Power and Information Asymetry. Foreman in the Gig Economy
I have proposed that large infrastructure programs and a massive reconstitution of manufacturing within the United States is forthcoming and that much of this will be facilitated through ‘gig’ platforms. Regulations and protections should be forced into the relationship between capital and labor to reduce the information and power asymmetry that is currently fundamental to capital’s ability to structure control over its workers.
Prospective interventions into the labor rights and protections should note a minority of contractors may be doing the majority of the work and thus stand to be most impacted by labor rights interventions. Any intervention into these labor considerations should account for the structure and emergence of employment hierarchies through the ‘gig’ platform.
- Consumer-sourced rating systems are a dominant method of worker evaluation in platform-based work. These systems facilitate the semi-automated management of large, disaggregated workforces, and the rapid growth of service platforms — but may also represent a potential backdoor to employment discrimination. Bias may creep into evaluations of contractors through consumer-sourced rating systems
- Many channels filter data up from workers to the corporate system, the paths for those same workers to request information from the corporate system are limited. Contractors can make inquiries but they are not rarely empowered to negotiate the terms of their work. Further, there is no managerial correspondent empowered with the role of “foreman” to mediate contractors frustrations with the company
- Will workers be penalized for rejecting lower paid work in favor of higher paid work, illustrative of another constraint on their “freedom” as independent entrepreneurs
- Workers are responsible for all the costs of maintaining licenses, insurance and certifications and this is more impactful to lower-income workers whose primary source of income is gig work
- Workers thus absorb the costs of being available, accessible, and responsive to their employer without being guaranteed paid work
It can’t be just a lead generation for freelance work and employers
- Companies or platforms can create expectations about their service that workers must fulfill through the mediating power of the rating system. This business model is rooted in Taylorist traditions of using worker monitoring to identify and create new efficiencies in workflows
- Employers use customer feedback to monitor, evaluate and discipline service workers. Management by customers may deepen and complicate authority and power relations in the workplace, and may also give rise to new forms of workplace conflict
- There should be transparency by which the corporate discloses the criteria by which contractors are selected
- Capital can hold workers to be accountable to the “most efficient” work
- Soft controls should be made visible by revealing its mechanisms
The loss of worker efficacy as power transferred from labor to capital is not new or unique to digitally mediated labor, but Gig Work tech platforms facilitate and scaffold new systems of monitoring and opportunities for remote control over workers.