These 5 Tips From CNN Need a Rewrite if They’re Going to Apply to “Every” Gig Worker
Last week, CNN Money posted an article titled “5 Things Every Gig Worker Should Know.” Unfortunately, by “every gig worker” they really meant, “every gig worker who is financially stable enough to choose leaving a permanent position for indy work.”
Let’s look at the 5 things we should know according to the article:
“1. Develop an exit strategy.”
The idea here assumes that you already have a full-time job. Though the article mentions the possibility that someone might be turning to indy work out of necessity, the recommendation for developing an exit strategy is to “imagine you’re going to be laid off from your job in six months.” You’re supposed to ask “what events and conferences would you attend? Who would you reconnect with? What skills or certifications would you work on?” We’re clearly talking about someone with the kind of financial resources to network and/or gain some kind of new educational credentials or skills.
Unfortunately, not everyone is able to prepare in advance of losing a full-time job. Downsizing, lay offs, and termination for any number of reasons leave people unemployed and without any chance to prepare. In these scenarios, indy work isn’t something that is turned to for more freedom around one’s schedule or for the autonomy that certain kinds of freelancing can offer. Rather, indy workers often have multiple part-time gigs they string together, or, they work full-time and have a side gig — all in the effort to just make ends meet.
“2. Create a safety blanket”
The second thing CNN Money thinks you should know is that it’s important to “ensure you have a healthy nest egg for those rainy days — especially when your income is fluctuating.” This can be done, according to the article, by “putting aside at least six months’ worth of minimum living expenses into a savings account (or more, depending on your spending habits).” Again, this assumes that you have enough time and money to be able to save six months worth of living expenses before becoming an indy worker.
More importantly, this tip assumes that indy workers should be individually responsible for the fluctuation in income that often characterizes independent, contract, and freelance work. Just as workers in this country have organized throughout our history for the protections and benefits that offset the difficulties associated with full-time employment – for example, paid sick leave, pension plans, the eight hour work day, breaks, etc., – so too can indy workers organize.
The Indy Worker Guild exists precisely to unite indy workers across a range of gig economy jobs. We are stronger together than alone. Collective pressure is an effective force against unwilling employers, and can also push legislation and policies that establish benefits and protections to offset the difficulties of indy work. If indy work causes fluctuations in income, then we need a worker-led and government instituted solution to that difficulty. (See the section titled “Multiemployer Plans” in this report for some ideas about solving the problem of income instability for indy workers.)
“3. Figure out a retirement plan”
Because there are currently no employer offered retirement plans for indy workers, this tip, once again, assumes that indy workers should be responsible for figuring out something on their own. See the response to number 2 above.
“4. Don’t forget about your taxes”
This is good advice. As 1099 workers, indy workers are responsible for paying their own taxes as well as the employer-side taxes. Rather than the article’s suggestion that taxes should be reviewed by an accountant every month, and all the assumptions about income that lie behind that suggestion, it would be much more inclusive to advocate for affordable, public accountants who can help low-income indy worker with their taxes. Indeed, with enough numbers, an organization like the Indy Worker Guild could offer such discounted (or even free) services to its members. Again, we’re stronger together than alone.
“5. Read the fine print”
This tip, based on the same assumptions as having an accountant review your taxes every month, suggests that you “find a lawyer to help review contracts.” Again, a more inclusive suggestion would be for affordable, public attorneys that can help any indy worker review contracts. Of course not all indy workers are in the position to negotiate their contracts, and to be fair, the article does acknowledge that “individuals will likely have little leverage to negotiate contracts with bigger companies such as Uber.” What about a large number of individuals organized together though? Organizing together through a group such as the Indy Worker Guild is the only way to negotiate the fine print in contracts with big companies.
In short, it’s important to remember that not every indy worker has the means or the choices available to individually sustain themselves. Any tips offered to “every gig worker” should account for the precariousness experienced by many, many people working in the gig economy and should be forthright in offering solutions to help all indy workers, not just the privileged few. Foremost among any and all suggestions is to unite together to fight together for worker justice in the gig economy – – which is precisely the mission of the Indy Worker Guild