As the gig economy grows, how does that work classification impact workers, employers in St. Louis? | St. Louis Public Radio

As the gig economy grows, how does that work classification impact workers, employers in St. Louis?

Jun 12, 2017

The “gig economy” is growing with an estimated 20 to 30 percent of American and European working-age population participating in some kind of independent work.

Defined as “a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs,” we spoke with two local experts about how the gig economy is at play in the St. Louis region on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air.

Stephanie Leffler is the CEO and Co-Founder of Swansea, Illinois-based OneSpace, which uses a digital platform to connect over 100,000 short-term contract workers in the digital field with businesses that need their skills.

“Just last year, we saw more than a million people try independent work for the first time,” Leffler said. “It is something that technology originally enabled and allowed to grow more quickly. We’ve seen people learn about a bunch of different ways to supplement their income or, in some cases, turn to the gig economy full-time.”

The gig economy allows flexibility, Leffler said. But while the gig economy offers in flexibility, it may detract from the rights of workers or the benefits offered to them.

Saint Louis University Law School Professor Miriam Cherry, who also directs the school’s employment law center, studies the subject and has published several papers on how the gig economy is changing the way we classify workers.

“I’ve been tracking over the past five to six years about 20 different litigations over this status,” Cherry said. “Many companies will say ‘we only have independent contractors here,’ but when you look at the substance of the relationship and you see how much control is exercised over the work, they seem more like employees.”

There have been many settlements over the work, but a new classification for such workers hasn’t resulted. Cherry said that many of the complaints are over Fair Labor Standards Act and minimum wage: what are fair wages for the work people are doing? Other litigation has been over workers’ compensation: are employers obligated to cover these workers?

“We haven’t figured out a way to regulate these business relationships,” Cherry said.

The knife cuts two ways, with employers and workers hurt in this classification-less space.

“The question of control and what is control is one of these key legal themes,” Leffler said. “At the end of the day, where we sit is where companies are forced to either become more casual in control of these people, which really minimizes overall opportunity (If I tell you less, you can do something less valuable for me, which means I pay you less) or, they’re turning people into full-time employees. That’s interesting because many people in the gig economy prefer not to be full-time employees. There’s a missing classification in our system for this new type of work.”

Listen as Leffler and Cherry discuss how the gig economy impacts workers and employers. We also hear from you about your experiences in the gig economy and the issues you’ve seen arise:

Want to read more about the subject? Check out this reading list we’ve compiled here

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.