or promote employees because they are pregnant, and employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations. But a law’s existence doesn’t necessarily mean enforcement. A report by the National Women’s Law Center and A Better Balance, for example, found over 40% of low-wage workers who are pregnant report that their employers don’t permit them to decide when to take their breaks; three-quarters of these workers aren’t able to choose start and quit times; and roughly half report having very little or no control over the scheduling of hours.
What’s more, according to the law, there’s an expectation that employers initiate and engage in a “cooperative dialogue” with pregnant employees, so that pregnant employee’s needs are met. Pregnant or not, one of the biggest challenges of gig employment is developing relationships and managing multiple employers. The year prior to my becoming pregnant, I had over a hundred different bosses sign my checks. Each of these employers worked differently but I’d describe few, if any, as “cooperative.”
After nearly a decade of freelancing, I know how it works: I either make their lives easier by giving them what they want when they want it, or next time, they hire someone else.